• Courtesy of Stripped & Chewed

This month Chicago boutique dance label Stripped & Chewed is reissuing 2000 (And We’re Still Here), which local house veteran Merwyn Sanders released under the name Merle. For Sanders, the fact that anyone besides himself is excited about the EP is an unexpected delight. It’s certainly different than the reaction Sanders received when he released the record in late 1999. “I didn’t sell anything, I didn’t hear any response,” he says.

But the EP has accumulated a cult following during the past couple years thanks to one of the B side cuts, “Fannie Likes 2 Dance.” A sinewy dance cut, laced with luxurious disco and pulsing with light handclaps and what sounds like a flute playing a repetitive Morse code message, “Fannie Likes 2 Dance” has found an audience online and internationally—London DJ and producer Joy Orbison included the track in his BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix last year. “Fannie Likes 2 Dance,” which Sanders re-edited and renamed “Mimi Likes 2 Dance” for the reissue, is, at long last, getting Sanders and his EP a little more exposure.

Sanders started in the world of house music in the 80s by forming a duo with his childhood friend Eric Lewis. The pair first teamed up in elementary school—they played as part of a short-lived four-piece band called the Quadraphonics—and by the time they entered high school Sanders and Lewis were working together exclusively. After a failed attempt to catch the ear of Trax Records in the mid-80s the pair landed a deal in 1989; Sanders and Lewis released a few records through Trax under the names Virgo Four, M.E., and Ace & the Sandman. The duo’s last release for the label, Ace & the Sandman’s Let Your Body Talk, came out on Trax imprint Saber Records in 1992.

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Let Your Body Talk would be the last record Sanders released till 1999. Sanders says that around the time the Ace & the Sandman record came out he was talking to house legend Ron Hardy about putting out some music with him, but those plans came to an end after Hardy died in March of 1992. Though he didn’t release any new records during much of the 90s Sanders says he stayed busy, performing live and working on public murals commissioned by the city.

Sanders was working on establishing himself as a solo act, and part of that meant working on his musical weaknesses. “I was known as ‘Merle can’t sing,’ which was true,’ he says. “But I went through a long period of working on my voice and trying to develop that, and becoming a better musician even behind that.” Sanders took lessons with Robert Burgess, who ran a studio called Vocal Mechanics, and got help from his uncle, Wayne Sanders, who cofounded Opera Ebony in 1973—Merwyn Sanders says it’s the longest-running African-American opera company in the country.

Sanders aimed to put his vocal training to good use in the studio, and aspired to knock out fully fleshed-out songs a la Prince. “Prince would play everything, sing everything, and that’s kind of where I was trying to go,” he says. “That EP [2000] was just me trying to do the start of that.” So Sanders camped out at a home studio on the far south side in 1999 and started working on the four tracks that would appear on 2000. The inspiration and name for the title track came from Y2K fever. “Everybody was talking about the world was gonna end in 2000, and so in 1999 I knew that wasn’t the case,” Sanders says. “I was figuring, I’ll release it in 2000, right at the beginning, and that would probably be the best track on it just because of what it’s talking about. I didn’t have any idea that everybody was gonna lean more towards ‘Fannie Likes 2 Dance.'”

That B side track came to Sanders while he was testing out his vocal range. “I ended up coming up with that kind of androgynous, falsetto thing that’s on that record,” he says. “The words just kind of came out as I was just messing around, so what you hear is the first verse or whatever is just what I just literally came up with just messing around with in one take.” At the time, Sanders was dating a woman nicknamed Fannie, which is where the name in the song and its title came from. Fannie had a daughter named Christabel, and Sanders was so fond of her he decided to call the label he made to release the 2000 EP Christabel Records.

Sanders financed the EP himself, and pressed 300 records. He says he sent out about 50 or 100 copies either to a distributor or packaged them as promos—he can’t quite remember—and the remaining 200 sat around for several years. “I was kinda mad at the release, and I tossed most of them out just to get rid of them,” Sanders says. Handfuls of copies didn’t make it out to the Dumpster because they were mixed in with his other records.

Along the way at least one copy of Sanders’s EP got digitized, and Portuguese Soundcloud user Roygbiv1979 uploaded “Fannie Likes 2 Dance” to their account two years ago; the song has since accumulated more than 60,000 plays and a mess of comments. Sanders was perplexed when he saw that song on Soundcloud and noticed peoples’ comments. “Then I started getting a few people e-mailing me on Facebook or sending me messages saying. ‘Do you have any of these left?,'” Sanders says. “I had even a couple of labels approach and say they’d be interested in rereleasing it.”

Encouraged by what he saw on Soundcloud Sanders put together a Kickstarter to reissue the EP in July; he failed to reach the goal of $3,800 by August. “At that point I was done,” Sanders says. “I was like, ‘OK, see, there’s your answer. If people really wanted it they would’ve made that happen.” That’s when Stripped & Chewed stepped in and offered Sanders what he says is an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Sanders gave Stripped & Chewed the tracks, including a bonus cut called “Beautiful,” and re-edited the EP’s most popular song in honor of his wife of four years, Mimi. “I didn’t want to keep it the name of someone else I had a relationship with a long time ago,” Sanders says. He still seems surprised that the EP has found its audience all these years later. “You got something I did 15 years ago that didn’t do anything,” Sanders says. “Then this little buzz on it happens, and then a label here wants to release it and put it out. And people are contacting me about it and saying how they’ve always loved this record, and so that’s nice to hear. It’s encouraging.”