Venturing into a studio together for the first time nearly a decade into their career, Merchandise have never been ones to do things by the book. Since they first emerged from the hardcore scene in Tampa, Florida, the outfit’s unshakable drive and DIY aesthetic has seen them consistently propel themselves to new heights – but the response they’ve garnered is simply a by-product of their innate creativity. “I would say that we’re the opposite of strategic,” frontman Carson Cox laughs. “If anything we’re fucking five years late to the game in a lot of things. But maybe we’re fifty years ahead of the curve in other things.”
Gathered in their hometown for rehearsals, the band are in the middle of the calm before the storm. Not that things have been exactly quiet in the two years since their last record. “I think everything about the foundation of my life shifted,” Carson mulls. “A lot of my personal ideas changed.” Leaving his home for foreign grounds, as he reached a coming-of-age at thirty, it’s been a period of extensive growth for the group.
“It’s what I think most people go through, coming of age, leaving childhood, and changing,” Carson states. “It’s not the same as when you were twenty-one. You need to go through the layers of your own ego and ask yourself what is it that’s really important. The only thing is answering whatever it is to yourself when you’re alone.” It’s this kind of intense soul searching that led to the creation of the group’s fifth album. “You have to change,” he shrugs. “As a musician you end up interpreting that in a lot of different ways, and you end up with music that reflects it.”
That reflection takes form in the guise of ‘A Corpse Wired For Sound’. “The title is a phrase that has some kind of resonance with me, but I don’t really have an explanation for why,” the frontman alludes. In fact, it seems that a lack of explanation is a common thread within the record. “I feel like there’s something about abstraction that has been liberating for me, as somebody who has been trying to write concept records since we started putting out records,” he offers. “This one has nothing to do with a concept.”
Outwardly opposing any preconceived definition, the band ventured further into the extended structures and poetic ideas that have long shaped their output, stretching their scope to horizons new. “The last record was this huge epilogue for the band as it existed,” Carson expresses. “But there was a lot of yearning to say something else.” With so much already said, the group did the only thing they could do: evolve.
The first step in this evolution? To test their very limits. “We can never keep putting out records like we used to,” the frontman reasons. “I’d really gone as far as I thought I could with what I had.” The result of an exploration for new ways to create, ‘A Corpse Wired For Sound’ showcases Merchandise at their boldest and bravest yet. “There’s a new bigness to a lot of ideas and concepts that we worked on that we never even really approached, and now we’re starting to get them,” Carson enthuses. “It’s something that maybe we rejected when we were younger.”
Maturing out of the “deep bohemian lifestyle” that made up most of their early twenties, establishing new ideals in the process, the group are sounding more expansive than ever. The album itself was “composed in a way that’s meant to leave something unmagnified.” A richly layered tapestry ripe for exploration, the record is effectively “a blank slate” – “not so that everyone can dive in, but because everything is a blank slate,” Carson specifies. “I want people to hear the music and interpret it however they wish.”
“I’m just fascinated with the abstract quality of what the lyrics and what the music can mean, the arrangement of those things, and trying to arrive at a new place with our music that we haven’t before,” he continues. “People want us to be totally overt – bleeding heart emotional or totally fuzzed out, and that’s cool, but we did that so much.” Striving for different pastures, the band found a world of possibilities lay wide open before them. “I think there’s a new space that we are approaching – not just with this record, but in our personal and artistic lives – that is really cool.”
It’s not just their sound that’s gotten bolder. The group wrote an extensive thirty tracks to be considered for the record, before whittling them down to the nine that make up the release’s forty-odd minute duration. “It’s done in a classic English way – like in the 80s when they’d try to make every song a single,” Carson depicts. “It’s a ridiculous amount that nobody does any more.” Drawing from the past to make their mark on the future, the album echoes spellbindingly out of sync with the world around it.
“It’s an interesting time to be a musician because everything’s such shit!” the frontman continues. “Everything is so stupid. Even pop radio stuff: the summer song isn’t big, there’s no such thing as blockbuster movies any more, television’s dead… All these comforts about the Twentieth Century that I understood as being a normal thing are just gone, disintegrated, and what’s left is this kind of new frontier – which is more exciting for me.”
Disengaged and disenchanted, the resulting album is a platform for a voice of detachment. “It’s really interesting to still speak about stuff, and to have a voice in this time,” Carson portrays. “The record’s not a positive record. I don’t think we’ve ever made a positive record in our lives as a band,” he chuckles. “They’ve all been very, very cynical.” It’s this cynicism, coupled with vivid melodic illustrations, that makes Merchandise’s sound so distinctive.
“There’s a lot of weird, subtle colours that are part of what I interpret the record as,” Carson adds. “I think they’re all meant to be interpreted differently by every listener.” Creating an album open to any perception is no easy feat, but Merchandise have long mastered the craft of presenting emotion as the driving force. “It’s like looking into a vast horizon filled with fog,” the frontman alludes. “You just don’t know. It’s exciting to have that question mark.”
“This music is my fantasy world,” he continues. They may be writing for their own catharsis, but the group are quick to admit that “it’s more fun to hear everyone’s interpretation.” All they want is for their voice to be heard. “I hope there can be some kind of resonance with people who feel far away from everything, or that lonesome people can find something in it,” Carson deliberates. “They can think about their own lives and enjoy it, hear me singing and maybe it’ll resonate with where they are, even if they feel like they’re so far away from the rest of the world.”
“I feel like I’ve answered so many questions that I was trying to find for so long,” he adds. “Now it’s a totally different story. Maybe it’s too subtle for people to get. Maybe it’ll sound less subtle in ten years, or twenty.” The future might be shrouded in fog, but there’s no obscuring the excitement the group are igniting. Whether you’re listening now, in ten years, or in twenty, Merchandise have created an album resounding with emotion for any age.
Merchandise’s new album ‘A Corpse Wired For Sound’ is out now.