INTERVIEW: Merchandise | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Tampa Bay, Florida five-piece Merchandise have been a subject of intrigue to the music press since their formation in 2008, and understandably so. Though Merchandise were never a punk band, vocalist Carson Cox and guitarist David Vassalotti were heavily involved in Tampa Bay’s DIY scene, both playing in hardcore bands before breaking away to record gloomy indie pop. Speaking of their second album, 2012’s Children of Desire, Cox stated that ‘the punks would hate it.’ Cox himself is the quintessential front man; an outspoken, tortured romantic with a swooning, baritone croon (comparisons to Morrissey still abound, just don’t ask them about it).

What the music press has focused on more than anything, is Merchandise’s constant musical evolution, labelling them masters of reinvention. This became most apparent with the release of their latest album, After The End, this August. Where their previous effort, 2013’s Totale Night, was a sprawling melting pot of lo-fi post-punk and psychedelia, After The End is a crisply produced, ‘formal pop record’, as Cox himself stated. “‘Formal pop’ is a pretty fair description,” explains Vassalotti. “We wrote it to be straight forward pop but we can never do that without throwing in weird twists and overtones here and there. We did set out to make this big pop record but in terms of being a total ‘rebirth’ it doesn’t seem that drastic to me, I wouldn’t be so bold about it. But we are a different band than on the last record. Totale Night was just me, Carson and Pat [Brady, bass], this is the first time we’ve made a record as a full five-piece band with real drums and extra guitar. That’s contributed the biggest noticeable change between records. While we’ve never wanted to make the same record twice, it didn’t feel like much of a stretch making this record. We still write songs in the same way we always have, there’s just different influences creeping in and we have nicer recording gear now! It was more of an unconscious natural progression towards After The End, so whatever comes next will probably end up sounding pretty different too.”

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Though having existed since 2008, After The End is Merchandise’s first release on a proper record label. Having self-released their previous records, the band chose to work with legendary label 4AD going forward. “We took longer than pretty much anyone I’ve ever known to make that decision,” laughs Vassalotti. “But we were just so sceptical about working with other people. Our crew in the States is always like family, so we have to trust somebody before we commit ourselves to working with them. We took our time getting to know the 4AD people and it just made sense. They’ve put out great records and we wanted to be part of that roster.” Such is that sense of family that four out of five members of the band actually live together. “Most people think we’re insane because we’re on tour half the year living in a van together, then the rest of the time we’re all around each other, but that’s just how our music is made. We need that familial closeness. We recorded the whole of the new record in the house, it’s just part of everyday life living there.”

So while Vassalotti, Cox and co are living and breathing Merchandise, do they have any idea what those aforementioned punks actually think of their music? “The reaction has been pretty mixed. We still have some die hard punk fans we’ll see at shows, but it feels like we’re in some weird zone now where we’re not totally outside of the DIY scene but we’re out of that small little niche we grew up in. At the end of the day, we just want to follow our own voice and not have to succumb to any of the boring shit that’s out there. We just want to make something interesting and share it with the world.”

Merchandise play The Cluny 2, Newcastle on Tuesday 25th November.


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