In 2002 MoRisen Records was a new Charlotte-based indie rock label. I’d watched bands launch their own “labels” for years with little success, but with releases from groups like Leisure McCorkle, Chapel Hill’s Snatches of Pink, and eventually the Talk, Chuck Morrison’s venture seemed to be a legitimate business. Morrison had made some money in another business (I believe it had to do with designing a computer mouse that looked like a race car) and decided to invest in Charlotte’s budding indie-rock scene. He not only signed and released records by long running Charlotte staples like the Alternative Champs and the Houstons as well as new artists like the Sammies, but threw an annual concert called NMX that showcased both his label’s bands as well as other artists.
To celebrate the label’s 10th anniversary, MoRisen will hold a nostalgic concert featuring many of its former bands, on Friday, December 21, the actual anniversary of the first NMX show. My husband and I attended the second NMX show in 2003 right before we started dating, so I remember it well. One of the groups on the bill was the Whigs. It didn’t completely win me over that night, but in the almost decade since the Athens’ rock trio has become one of my favorites both live and on record. It was a baby band then with only a year or so of playing under its collective belt. It has since appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” and recently on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and has released four albums, three of which are some of my favorites of the last ten years.
The anniversary roster includes several bands that made an impact locally and beyond. The lineup includes a Dillon Fence reunion (a band that predated the label, but saw a “Best of” released by it posthumously), as well as the return of the Sammies, Elevator Action, the Alternative Champs, and Leisure McCorkle (all of whose live activity varies locally). In NMX fashion, the bill also includes a newer group - Melrose Heights.
Morrison definitely had an ear for songs. While not every release was a slam dunk, there were some great tracks on those records. I don’t know how many mixes I’ve included the Alternative Champs’ “Set Your Face on Fire” (from 2005’s “Welcome to Fort Awesome”) on. The Sammies’ “Falling Out” and “For John” remain perfect slices of that time period.
Morrison also didn’t try to clean the bands up too much either. While college rock was getting slicker and slicker, he allowed his bands to appear warts and all. There was often a gritty, garage rock quality to the records. That’s true of Snatches of Pink’s “Hyeana,” one of the label’s first releases. It was a messy, garage rock romp. The songs “Nero” and “Otto Wood” (other mix tape staples) are near perfect in their spastic energy. Likewise for the Talk. I think it peaked with its second album “Like Magic in Reverse.” It was a bit more polished than its first disc, but still awash in distorted fuzz. Justin Williams’ faux English accent cut its way through that dense whir kind of making you strain to hear the lyrics. The last track “Hold Your Money Well” was probably my favorite.
Morrison dismantled the label and moved to Columbia a few years ago. It seems like (aside from the Alternative Champs) the bands who he helped send to South By Southwest in Austin and CMJ’s New Music showcase in New York as well as placed on film soundtracks became a little less active without the label in their corner. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of the music they made.
You can judge for yourself, at least in part, taking a walk down the memory lane of Charlotte circa the mid 2000s Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 to $15 and are available at www.visulite.com.