Merchandise at The Paper Crane in St. Pete on March 10, before their tour
Merchandise is back from their Spring tour of Europe. Carson Cox project Videoblu played with Soren Roi and Dylan Cameron on May 5 at Flash in Washington DC and Merchandise will be playing at the Hi-Dive in Denver on 5.28.17, then Barboza in Seattle, then another set of big city dates in California, the West Coast and the South through mid-June. They were on stage at the Supersonic in Paris by March 28 after starting their tour with Florida dates including a 3/10 show at the Paper Crane in St Pete, then nine sets at SXSW on their way out.
Merchandise is from Tampa; punks from its hardcore scene who, in this incarnation, have evolved to make music that is beyond genre. They have been written about in piles of major and other types of media, but a lot of people in Tampa Bay just don't know about them yet.
They should. Pitchfork called their latest album, A Corpse Wired for Sound "both scorched and ecstatic," and named one of the tracks on the album, "Lonesome Sound" Best New Track. Consequence Of Sound described its songs as "gorgeous and majestic" and The New York Times called it "even more desolate, more morbid, more akin to a deep sigh than anything that's come before it." Loud and Quiet wrote "there is truth and beauty here."
The show at the Paper Crane is the only show Merchandise has ever played in St. Petersburg. Chain of Flowers opened, an incredible UK band named for The Cure song and channeling a young, fresh Depeche Mode or Cure that is somehow happening right now. But that's another story. It was the first of five shows they played with Merchandise on this tour.
This tour was originally planned for late 2016, immediately following Sound's release. It had to be rescheduled when songwriter and front man Carson Cox lost consciousness and fell backstage after a show in Leeds, breaking his jaw and several teeth, according to a statement on the band's Twitter page on Nov 8, 2016.
When The Tampa Bay Times reported the news, they called Merchandise "the most critically buzzed about band to rise from Tampa in recent memory."
They signed with 4AD in 2014 after two years of courting by a slew of independent labels. Carson Cox says that the intense interest in signing them began after a 2012 interview in Pitchfork. According to that story, they had turned it down just two months earlier.
"They've had pretty much every decent label going try to sign them over the past 18 months." Matt Wilkinson wrote in NME after their deal. "I can't recall a new act holding out for this long for ages."
"We waited a long time," Cox said in the article. "I mean we talked to everybody and we were like 'yeah, ok, we'll think about it. And then just moved back home. But we were talking to Capitol, you know?" he said. "Kind of like, WTF? How could we have overshot the mark so far?"
"A lot of the labels that started out like 4AD and Matador,” he said,“started in this totally backward way, at a really different time. Now they've come up so much, it's funny to call them indie labels. It's rad to have really knowledgeable people -- technical knowledge that I have no idea about. Stuff like the fastest and smartest way to execute a record."
The first Merchandise release with 4AD, a single, "Begging For Your Life / In The City Light", was a remake of a song Merchandise originally recorded for a split tape with Thurston Moore's Band, Chelsea Light Moving.
"We were like... we've got to do something weird because of Thurston's reputation.“ Cox told NME. They've all done really seminal things. So, we were thinking we couldn't put a pop song out for it. “he said. The only change made to the 4AD track was to add some vocals.
Merchandise released A Corpse Wired For Sound on Sept 2016, putting it out about a week early in Florida. They celebrated in Tampa with shows at Mojo Music and Crowbar and a performance on WTSP's Morning Blend.
Half the album was recorded in Roma, Italy, half in Tampa. Band personnel for Sound is scaled back to the core Mercandise trio of Carson Cox (vocals, guitar electronics); Dave Vassolotti (guitar); and Patrick Brady (bass) from the full rock band sound of their first 4AD album, After The End:. After The End was the band's first recording with live drums. Leo Suarez. plays drums for the current tour.
“We were ‘reborn' as a rock band for After The End," Vassalotti said recently,“ and then we straight-up died again. It couldn't last. The result is this distended corpse responding to you from both sides of the Atlantic, forever singing in spite of everything.”
Cox talked about making the album in CLRVYNT last year, "We recorded a lot," he said. "I wrote like 30 songs and we picked nine."
"Silence" and "I Will Not Sleep Here" were originally written for other albums, but they fit better in this set of songs. Vassalotti wrote "I Will Not Sleep Here" some time ago.
