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Aotearoa's Gem - Mild Orange

When I connect to my call with Mild Orange, it is just half of the kiwi four-piece band - Josh and Josh… who go by the nicknames Mehrt and Jah, just to make things a little easier.

Frontman of the band Josh Mehrtens, and lead guitarist Josh Reid were childhood friends, who would eventually come to meet Tom Kelk on the bass guitar, and Jack Ferguson on the drums while studying at the University of Otago. The heart of Dunedin’s thriving and organic music scene. “I feel like we came up as people were craving live music again.” Mehrt tells me, reflecting on the buzz felt through Dunedin when acts like Mild Orange, Marlin’s Dreaming and Soaked Oats began to step into the spotlight. The band began to play at flat parties, sending that initial wave of hype through Dunedin’s party scene, reeling in the excitement for live music again. “Dunedin is such a good place for being able to make noise because all of your neighbours are students who just want to party all night!” The pair laugh, happy they were able to surround themselves in good, but chaotic crowds. “It’s pretty fun, that kind of more boozier culture has influenced our sound a little bit. We do have a few songs that really do get people up and keen to boogie and send it!” Mehrt laughs. The band carries the assumption that their music is pretty relaxed, and for the most part it is - but the band recognised fairly early on in the days of playing to boozier crowds, you need a few songs in there that you can crank it up a notch, Jah tells me, keeping a balance between both the laid back side, and the energetic side of the band. “New Zealand crowds are often very chatty, everyone is meeting up and everyone knows each other, so we are not ones to tell people to shut up, we are more keen to vibe them out so people have to listen.” Mehrt continues, “People can’t fight the boogie!”

Now, Mild Orange have released their new album ‘Looking For Space’, and for the band this moment has been a long time coming. They have already been playing a lot of the songs on the album at shows, winning the fans over long before their release. ‘What’s Your Fire?’ has been the band’s encore or end of set song since it was written, “One of the reasons we get so hyped on that song is because we would have so many people in the crowd come up to us afterwards and ask what that song was, telling us that it was the highlight of the set - even though we hadn't even put it out yet. It’s exciting to know that the fans will be able to hear those songs finally.” Jah tells me, admitting that while it’s cool to play unreleased songs at a gig, it’s not quite the same as when the fans have had a chance to sit with the songs themselves. However, there is one upside to playing these songs, the guys called it road testing, which influenced the way that the songs have gone into being recorded. “It makes you really understand which moments in a song hit and how you want to translate that to a record and bring that out in the production so it sounds like how you’d experience it live.” Mehrt tells me, “If it’s too clean and polished you don’t get that same experience, so a lot of that energy needs to remain on a recording which has been a hard balance to strike, but I think we’ve achieved it.”

During the band’s second album they started developing a recording method - travelling to holiday homes and beach houses and converting them into a home studio. After the first lockdown the band were itching to get back together and do something, so they met in holiday homes and started jamming. “We just wanted to jam and record and see what came out of it. It was over the course of that year or so of having those trips where the album actually did come together.” Jah says. “We ended up having a lot of music” Mehrt adds, “It ended up fitting quite concisely with the point of time in our lives and it tells a story. It wasn't until halfway through 2021 when we started piecing together the album and actually called it ‘Looking For Space’, about a year after the first song on the album had been recorded.” Mehrt does the production on his laptop, and he admits there was a point where the project was too big to control everything in a laptop, especially while trying to bring out bigger sounds. “We all knew how it was meant to sound, but it just couldn't quite get there…” They wanted to step outside of their ‘bedroom-y’ sound, so took the project to Paddy Hill at Roundhead studios. Paddy came on half way through the project to help mix and engineer the album, and ended up recording about a third of the album in the studio. “There are a lot of different spaces going on, but we’ve managed to pull it together to make it sound like a big cohesive piece.” the guys nod to me. “He’s a sonic wizard!”.

‘Looking For Space’ shows the band maturing their sound, even though Jah thinks that sounds cliché, the bands natural progression has unleashed more textures, and a lot of new guitar and drum techniques. It is clear that Aotearoa has played a massive role in the album's conception, “It’s pretty damn beautiful.” Mehrt says grinning, “we have such unique geography” Jah continues detailing the experience of recording in Bannockburn in Otago, it was so cold and the house was surrounded by a thick layer of fog. The total opposite to this was when they recorded in Ōakura in New Plymouth, where it was boiling hot in the studio, looking out over the ocean. “We are just really lucky to be able to immerse ourselves in so many different environments.” When the band were on Carter’s Beach in Westport, the beach house was twenty or so metres away from the ocean, and in between the house and the water was a big paddock full of horses. They would just roam and gallop around, the band watching through French doors. “That freedom has flown into the music for sure.” Mehrt tells me, “A lot of looking for space is about looking for space to find out who you are, and how where you go and where you’ve been has influenced you. It can mean a lot of things, it’s one of those sentences that has hundreds of meanings.”

To follow the album’s release, Mild Orange are embarking to the United Kingdom to play a London show on release day. From there, they will journey to the states to play half a dozen shows there and in Mexico, then back to London - a place the band will soon call home for the time being. “We have been holding off two years to tour now, we never got to tour the second album… so outside of New Zealand hasn’t seen that live yet.” Mehrt continues, “We want to get out there and see the world again!” Just the thought of being on the road again after so long has the guys excited, struggling to pick which stop they’re looking forward to the most. In LA they are playing at the Roxy, an infamous venue that has hosted so many of their idols, joining the venue's rich history. “Mexico will be fun because Mexico is awesome!” Mehrt adds, before Jah chimes in with another show that will be hard to beat, their London show on album release day. “The fact that we are making it our new hometown too, it will be quite exciting to establish a relationship with the city and make it known that’s where we are moving”.

For Mehrt and Jah, connecting with people all over the world is the most rewarding part of their music. “I love that we’ve made this album that we want to uplift people with, and so many people want to share that experience with us.” Mehrt smiles, happy with the fact that it has allowed them to do what they’re about to go, embark across the globe and see the world, meet people from all walks of life and see so many different cultures.

He continues, “That kind of ties in with making something that so many people resonate with and feel like they can engage with from corners of the globe that we never would have imagined. That’s a pretty special feeling.”

Mild Orange features in the latest issue of Tenner Magazine, the

'Voices of the Next Generation' issue.

Photography by Kenzie Pigman

Words by Oli Spencer

Listen to 'Looking For Space', the new album from Mild Orange below:


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