skip navigation
Magalie Metivier

Magalie Metivier

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A legendary curmudgeon with a professed dislike of most popular music and a distaste for playing live, Stephin Merritt is also a consummate musical craftsman. An aesthetic throwback to the Tin Pan Alley days of songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Merritt rejects the common modern idea of singer-songwriters whose work reflects their personal feelings; his often-sardonic songs are often meta-textual ideas about the act of pop songwriting. However, in a variety of distinct projects -- most notably The Magnetic Fields, whose 1999 three-disc set 69 Love Songs was immediately hailed as a modern pop classic -- Merritt has also written some of the most timeless and appealing songs of his era. Stephen Raymond Merritt (he adopted the alternate spelling of his first name in his teens and later had it legally changed) preferred not to reveal his true birthdate or age, though many sources claim he was born in New York City on January 17, 1966. Merritt is the surname of his mother's husband at the time of his birth, but his real father was Scott Fagan, a calypso-influenced folk singer with whom his bohemian mother had had a brief affair. After a childhood filled with frequent moves, Merritt settled just outside of...

A legendary curmudgeon with a professed dislike of most popular music and a distaste for playing live, Stephin Merritt is also a consummate musical craftsman. An aesthetic throwback to the Tin Pan Alley days of songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Merritt rejects the common modern idea of singer-songwriters whose work reflects their personal feelings; his often-sardonic songs are often meta-textual ideas about the act of pop songwriting. However, in a variety of distinct projects -- most notably The Magnetic Fields, whose 1999 three-disc set 69 Love Songs was immediately hailed as a modern pop classic -- Merritt has also written some of the most timeless and appealing songs of his era.

Stephen Raymond Merritt (he adopted the alternate spelling of his first name in his teens and later had it legally changed) preferred not to reveal his true birthdate or age, though many sources claim he was born in New York City on January 17, 1966. Merritt is the surname of his mother's husband at the time of his birth, but his real father was Scott Fagan, a calypso-influenced folk singer with whom his bohemian mother had had a brief affair. After a childhood filled with frequent moves, Merritt settled just outside of Boston and began studying music theory at a progressive prep school in Weston, MA. During this period, he met a fellow student named Claudia Gonson, who quickly became both his lifelong best friend and later both the drummer and manager of The Magnetic Fields. Merritt began playing guitar and keyboards as a teen, and started making homemade four-track recordings inspired by his love of then-current new wave, synth-pop and college radio artists.

Gonson prodded Merritt into forming The Magnetic Fields at the dawn of the 1990s, originally as a duo of Merritt with vocalist Susan Anway. This lineup debuted with the lovely single "100,000 Fireflies," followed by a pair of vinyl-only albums, Distant Plastic Trees (1991) and The Wayward Bus (1992). Setting Merritt's fondness for the pre-rock songcraft of iconic songwriters like Irving Berlin, as well as classic 1960s and '70s Top 40 pop, into a lo-fi electronic setting, the LPs created an immediately unique musical persona. When Anway left the band in 1992, Merritt reluctantly took over vocal duties: his immediately-identifiable voice, a dolorous baritone somewhere between Johnny Cash and outsider cult hero Jandek, quickly became The Magnetic Fields' other defining characteristic. The new Magnetic Fields debuted with a five-song EP, The House of Tomorrow (1992), that introduced a new core lineup of Merritt on lead vocals, keyboards and guitar, Gonson on drums and Sam Davol on cello. The band's two 1994 releases introduced another of the band's recurring motifs: making every album a concept record with a particular musical or lyrical framework. Therefore, The Charm of the Highway Strip found Merritt experimenting with country music, while Holiday set lyrics about travel and escape to early 1980s synth-pop sounds. Get Lost (1995) introduced the final member of the core Magnetic Fields lineup, acoustic guitarist John Woo.