"When we went into the studio in Italy, those songs came together and the other 30 songs didn't bind together that way," he said. "I was just into working in a kind of style... The idea of working in an abstract way."
Cox said the album is "anti-concept." "I've been reading some reviews and people are like ‘Oh, They're really good at writing love songs again,' and I'm like ‘there isn't a single love song on the album.'”
“Most of Sound is about some brutal closure I had this year with the idea of a person I thought I loved for years and years, and coming back to it and realizing that all these fragmented memories I had of this person ... was actually one that I had fabricated in my mind.” he said.
“And, when I started talking to them again, I realized there was nothing special there. The idea of the beauty that you see in the world is actually in you and it's your interpretation of it. The beauty and the love that I saw in this person was just an illusion.” he said.
English producer Gareth Jones mixed the album. He is sort of a hero to Cox, having worked with Tuxedomoon, Nick Cave and Depeche Mode. All production for the album was done in Tampa and the mixes were completed in a trans Atlantic collaboration with Jones in London.
"It wasn't so much of a production job." Cox said in CLRVYNT, "It was like he became part of the band. There were even songs that didn't make it to the record where I would play bass and Dave would play guitar. He didn't have a normal production role ... I don't think we could ever really work with a producer who wasn't like our friend, our somebody that we had a crazy connection with."
Carson Cox directed videos for five of the songs on A Corpse Wired For Sound . He has been directing Merchandise videos since they started. He really does seem to like film, so they are always pretty interesting and visually rich. Even with label support, he still uses some really simple ideas and techniques really well and cleverly, creating some cool videos that fit right in with a lot more elaborately produced and expensive efforts from other bands. It seems like Merchandise videos are always worth watching.
The video for “Right Back To The Start” possibly leaves viewers with the most questions. According to Cox, it's a modern take on Greek mythology inspired by Rod Serling. The spider tattoo worn by the three nearly identical women is the magnetic antagonist to the tragic protagonist, the man chasing the spider almost against his own will who doesn't understand what's happening. A narrator, played by Lindsey Jordan , sings along like a Greek chorus, looking sort of like a doppelganger to Cox. Recurring symbols of mirrors, mirrors starting fires and the popular media image of Cox in dark sunglasses reoccur in different forms through four of them, while Crystal Cage seems to stand on it's on in video. You can watch all of the videos on the 4AD website.
The new album reflects themes of starting over that seem in line with the band's current situation. After spending most of their career, even lives, in Tampa. Merchandise doesn't really live in Florida anymore.
Cox refers to it in the lyrics to “Right Back from The Start" in a line about his grandfather and in another about "planting seeds" that he said in CLRVYNT are symbols depicting his life… his family, personal history and musical side.
"I felt like when I left Florida, I left so much," he said. "But I felt like I had so little. I just had two suitcases. ... You can plan to save in many ways, you can start growing a life, whether it's a family or it's a career or whatever, it really felt like it was just over in Florida in that way."
"Personally it was a new beginning,” he said. “but also in general, the neighborhood I grew up in is another neighborhood that's fallen victim to gentrification. It was right down the street from the projects... and it's all changing. When I walk around the part of town, it doesn't exist anymore."
"... to me, that was a really important place, but it's just over, you know." he said.
Today, he added, it's the connections with people that give him stability.
While Cox relocated to New York, then to Berlin, Merchandise guitarist Dave Vassolotti relocated to Sarasota.
Merchandise might be nationally and internationally known, but when a punk band from Tampa mentioned them at a show at The Bends last summer, right before the release of Corpse Wired For Sound , only one other person in the crowd seemed to know who they were talking about.
Cox has mentioned repeatedly in interviews that the band doesn't feel overwhelmed with praise locally for their success. It's a sentiment frequently spoken of by Tampa Bay artists who have found larger recognition, both on social media and in public and private personal comments, if not in print. (From a fact check perspective, it has to be stated here that video and pictures from local Merchandise album release shows definitely seem to reflect a lot of love for the band. Check it out) The Paper Crane show was filled with people who drove from Tampa to see them that night).
