Q&A: Merival talks debut album and lessons of vulnerability

Singer-songwriter Merival‘s debut album, Lesson, is full of swooning, dynamic melodies and gorgeously smooth vocals. Out June 21, the album pushes and pulls between tension and release as Merival – AKA Anna Horvath – attempts to make sense of life. After the release of Lesson, Anna talked with Indientry about the album, her musical and personal evolution and some of her favorite music. Check out the interview (and Lessons) below.

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Photo courtesy of Jen Squires. 

Indientry: Hi, Anna! How are you?

Merival: Hey, Indientry! I’m doing well, thanks. A little overwhelmed, but that’s normal!

What music are you listening to most right now? Who are your favorite artists?

My biggest obsessions this year so far have to be Aldous Harding’s Designer and Sasami by Sasami. Incredible production on both those records, and the songwriting is fantastic. I’m also perpetually in love with Deerhoof, like, forever forever. Recently, I got into It’s OK by Nana as well, which was a nice, soft, sad, immersive world. A lot of incredible local/Canadian pals as well, like YUM!, Eliza Niemi, Thanya Iyer, Charlotte Cornfield. So much good stuff. 

Tell me about your debut, Lesson. How did it come to be? What was the inspiration for the album?

I guess the inspiration is more or less life experience. I’ve never written conceptually before, or like in a concentrated block of time, so it’s more of a collection of songs that were written over a couple of years than one consistent, specifically inspired body of work. But I wanted people to see some of my thoughts and feelings about my life and about how my vulnerability and penchant for getting myself into situations have played out emotionally. 

Are there any consistent lyrical or musical themes throughout the record?

Sure. Lyrically, you can hear that I’m wondering about a lot of stuff. There are a lot of questions and not very many definitive answers. I’m honestly still too close to it to pick out musical themes, really, but we did try to personify some of the tension/release dynamics that are present in the lyrical content. I’m forever grateful to Sam Gleason and his incomparable touch for making it sound so special, both with his playing and his production.

Personally, I think that Lesson is a beautiful album. It’s all delicate yet dynamic, and it is definitely swoon-worthy. How has the general response to it been?

It’s been good so far, for sure! Definitely hard to have a handle on what it “should” be or look like – over the last few months I’ve decided to adopt a slow n’ steady attitude toward my musical career, because I need to make it emotionally sustainable as well as financially – so I’m trying to let go of the idea that X number of plays on Spotify equals success or failure. I’ve had a lot of really heartfelt messages from friends and fans who are buying the record, and that works for me right now.

Which of the tracks on Lesson is your favorite, and why?

They’re all very special, obviously! I’ve been asked this a bunch of times and I think I’ve swung back around to “Sinner” again, because it has always been a wild song for me. Wild time when I wrote it, wild time recording it (it definitely took the longest to finish, we were stuck on it for a long time), absolutely wild string chart by Michael Peter Olsen. I was really excited that I had the idea to get a string quartet in and what that element has given to the song is invaluable. I also connect easily and deeply with the feelings that let me write the song in the first place, so it always feels present and exciting for me to play.

How do you think Lesson is different from your 2016 EP, Lovers? What has changed for you since then?

There’s a lot more depth, for sure. Sam and I spent about 2 years recording Lesson, partially due to schedule constraints that meant we had to find what time we could, but partially because I’ve realized it takes quite a while for things to settle for me – that extends beyond music as well. I just adjust slowly! But the experience itself was so different in that I brought the songs in their demo form and from there we went from the ground up and decided how to dress them. With Lovers, I had all the parts ready to go, I’d already recorded them myself, sometimes multiple times, so it was a matter of going in and laying it down and that was that. It was done in a weekend. But I had no clue what I was doing with Lesson so it was a lot more exploratory. Obviously I’ve changed as a person and the industry has changed in the last 3 years, and I feel like I’m still catching up on both those fronts. But I’m a lot more settled now, personally and musically.

I know you’ve collaborated with a few artists throughout your career. How have those collaborations shaped your solo music?

Any collaborative experience, in the studio, remotely, whatever, feeds my knowledge and perception of what life as a musician is. Every time I’m asking, “What is this like? How do I make it work for everyone? How do I communicate, how do I perform, do I like the way I’m being treated, how do I take that and reflect it back to other people I work with or hire?” I’ve definitely learned not to sign onto anything I’m not excited about, and to discuss money upfront, and to pay my friends, and also that I absolutely love jumping in the studio and just ripping vocals on something. There’s a lot to love and a lot to learn.

What else about you or your music do you want readers to know?

I’d rather they just listened to it 😉


Stream and purchase Merival’s debut album, Lesson, below:


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