BY Neal Broverman
February 04 2010 5:50 PM ET
The Magnetic Fields, led by gay singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt, have
been making thoughtful, romantic music for almost two decades. Their
latest release, Realism, is a gentle and wistful listen that deviates greatly from their sonically challenging previous album, Distortion. Merritt spoke to The Advocate
about his latest project, and at times came across as terse and
uncomfortable — two adjectives typically associated with gifted
The Advocate: How would you describe the new album?
Stephin Merritt: “Orc-folk,” as in orchestral folk. But I was never one for being sincere about the genre. I did it in a sense of being as wide as possible within being vaguely around examining whatever they call folk. Which is not an endorsement of the marketing category of folk or any particular aesthetic within it.
I read there’s influence from Jesus and Mary Chain and Judy Collins — anyone else?
Well, Jesus and Mary Chain was for the last record, Distortion. Jesus and Mary Chain’s first album, Psychocandy, sounds like playing a girl group album slowed down during vacuuming. Which is pretty much essentially what Distortion sounds like, so Realism is a counterpoint to that — no feedback, no electric instruments, instruments recorded in what most people would consider a realistic approach.
What was the recording process like?
Was it in a studio?
It was mostly at my home studio, which has several different rooms. I’ve actually moved since then, but I was in an 800-square-foot cottage which was all recording studio. So there were no parts we did not use, including going outside for recording.
Now, you recently left New York for Los Angeles — is that correct?
Well, a few years ago I moved my studio to Los Angeles.
Where do you live full-time?
Los Angeles and New York.