“People ask that question a lot: Why did you decide to put out your own records? But it’s not like there was anyone else asking to put them out.” So says Mac McCaughan in the oral history/scrapbook Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label that Got Big and Stayed Small (Algonquin, 2009).
And so Merge Records was born in DIY style, back in 1989. We’ll put out our own damn records, McCaughan and his girlfriend at the time, Laura Balance, decided during shifts at pizza joints and copy shops in Chapel Hill. They played together in a scrappy indie band called Chunk (a name soon changed to Superchunk), and started cranking out 7-inch singles of not only their own music but that of other local and regional bands.
Twenty years later, Merge Records can look back on many a milestone in its evolution to becoming a preeminent independent indie-rock label. (Merge has released albums from acts including The Magnetic Fields, Arcade Fire, Lambchop, Spoon, Archers of Loaf, She & Him and Destroyer.)
In Our Noise, Balance and McCaughan, along with Gawker Media reporter John Cook, chart Merge’s rise with affectionate, detailed and funny memories shared by members of the broader Merge family: the bands and promoters, the club owners and show-goers. And choice bits of music memorabilia — candid photos, set lists, early record covers, show posters, etc. — are featured throughout the book.
Structured as a loosely chronological romp through the highs and lows of building an independent, successful label from the ground up — while playing your ass off in bands like Superchunk along the way — Our Noise feels like a front-row spot at many a show, road trip and recording session.
Balance and McCaughan will read from Our Noise and maybe play a song or two starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2, at Malaprop’s in Asheville. See these videos of Our Noise readings and performances for a preview.
— Jon Elliston, managing editor