Another concept that was questioned initially was the use of cello as a lead instrument in the group. Having no frame of reference for how this could be done, Joe enlisted the first cellist who said yes, wrote down the parts down that he heard in his head, attached a contact mic running through a Heavy Metal distortion box, and created a viscerally thrilling yet unpredictable (at the time all you could hear from the cello's amplifier was uncontrolled feedback with be-bop inspired lines swirling underneath the chaos) set of ultra-catchy rock songs that pulled from everything from gypsy-jazz (all the guitar chords in Merch songs are based on the Django Reinhardt jazz voicings that Joe started on many years ago) to girl-group style backing-vocal hooks, even a little bluegrass and art-punk like Flipper. The shows eventually grew less disheveled as Joe learned more about how to properly amplify a cello through friendships made with some of the greatest electric cellists around. It never became less unpredictable though.
After several line-up changes, each one a wild story of it's own (including an infamous onstage firing), the project has now taken on a more open-door policy for touring members—with Joe playing nearly all instruments on the recordings The name MERCH is a commentary on consumerism and the ever-increasing notion of art, music, and culture as being disposable commodities. Joe Medina just returned from a national tour supporting MERCH's first full-length album Crash Boom Bash. During this tour, he logged nearly 9,000 miles in a van converted to run off of used veggie-oil. In keeping with the DIY damn-the-man ethos behind the project, the packaging for Crash Boom Bash was printed on all-recycled materials using soy inks.
The album is slowly but surely making it into all the independent record stores across the country as Joe makes his weekly trips to the post office when he isn't on the road. The much-lauded cello playing on Crash Boom Bash (as well as everything but the drums) was recorded by Joe—having only played cello for 30 days. The story is that Merch's cellist at the time had a nervous breakdown on the road a few days before they were to play The Roxy in Los Angeles. The rest of the tour had to be cancelled, but recording time was booked to lay down the tracks for what was to become the all-important first album. So, in lieu of finding another cello player to play the parts that he wrote, Joe rented a cello and practiced the parts 8 hours a night for a month.
He then recorded the songs in order of easiest to hardest, beginning with the two-chord punk of 'What Business Of It Is Yours' and ending with the cello-and-vocal hauntingly propulsive Americana of 'Long Steel Rail' (complete with a lovely cello solo recorded in one take). Merch is the perfect name for this young DIY pop-punk outfit of local transplants [San Francisco] from Fresno, California who have been rocking the all-ages scene with their infectiously hook-y lo-fi power anthems. Made even more off-kilter due to their unique use of cello and banjo as well as electric guitar as lead instruments, this reminds us at times of early Pavement, Camper Van Beethoven and Guided By Voices, but done in a way that feels like more of their own making rather than deliberately mining similar sonic influences. A fine debut that makes great use of its rough-around-the-edges production with fun catchy songs that stay with us long after they're over. Cool!—Aquarius Records Read more on Last.fm.
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