VMP Interview with Merge Records

On July 2nd 2015

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Superchunk’s music video for “Me and You and Jackie Mitoo,” from 2013’s excellent I Hate Music is one of our favorites showcasing vinyl love. So, while rolling through Durham, North Carolina, we checked in with the publicity team at Merge Records to dish about wax. Publicist Christina Rentz and publicity assistant Mike Caulo spent a big ol’ chunk of time hanging with us, so this conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VMP: How and when did you each get to Merge?

product but put music on their devices. Vinyl became the best way to do that. We were one of the first labels to do the free downloads with vinyl.

Additionally, back when Merge started, one of the reasons was to document bands who would be together for a while and then break up with no record that they ever existed. In that spirit, Mac [McCaughan] & Laura [Balance] (and therefore Merge) have started releasing sort of one-off 7-inches from local bands they like such as Barren Girls and Flesh Wounds.

VMP: So are you both vinyl collectors?

MC: Yup!

CR: Mm hm!

VMP: What’s on your turntables, then?

CR: I think on my turntable right now is Mac’s new record Non-Believers, which comes out on May 4. We just got the vinyl promos!

VMP: Sweeeet.

CR: Yeah, I think that’s what’s sitting there, but it was The Rock*A*Teens’ Sweet Bird of Youth.

VMP: Some things don’t change!

CR: Exactly! And there was no Rock*A*Teens vinyl! I wasn’t a vinyl collector in college certainly. We don’t even have a CD player right now. We have a vinyl record player and Spotify.

MC: You made the move!

CR: Vinyl is prettier to look at in your house. We have a couple of those Ikea shelves and then we also have this shelf that my husband’s father built. I don’t know if it was for records or what.

MC: But it works for records?

CR: It works perfectly for records!

MC: That’s awesome!

CR: What do you use to store yours? They’re all stacked on the floor, aren’t they?

MC: Mine’s more recent. A little under two years ago, I came across a listing that Christina had posted looking for a publicity assistant, someone with more of a focus on the regional side of things. I had been in Boston helping artists on my own like a one-man-operation thing. I sent an email to Merge headquarters introducing myself and they were receptive. One thing led to another and I came and chatted here and it just seemed like an operation that I wanted to be a part of and I was very glad that the feeling was mutual.

CR: Not as glad as we were! I’ve been at Merge since 2001. I did college radio and started noticing that all my favorite records were on Merge—The Rock*A*Teens, The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs came out when I was in college. Spoon’s Girl Can Tell came out right after I graduated….I decided to move to Chapel Hill because then I could go [back] to school if I decided to and then two months later, I worked here.

VMP: When you started in the early 2000s, Christina, was Merge releasing vinyl?

CR: No, I think they had pretty much stopped. We had just quit making cassettes because I remember that they gave me a bunch of cassettes when I first started here. We didn’t really do vinyl or if we did, it was only for the releases that we thought were bigger records. CDs were still the number one [medium] because iTunes hadn’t even started, yet.

VMP: At what point did the vinyl resurgence hit Merge?

CR: We started probably in the mid-2000s. It’s been fairly recently since we decided that pretty much every release needs to be on vinyl. We also started noticing that it was good advertising because vinyl has this really nice packaging. As the digital stuff started increasing, music fans started looking for a way to still have a physical MC: What? No! Alright, I only have like two cubes filled up. Two-and-a-half, maybe. I’ll pull out a couple and they’re awkwardly on top of the receiver. But yeah, they’re in alphabetical order!

VMP: Are they?!

CR: Whoa, you’re doin’ better than us.

MC: You expected it to be all haphazard!

VMP: Well then what’s on your turntable now, Mike?

MC: Right now, Waxahatchee’s Ivy Trip.

CR: I hope you waited until they left your apartment!

MC: Yeah. And yeah they stayed at my house on Saturday. Blue Note Records been doing all these reissues because it’s their 75th anniversary, so they’ve been putting out four or five albums every other week. There was this one record that I’ve been waiting for forever, this trombone dude Grachan Moncur III that put out this album that…is amazing. When they announced these reissues a year ago, they had the whole release schedule mapped out. I’ve been waiting for just about a year for this to come out. So that’s the other one on top of the receiver right now. It’s on deck!

VMP: I noticed that a lot of the Merge vinyl that I own is black wax, standard weight, with a download code. What kind of funky, limited, colored vinyl do you have, if any?

CR: That’s totally changed. We have started to notice that people like colored vinyl and they like limited run stuff. I will say that the two most amazing, limited deluxe packages are the Superchunk I Hate Music deluxe version it came on orange vinyl and it came with a stencil that said, “I hate music” so you could spray paint it and it was just this satisfying packaging. The latest Mountain Goats record [Beat the Champ], we did a deluxe edition of that one and it is awesome! It’s three LPs, because the album itself is a double LP, so one is yellow/gold, one is green, and the bonus LP that has an unreleased track and a dubbed version of the unreleased track and it’s on red vinyl because the song is called “Blood Capsules.” There are little blood capsules on the artwork and it’s just so cool. We try to make things as interesting as possible, at least within the limitations of budget and artwork and concept and things. Waxahatchee also did a limited run of colored vinyl.

VMP: Mike, do you have the limited one on your turntable?

MC: Yeah! It’s like a nice creamsicle orange. It’s awesome.

VMP: So what’s coming up in Merge land?

CR: In May, Mikal Cronin has some colored vinyl and Mac does, too.  That’s all I can divulge at this time, but we’ve got some nice surprises coming up—some new-to-Merge bands and some reconfigurations of bands we’ve worked with in the past.

Hilary Saunders writes things, often about music. Follow her on Twitter @Hilary_Saunders

 

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