Posts by Liz Pelly
Tampa trio Merchandise see "art" and "punk" as potentially interchangeable words, a sentiment that resonates throughout Children of Desire, their 2012 LP for Brooklyn label Katorga Works. The six-song collection might be the year's best post-punk record, an album informed by endless night terrors, an equal love for jazz and Dylan and and hardcore and noise, and, more generally, a band-wide addiction to the consumption and creation of music, film, and literature.
2012 was a transitional year for Merchandise. Its members had been playing in Florida hardcore bands for years, but for some reason (boredom and frustration with the punk community?) decided it was time to start responding to press requests and inqueries from major-indie labels and booking agents. "Entering that bubble is funny," singer Carson Cox confided to Ad Hoc over the phone. "It's just strange. We have double lives. We've kind of always had double lives, but now we have really hilarious double lives."
As equally inspired as Desire's songs is Desire in the Mouth of Dogs, a prose companion piece penned by guitarist Dave Vassalotti. Videography is an important medium to the group too. Yesterday, coinciding with the record's reissue and first widescale distribution, the band posted a self-shot, stripped-down version of the album's longest track, "Become What You Are." In keeping with the band's more expansive aspirations this year, it's is their first foray away from lo-fi video. "With our videos, we're kind of moving into new territory, where we're doing things that are cleaner and more intentional," said Cox. "We're on tour for most of the next year, but we have more video plans. It's been a big part of the band. It's just as much a passion as putting out the records to me at this point."
Merchandise plays Ad Hoc and Self-Titled's Art Basel showcase this Friday night in Miami. In advance of the show, we called Carson, Dave guitarist Vassalotti, and bassist Pat Brady to talk about their most memoriable experiences in in 2012, the various film and writing projects they're working on, and Florida in general. When I dialed them on Sunday afternoon, they were collectively reeling with excitement from the insane Napalm Death concert they had seen the night before.
It’s December 1980 in Worcester, Massachusetts. At the community radio station WCUW, outsider psych-folk legend Bobb Trimble is playing songs from his recently self-released debut LP, Iron Curtain Innocence, when one of his fans, a second-year Clark University student named Kris Thompson, stops by to introduce himself. The two become fast friends, and by the first of the next year, Trimble starts hanging around for basement practices and house show parties put on by The Prefab Messiahs, a band Thompson just started playing in.
The Prefabs started in 1981 as a project coordinated by Xeth “Xerox” Feinberg, a college senior recently returned from some time abroad in the UK. During one drunken night in Europe spent criticizing '80s consumer culture and the general state of things, a peer of Xeth’s made a reference to the “prefab messiahs” who were controlling the American mainstream mindset: Ronald McDonald, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and other “friendly face[s] of corporate fascism.” Hyped up on some German Expressionism classes he’d recently taken, Xeth knew he eventually needed to start a band with this name. When he returned to the US, facing forthcoming graduation into a rough economy and bleak post-grad prospects (sound familiar?) he did just that, and the Prefab Messiahs were born-- a noisy psychedelic band commited equally to writing weirdo pop songs and being socially critical punx. The band lasted about 16 months.
In advance of this weekend's Austin Psych Fest, we asked Liz Pelly (Boston Phoenix, Pelly Twins) to catch up with Shane, John, and Anna from Quilt.
I first met Boston psych-folk trio Quilt at a show in Allston, Massachusetts, where the band was opening for Big Troubles, Prince Rama, and Beach Fossils. It was October 2009, and we were in Quilt vocalist/guitarist Shane Butler’s basement, at a place called the Butchershoppe, a house venue that was very much an epicenter of the city’s underground music scene at the time. Quilt played there often. Their hazy harmonies, meandering guitar twangs, and temperate drumming seemed fit for the dark, smokey location.
After three years of self-released recordings on tiny tape labels (Spookytown, Breakfast Of Champs, Burger) and several self-booked tours of houses and fringe spaces, what started as a basement-bred project of three art school students has now evolved into a more expansive ordeal for Butler, Rochinski, and drummer John Andrews. Their homonymous debut LP was released on Mexican Summer last November: ten cohesive tracks informed equally by their visual art backgrounds as their affinity for pondering generational identities. Atop it’s haunting sonics, lyrics cover spirituality (“Penobska Oakwalk”), the relationships between baby boomers and their kids (“Children Of Light”), and other coming-of-age concepts. This year, Quilt has multiple tours planned, including one that brings them to Austin Psych Fest this month.
Recently, I had the opportunity to tag along for the band’s tour to SXSW. On a rainy Saturday night in Orlando, Florida, I sat on a rickety porch chair with a group of kids involved in the local underground scene. We were having an hours-long post-party conversation on music, culture, ethics, and the general state of things, when Butler chimed in to comment on the ways DIY show-booking is changing the way music sounds and feels: “We live in shuffle culture but the shows that have come out of it are allowing extremely different bands to influence and inspire each other in different contexts,” he said. “I feel super psyched to be playing in a time when so many musical trajectories are colliding.”
His words spoke to the complex, divergent array of influences that Quilt draws from; twangy ’60s riffs mix with forward-thinking electronics, retro takes on experimental tones. During a recent phone conversation, I asked him to elaborate on the way physical spaces can affect music. As Butler, Rochinski, and Andrews passed the phone around-- they were in the van driving along Lake Eerie, en route to Canada-- we also talked about New England, Boston, and the geography and architecture they find most inspirational.