“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.”