Making “Our Noise”: Merge Records founders at Malaprop’s Friday

“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


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About Jon Elliston
Former Mountain Xpress managing editor Jon Elliston is the senior editor at WNC magazine.

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9 thoughts on “Making “Our Noise”: Merge Records founders at Malaprop’s Friday

  1. Jon Elliston

    Thanks for the kind corrective, Bugg. In fact, Merge put out an Archers record — a 1994 single — and several pieces of Archers front man Eric Bachman’s solo work and that of his band Crooked Fingers. But never an Archers album.

  2. Rebecca Sulock

    Other Merge news: Chapel Hill-based The Love Language signed to the label this week. Love Language features Missy Thangs, from the now-defunct but still beloved Asheville band Piedmont Charisma (other alums: Chad Pry (On the Take. Manband, etc.), Josh Carpenter (Floating Action, Rodriguez, etc.) Hoping for an Asheville tour date.

    Says The Love Language lead singer and songwriter Stuart McLamb: “As of yesterday I’ve overdrawn my bank account by $200, my girlfriend dumped me and my car won’t start. I think this Merge deal could be a real turning point.”

  3. Chad Pry owes me two hundred dollars for the copy of my quadruple album that was supposed to be released on EMI two years ago but was held up by legal wrangling by the Pink Floyd LLC when it was learned that I had actually not used The Wall in its entirety but had, in fact, overdubbed all the keyboard parts using an old Casio with a stuck ‘C’ note one octave above middle.

    C’est la vie.

    So, if Chad could get me that two hundred, I could easily by this band’s new album on Merge and maybe make up for not seeing Laura and Mac at Malaprop’s (assuming I’m not still banned).

    What? You thought I was going to offer that two hundred to that other poor sap? Just because we have a Democrat in the White House doesn’t mean that bootstraps cannot still be climbed.

    Onward and upward, my dears. Enjoy the naked man asleep on the toilet in the group project video one last time before breakfast.

    And remember, Jesus loves you.

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