You may not think of New Zealand as the epicentre for music, but Mild Orange are stamping their native country all over the globe with their unique brand of alternative rock. The band comprises four friends: Mehrt, Jah, Barry and Jeck, who all met while studying at university. They’ve amassed over 100 million streams over their short careers and with their latest stellar album, Looking For Space, there really is no limit to their potential.
Their music takes heavy inspiration from their rural homeland and the soundscapes they craft can transport you to New Zealand’s stunning landscapes as soon as you press play. Throwing in their glossy vocals and sparkling instrumentals, their music is a truly transcendent experience. Despite their success, the boys remain as humble as ever, enjoying the simple things in life like a pint in the London sun (where they’ve recently moved to). And that’s what makes Mild Orange so inherently lovable. There are no egos. It’s just a bunch of mates jamming out and enjoying what they do with the added excitement of having thousands of fans worldwide. Here, HUNGER catches up with the band with their newest landmark project still fresh in the memory…
How has life changed for you all since dropping your first album to now releasing Looking For Space?
Mehrt: We live on the other side of the world now, which is a big change. We’re still the same four mates that started this journey together, but now we’re able to spend a lot more time making music and we’ve been joined by a rad fanbase along the way. Very grateful.
Has your creative process changed much since you started making music?
Mehrt: We’ve grown a lot as a unit, which has meant we’re more confident sharing ideas, collaborating and understanding how each of us plays. We continue to create what feels right to us at the time while trying to discover new sounds and ways of expressing that orange life.
Jah: We all appreciate the beauty of space a bit more now. I think we used to feel the need to always be playing but have come to recognise that sometimes the best thing you can add to a song is not to play at all, or if you do play, then perhaps more minimally.
Barry: I suppose I’m more in tune with what is needed in a certain song. When I first started writing music, I would try to write as complex as possible without really taking the song into account. My approach is now more thoughtful about how I am affecting the song.
Jack: I just play along the same as I did on the first album, although now I’m much fussier with what and how I play.
How would you describe your sound in three words?
Mehrt: Alive, nostalgic, warm
Jah: Euphoric, epic, contagious
Barry: Calm, Bold, Energetic.
Jack: Melancholic, psychedelic, distinct
What track of yours would you recommend to someone who hasn’t heard your music?
Mehrt: ‘This Kinda Day’ – it’s a pretty good gateway to our work. Complex simplicity.
Jah: Yeah, I agree with Mehrt. ‘This Kinda Day.’
Barry: I would say ‘Down By The River’ for the same reasons as Mehrt.
Jack: ‘Aurora’ – its nuts
What has been the most difficult part of navigating the music industry so far?
Mehrt: Each of us comes from small towns in NZ with no prior ties to the music industry. Figuring out how it all works while being in charge of most of our biz has been challenging. We’re still very independent and hands-on at all levels and just doing what works for us at our pace, so it can be tricky trying not to get caught up with comparisons to others who may have a greater industry edge. Just gotta keep on groovin’, do you.
Barry: For me, the hardest part is learning as you go. The music industry is constantly evolving and at times, it can be hard to keep up. There’s no right or wrong way to approach things – you just have to pick up things along the way.
How did growing up in New Zealand affect the music you create?
Mehrt: We have a strong appreciation for nature in NZ which definitely feeds into our sound since we often create in isolated environments. We inherently make music that compliments the landscapes. Kiwis also love to make noise on the world stage despite being such a small country tucked away from the world and often forgotten on maps. So that has helped supercharge us with worldly ambitions – there’ve been many inspiring kiwis before us who’ve done things on the world stage.
Jah: Geographically speaking, the isolation certainly plays a part. I grew up quite rurally and in my younger years (before being able to drive), I used to play guitar along to my favourite albums all weekend.
Barry: Growing up musically in Aotearoa meant heaps of dub, reggae and roots, summer festivals and jamming with mates. There is certainly a sense of collectiveness between kiwi musicians. Everyone looks out for one another and appreciates all types of genres. You would often end up playing and jamming with a lot of different people, moulding the music you end up creating.