"Nobody knows what I do still." he said in NME in 2014. "A lot of my closest friends don't realize how much we've done with music. Sometimes I think we're the red headed stepchild of the music scene because we weren't cool enough when we were young and now we're way too cool. It's like they never thought we were anything then and they still don't think we're anything now. I feel like most of my friends don't want to talk about it, Don't want to hear it, and there are a lot of people who aren't my close friends where every time you tell them you're doing well or they ask you about music, they are just immediately depressed because they can't have anyone doing better than them, you know what I mean? People are bummed immediately because we are doing what we want, living our dream. I don't know.“
Ray Roa wrote in SubAp about their awesome album release show for After The End at The Hub , "Anyone in attendance could attest that not one soul in the place harbored hate towards Cox & Co, and after watching a room collectively sway, hoist bodies on top of itself and sing along… you'd be hard pressed to believe the band hates Tampa at all."
When it comes to Tampa, both Cox and Vassalotti have definitely expressed appreciation for the Castle. In their 2012 Pitchfork interview, their first conversation with major music media, Vassolotti said "There was this old goth industrial dance club where we spent every Monday night dancing,"
"The Castle - it's legit as fuck." Cox added. " They always had music videos playing --Sisters of Mercy, Clan Xymox, early Ministry, the first Cocteau Twins record, Peter Schilling's "The DIfferent Story," .... old-school industrial was massively in my mind [during the making of Children of Desire] , but from a lyrical end, I was listening to Bob Dylan almost exclusively."
When NME asked him in 2014 if he would still consider Merchandise a punk band he answered "I don't know. I was born after punk died, so whatever --- as punk as that can make me."
Merchandise formed in 2008 from a collection of Tampa hardcore bands. Members of Merchandise were a part of Tampa punk and hardcore bands including Cult Ritual and Neon Blud.
When Pitchfork first wrote about them in 2012, they said that the band appeared "uninterested in transcending the punk underground" and that they had been recording on a Wal Mart keyboard.
‘To say it's a hard core scene is funny because, yeah it was,“ Cox said recently,” But that was just the surface. Below it, if you were involved in it, there was a lot of music and a lot of acts from pop to punk. You learned more than you did in college.”
“All the bands that came out of England in the 80s,” he said in NME. “They didn't seem to be anything alike, and that was the spice of life… let's all be whoever we want to be… I feel like it produced the best.” he said. “The Mekons…, they're still one of my favorites. Like, who sounds like The Mekons? I don't know anybody. They were just this band from Leeds and they've had a big influence on me.
“You read about classic bands and The Minutemen never talk about punk,” he said.
“Punks become uncomfortable when things make them question their politics. They're afraid to listen to things that are totally different from themselves. But you should be able to listen to anything. Like, wasn't there ever a time in your life when you didn't know any of this shit? I'm really connected to my childhood, when all I listened to was "La Bamba" and Buddy Holly. I have a connection to those things as an American, not as a punk,” he said in Pitchfork in 2012 .
Coming from Tampa, I had ambition but I never had the confidence to share [Merchandise] with anyone... no one liked it because it wasn't hardcore." he said. "There's no reference point for what we do in Tampa. The punk scene was not a friendly place. People were not welcomed."
And while their hardcore bands became well known, he and Merchandise guitar player Dave Vassalotti were listening to "weird kraut rock sh###" according to Cox.
"When Dave and I were young, we didn't have anyone -- we were only playing for each other. Everyone just thought w were indie dorks he said in NME.
In that article, NME went on to call guitarist Dave Vassalotti “one of the most exciting new guitarists around at the moment.”
While a lot is made in the media and Merchandise bios about their background with punk, Cox has said that the band's music and process is seriously influenced by jazz and The Band, especially their album Music From The Big Pink.
He talked to PItchfork about their jazz connection, " It's a goddamn boulder that I can't move. I still don't think anything is as powerful as Nina Simone or Miles Davis. There's all this shoegaze music going around, but whatever people hear in us, the shoegaze is just Miles Davis. He played some of the most melted music, and you can still get his records in dollar bins everywhere.
Yeah, he sounds like Morrissey. Sort of.
In spite of being called punk so many times, it's really their heavy, no-genre sound that sets Merchandise apart. As Pitchfork said in its review of Children of Desire, "One of the most interesting things about Children of Desire is, despite being crafted from familiar parts, how damn hard it is to peg."
