Chapel Hill, N.C.-based independent label Merge Records — which has released music by Arcade Fire, the Magnetic Fields and Neutral Milk Hotel — has shared a documentary through Google Play to help celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Narrated by author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), the 24-minute video (watch it here and below) explores the history of the indie label with interviews from Merge co-founders and Superchunk band members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, as well as musicians Bob Mould, the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merrit and Neutral Milk Hotel’s Julian Koster, among many others.
“Each time I’ve delivered a record, I hand deliver and go in and sit with everybody in the office and we listen to the record, which is very nerve-racking for all of us, but then I get to explain what it’s about — that’s a very old fashioned way to work with a label,” Mould says of working with Merge in the documentary.
In the video, Ballance half jokes that “there have been lots of records we’ve put out that i’ve had no confidence that they would sell — most of them.” When asked how many albums Merge has sold in the label’s lifetime, McCaughan answers, “It’s probably less than one Michael Jackson album has sold.”
But Merge has meant a lot to many of the bands on its roster, including Neutral Milk Hotel. “We’ve all put out records on other labels,” Koster says. “I think it was the first time any of us had gotten a royalty check and we really didn’t believe they existed anymore.”
And here’s a plus — Merge doesn’t sell drugs on the side, Merrit says. “The magnetic fields have done a few records with different labels and the other different independent labels we’ve worked with are often petty criminals — petty criminals with trust funds or petty criminals who are also criminals on the side. Merge don’t seem to sell drugs, particularly,” he says.
Merge has also shared a free sampler with bands like Superchunk, the Mountain Goats and Telekinesis covering songs by Merge acts Spoon, the Magnetic Fields, Wye Oak, Mikal Cronin, and American Music Club.
The documentary arrives ahead of Merge 25, a four-day music festival in Carrboro, N.C., featuring Wye Oak, the Clientele, Destroyer, Caribou, Lambchop (performing “Nixon”), Neutral Milk Hotel, Ex Hex, Bob Mould, the Mountain Goats, Superchunk and the Love Language.