Merlin, live

Not Quite the Playboy Interview

Aylmer, Quebec's Resident Pop Wizard, Merlin

Interview by Daniel Ewacha
Live photography by Paul Clarke

37-second excerpt from "The Playboy Interview" (various formats)

Some might say that Merlin is a genius. Blending a wide range of influences and textures in his music, Merlin created his own form of expression and has now set his sights on spreading his brand of magic across this world of ours. He certainly doesn't lack the knowledge or the energy to do so: when you listen to and, in this case, watch Merlin speak, you're dealing with the intensity of 10 people. (Hmm, kind of reminds me of that Anthony Robbins character I keep seeing on TV late at night...) The energy that Merlin possesses comes out ten fold again in his music, where his real strength lies.

I had been hearing conflicting stories as to how Merlin's latest album, Merlin's Arcade, had been recorded, right up to the time of the interview. All the stories I had heard, however, had been very intriguing, so I decided to go straight to the source to find the truth.

cover of 'Merlin's Arcade' "The disk was recorded on a 16-track in my basement. Some tracks were done on an eight-track. I played all the instruments and it took about three months to record." I asked Merlin whether or not the somewhat grainy sound (due to the eight- and 16-track recording) was a desired sound. "Hell no!" he replied most candidly. "If I could have recorded the album on pro gear, say a 24-track, I would. It's funny, though, because I've heard lots of shit albums recorded on pro gear but I look at it this way: I shouldn't let non-pro gear stop me from making music."

Merlin's first single from this latest effort, "The Playboy Interview," appears to be getting quite a bit of airplay, as it rightfully should. It's a great song, as are all the tracks on the album. However, the video for "The Playboy Interview" (which also looks like it was made with non-pro gear) has some pretty interesting scenes and footage, particularly one reoccurring element where the word "sicko" appears throughout the video. When I asked Merlin about the use and/or meaning of "sicko" in the video, he laughed and answered me in a riddle, like the sorcerer he is: "That's a good question!'re the first person to ask me that. Sicko...well, if you have the single, read what's inside and it will reveal the answer." Hey, Merlin, in case you haven't noticed, I'm a music writer -- I don't read. What is the answer? "I'll give you a hint, it's about the future." And with a nod and a wink his mouth shuts tighter than the vault at Fort Knox, making you think that the answer Merlin is withholding may be just worth more than the gold in Fort Knox.

Merlin's head "People don't see the humour in my music," says Merlin, mouth unlocked again. Personally, I found it literally impossible not to. Merlin adds, "'Playboy Interview' is half auto-biographical. People have to learn not to take things so seriously. Getting back to the subject, however, of 'sicko,' here comes the answer: the next single, 'Junk Religion,' should give you an idea." Taunting me with a smile, I see why some may consider Merlin to be a genius: a cunning plan to reveal the secret of the universe or the secret of selling more CDs. Either way, it works, at least in my case.

The tour which brings Merlin to Vancouver started in Hamilton and will see him crossing the country twice for now. With a slight hint of frustration, Merlin tells me how the tour is going: "It's like people watching TV. We're the freak show on television and people just sit there and watch. Don't dance or sing cause they don't know the music, which is fair enough. They [the audience] think, 'Oh, it's really good, let's sit back and watch.'" When I ask him whether this is, in fact, frustrating for him, he replies, "No, because the people don't know the music, but it will be frustrating if this is the case two or three years down the road."

In Merlin's case, however, I doubt this will be the situation, as his music has a tendency to run you over and drag you along for an exciting and unpredictable musical journey. In time, people will come around -- as will the pro recording gear.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on June 7, 1996

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