After The End was the first album after their deal, but Merchandise has been developing its recorded sound since 2010. They played their first shows in 2006.
They made their first album in Carson Cox's bedroom. "We never planned on doing it live," he said.
“It was something I recorded in my bedroom.” He said in Pitchfork. “We only had two keyboards-- it was funny, [we sounded] somewhere between Erasure, Suicide and Otis Redding coming out of a Japanese keyboard. It was fun, and we had no idea what we were doing, but it was also miserable. Singing in your room and singing in front of people on a broken PA is a little different. So they were very, very artistic-sounding sets. We would never announce shows. It was word-of-mouth. We used to make flyers but we'd give them out the day of the show as a document: "This was what you just went to."
Along way from that point, their second full length album Children of Desire came about.
Months after their first interview with the band, Pitchfork spoke about them glowingly in reviewing the album . Along with the EP that followed it, Totale Night , it has been called some of the band's best work. Both releases were independently produced.
"With Children of Desire lying low no longer seems like much of an option [for merchandise]" Pitchfork wrote. "Most assuredly not a punk record, Children of Desire is anything but understated. it's an emotionally rich pop album that practically begs for your attention."
Another interesting thing about Children of Desire is that the physical copy of the album contains book written by guitarist Dave Vassolotti, a story that incorporates all of the lyrics .
"It's a fictional journal, loosely based on the record," he said "You can find all the lyrics in there. I feel like it's just part of the record now, Anybody who is just getting the mp3 is only getting half the story, He said.
Every new Merchandise release seems to be critically called out as a "big change" or a "new direction" for the band. That's every day." Cox told CLRVYNT. "Every day I wake up and I'm like 'it's time for a new direction or it's time for a new name. It's time for a new idea."
Today, according to 4AD records, they are, “equal parts punk misanthropy, maudlin balladeering, fine art, low humor, classical study, psychedelic spacecasing, mad science and pop genius. ” That sounds about right. It's not shoegaze.
Right after their deal, NME asked Cox what he thought the effect of signing would be on the band's music.
"I put every goddamn last drop of goddamn blood into it, and it's kind of funny because it's totally the oxygen block. You know ... music critics take whatever you want -- listen to it, criticize it, tear it apart, but it really is my everything, Which I know is bizarre."
Death Index is a hardcore flavored duo that Carson Cox formed with Italian punk Marco Rapisaida in Feb. 2015. Rapisaida has been a member of Venice bands La Priovra and Sgurd.
Their album Dream Machine, released on Deathwish Records, was recorded in Berlin, Tampa and Palermo.
Cox told CLRVYT they're putting out a second record,. "It's going to be weird and fucked up and dark. We recorded it when I was in Italy. We recorded a bunch of big fucking metal things. Just smashing them and breaking glass. So it's gonna be pretty heavy and weird."
Expect to hear a lot more from Merchandise. Seriously.
“We have so much material, so much stuff that we've never recorded just waiting,” he said in NME. “I'm like a nerd and I want to put out different versions of everything.”
At the end of last year he said that there are several other records from the members of Merchandise that are produced, pressed and ready to be released. "I don't know when they're gonna come out,” he said. “We just have to figure out how they're coming out and when they should come out. But a lot of big things in the future with Wharf Cat. Stuff that I've played on, stuff that I've produced directly. And they re0ally were my family when I was living in New York… you know. They totally embrace the creative side of whatever we're doing.
One recent release on Wharf Cat is a collaboration between Sam York of Wall and Parquet Court's Austin Brown, a 7" called "Fire Dance". It was part of a partnership with minimalist artist and Wharf Cat founder Sam Falls, who contributed the record's artwork.
Dave Vassolotti released a solo album, Broken Rope on Wharf Cat in March 2016.
"They really go after creative projects that I'm into that don't fall under any scene or category,” Cox said. “and yeah, it's not even just like this next year. The next five years, I would say, a lot of the big stuff that I've been working on, creative stuff, is either coming out through Wharf Car or somebody I have a direct relationship with."
“We've already like, exploded our reality, now we're living our weird acid trip existence,” Cox said in 2014.
Merchandise will be on tour in Europe through May. See the Tour Poster for specific dates.
Limited Edition Collage by Carson Cox given as an album premium with select copies of A Corpse Wired For Sound.