Photo Credit: Alexa Viscius
Once people enter the real world they often wonder – how does one make friends and lasting connections? Well, for many it’s at work and it doesn’t hurt when that work is being part of a production of ‘Hamilton.’ At least that was the case when Brittany Campbell and Candace Quarrels found one another in a theatre setting. We’ll let them get into how they went from the theatrics to making music together as Mermaid, an alternative R&B duo whose debut, ‘Iridescence,’ drops on November 17th. We talked about their start, the music, breaking out of boxes, and more!
Kendra: You both come from the world of theater, meeting in a production of ‘Hamilton’ in Chicago. How far into the show’s run did it take for you two to realize there was definitely something special happening when you two sang together?
Candace: We actually have a funny story for another day about how it took us a month to speak to each other when we first met. A lot of what broke the ice for both of us was a connection to each other’s voices. It was inevitable, we harmonized and played together on stage and in rehearsals…the blend was something special. Britt actually had me sing BVGS for a couple of her solo gigs in Chicago (have you listened to Stay Gold…you should lol). That solidified it for us.
I think by month three of us knowing each other…I knew
Brittany: Hahaha, for me, it was the third rehearsal we had together…(probably a little over a month into me joining the cast)…I had been secretly peeping the similarity in tone here and there but I was trying to be chill. In our third rehearsal with our music director Colin, he pointed out that we had a crazy blend…that’s when I knew I wasn’t crazy…which is why I eventually asked if Candy would sing with me at my solo show..the rest is history.
Kendra: Then you two decided to move to Los Angeles together. That can be an intimidating place to try and conquer on your own. How was it having a partner by your side to navigate not only a new place but this new path in Mermaid as musicians outside of theater?
Brittany: LA has always been a dream of mine..and was always the plan for me after Hamilton. But…a lot of life happened in my time with Hamilton. By the time I ended my contract, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind. I had come out about me and Candace to my mother and she stopped contact with me..which spun me out. With that, I kind of lost a lot of confidence in myself as an artist…but I always believed in Mermaid.
Beyond us, there was a message and story there that seemed necessary. When Candy and I sat down to talk about LA, we talked about it being more of a break away from theatre, a pursuit of TV and film, and, for me, a chance to finally check out the landscape of LA’s music scene. I had felt so beaten up by the grind of playing constant gigs, often for no pay. I wanted to see if LA could offer something different…and although I felt torn up, I knew, that me and Candy were committed to supporting each other.
Candy has held so much space for me in this transformative time…just as I have held space for her. There have been so many growing pains…and, a lot of times, it has been rough…We’ve taught each other different practices in resilience.
Kendra: More and more the idea of genre is being dismantled, and it comes up here often with artists but what I found interesting and different is why you two don’t like to be boxed in, and it in art has to do with the genres that Black artists always get pushed into. As a Black kid who grew up obsessed with boy bands and later became a teen who emerged in the punk scene, I was never one to go where the world felt I should either. Did you two grow up with a wide variety of musical influences that have since pushed Mermaid to be free of the burden of a genre?
Candace: Oh my goodness I was so lucky to be exposed and drawn to so many different influences growing up. My parents were always listening to gospel and R&B from every era, and I was a huge MTV/BET fan. I feel like I saw so many music videos and strolled through the music channels on early 2000s direct TV (if you know you know). I was jamming to Yolanda Adams and Fred Hammond, Anita Baker and Mary J, Fall Out Boy, and Alanis, OutKast and Fleetwood Mac…there wasn’t much I didn’t like haha!
When I discovered and fell in love with musical theater and classical music around 15, an even broader musical world opened up. I started taking voice, and spent my summers at Clark Opera Memphis…I knew I wanted to perform and sing for the rest of my life.
I try to remember all the things I’ve heard before, when exploring melodies and harmonies in our music. Everything feels like a memory…something found.
Brittany: Hell yeah. New York was just wild… and my mom worked really hard to expose me to as much as she could. I’m a first-generation American. My whole family is Jamaican, and they lived and breathed rocksteady and dancehall. My earliest memories are of Beres Hammond and Sanchez blasting from the basement of our house on Flatbush.
