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I don’t know a whole lot about Tampa’s Merchandise, but seeing how last year’s (Strange
Songs) In The Dark LP really bowled me over, I figured I might as well go right to the
source for some more info. Existing in the hardcore scene while simultaneously transcending
it, Merchandise is the result of insular, gritty noise mixing with wounded pop aspirations,
and it’s more interesting and enamoring than most any other home-recorded rock group out there.
They had a lot to say, which I certainly appreciate, so let’s get to it…
When did Merchandise first come about? I heard something about Merchandise being
ex-Cult Ritual, or other hardcore bands, but I never really knew what to believe…
Carson (vocals): We started in 2007 but we’ve been playing in bands with each other since ’05
or something. Dave played in Cult Ritual and I recorded them a bunch. I played drums in
two bands at the time, Divisions and Slavescene. I’ve written personal music for years
and years. Dave and I always shared music more than anyone else. This is the culmination
of those years and our musical friendship.
Dave (guitar / programming): We all really met through hardcore and punk. Local shows, years of playing for
nobody except for each other. I played guitar in Cult Ritual and a million other bands.
Carson and I just play music all the time, and this band is us at our most free and most
personal. Our most focused response to everything. There’s really not much to do in this
town other than work.
We’re working on 4 LPs simultaneously with our other projects (Merchandise, Dads, Grinning
Death’s Head, and Church Whip). We really just want to make movies.
Pat (bass): What he said.
Have you guys made any movies before?
Carson: Yes, with some friends. I grew up with a lot of filmmakers as friends. Mostly
improv shorts. Nothing other than student work. We make our music videos but I wouldn’t
call that film. I work with video to document mostly. We are going to make a couple new
videos for this new record.
Dave: We make all our music videos and are constantly filming new stuff. We’re going to
start working on some more intensive projects (a feature-length City Songs Project, a
narrative, etc.), but for now we’re mostly just tackling the shorts. Most of our video
projects end up here: http://vimeo.com/user4772643
Do you think it’s harder to be “free and personal” while playing hardcore, as opposed
to whatever Merchandise is?
Carson: Hardcore is very unimpressed. The kids growing up were suspicious of everyone’s
intentions. I grew up with very critical friends. It’s funny how little support we’ve
gotten inside or outside of hardcore. Our support comes from punk kids who maybe don’t
identify with anything except being themselves. I’m influenced by too much to be inside
any place. I still participate in punk and hardcore but for traditional reasons. My
roots are strong and have kept me playing whenever I really hated playing shows because
of pointless social gossip or whatever. I’m taking the chance that there are people like
me outside of punk by playing whatever I like. Genres are not for us.
Dave: I do think it is harder to be free and personal playing hardcore, but definitely
not impossible. There are just so many self-imposed limitations on hardcore that it’s
hard to get anyone to listen unless you sound like someone else. With Cult Ritual, we were
trying to push hardcore a little further out from the rehash we were sick of hearing. I’d
like to think we were successful in playing free and personal music within the realm of
hardcore, but at the end of the day it was still just hardcore and those limitations were
a factor in the death of that band. With Merchandise, we’ve just been doing this for so
long that we can only play what we want to play, no matter what it may end up sounding like.
If someone asks you what style of music Merchandise is, how do you answer?
Carson: I don’t know. It’s based on what were doing at the moment. It’s punk and it’s
somehow sort of dub DJ culture sounding to me (Lee Perry). It has morphed a bunch and will
probably change again. At first it was pretty straight-forward first wave of American
post-punk (Mission Of Burma, Hüsker Dü, Wipers, mid-era Sonic Youth…). The electronic
drums opened up a lot of new influences that I’d been listening to but not really playing
(Tuxedomoon, Psychic TV, Sisters of Mercy). Also anything in between. I had a big Dylan
obsession for a good year where I just wanted to write late ’60s-sounding blues guitar
shit. A lot of this sound comes from the lack of gear I have. I pull samples from recording
sessions I’ve done. The drums on the fourth track of Strange Songs is a sample of
Tommy’s drums from the Cult Ritual LP I used instead of a drum machine. It’s part influence
and another part things that I pull from life. I don’t limit my influence, musically or
personally, so it changes every year.
