Even before Carson Cox wades into an hourlong interview about his Florida art-rock ensemble Merchandise – and its apocalypse-themed new album “After the End” – the bandleader has an inquiry. Having played The City several times (the group returns to the Rickshaw Stop next week), he wanted to know: “Are there any hippies left in town? Or is it all old, rich white people now?” Only only a year ago, all he was listening to was The Grateful Dead, one of his many disparate influences.
So the Bay Area disappoints you now?
I think San Francisco always puts me in a weird mood. There’s something kind of crazy about it, and the energy there is pretty insane. But I always want there to be more freaks than there are. So I always feel like I’m the biggest freak. Especially around punk rockers, because in this day and age, punk rockers are really straightlaced. They all have jobs, they all have girlfriends, and they’re all into buying vinyl. I feel like when I’m in San Francisco, I should have this freak-out experience and take acid with the audience or something.
But your taste in music is all over the map. You love jazz artists like Miles Davis, Nina Simone.
And Frank Zappa, too! There’s a radio station in Tampa that’s listener-run and commercial free, and that was how I got into Zappa or any other far-out music. But where did the counterculture go? I’m 28 years old, and my generation grew up selling out, or buying in. We’re not a political band in any way, and we don’t care if you’re on Capitol Records or the smallest bedroom label. But the music industry has self-destructed, and the idea of changing the world? Just totally gone. The only way our generation could do it is if there’s some kind of fashion statement involved.
Artists from other genres have influenced you, like Cocteau, Andre Breton, the Futurist movement.
There were these people that had a desire to bring artists together, like painters, poets, dancers – just different schools of art that find each other. And I feel there’s a lot of power in that. But part of the difficulty of being 28 is not to try and do too much too soon, because most of these people I admire were well into their 30s when they finally figured out their art. So I’m looking forward to my 30s and 40s, because my grasp on all these concepts that I’ve been fascinated with will be so much broader. And my life will be really vivid and beautiful.
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 1
Tickets: $13 to $15
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com