Then I was recruited into the Metropolitan Opera at seven, which opened up a whole new sonic world. This led me to doing some Broadway shows and introduced me to that kind of music. Meanwhile, Aunt Denise and Uncle Lloyd were showing me everything from Ella Fitzgerald, Erykah Badu, The Supremes, and Marvin Gaye to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Simon and Garfunkel. In high school, I went to a performing arts school in NYC and got into bands like Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, No Doubt, Fishbone… and solo artists like Pharrell and Kelis. I had this badass best friend who would sneak us into punk shows…like that Hot Hot Heat concert. RnB and Hip hop were always there, especially in New York.
College was another chapter… I dated a guy who introduced me to Elliot Smith, and Rilo Kiley, and I discovered Joni Mitchell, The Emotions. Post-college, there was a production deal that steered me towards pop, with artists like Robyn and Kylie Minogue on repeat. But then I felt the need for music with deeper harmony and vibe… that’s when I started listening to Haitus Kaiyote, NAO, SZA, The Internet, Frank Ocean… All these influences, they’re present in Mermaid’s music, one way or another.
Kendra: Speaking of Black and boxed in, that’s what it can often feel like as a Black person in America – and even more so it can feel like we’re not getting the support we actually need and you note part of that in “Purr” which shines a light on these viral moments that are sort of just cycled through. Because there has been so much in recent years, was there a sort of last straw that inspired this song?
Brittany & Candace: ‘Purr’ started with our cat (Splatt) — it was 4 am, and she came into the room. She has this very loud, deep purr, so Britt recorded it. And it developed into this silly track that was mumbled over without knowing what it was about for the longest time. Then George Floyd happened, and that’s when the lyrics came flooding into B. She wrote it in a day.
A song that started off as this funky, mucky, playful feeling became so clear. The world was raging, and we were stuck inside the house, ingesting viral videos and imagery of brutality all day long on social media. In that time, there were a couple of times when allies ended up proving to be ultimately performative. For both of us, there was a loss of a certain kind of innocence about the world. The song is called Purr, not only because it showcases our cat but also because it represents the ultimate softness of a being that has so much potential for ferocity, beauty, and action…Black people are that way.
Kendra: Now let’s talk about your debut, ‘Iridescence.’ This album draws from so many places from Motown to riot grrrl. How did you two and producer Sam Hoffman go about mapping the record out? Did you find yourselves shifting songs about on the tracklist more often than not until it felt smooth?
Brittany and Candace: The songwriting and music creation process for us can go many ways, but there is definitely a formula that we fell into for most of the tracks on this project.
It often begins with Brittany, who takes the lead as a co-producer alongside Sam Hoffman. One or both of us will dream up a melody or musical idea, which Brittany then takes and crafts into the initial framework of the song. A rough demo, with mumbled melodies and lyrics is then lived separately between the two of them for a while.
During this individual reflection, we write our own verses, hook ideas, lyrics, etc. adding our own unique perspectives. Once we’ve explored the music on our own, we come together to bring our ideas into harmony.
After shaping a solid demo, we then take it to our collaborator, Sam Hoffman, to flesh out the production. Sam’s influence takes the songs to new heights, often transforming them in unexpected and exciting ways. He brings his expertise and willingness to experiment, taking the tracks in directions that we had not even imagined.
When it came to making the track list, we had about 20 songs to narrow down to 10. We had a clear message we wanted to share, and we picked those that felt the most in line with that. This record feels like an introduction to us…our sound, our story, and our perspective. The songs we picked, I think, do the best job of relaying that.
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Iridescence’ out on November 17th, what else can we expect in the fall?
Brittany & Candace: So much to expect! If you’re in the Los Angeles area we have a ton of shows lined up in October and November…follow our socials (@mermaid.band on Instagram) to keep up to date on those. We also have a Jam in the Van session that will be released on YouTube later in November along with a couple more visuals sprinkled throughout the rest of the year.
We really want to perform as much as we can. This music is too good not to share! Fingers crossed for a small West Coast tour top of 2024.