November 28, 2021

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Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields: ‘I utilized to reside in a commune where music was prohibited’

Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields: ‘I utilized to reside in a commune where music was prohibited’
Stephin Merritt has just spent six weeks confined to his Manhattan apartment after contracting coronavirus. He was ill for 10 days, then recovered. He’s usually a crazily prolific songwriter – two of his band’s most celebrated albums, 50 Song Memoir and 69 Love Songs, obviously contain 119 songs between them – but he hasn’t come…

S tephin Merritt has just invested six weeks restricted to his Manhattan house after contracting coronavirus. He was ill for 10 days, then recovered. He’s usually a wildly prolific songwriter– two of his band’s most celebrated albums, 50 Tune Narrative and 69 Love Songs, undoubtedly consist of 119 tunes between them– however he hasn’t develop any brand-new numbers considering that he got ill. The issue is that he can only write songs in bars. And not simply any bar– it requires to be “one-third loaded with cranky old gay males gossiping over thumping disco music”. Plus he needs a glass of cognac, to be slowly drunk, and a corner with a light so he can see his notebook.

Thankfully, prior to the break out, he had the ability to find a location that satisfied these conditions and the outcome is the Magnetic Fields’ newest album. Like most of Merritt’s records, there’s a concept– on this one, entitled Quickies, all the songs however one are 2 minutes 15 seconds or less. That’s not an uncommon length for a Magnetic Fields tune– as Merritt points out over the phone, one-third of the songs on 69 Love Tunes would qualify.

Is it ingrained in him that this is the perfect length for a pop song? It’s much more uncommon for him to write a song that lasts around five minutes.

This is a fairly loquacious answer for Merritt, whose laconic baritone has actually had numerous recruiters tearing their hair out. When I mention his enduring interest in brevity– he co-wrote a book,101 Two-Letter Words, with the New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, inspired by the fastest words you can utilize in Scrabble– his whole response is: “Hm.”

He’s amusing, if you do not mind drawn-out awkward silences– a guy of passionately held, if quietly expressed, views. Do not get him started on benefit tracks.

Along with brevity, it’s Merritt’s method with a lyric that makes the songs on Quickies amazing. It’s tough to think of anyone else composing tracks called You have actually Got a Friend in Beelzebub, I Wish I Were a Woman of the street Again and The Most Significant Tits in History. Merritt says that I Desire I Were a Woman of the street Again is something a number of his friends have frequently lamented. “They both harp on it a lot. I have actually heard a whole lot of the lyrics to this tune verbatim. But plainly it’s an exaggeration of what they actually do.” (The tune includes dressing up as King Tut, Betty Boop and the Turin Shroud and selling one’s “urine” and “poop”.)

Then there’s the tune The Day the Politicians Died, which explains global revelry breaking out in action to the occasion of the title. “It’s a little less extreme than what I think about political leaders,” Merritt counters.

He stops briefly– again– and after that elaborates. “In reaction to Donald Trump’s suggestion that individuals ingest disinfectants, Howard Stern suggested that there need to be a Trump rally in which his advocates consume disinfectants and, quote, all drop dead, unquote. I admire Howard Stern for having the ability to say these things and keep his job. I also completely endorse that sentiment.”

Magnetic Fields fans know more about Merritt than we normally would about a musician. His previous album, 50 Tune Narrative, had a lyric about each year in his life (he’s now 55) and comprehensive whatever from his eccentric mother– who gave away all her cash and signed up with new-age cults around the United States, dragging her kid with her– to the numerous odd health problems he has actually been plagued with. The most incapacitating is hyperacusis, a severe sensitivity to certain noises, which would make it difficult for Merritt to have fun with an amplified rock band– Magnetic Fields gigs are much quieter affairs.

Merritt thinks he all but destroyed his hearing enjoying the industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten play a gig in New york city in the early 80 s. When I interviewed him 16 years ago for the cult gay publication Butt, a publication for which he likewise positioned naked, he informed me: “I was standing too near the circular saw being scraped across corrugated metal, and listening to the amazing noises in my own ear of what I now understand was my hearing being damaged.”

Though Quickies is primarily fiction– one song is called I Wish I Had Fangs and a Tail– Merritt’s life has still notified it. I keep in mind that there are 2 songs about the wicked appeal of dancing (Evil Rhythm and The Cost You Pay) and recommend that dancing is a theme on the record.

Merritt takes pity on me and elaborates. My mother was a radical feminist acolyte of Mary Daly who I have non-stop satirised in a number of songs, consisting of Eliminate a Male a Week”– another tune on Quickies.

The Magnetic Fields’ first single came out in 1991; by the late 90 s Merritt’s songwriting was currently revered in the music press, before 69 Love Tunes, released in the United States in 1999, showcased the range of Merritt’s talents to a broader public. Ranging from tunes about randy pups to sharp efforts to fathom the nature of love itself, it’s still a huge record that is destined to overshadow the rest of Merritt’s work– which he doesn’t mind, because that was the objective.

Quickies, naturally, is being launched in the teeth of the pandemic, and Merritt is brutal about the implications for his career. “We have actually already postponed our US trip from June to January and I don’t know if January’s sensible at this point. It might have just ended my performance career, we do not understand.”

What would occur if you couldn’t play live?

It all spells trouble for gigging artists. “Medium-size mass events will be the last thing to come back,” he anticipates. “I see no reason why there can’t be big outdoor festivals, however we actually really don’t do big outside festivals– we have a cello. Although I think we might just have the cellist switch to bass guitar.”

And After That you might rock out, I joke– because if the option was between making rock music and surviving, or remaining pop and perishing, Merritt would pick the latter each time.

” I don’t begin to understand where to go with that,” he replies.

Quickies is out now. The vinyl version, on five seven-inch EPs, is out on 29 May, as is the CD.

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