Record Label Spotlight: Merge Records

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Over the last 20 years, HIP Video Promo has had the greatest pleasure of working with some of the most outstanding and iconic record companies within the music industry. Every Tuesday, we’ll go down memory lane and talk about some of our favorite record labels we’ve worked with in the past. On this Record Label Tuesday, we’re continuing with the fantastic Merge Records.

Merge Records is an independent record label founded in 1989 by Laura Balance and Mac McCaughan in Durham, North Carolina. They specialize in indie rock and alternative rock. Laura and Mac started this record label with the sole intent of releasing their own music and the music created by their friends. Their first taste of success came with the release of Neutral Milk Hotels’s In The Aeroplane over The Sea and The Magnetic Fields’s 69 Love Songs. The first album released under Merge to hit the Billboard 200 was Arcade Fire’s 2004 album Funeral. Arcade Fire continued to top the Billboard charts and became one of the most successful names on the Merge Records roster and fellow Billboard-charting duo She & Him.

In 2009 Merge got caught up in a snare when Touch and Go Records stopped manufacturing distributing records from many independent labels. Alternative Distribution Alliance gave them a quick solution, and Merge Records continued to distribute release through them. That September, Algonquin Paperbacks released a book highlighting all the historic moments at Merge. A 6-day music festival followed in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, North Carolina, where countless Merge artists played. Merge record is one of those labels that put the big-name labels in their place. Even though they might be smaller, they sure are mighty.

One Merge artist we’ve had the pleasure of working with is the amazing Spoon. Back in July of 2007, HIP Video Promo had the honor of promoting their video for “The Underdog” from their 6th album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Spoon is an American indie rock band from Austin, Texas, that was formed in 1993. The band is made up of Britt Daniel, Jim Eno, Alex Fischel, and Gerardo Larios. This band is not afraid of risk and is no stranger to changing up their sound. This video is one shot, sweeping and swaying camera angles weaving through the recording studio. Directed by the Ghost Robot Team, this team pokes fun at the band’s reputation for being meticulous. We see the mixing board and Britt Daniel, the commander, making sure everything is running smoothly. While Spoon is all gathered in the main live room, everyone else hides behind doors waiting and looking bored out of their minds. The video holds a lot of humor and what makes it so much fun to watch.

We also promoted Spoon’s video for “Written in Reverse” in February 2010. Here, things take a little bit of a turn. Instead of sweeping camera angles, this video is shot in stark black and white and is filmed in extreme close range with the members. Viewers get the sense of being in the pit of the venue looking up at the band. It’s cool, intriguing, and maybe a little mysterious, all of which makes for an awesome video.

We also got the chance to work with the Shout Out Louds in August and November of 2011. Shout Out Louds are an indie pop band from Stockholm, Sweden, that was formed in 2001. This band has made its mark all over the world, from Stockholm to England to the US. Their album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff was very well received in the UK, and their music has been featured on shows like One Tree Hill and The OC. In August of 2007, HIP Video Promo worked with them for the first time and promoted their video for “Tonight I Have To Leave It”. The video, directed by bassist Ted Malmros plays like a documentary on a huge transport ship. It’s all cramped, steamy, and exactly what you might expect being on a ship. The idea of this video came from the band’s dream to play every port in the world. The second video we got to promote for them was back in November 2007 with their video for “Impossible”. Ted doubles up as director again for this clip. This time we’re transported to a bustling and energetic amusement park. The bright lights of the games and rides weave in and out of each other while the band wanders around. It’s not long before the group breaks off, and everyone starts wandering off on their own. The song may be energetic, but there’s something about the video that’s ominous and keeps you hooked to the very end.

Another Merge artist we had the pleasure of working with is She & Him. She & Him is an American musical duo consisting of the extremely talented Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. They released their first album, Volume One, through Merge in 2008 and have been dazzling the entertainment industry ever since. When she’s not being hilarious on New Girl or intriguing in 500 Days of Summer, Zooey is known for having quite a beautiful voice. In March of 2010, HIP Video Promo promoted their video “In The Sun”. In this video, She & Him take us all back to the halls and classrooms of high school. The video starts with M. Ward walking down the hallway without a care in the world, completely oblivious to the dancing mob behind him. Zooey leads this dancing mob and is eager to get his attention. The upbeat, peppy music makes us feel we’re right in the middle of the musical. Another video we got to work with She & Him on was “I Could’ve Been Your Girl” back in June of 2013. For this video, Zooey takes the reins and steps in as director. This video follows the same concept as the “In The Sun” video: here, we see Zooey and a group of dancers trying to get M. Ward’s attention. This time the choreography is sharper, and the colors are incredibly vibrant – making it a tad harder to ignore. This video takes us out of the normalcy of everyday life and plops us right in the middle of a retro feeling musical.

The next Merge artist we’ve gotten to work with is Bob Mould. Bob Mould, a founding member of Hüsker Dü, has been quite the pioneer in the world of alternative music. From punk rock to hardcore punk and everything in between, Bob Mould has dabbled in everything. In February of 2016, HIP Video Promo worked with him on his video for “Voice In My Head” off his 2016 album Patch The Sky. The song addresses some of the deeper messages on his album, like accepting the things we can’t change no matter how challenging it might be. The video shows Bob sitting on the edge of the bed while Bob’s clones surround him, each dressed the same and trying to gain control over the real Bob. Director Alicia J. Rose illustrates that even after all this chaos, a new chapter is just about to start. We got to work with Bob again in April of 2016 to promote his video for “Hold On”. This video picks up right where the “Voices In My Head” video left off. The different personas of Bob finally disappear as the next day starts. Still shaken from the night before, Bob tries to let go of what happened by going for a walk in the fog and rain while strangers come up to him and reminding him to hold on. The tension finally leaves him when he gets on stage at a bar and sings his heart out – it’s the perfect ending to this storyline.

Most recently, we had the pleasure of working with M. Ward. M. Ward is the “Him” in the She & Him, but when he’s not working with Zoey, he’s crafting and honing his own sound. Since 1999 M. Ward has released a total of 10 studio albums and has been going ever since. In February of 2016, HIP Video Promo promoted his video for “Girl From Conejo Valley” from his 2016 release More Rain. In this video, we’re introduced to a few different characters, each one representing a side to Conejo Valley. When we’re not learning about “Slow Brain” Winterhart, “Slow Thinking” Lincoln, or “Moto-Cycle” Wilson, we get sweeping overhead shots of the gorgeous valley – a valley with its own story to tell.

Over the years, Merge Records has introduced the music industry to some of the most notable artists out there. What first started as a favor to some friends ended up catapulting them nationwide and worldwide. In many ways, Merge themselves are like the underdog, they may be small, but they sure are mighty. That’s why they’re so good at what they do and why they’re one of the most iconic labels in the music industry.

Written by HIP Administrative Assistant Rebecca Karaman.