Jack: My parents owned a Music Works CD shop from the late 90s to early 00s; however, I don’t think it did a lot for the music we create today as I was so young and only stole Now CDs – A mixtape of top 40 hits. My favourite is Now 7, with my choice of track being ‘Rock DJ’ by Robbie Williams. So you tell me if you can hear similarities between Robbie Williams and Mild Orange. From then on, it was the hand-me-down iPods from my sisters that became my means of music, consisting of dub and roots music such as Salmonella Dub, which I still enjoy listening to today.
Do you think the New Zealand music scene is in a good place at the moment?
Mehrt: A lot of top-quality music is coming out of Aotearoa. Our country is incredibly supportive of facilitating the growth of artists too. For example, there are a lot of public funds that help artists of all levels realise and achieve their ideas which are pretty well celebrated at home. Of course, the pandemic has seen a significant hit on live music, but kiwis have done really well to help keep their artists up by going to shows and doing things like getting around NZ Music Month each May.
Jah: For sure. NZ has a diverse music scene that, aside from a few major musical exports, is largely unknown by the rest of the world. COVID was a two-sided coin for NZ artists. We benefited from not having larger international acts coming through for a couple of years, so those opportunities were all given to local acts. This meant NZ-only festival lineups for a couple of summers, which was actually very cool. The downside, of course, was that with our borders so strictly shut, we couldn’t tour abroad until recently – lots of good kiwi music to check out.
Barry: Most Definitely – Check out bands, Marlins Dreaming, Juno Is and Fazerdaze.
Jack: Yes. However, mid-size music venues are becoming less common.
What’s been the most surreal moment in your career so far?
Mehrt: I still can’t believe it each time people sing the lyrics back or seeing people create their own videos/content with our music to it. Surreal but nice.
Jah: Our first US show earlier this year in New York was pretty special. Being a band from little old NZ, it’s easy to feel like playing in these big cities is a somewhat unattainable goal. The show was a sell-out and just as we walked on stage in a brief moment of silence, a fan screamed, “I’ve waited four fucking years for this.” We all laughed and the nerves dissipated.
Barry: Playing at the Roxy in Hollywood was amazing. Certainly a bucket list moment.
You did a show in London in February. Was it your first time there? What were some of the best/worst things about the UK?
Mehrt: It was actually our second time playing here. Cheers to you beauties for selling out the Jazz Cafe with us. There’s lots of great stuff here. That’s why we moved. The worst? We’re used to rocking up to do things unplanned in NZ because it’s so quiet. You lose a bit of spontaneity here due to population size. You often have to book ahead.
Jah: I love the parks here. So cool seeing how everyone appreciates the public green spaces and how they seem to be used by people from all walks of life. British marmite is terrible, though. You guys have got to try the NZ version.
Jack: The best thing is the pubs and pints. The worst thing is the beer gut.
If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
Mehrt: Our Brazilian fans are hella vocal. It’s top of our list currently to get there. The dream gig is Glasto Pyramid Stage.
Jah: Madison Square Garden, NYC.
Barry: Red Rocks, Colorado.
Jack: NBS Theatre Westport, New Zealand.
What’s been your favourite live performance so far?
Mehrt: Our first ever USA show in Brooklyn, NY, in February was sick as – a sold-out room and they sang along all night.
Jah: Baby’s All Right – Brooklyn, NY
Barry: It would have to be the show at the Roxy. The alums who have graced that stage are pretty remarkable. It was a very special night.
Jack: The Roxy because it’s the FUCKING ROXY!
If you could collaborate with any artist right now, who would it be and why?
Mehrt: Burt Bacharach. I’ve grown up on his music and he is one of the greatest songwriters of all time. He’s 94, but he is still healthy and playing. Burt, let me know.
Jah: Kendrick Lamar. He’s been a favourite of mine since I was a teenager. He’s one of the most innovative artists around. I feel like he could add something great to pretty much any track he gets on.
Barry: Khruangbin – Those guys are amazing. The complexity they get from only three instruments is really cool. I’d love to collaborate with them.
Jack: To open for Kings of Leon on a world tour because I would sabotage Nathan Followill (Kings of Leon drummer) by injuring his arm, therefore having to play drums with Kings of Leon for the remainder of the tour.
What can we expect from Mild Orange for the rest of the year?
Mehrt: World tour!
Jah: Tour and more pints.
Barry: Send it.
Jack: Beers on Barry.