Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in ORANGE Issue III.
When Phil Hutchinson and Hugh Vu moved into their current house in Austin, they had no idea that a University of Texas professor had previously been murdered there. But they decided to run with the slightly morbid joke, turning their new living quarters into a record label and hotspot for their creative friends — dubbed, appropriately, Merdurhaus.
Story and Photos by Belicia Luevano
The idea to start a record label stemmed from Hutchinson’s desire to help his musically inclined friends showcase their work to the public. He worked on campus radio station KVRX, where he met Vu and made plenty of friends who were interested in music. The two had a constant stream of visitors at Merdurhaus looking to jam, but no bands had formed yet. “We all started hanging out and saying ‘I have these songs and these songs, you two be in my band, you and you be in my band, you suck so you stay in that band,’” Hutchinson says. These early jam sessions led to the formation of Baby Bleu, Hola Beach and Loafer, some of the first bands on the label.
Merdurhaus has released 15 albums since its inception in the spring of 2014. “We wanted our shit out there because no one else was gonna do it,” Hutchinson says. At first, they only planned to throw one combined release party for Baby Bleu, Hola Beach and Loafer last May, but after Hutchinson returned from a summer in Los Angeles, they decided to keep pushing forward and expanding the project. Since then, the label has signed bands like Tamarron, Secret Daughter and Comforter.
Merdurhaus adds new bands to its ranks organically. “It’s basically how the whole roster of people have come about, us knowing each other and meeting each other and meshing as friends and people that can work together," Hutchinson says. Instead of actively seeking out new talent, he’d rather get to know musicians on a personal level, and then decide if they’d be a good fit for the label. “I didn’t know the dudes from Comforter at all. Loafer started playing gigs with them, and we became friends with them, so I was like ‘Let's put out shit,’” he says.
The label’s show at Holy Mountain on April 23 demonstrated how much Merdurhaus has grown in its first year. Three of its bands — Loafer, Comforter and Tamarron — played alongside another touring Austin band, The Rotten Mangos, to a packed house. “A year ago, if this would have happened, there would be no one here,” Hutchinson says. Several members of other Merderhaus bands came out to support their peers. “Whenever a Merdurhaus band plays a show, there will be people there. We’ll go out, support them, drink, that’s what it's about,” Hutchinson says. “Seeing your friends who you’ve seen play 20 times in the past three months, you’re still gonna go and still gonna like it.”
Hutchinson functions as the glue that keeps the growing amount of musicians on the label together. While he doesn't perform himself, he’s the one buying the tapes to record, releasing new music, , booking shows and making sure everything runs smoothly. “I wanted to help them put their stuff out because to be honest, they’re pretty lazy and wouldn’t put it out themselves,” he says. “I help out everyone keep it all together, or try to.”
Members of Merdurhaus appreciate all Hutchinson does for the label. “For better or worse, he gets me to do things I would have never done on my own,” Baby Bleu singer/guitarist Andrés Chablé says. “He gets me to play shows in front of people I don’t know, and that’s what I love about Phil.”
Hutchinson describes Merdurhaus as a “DIY” label. Bands record with or without his help, although all the music comes to him eventually, since he presses it to tape and distributes it. “We’re doing cool stuff because it’s music that I feel isn’t being made by anybody else in Austin right now,” Hola Beach bassist Chris Nordahl says. “We’re not really part of a defined scene, we’re doing our own thing.”
While Merdurhaus has grown exponentially in just 12 months, Hutchinson wants to continue building a name for the label beyond the confines of the city. “I want to do bigger and cooler shit and get outside of Austin,” he says. “I don’t want to be just an Austin thing and held down as an Austin entity. I want to be a label based in Austin.”