Merchandise on the Band's Roots: "My Whole Life Is a Weird Florida Story"

Days before Merchandise’s debut performance at Gramps and weeks before the release of the band's new album A Corpse Wired for Sound, we got the chance to talk to lead singer Carson Cox about the state of his buzz-worthy little Florida band. 

Merchandise, originally from Tampa, has been touring the world as ambassadors to South Florida's music scene for the past few years. After 2012's breakthrough album Children of Desire, the band was signed by the iconic record label 4AD, and the group's latest single “Lonesome Sound” was just featured by Pitchfork as a Best New Track.

The band performs at Gramps this Thursday and will be stopping by Fort Lauderdale's Radio-Active Records tonight, September 21, at 6:30 p.m. for a free acoustic set. 

Merchandise is a charismatic bunch with a punk attitude and might just be the next big thing coming out of the Sunshine State. But enough from us. Let's hear what Cox has to say. 

New Times: You have been together since 2008. What has been the biggest challenge that you faced as a band so far?
Carson Cox: Continuing through the changes in life — from being a child to being an adult. Life changes, but you have to wake up and play music and keep on going. That’s a pretty big challenge. Also, I think it's hard for musicians right now. Most people get their music through electronic mediums, and when you are playing live, the social aspect can be very difficult because there is less and less of that. But, you know, there is always an audience that is still interested in guitar bands and live music.

I agree. Here in Miami, there are more and more new live bands playing every weekend.
I hope so. Electronic music will always be popular in Miami because — beside the people from Miami — you have many people from Europe, South America — all these places where house music is very popular.

How was the transition from being an independent band to being signed to 4AD? What were some changes that you noticed?
I think a lot changes, but maybe not so much of the core or essence of the band. Some things became easier and some things harder. I think it got easier for us to travel and play abroad, but it became harder to identify us within an audience. Most music audiences or media want to simplify you to a category because of sales. They need to be able to sell what you are doing. If you don’t want to fit into that — or if you can’t — it’s hard to sell. So, if you are an independent artist, you can do anything. I think that maybe there is something lost in translation between those two worlds, but it’s always up to the artist to decide what to do. I think that was a change — but, at the same time, it's like anything in life: It changes, but you have to roll with it.

You recently released a new single, "Lonesome Sound." The track will be included in your upcoming album, A Corpse Wired for Sound, an album that explores maturity and loneliness. How did you come up with the concept of the album?

Well, I was getting older and it just came out of my life. I initially wanted to make a political record because I felt like the world was just falling into pieces — you know, it still is. So I wrote that record as a political record, and it didn’t make much sense. I wasn't happy. I’m always more comfortable working with emotional themes. I’m more interested in the human side and less in the political side. So maybe loneliness was a more emotional side of that political feeling — feeling like you weren’t represented in society or the government; that there is a side of the world that is basically rejecting you. It doesn’t matter if you have the right or the wrong information. You can be 100 percent correct about the corrupting force of the world and still have no power to change it. I think that was sort of the loneliness; it was a political loneliness. We tried not to make it a concept record, but I think there are a lot of themes there.

You are always very honest with your lyrics, so I wonder how you feel when you are playing a song in front of a new audience. Are you ever afraid of being judged?

Well, you are going to be judged either way, whether you are telling the truth or lying. It’s something that I developed as a kid. It’s natural to me. That’s another side of sales or monetizing music — there is a lot of manipulation of the truth, and I’ve never been into that. That’s also maybe because I'm more cynical. I tend to be negative and realistic. I’ve never been able to pull out a character or something like that. I feel that some people do that or that helps a lot of people, but there is very little difference between the stage and my life. And I like it that way. 

Last year you released a collaborative 7" with Dum Dum Girls. With what other artist/band would you like to collaborate with in the near future?

I don’t know. That collaboration was very fun. It kind of came out of nowhere. I’ve been friends of Kristin for a little while, and we have talked about doing something together, and it kind of grew out of a moment. I think if we did a collaboration with somebody else, it will have to present itself. I’m pretty open-minded in terms of writing. I like production a lot. I produced for other people. I honestly kind of like just playing with my band, so I don’t think about collaborations that often.

You will be touring Florida for the next couple of weeks. Have the weird stories and overall weirdness of this state influenced your music in any form?
I would say my whole life is a weird Florida story, from birth to death — even if I don’t die in Florida. I think there is something about Florida that most people don’t understand. It’s more like a mix of South America and America and a whole global community, combined with a lot of meth and bad decisions and a lot of invisible rednecks. I think, for sure, it's the strangest little place that has always been a part of my life. I guess people always read stories in the news about Florida and think it’s Russia or some weird place in the world. It’s strange, but it’s the kind of strange that I have always been attracted to, and whether I’m here or not, I’m always a Floridian by blood, no matter what happens. So, all of the weird stories of Florida are reflected in what we do.

Merchandise, Public Memory, and Other Body. 9 p.m.Thursday, September 22, at Gramps 176 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-699-2669; Tickets cost $10 via