Artist Spotlight: UConn-based indie rock group The Merks releases EP

The Merks are an indie rock group from East Hampton, New York comprised of four UConn students. recently released their sophomore record, “Live From: Area of Refuge,” a six-song EP composed of polished live performances of their original tracks. (Courtesy/Facebook)

As a band of four best friends and UConn students, The Merks have been pursuing the project for a couple years and recently released their sophomore record, “Live From: Area of Refuge,” a six-song EP composed of polished live performances of their original tracks. It’s raw, tight, masterfully composed and equally melodic as it is poetic.

Their first release was an EP entitled “Pitch Black,” which can be found on Soundcloud.

Conor Phillips, lead vocals and guitar, Nick Claps, lead guitar, Jayson Baker, drums, Ian Schrager, bass, make up the indie rock band The Merks. 

I spoke to Conor Phillips and Nick Claps about their experience in the band, how they started as musicians and what they hope to get out of music. 

The group had a rough start and organic beginnings, Claps said.

“Conor and I have always loved music so much and when I was a kid I took guitar lessons. Years after I stopped, I picked it up again. I always knew Conor was good at singing because he would sing to the music we listened to without being serious,” Claps said. “I thought we should try just playing cover songs and putting them on YouTube. We did that and decided to try writing our own songs. It was so rough and crappy but turned it around and it was just a new world to us. It completely opened up a new perspective to music and our love for it.”

From day one, their mutual fascination with to music and their adoration towards their favorite artists was the springboard from which they took off. Influences such as The Libertines, Pete Doherty, The Strokes, Julian Casablancas, The Arctic Monkeys, Lou Reed and even Frank Sinatra and Sam Smith have impacted their approach toward songwriting.

Because of the numerous musical inspirations the group takes into account when composing, their sound is an original hybrid that becomes something special and different in of itself. Fans of The Strokes, Young the Giant and The Arctic Monkeys will especially enjoy The Merks’ music. 

The rockers have maintained respect towards the craft of songwriting and performing. They honor their musical heroes, but share that same passion towards what they want to do with their own musical endeavors.

“We are pursuing music because, in my opinion, it is our world. I couldn't picture myself investing my time and my life doing anything else. Creating, producing and performing music gives me all the thrills, happiness, and the ability to express myself I could ever ask for. It's just so natural, it's just a part of us,” Claps said.

Adding onto this, Phillips said, “I pursue music because its fun to live in a melodic world. The songs that I play help me live out scenarios in my head. It’s kind of like an internal movie for me.” 
The Merks’ music is an outlet as natural as breathing for Phillips and Claps. There are no boundaries when creating—what you hear is an auditory representation of their thoughts, memories and emotions. It’s a snapshot of who they are and where they’ve been.  

As ardent performers and touring mates, both agree that some of their best and most ridiculous touring memories have happened on the road to venues in New York City, such as the Bowery Electric and The Bitter End. 

Claps recounted their show at the Bowery Electric in NYC, in which they played from 11 to12 p.m., brought all their friends and snuck them in – almost successfully. As they played their last song of “Hold On We’re Going Home” by Drake, the manager kicked all their friends out. Regardless, the venue “actually contacted us a month after asking us to play their because a band cancelled on them,” said Claps. 

The road towards chasing their dreams has been uneven, jagged and imperfect to say the least, but that’s what makes The Merks so special—their best memories and inspirations come from the unpredictable aspects of pursuing their art.  

They are true soldiers of the music industry, paying homage to the artists that inspired them to pick up an instrument while simultaneously giving people a glimpse into their own unique and colorful minds. 

The incredible outlet of creativity and emotional release Phillips and Claps get from their own songwriting/performing is something the band hopes can inspire other people. They can only hope people find the fulfillment and pure joy from music that they experience everyday. 
“I hope that people will be inspired to try and write for themselves. All I ever wanted was to create art that people would hear, read and want to do for themselves,” said Phillips. 
The Merks’ music can be found on iTunes, Spotify and Soundcloud.


Brett Steinberg is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at brett.steinberg@uconn.edu. He tweets @OfficialBrett.