Dave: I just say things like “punk” or “pop” music just to get out of the conversation
as quickly as possible. In truth, we really are changing and adding new sounds all the time,
so any genre / style answer would be fleeting at best. I feel like all of our other projects,
in addition to Merchandise, add up into one work. It all feels like one and the same. I could
really only describe it as ‘our music’, but Ornette beat me to it. I usually just keep my
Was the group always intended to be something that plays live, or did it start
out as a home-recording project?
Carson: We started as a three-piece post-punk project. We played a few local underground
gigs. Not much happened. Dave moved away, and Pat was working on other music. The band
was going to stop after the second tape, but I got an offer to do an LP. I was still playing
and recording every decent independent band in Tampa and touring. The Strange Songs LP is a
bedroom record I made with Dave doing guitar. Once that came out it started up again.
Dave: I guess we started as a live band, but it really did turn into a home project of sorts
for a while. Carson and I both record tons of stuff on our own, so when I lived in Atlanta
for a while, we would send things back and forth (resulting in the LP and the Silk Gardens tape).
After coming back to Tampa, Carson and I did shows for a while as a two-piece (him on vocals,
me on keyboard and synth). Got tired of that, so now we’re doing guitar-based live sets
again, with Pat back in the band on bass.
Pat: Merchandise was actually born out of the smoldering wreckage of another band, so it
was always a live band since its creation.
I caught you on that recent tour as a two-piece. It seemed like even without guitar,
you were able to stay pretty true to the songs on the record, which I enjoyed. Did you
intend to have songs that could be played on a variety of instruments, or was that borne
out of necessity?
Carson: Totally out of necessity. We don’t have gear anymore. I sold my guitar before I
recorded the Strange Songs LP. That whole record was recorded on borrowed gear. We
used keyboards at first ’cause it was free. Dave is gifted with lots of instruments; we
got into the format with synth music but if we could use whatever we wanted it would be
Dave: Yeah, total necessity. When we record a song, we don’t really think about how it
could be done in a live setting. We always just figure it out later. As a two-piece, it’s
tricky to make songs come across as full live. The keyboard and synth setup allowed a lot
of control and range for me, plus it’s the only gear we would’ve been able to fit in my
car for a tour. Since our set-up is different now, and we’ve managed to accumulate some
gear of our own (for once), we’ll be able to do some different things.
Are you pleased with how those shows went? Do you feel like someone who caught
the keyboard-based Merchandise duo live received a good representation of the band?
Carson: Not really. The best way to see the band is be at every show or be in the band.
I feel like by the time I’m 30 I’ll know what I’m doing, but until then I just play and
hope for the best. I’m trying to represent the ideas better by keeping to guitar and bass
for the new record. I didn’t start this project with the intention that it would reach
Dave: I thought the shows all went pretty well. The set-up was different on the surface,
but at the root we were still playing it and it sounded like us. It was a decent representation
of the band, as good as any of the other set-ups we’ve had.
Generic question, but I’m genuinely curious – where did the name come from? I’m
used to it by now, but at first it struck me as kind of an odd choice.
Carson: In America there are nothing but things to buy.
Dave: We really love the Simpsons.
Pat: Ice cream-eating motherfucker.
Did you break up at one point? I could’ve sworn your label or someone said that
Merchandise was over after that first album.
Carson: Yeah after that LP that was going to be it. Dave is living in Tampa again so it’s
Dave: We never broke up, we were just dormant for a bit.
I really like how Merchandise has this balance of noise and melody, how there is
always this mix of sounds both jarring and pleasurable. Is this a balance you actively
try to maintain, or have things just kind of happened on their own?
Dave: We grew up playing in punk bands, so noisy things just sound right to us. Melody
does not have to be taboo in noisy music. We’re influenced by beautiful things as well
as very ugly things (both musical and non-musical). I wouldn’t say we try to venture in
one direction more than the other, we try to maintain the balance in a way that sits well
with whatever it is that we’re trying to express.
Pat: Shit just happens.
Carson: I would hate to be put into a category. A lot of types of music speak to me. With
me, the style of recording is biographical. You can trace the sounds through punk into jazz
and other music. Tampa has the best underground/post-punk scene in the country. That’s been
a big influence. I’ve seen the best bands on the east coast over the past five years
(Drunkdriver, Pollution, The Men, Pigeon Religion, Swans). A lot of shit people missed out
on that was real great. In addition to that, I’d like to think the music is pure and doesn’t
have any reason, but I don’t know if I can say that. A lot of old record labels had a big
impression on me (Impulse, Angel, Young God, K, SST, Mute). I’d say also that I detest
“High Definition” music and video culture so anything to repel snobs or shallow music listeners
is put in intentionally for that reason.
Why would you say that Tampa has the best underground punk scene in the country?
What makes it so good?
Carson: The local bands are really good. I look forward to seeing bands because I enjoy
them and ’cause they are honest. Here there is nothing to gain from playing any underground
gig. The recent good bands have been Russian Tsarlag, No Milk, Haves and Thirds. Cephia’s
Treat has been holding it down for years. Bob Suren, who ran Sound Idea, is also responsible
for the great punk from Tampa. Whether you played his shop or he booked your band, he’s a
big part of everything I grew up around. Other than that, Tampa is full crooked promoters
and “indie” rock. I have friends in New York and abroad that play in killer bands (punk and
other types of music) but all the worst new music is coming out of big American cities.
I don’t know, I’ve heard some awful music out of some tiny towns, too. Seems
like many of the lousy bands coming out of big cities are just people that transplanted
from smaller ones in hopes of making it big.
Carson: The industry lives in those big cities. Everything is cliché as fuck. Everyone
is stuck in this system of bands that sucks that keeps rebuilding itself. All the major
indies are majors now. Nothing can grow or develop, everything is online immediately. Being
a part of Tampa for this long has been great just ’cause I’ve seen so much happen. I had a
chance to make something with other people who just wanted to play music. That was all.
Just music. No money, no audience, no nothing. I’m generalizing, but I’ve been playing music
for years and out of that time I’ve seen three good bands a year. Local underground acts
here always destroy touring bands.
So if some big indie offered you guys a few grand to buy instruments and a van
and go into a studio to make a new record, you wouldn’t do it?
Carson: I don’t think we’d ever do that for a bunch of reasons. We’re more interested in
working with investors and not so much record labels. We don’t need any money to make
this music, we’ve been doing it for so long without help that I don’t feel like it’s
necessary. I wouldn’t want to associate with any bands on major labels either. That industry’s
days are numbered. Major label music is beyond stale. It would be like voiding all the time
we spent on this project. I have lots of friends who work with major indie labels and it’s
a big rat race. The time you take to promote and do press takes away so much time that we
could use to record and write. I would accept an artist grant or government stipend or something.
That money would probably go into video or painting or something other than music.
Dave: I wouldn’t write it off completely, but it would have to be totally on our terms. This
(general “this” not limited solely to Merchandise) means so much to us and it is really the only
thing we believe in. We cling to it like a rosary. We’ve become so adept at doing everything
for free (recording in our house, using busted gear, doing all our own artwork, booking our
own tours, etc) that we really don’t need a big indie label to back us. We prefer to deal with
friends. Signing on with a bigger label is certainly possible, but I doubt it will happen with
Lyrically, from the words I can make out, there seems to be this overarching
theme of depression, love, relationships… all pretty heavy stuff. Am I just reading
into it, or are the lyrics generally about pretty serious, deep issues, as opposed to
lighter, less personal material?
Carson: Yes, for sure, a lot of this is written from a point in my life when I felt
abandoned by everyone (save my truest friends). Heartbreak is a big theme. Youth and
time and growing older also. I don’t ever make the distinction that lyrics are poetry
but I am trying to talk about hidden things in this music. People are blind to the reality
of what is really happening in their lives. They live lies because it is more comfortable
that way. Especially in the punk scene, kids like to think they are different but they
are just as judgmental and shallow as mainstream culture. I don’t want to dwell on any
theme too long so I’m writting less about people and more about psychic places. One song
can have many scenes and stories.
Has the reaction you’ve received met your expectations? Like, has anyone really
loved or hated the group in a way you never expected?
Carson: I’m surprised anyone listens to it. I feel like no one I meet listens to new music
or punk. I’ve gotten an awesome response from all the hardcore kids I’ve known for years
that have heard it. This music is more for them than anyone else. Europeans seem to dig
it more than Americans. On tour some kids were real nice about the new music.
Dave: We played for years with what felt like little or no encouragement from anyone. Ever
since the LP came out, we’ve been getting real positive feedback and a ton of kind words
from all over. I can’t think of an example of exceptional love or hatred towards us, but
the overall reception has been good. I’d like more people to hear us, especially abroad,
because we want to do as much traveling as possible. We really want to go to Europe (with
Dads and Merchandise).
Pat: I’m in a couple other bands that people love to hate, so I expect nothing.
Why do you think people love to hate your bands?
Pat: Judgment is the glue of the world.
Seems like you consider yourselves part of the hardcore scene, even if Merchandise
doesn’t really fit that tag. Have you had a chance to play for other sorts of crowds?
Would you want to? I wouldn’t be surprised if people digging the whole “cold-wave”
thing would get into Merchandise if they knew you existed.
Carson: I play for anyone. New cold-wave is a joke. I used to dig some of the new synth
acts but they all have become corny. It seems like big business to me. More of the record
industry ruining music. It’s too narrow, it’s genre based. I want the person I’m listening
to be a musician, not a celebrity rip-off artist.
What current synth-based groups did you dig?
Carson: We played a gig with Blank Dogs in Ft. Lauderdale. The show was fun and Mike
(Sniper) was nice, but I just didn’t dig it. I saw them in Austin, TX in ’08 or something
and I enjoyed it, and used to love that On Two Sides LP, so I was ready to like it.
It just felt lazy when I saw him this last time, boring and way too straightforward gothic.
I thought the other stuff was at least punk-inspired and this time it felt like he was doing
the cool thing to do. But I think there are people doing awesome things with synths. Rene
Hell is really great. Human Boys is great. Piece of Plastic is cool. Tampa has a lot of great
synth-based bands(Skeleton Warrior, Outmode, Craow, Then and Than, Pro Bro Gold). It’s a
balancing act and a lot of bands are just playing goth rehash.
I understand a second album is in the works… how would you say it compares to (Strange Songs)
In The Dark?
Carson: It’s different. The new music is all written during a recent personal crisis. It’s
still hard to get by. People in this city are real bad. It seems the world is crumbling on
itself all the time. Other than Merchandise, all the bands we’re doing right now are more
rock n’ roll based. Playing punk for ten years is a big influence on the record. It has
electronics and live instruments. A lot of organic audio sampling. It’s more “’70s” than
“’80s” in songwriting (Battiato). The lyrics are half about people and the other half
about places the mind goes during crisis. The working title is Children Of Desire.
I’ve been reading and working visually more. It’s still a work in progress.
Dave: It will be much more of a “live band” record than Strange Songs was, but I’m sure
post-production will still play a huge role in the finished sound. The songs aren’t too
drastically different than what we’ve done in the past, but this new LP is still in its
infancy. It could really go anywhere. We’re planning on self-releasing some tapes of live
material / demos / oddities in the near future to help garner some funds for the project.
We’re recording all the time.
Is it easy to determine when a song is “finished”? How do you know When you’re
done messing with the recording, or adding and subtracting tracks, and so forth?
Carson: Yes. It’s like turning a painting. It turns until it stops. When it stops it is done.
Dave: You don’t necessarily know where it’s going to end up while you’re doing it, but
it’s easy to know when it’s done. This reads like stoner logic, but I believe it to be true.