Hangovers And Sludge – An Interview With Merlin

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Jordan Knorr is an interesting guy. One of the primary voices in the burgeoning midwestern sludge scene, his band Merlin has rapidly developed a reputation as a scene-defining act, a band who understand the inherent pain of the genre but also who typify the ingenuity that makes this scene so exciting. Interviewing him during a triumphant weekend at Psycho Las Vegas was a pleasure, because like so many other people in this scene, we knew each other from the internet for years and finally got to have that oh so fun first drink together. So huddled over with hangovers and liquor we had quite the chat. I hope you dig it.

How the hell are you?

I’m a little hungover and I lost a lot of money yesterday, but I’m catching up! So far it’s been great though. It’s really fun to wake up here. Pot is legal now and you can drink wherever you want and you can make a bunch of money at 9AM!

I guess what I’ve always wondered about Merlin is to what extent does being from the midwest impact your music?

There’s not much there! You have to do some creative and off the wall stuff to stand out. There’s a big country scene and lots of terrible rock bands. The lack of stuff is what influences us to be as weird as we are.

Tell me about that scene…

I noticed about five years ago that this band Keef Mountain started playing some shows. They blew me away because it was just two dudes and the guitarist just had two full stack Sunn amps. I was blown away by how heavy and sludgy they were. They started becoming more popular. Josh from The Company pressed their record which got them on the map. Then you had Youngblood Supercult, and they are killing it on the scene right now as well as Custom Black who rule. Then the drummer of Keef Mountain started a band called Inner Altar who play some sweetass seventies proto doom. Now you have Hyborian in Kansas City who are killing it in the sludge department. It’s a nice tight-knit heavy family, and we love being part of it.

Before that scene happened were you into sludge?

I liked some heavy bands. Between The Buried And Me for example. They aren’t sludgy but I like heavy hitting stuff. When you start getting into thrash and stuff I get bored with it, so it’s cool to see heavy spacey sludgey bands now.

What defines heavy for you?

Something that will have a loud impact both in the tone of what they are playing and with the tone of the lyrics they have. For a band to be heavy it comes down to how much they rattle your cage.

Were you a part of underground music before sludge came to Kansas City?

I started the band in 2012, but sludge had always been on the backburner. It has found a really big scene in the house venues. When I started the band it was kind of to make fun of the other bands. It was me talking into a tube storytelling. It had nothing to do with sludge, but then I started seeing I could make it doomier and psychedelic and it turned into this whole thing. But I’ve only been in the scene since 2012.

How did it feel to get the email saying you would play Psycho?

It felt really good. A lot of local bands have good times staying local. But we’ve put out a lot of records and it has a fair bit of international acclaim. We get messages from European and Australians. They buy stuff from us like I would buy stuff from a triple A band. So for me to play Psycho was great because it was playing to an audience we have known for years. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Who are you most looking forward to this weekend?

Sleep is really good – I can’t get enough of them. They don’t tour around the midwest. I really want to see Magma too because they are so weird. I also want to see Youngblood Supercult slay it on the big stage. They are nice people, and it will be great.

Why do you think so many people in Europe and Australia like your music?

When you go online a lot of people follow the labels bands are on. So when a label puts out an album fans of the label know what other releases they have done. People trust the labels. So you get fans of some band who are willing to spend money and buy a vinyl of someone they have never heard of and it keeps snowballing. You have people who bought the shit out of the first record, then when the second one came out they would buy both. People would see what Poison Mind was doing, and it was great. You find this mysterious band and up until that point you have no real interaction with them. There’s no way to go see them. You find them from Bandcamp.

Is that why this scene has flourished in the past few years?

Well records themselves have been getting huge. People like buying records. This particular scene, the stoner, the doom, the sludge, everything in between, people dedicate packaging for vinyl. I think the scene is flourishing from all these vinyl sales. You can put what you’re wanting to portray in your music for the packaging for the record. People who buy these records buy more records to see what this other band has to offer. You know you’ll like a band just from the genre it’s in because this genre is pretty great. Buying these records is like getting trophies, so you just want more. Bands are succeeding in this too, and you get fans you never thought you would get from just picking up a record. Vinyl has made it really easy for bands to get themselves out there.

What do you love so much about music?

You can do whatever you want. As far as Merlin goes I don’t care if we have a country album or a drone album I just like the fact that in the music in general you can release whatever you want as long as you believe in it because I want no one to expect what they will hear from Merlin. You don’t have to stick to anything with music, you can do whatever you want. There’s so much room for creativity and building upon your brand, it’s really cool.

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  • RepostedAvengedSevenfoldFan2

    not only is this band PURE GENUS but they dont give a flying fuck what ppl say 😀 and even thou i LOVE h8rz cuz they make dis band famous i just wanted 2 say…. HOW THE FUCKING HELL CAN U H9 THIS BAND!!?!?!?!?!?!?!? must b b!?@%# (that word is to dirty 2 say, even4 me) fever, makes ppl go insane with that high squeaky voice alwayz in their head ;3

    -mrKITTI3KAT, 4 years ago

  • Óðinn

    I do care if Merlin has a country album or a drone album. No country please. Country is not music.

    • Brutalist_Receptacle

      MOTHER MAYBELLE CARTER WOULD KICK YOUR ASS

      • Óðinn

        Wasn’t aware of that person. I looked her up, and listened to a couple of songs. Not my cup of tea. Although, it is preferable to more contemporary styles of country, I will admit.

        • Brutalist_Receptacle

          She’s well worth a read. She is responsible for the guitar leaving its early rhythm relegation at the back of a band, to the creation of the lead guitar and its prominence. The “Carter scratch”, (melody on bass strings while rhythm continues above on trebles)can likely be followed all the way to some metal guitar styles (flat picking, etc.). She also pretty much saved Johnny Cash’s life. So props. This tough old hillbilly gal is straight up rock and roll goddammit.

          • Óðinn

            That’s interesting. I will read up on her a bit when I have a bit of spare time. I have studied quite a bit of history in the arts, but it’s mostly film and visual arts. I’m a bit weak in music history knowledge outside of Metal and Jazz. I’m studying sound theory and design at the moment.

          • Óðinn
          • Óðinn
          • Brutalist_Receptacle

            I read a lot of sound history, it is actually part of my field. The reason I am so hopped up on The Carter Family is I just finished two books about them: Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone which is an oral history, beautfully written, about the Carter Family. And second, Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music, which details the origins of sound recording and the work of Ralph Peer, the man who signed the Carters and others. Cheers!