Merchandise: "You have to say how it is"
As ever, Merchandise’s Carson Cox isn’t one to mince his words: the band’s new album sees him honing his cynicism.
Published: 12:26 pm, September 28, 2016
I’ve come to understand that I’ve got a big mouth,” laughs Merchandise’s Carson Cox. In the tradition of all great indie rock bands, the singer has a lot to say and a lot to get of his chest as his band Merchandise prepare to work their dark-hearted evocative charms on fifth album ‘A Corpse Wired For Sound’.
It’s an album that arrives after a period of dislocation for the trio who have seen a fair bit of change ever since they emerged from the Tampa, Florida hardcore scene in 2008. The desire to constantly grow and evolve is one that comes naturally to Carson. “Making records for me, it’s not that it’s easy, it’s just that I always feel like I want to say something,” he begins. “I’ve always been like that since I was young.”
‘A Corpse Wired For Sound’ is the sound of a band dismantling their previous incarnations and reassembling as something even more striking, powerful and unique. “This record is post-closure,” says Carson. “I think we had a lot of closure on a lot of what was going on in our lives on [2014 album] ‘After The End’. That record was about looking back, and this one is looking at after all the pre-conceived notions of what we could be, or what we are sonically or musically.”
As Merchandise were faced with an endless vista of possibilities, in which they could explore sonically, Carson Cox turned himself inwards with the lyrics to look at his innermost feelings on the cusp of turning 30. The lyrics throughout are a source of pride for the singer. “I think the lyrics are the best,” he confidently states. “It’s interesting to be an adult and still feel like a child. I felt that the world was greatly wrong about so many things and I was told that you’re young and naïve and you’ll understand when you’re older that there’s a responsibility and a reality.
“Now I’m an adult I still feel the same way. Other people like my mother try to tell me that it’s okay, and I’m like, no it’s really not okay. Everything that I felt as a child that I was told to suppress is only worse now. In this country, you’re taught to think that everything is good and you should only talk about positive things. If you address reality and the negative shit that’s there then you’re going to be depressed,” he says, gently mocking the super positive adult figures in his life. “I’ve always been a cynic and a realist but I feel like it’s really come out now.”
It’s not that Merchandise are happy to revel in misery though, more that they have become more skilled at merging reality and fantasy. “Merchandise is a band that embraced this personal romantic or emotional thing and now it’s come full circle,” says Carson. “It’s still there and part of the music but it’s become surreal and real at the same time. When we were young, we had no idea what we were doing. We had no expectation. It was just passion.”
Blind optimism and upbeat empowerment anthems are a pop music bugbear for the Merchandise singer: “I’m not here to judge what’s good or bad. I’d say though that most pop or independent music I hear is really disappointing because it embraces that mentality that’s destroying people. It’s just to create an illusion that everything is fine. It’s a psychological counterpoint. It’s making people dumber. Being blatantly positive for no reason is not healthy for you.” There’s a refreshing quality to his straightforward attitude. “Building a wall around yourself with disingenuous positivity doesn’t work,” he carries on. “You have to face facts in art, music and your personal life. You have to say how it is. Yeah, life is shit sometimes.”
' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen>
While the songs on Merchandise’s new album comes from a stranger, darker place, the music itself is the most vivid and stylish of the band’s career. It comes from a desire to do things differently and rewrite Merchandise’s rulebook of writing and recording. “We kind of run out of steam,” says Carson of the band’s long-established home recording anti-studio process. “We’re always going to be self-produced but we wanted to find a new dynamic in the sound of what we were doing.”
The change in process was not without its difficulties though. “There was a learning curve with recording in a studio,” he says. “Especially if you’re used to being by yourself and used to things sounding really muddy and weird. Singing is really difficult when you have a clean and sterile environment. When you have a well-recorded record, there’s nothing to hide behind. When you’re playing pop music there’s even less to hide behind. I wanted to do something new.”
There was a newfound creative simplicity to Merchandise’s work, as opposed to the ragged punk ferocity of the early days. “Some of the new songs do new things in subtle ways. Everything we do, even if it’s overt noise, has a subtle element to it. I feel like this record has more of that than ever. Even though it’s really well recorded there’s subtle things happening that maybe people won’t see until ten years from now.”
The key moment in the album’s genesis came with the introduction of synthesisers and electronics, something that Carson was eager to make more prominent within the band’s sound. “We did a lot with electronics. We didn’t do any on the last record. I missed all the electronic stuff,” he explains. I’ve always been into industrial music. I think the electronic stuff makes it more vivid. You have an infinite dynamic if you want it. You can put infinite colour into a sound. That’s the aspect of the band that I always pushed. The colour of the sound and trying to make something different.”
The new album is probably the band’s most ambitious record. “I’m always trying to build Noah’s Ark and I always fall short,” laughs Carson. “It’s okay to aim high and miss.” There’s an acceptance though that this is perhaps an album that might either bring Merchandise an entire new audience or alienate their long-time following. The band are at peace with that danger though. “We’ve played a lot of games on the audience over the past few years. It’s fun, and ultimately I think there’s an audience that wants that,” he continues. “An audience that wants to be completely challenged by a band and have all their expectations and things they like about the band destroyed.”
Merchandise’s scorched earth attitude to their music is both dangerous and thrilling. The album flits between moments of dark 80s pop splendour to wonderfully weirded out electronic experimentation. It’s vivid, glamorous and mysterious. Hidden away at the end though is a song that means more to the band than perhaps any other and encapsulates their feelings as they hurtle towards deconstructing their entire process.
“‘I Will Not Sleep Here’ is a song that’s been with us forever,” says Carson of the epic penultimate track written by guitarist Dave Vassalotti. “I think the song is like nothing that we’ve ever really attempted. It has a symphonic element to it. It has a weight with the lyrics that are really difficult to understand. The abstract sense is what is inspiring to me now at 30. The idea that in the abstract you can come to new conclusions about art, music and personal philosophy.”
We’ve always embraced the abstract but that song is powerful in a way that you can’t condense into a pop single,” explains Carson passionately. “It is an artistic achievement that none of us expected to get. It was pulled out of the abstract”. “It’s an anti concept record,” he continues summing up the album. “It’s really just about colours and materials. It’s a big wash just like reality. There’s still people falling in love in the vortex. There’s still love, loneliness, depression, politics and genocide. All those things exist in that realm. It’s a cold look at it.”
Despite Merchandise evolving into something quite different, at heart the band’s ethos remain the same and they have faith in the fans to join them in a thrilling future. “The whole point is just to share an idea that we have and communicate with other people in a really weird way,” says Carson. “I hope there is a bridge between the old and the new fans. They’re all a part of our story.”
Merchandise’s album ‘A Corpse Wired For Sound’ is out 23rd September.