Merchandise Talks 'After the End,' Punk Culture & Hating Morrissey Comparisons

Merchandise, 2014
Timothy Saccenti

Merchandise photographed in 2014 by Timothy Saccenti.

Merchandise’s Carson Cox knows that life will always be in flux. He used to be straight edge; now he’s not. He used to be vegetarian; he now eats meat. The Tampa-based band he fronts used to be signed to a small, D.I.Y.-minded label; now they’re with 4AD, which one might call a “major indie.”

“The reason the record’s called After the End is because after this, it’s the f--king end!” Cox says, though he’s thankfully not talking about the end of Merchandise after their fourth studio album, which dropped Aug. 26. There’s a scorched earth, rip-it-up-and-start-again mentality to Merchandise, which has seen Cox stray from his beginnings in hardcore punk all the way to the sound of After the End… whatever that is.

Start with standout track “Enemy,” which happens to be accompanied by one of the most awesome music videos you'll see all year:

“We had a whole film crew in Tampa shooting with us in these locations that had been in my mind forever,” Cox says, speaking of his work with director Tim Saccenti. While the frontman enjoyed going the D.I.Y. route with past videos, he didn’t quite realize the benefits of proper lighting and a cinematographer until he landed in a situation where such luxuries were possible. 

Bur even before 4AD came calling, Merchandise accomplished a lot. With the label Night People, they put out powerful LPs like 2012’s Children of Desire and 2013’s Totale Night, and with a following behind them, they found themselves in a place where the bigger indies came to them.

“Booking by yourself -- when you’re doing a lot of it -- is pretty difficult,” Cox says of the band’s pre-management days, when touring mainland Europe or Asia was only a fantasy. “We definitely wanted help. And 4AD is kind of a dream label, too.” 

But when a band with Merchandise’s background jumps to a much bigger label, there’s going to be some pushback, which is partially what Cox had in mind when writing the lyrics to “Enemy”: "If I’m your enemy, then I’m keen to be your enemy.” Some of the soreness was understandable (“I wore a bindi at a show and a bunch of people were mad at me,” he remembers), but he’s also grown tired of standards in the punk community where he says you’re always being either “too punk” or “not punk enough.”

“Every time I’m in a big city it’s like the biggest jerk-off fest. There’s obviously people I want to see and visit, but you meet and see so many people that it would almost be easier if a line was drawn in the sand -- ‘Just tell me you don’t like me.’”

Like him or not, Cox is very open about his influences, many of which are far from anything “punk.” Inspirations like Talk Talk, Roxy Music, and Felt make plenty of sense, but Cox adds his fascination with jazz and classical pianist Keith Jarrett, classical composers Frederick Delius and Henry Purcell, and the musicals of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. And then there’s Joedci and Aaliyah: “Recently I went to a skating rink on a date with a girl, but also with some friends. It was non-stop '90s R&B.”

On past albums, Merchandise indulged in tracks that sprawled out over six minutes and mesmerized the listener with repetition and contortion. On After the End, they move towards shorter, more linear structures, but given the density of the production and instrumentation, there’s no reason to doubt Cox’s list of inspirations.

But don’t mention Morrissey. Cox’s vocals are often likened to the ol' crooner, but for the record, he’s not a fan.

“I f--king hate Morrissey. I think everyone’s stupid for idolizing him. Obviously I love the Smiths, but I feel like he stopped writing good lyrics once he started his solo music.”

But former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr? That’s a little better.

“I don’t know Johnny Marr personally, but I know he’s said some nice things about us in the NME, so I would say he’s much cooler.”