By Margaret Welsh
Pittsburgh Current Music Editor
A couple of years ago, Merce Lemon was living far from home and feeling lonely.
“I was texting my friend a lot when we were both looking at the moon,” the Pittsburgh-based singer/songwriter recalls. “And we kept trying to meet each other in dreams. We were trying to paint a picture of the place we were going to meet, and then think about it really hard before we went to sleep, and find each other.”
Lemon ended up getting a couple songs out of that time period, specifically “Moon Shots” and “Chili Packet,” both which appear on her debut full-length record Moonth, which was released on Bandcamp this past Friday. But that original story, with its romantic blend of playfulness and bittersweet longing, does a pretty good job of encapsulating Lemon’s artistic appeal.
“Maybe you’ll visit/my brain in a dream/lead with a joke and then vanish again,” she sings over the melancholy swirl of “Chili Packet,” then sways to some undisclosed conflict: “I don’t want your sorrys/They’re not going to do/I am the one that is sorry to you.” (“I asked that person, ‘what I should write a song about?’ And they said ‘chili packet,’ Lemon laughs. “And, obviously, it’s not about a chili packet.”)
Lemon’s intimate lyrics feel like scraps from a diary or letters saved in a shoebox. And her attention to mundane sensory detail (see: “Golden Lady Sauerkraut”) — punctuated by sage poetic gems and wrapped in idiosyncratic melody — gives the listener a lot to dig into.
Lemon grew up in a family of music lovers. Her parents played in bands and their house was full of records and tapes. “My dad was always practicing in the basement so there was a drum kit downstairs and any instrument I wanted to play.” Some of her first experiences onstage were singing with Kimya Dawson whenever the anti-folk icon, who was friends with her parents, played a show in Pittsburgh. Between the ages of 7 and 12 Lemon started an a capella group and then a punk band.
In her late teens, she moved to Seattle. There she recorded her 2017 EP, Ideal for a Light Flow With Your Body, followed by 2018’s Girls Who Jump In. This past March, Pittsburgh label Crafted Sounds reissued both records as one cassette, titled Ride Every Day.
The bedroom-recording sound of Ride Every Day spotlights Lemon’s knack for writing brief, catchy indie-pop songs. Moonth is a much fuller-sounding record, recalling eclectic folk ensembles like Steeleye Span and urbane, off-kilter weirdos like the Roches.
The band’s lineup includes Lemon’s dad, Greg Pierce, on guitar, Pittsburgh music scene veteran Jim Lingo on bass, Alec Ebeling on drums, and Noa Lipski singing harmonies. This record, which was mostly recorded live, also features instrumental contributions by a variety of friends and family members, including Lipski’s dad Eric on cello and fiddle, flute by Jessica Leigh, and even some quick vocals by Lemon’s mom, Alisa Dix. “Puddles” opens with a sample from instrument-builder and experimental noise artist (and family friend) Michael Johnsen.
Moonth was recorded about a year and a half ago. “I feel like I’ve been holding on to it for so long,” Lemon says. “I went through a phase of hating it, and I had to fall in love with it again.” She shopped around for a label to release the record, but — a DIY artist at her core — trying to find a comfortable situation was a drag. “I was scared of contracts and that whole world.”
In the end, Moonth was co-released by two local labels, Crafted Sounds and Darling Records. “It’s all been on my terms, Lemon says. “That’s what I was looking for, I’m not looking to be molded into something. [But] it would be cool to not have to do everything by myself.” (Another bonus of working with small, supportive labels: since she’s not self-financing, Lemon has the leeway to donate her earnings, and 100% of profits from Moonth will go to the Pittsburgh-based Black Unicorn Library and Archives Project.)
In quarantine, Lemon — who under normal circumstances works as a bike courier for Pin-Up Posters Courier Collective — has been spending her time participating in protests, volunteering, and packing and delivering produce for Who Cooks for You Farm. “I feel like i’ve been very close to food and nature through quarantine,” she says, “It’s keeping me sane.”
As for many of us in quarantine, Lemon has struggled to create: “I was just bummin’ to the point that I wasn’t making anything.” But with Moonth finally out in the world, “I’m kind of coming out of that, and feeling inspired by everyone around me and just looking to collaborate more, to ease back into it.
“I think [the record] needed some space. I’m excited to release it and feel like I have room to make new things now. It felt like it was crowding me a little bit.”
For more information visit mercelemon.bandcamp.com