Having signed to the rising indie label Merge Records, The Magnetic Fields garnered interest from major labels looking for the next major alternative rock hitmakers. Rather than sign away his primary project, Merritt contracted with the Universal Music Group imprint London Records to release an album by a different group, The 6ths, who had debuted with the 1993 single "Heaven In A Black Leather Jacket." The resulting album, Wasps' Nests (1995), consisted of songs written and recorded by Merritt but sung by a Who's Who of Merritt's favorite indie singers, including Barbara Manning, Mac McCaughan (Superchunk), Mitch Easter (Let's Active) and Amelia Fletcher (Heavenly), all of whom imitated Merritt's signature deadpan vocal style. Merritt followed this side project with two others. True to their name, The Gothic Archies combined the gloomy lyrics and ponderous melodies of early 1980s goth rock with the chipper, upbeat sound of 1960s bubblegum pop on The New Despair (1997). Future Bible Heroes was a true collaboration, with Merritt providing only the lyrics and initial melodic ideas. Gonson sang all the songs and Christopher Ewen, former leader of 1980s synth-pop outfit Figures On A Beach, wrote and performed the music. Their nostalgic revival of vintage MTV-era electronic pop debuted with Memories of Love (1997).

Inspired by a night spent listening to a pianist play Stephen Sondheim songs in a Manhattan bar, Merritt decided to explore musical theater, making plans to create a drag revue consisting of 100 original love songs. After deciding that this was too daunting a task, he puckishly reduced the number to 69 and turned the project into the next Magnetic Fields album. Released in 1999, the three-disc 69 Love Songs introduced Merritt to a much wider audience, receiving uniformly rapturous reviews from a wider variety of outlets than had noticed the band before. Rather than go back immediately to that well, Merritt returned to The 6ths, releasing Hyacinths and Thistles (2000), a new set of collaborations with friends and inspirations, and Future Bible Heroes, whose Eternal Youth (2002) continued the '80s dance-pop sound of their debut. Merritt then dabbled in film scoring, writing the soundtracks for the independent films "Eben and Charley" (2002) and "Pieces of April" (2003).

The Magnetic Fields were reactivated for i (2004), an entirely acoustic set of songs whose titles all start with the letter "I." Also during this period, Merritt collaborated with Chinese-born theater director Chen Shi-Zheng on a trio of stage works based on traditional Chinese folk tales, "The Orphan of Zhao" (2003), "Peach Blossom Fan" (2004) and "My Life As A Fairy Tale" (2005). Songs from these three works were released under Merritt's name on the album Showtunes (2006). Also in 2006, The Gothic Archies reappeared with The Tragic Treasury: Songs from A Series of Unfortunate Events, a collection of songs Merritt wrote for the audiobook versions of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events children's books. Snicket, under his real name Daniel Handler, was an adjunct member of The Magnetic Fields, playing accordion on many of their albums and singing several songs on 69 Love Songs.

Merritt's next stage project was a musical adaptation of Neil Gaiman's "Coraline" that opened off-Broadway in 2009, for which he wrote the music and lyrics, with David Greenspan providing the book. The show received widely varying reviews, some of which compared it unfavorably to the more conventional animated film version by director Henry Selick, which had been released earlier in the year. The Magnetic Fields returned to action with a pair of thematically-linked albums, Distortion (2008) and Realism (2010). The first, a tribute to 1980s college radio heroes The Jesus and Mary Chain and other noisy rockers of that era, applied feedback and other noises to the band's normally low-key sound, while the second was almost entirely acoustic and nearly free of percussion instruments. The latter release was accompanied by a documentary film, "Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields" (2010), which had been shot over the course of a decade by directors Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara and which focuses mostly on the platonic bond between Merritt, who has been open about his homosexuality throughout his public career, and Gonson.

After leaving the major label Nonesuch Records following the release of Realism, Merritt re-signed to Merge Records and released a pair of backwards-looking projects: Obscurities (2011), released under his own name, collected rare and previously-unreleased songs from his various projects, including the first official release of a song by Buffalo Rome, his pre-Magnetic Fields duo with singer Shirley Simms. The Magnetic Fields' Love at the Bottom of the Sea (2012) was a deliberate throwback to the synth-driven arrangements of the band's 1990s albums. In 2013, Future Bible Heroes reunited with Partygoing, a third album of dance-oriented pop songs.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute