Natalie Merchant

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The postponed US Tour dates have now been rescheduled. Visit the website for more details: http://t.co/F2Qrn1xwi7


At a Glance

Birthname: Natalie Anne O'Shea Merchant
Nationality: American
Born: Oct 26 1963


Biography

It was after Natalie Merchant had completed her debut effort for Nonesuch Records—2010’s ambitious Leave Your Sleep, in which she set to original music other writers’ poetry, nursery rhymes, and lullabies—that she realized the words she really wanted to concentrate on were once again her own.

As composer and singer Merchant explains, “Leave Your Sleep was a sweeping, extremely involved project of adapting other people’s words, their poetry, to music. It was a thematic album about childhood. It took seven years—and 130 musicians—to make. By the time I finished it, I was really craving to ... Read more

It was after Natalie Merchant had completed her debut effort for Nonesuch Records—2010’s ambitious Leave Your Sleep, in which she set to original music other writers’ poetry, nursery rhymes, and lullabies—that she realized the words she really wanted to concentrate on were once again her own.

As composer and singer Merchant explains, “Leave Your Sleep was a sweeping, extremely involved project of adapting other people’s words, their poetry, to music. It was a thematic album about childhood. It took seven years—and 130 musicians—to make. By the time I finished it, I was really craving to record my own songs again. I had learned so much about lyricism and about collaborating with other musicians, about production and how I wanted to go about making records. I was ready.”

She had been assiduously building a catalog of new material since the release of her third solo disc, Motherland, in 2001. But these songs remained private, works continually in progress, revisited and tinkered with as Merchant raised her daughter in their Hudson Valley home, “I was living a really quiet life, but in no way a reclusive one, with my baby at home—a very creative period, very cloistered,” Merchant recounts.

Merchant herself served as producer of this new album and, perhaps more importantly, as editor, faced with at least 30 songs to choose from: “I wanted to find a group of songs that had some kind of a thematic consistency but I didn’t want to make a concept record. But there is a mood and a voice. These songs are really straightforward; they are very honest; lyrically very unadorned. I felt like they belonged together.”

The 10-song disc is bookended by two of her most striking tracks. “Ladybird” is the newest of her recent compositions, unfolding with a deceptively simple, deeply soulful band groove that builds to an electric guitar-entwined-with-strings crescendo. “The End,” the oldest song in this collection, is the opposite: an arrangement distilled to its emotional essence, with just string quartet and voice. As far back as 1998’s Ophelia, for which she collaborated with British orchestral arranger-conductor Gavin Bryars, Merchant has determinedly pushed past the strictures of standard pop arrangements. In recent years, Merchant has often performed as a guest soloist with orchestras around the country and that has allowed her to even more confidently stretch her instrumental palette.

“Working with orchestras has trained my ear as an arranger,” Merchant says. “The way I listen is so different than the way I did 20 or 30 years ago. There are so many mood-inducing textures available to me now—using an oboe, a bassoon, a clarinet, or a cello is going to bring such a subtle emotional shift to a piece of music as opposed to just dealing with an electric band—bass, drums, guitar, maybe organ. I wanted to find a way to blend those two worlds on this record: all the years of making pop music with a standard electric band alongside this new world that is full of symphonic instruments. So when you hear a song like ‘Lulu,’ the woodwinds and strings really blend in beautifully with electric guitars and drums. And I have the courage now to do a song like ‘The End,’ which is just arranged for strings. It took years and years to get to this point. I have not had formal music training other than being a professional musician my whole life. That sounds like such a contradiction, but it’s true.”

Her musical approach mirrors the interplay between her alternately inward and outward-looking lyrics. Deeply personal moments are juxtaposed with more overt social commentary, though the lines are often intriguingly blurred like on “Lulu,” a look at silent screen icon Louise Brooks. “By writing ‘Lulu’, I tried to compress her colossal life into a few verses of a song. She was such an intelligent, sensuous woman, and intuitive artist born years before her time. She was hedonistic and unapologetic, headstrong and impulsive. She rose to dizzy heights of international stardom and fell into a life of hand to mouth subsistence and seclusion only to be rediscovered and revived again before her death."

“Go Down, Moses” is a charged, gospel-fueled examination of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath which takes a longer view of the human crisis the storm precipitated: “The way that I cope with the world, the cruelty and insanity of the world, is to write about it, reflect on it, try to sort it out on my own, in private. The piano has saved my life many times.”

While these songs evolved over more than a decade, the recording was completed in about four months at The Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, New York, with additional string and woodwind sessions at Electric Lady in Manhattan. Merchant worked with a handful of longtime fellow players as well as musicians she’d befriended in the Hudson Valley, including organist John Medeski and vocalist Elizabeth Mitchell. She duets memorably on “Go Down, Moses,” with gospel singer Corliss Stafford, of the Harlem Gospel Choir.

“There’s this little family of musicians that I used for the core band,” Merchant says. “Some of these people like guitarists Gabriel Gordon and Erik Della Penna, I’ve been playing with them for 14 years—and with pianist Uri Sharlin for five years. There is an amount of trust and mutual respect that can’t really be gained in one session. The album-making process was so comfortable and so much fun, and the energy that was in the room was great. And that comes across. In this digital era we are in, it’s really possible to make an album and never encounter the other people who play on your record. The energy of a group of people in a room live, collaborating, there is no substitute. That’s the whole reason I do this—for that connection, that camaraderie.”

The songs on Natalie Merchant, like the visible streaks of grey in the artist’s hair, are signs of her maturation. As she says, “I love the amount of experience I have to draw from now, the confidence that I have, the connections that I have. I feel like I am in command of my career in a way I didn’t feel when I was in my 20s, 30s, or 40s. It’s a craft that I have been working on, being a musician, for so many years, and I feel I am getting closer to having the level of facility I wanted to have so many years ago.

“The songs that I’m writing now have so much more depth of understanding of human experience and emotion,” she concludes. “Having a child taught me how to love people, and how to be patient and generous with myself in ways that I never ever pretended to be. I didn’t know what it was like to be responsible for someone else’s welfare. That depth of feeling has to come through my work now because it’s a part of me. The death of parents, marriage, divorce—all these profound experiences that you have when you’ve lived more than half your life become part of what you can draw from. I feel like I’ve found my voice.”

—Michael Hill

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

It was after Natalie Merchant had completed her debut effort for Nonesuch Records—2010’s ambitious Leave Your Sleep, in which she set to original music other writers’ poetry, nursery rhymes, and lullabies—that she realized the words she really wanted to concentrate on were once again her own.

As composer and singer Merchant explains, “Leave Your Sleep was a sweeping, extremely involved project of adapting other people’s words, their poetry, to music. It was a thematic album about childhood. It took seven years—and 130 musicians—to make. By the time I finished it, I was really craving to record my own songs again. I had learned so much about lyricism and about collaborating with other musicians, about production and how I wanted to go about making records. I was ready.”

She had been assiduously building a catalog of new material since the release of her third solo disc, Motherland, in 2001. But these songs remained private, works continually in progress, revisited and tinkered with as Merchant raised her daughter in their Hudson Valley home, “I was living a really quiet life, but in no way a reclusive one, with my baby at home—a very creative period, very cloistered,” Merchant recounts.

Merchant herself served as producer of this new album and, perhaps more importantly, as editor, faced with at least 30 songs to choose from: “I wanted to find a group of songs that had some kind of a thematic consistency but I didn’t want to make a concept record. But there is a mood and a voice. These songs are really straightforward; they are very honest; lyrically very unadorned. I felt like they belonged together.”

The 10-song disc is bookended by two of her most striking tracks. “Ladybird” is the newest of her recent compositions, unfolding with a deceptively simple, deeply soulful band groove that builds to an electric guitar-entwined-with-strings crescendo. “The End,” the oldest song in this collection, is the opposite: an arrangement distilled to its emotional essence, with just string quartet and voice. As far back as 1998’s Ophelia, for which she collaborated with British orchestral arranger-conductor Gavin Bryars, Merchant has determinedly pushed past the strictures of standard pop arrangements. In recent years, Merchant has often performed as a guest soloist with orchestras around the country and that has allowed her to even more confidently stretch her instrumental palette.

“Working with orchestras has trained my ear as an arranger,” Merchant says. “The way I listen is so different than the way I did 20 or 30 years ago. There are so many mood-inducing textures available to me now—using an oboe, a bassoon, a clarinet, or a cello is going to bring such a subtle emotional shift to a piece of music as opposed to just dealing with an electric band—bass, drums, guitar, maybe organ. I wanted to find a way to blend those two worlds on this record: all the years of making pop music with a standard electric band alongside this new world that is full of symphonic instruments. So when you hear a song like ‘Lulu,’ the woodwinds and strings really blend in beautifully with electric guitars and drums. And I have the courage now to do a song like ‘The End,’ which is just arranged for strings. It took years and years to get to this point. I have not had formal music training other than being a professional musician my whole life. That sounds like such a contradiction, but it’s true.”

Her musical approach mirrors the interplay between her alternately inward and outward-looking lyrics. Deeply personal moments are juxtaposed with more overt social commentary, though the lines are often intriguingly blurred like on “Lulu,” a look at silent screen icon Louise Brooks. “By writing ‘Lulu’, I tried to compress her colossal life into a few verses of a song. She was such an intelligent, sensuous woman, and intuitive artist born years before her time. She was hedonistic and unapologetic, headstrong and impulsive. She rose to dizzy heights of international stardom and fell into a life of hand to mouth subsistence and seclusion only to be rediscovered and revived again before her death."

“Go Down, Moses” is a charged, gospel-fueled examination of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath which takes a longer view of the human crisis the storm precipitated: “The way that I cope with the world, the cruelty and insanity of the world, is to write about it, reflect on it, try to sort it out on my own, in private. The piano has saved my life many times.”

While these songs evolved over more than a decade, the recording was completed in about four months at The Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, New York, with additional string and woodwind sessions at Electric Lady in Manhattan. Merchant worked with a handful of longtime fellow players as well as musicians she’d befriended in the Hudson Valley, including organist John Medeski and vocalist Elizabeth Mitchell. She duets memorably on “Go Down, Moses,” with gospel singer Corliss Stafford, of the Harlem Gospel Choir.

“There’s this little family of musicians that I used for the core band,” Merchant says. “Some of these people like guitarists Gabriel Gordon and Erik Della Penna, I’ve been playing with them for 14 years—and with pianist Uri Sharlin for five years. There is an amount of trust and mutual respect that can’t really be gained in one session. The album-making process was so comfortable and so much fun, and the energy that was in the room was great. And that comes across. In this digital era we are in, it’s really possible to make an album and never encounter the other people who play on your record. The energy of a group of people in a room live, collaborating, there is no substitute. That’s the whole reason I do this—for that connection, that camaraderie.”

The songs on Natalie Merchant, like the visible streaks of grey in the artist’s hair, are signs of her maturation. As she says, “I love the amount of experience I have to draw from now, the confidence that I have, the connections that I have. I feel like I am in command of my career in a way I didn’t feel when I was in my 20s, 30s, or 40s. It’s a craft that I have been working on, being a musician, for so many years, and I feel I am getting closer to having the level of facility I wanted to have so many years ago.

“The songs that I’m writing now have so much more depth of understanding of human experience and emotion,” she concludes. “Having a child taught me how to love people, and how to be patient and generous with myself in ways that I never ever pretended to be. I didn’t know what it was like to be responsible for someone else’s welfare. That depth of feeling has to come through my work now because it’s a part of me. The death of parents, marriage, divorce—all these profound experiences that you have when you’ve lived more than half your life become part of what you can draw from. I feel like I’ve found my voice.”

—Michael Hill

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

It was after Natalie Merchant had completed her debut effort for Nonesuch Records—2010’s ambitious Leave Your Sleep, in which she set to original music other writers’ poetry, nursery rhymes, and lullabies—that she realized the words she really wanted to concentrate on were once again her own.

As composer and singer Merchant explains, “Leave Your Sleep was a sweeping, extremely involved project of adapting other people’s words, their poetry, to music. It was a thematic album about childhood. It took seven years—and 130 musicians—to make. By the time I finished it, I was really craving to record my own songs again. I had learned so much about lyricism and about collaborating with other musicians, about production and how I wanted to go about making records. I was ready.”

She had been assiduously building a catalog of new material since the release of her third solo disc, Motherland, in 2001. But these songs remained private, works continually in progress, revisited and tinkered with as Merchant raised her daughter in their Hudson Valley home, “I was living a really quiet life, but in no way a reclusive one, with my baby at home—a very creative period, very cloistered,” Merchant recounts.

Merchant herself served as producer of this new album and, perhaps more importantly, as editor, faced with at least 30 songs to choose from: “I wanted to find a group of songs that had some kind of a thematic consistency but I didn’t want to make a concept record. But there is a mood and a voice. These songs are really straightforward; they are very honest; lyrically very unadorned. I felt like they belonged together.”

The 10-song disc is bookended by two of her most striking tracks. “Ladybird” is the newest of her recent compositions, unfolding with a deceptively simple, deeply soulful band groove that builds to an electric guitar-entwined-with-strings crescendo. “The End,” the oldest song in this collection, is the opposite: an arrangement distilled to its emotional essence, with just string quartet and voice. As far back as 1998’s Ophelia, for which she collaborated with British orchestral arranger-conductor Gavin Bryars, Merchant has determinedly pushed past the strictures of standard pop arrangements. In recent years, Merchant has often performed as a guest soloist with orchestras around the country and that has allowed her to even more confidently stretch her instrumental palette.

“Working with orchestras has trained my ear as an arranger,” Merchant says. “The way I listen is so different than the way I did 20 or 30 years ago. There are so many mood-inducing textures available to me now—using an oboe, a bassoon, a clarinet, or a cello is going to bring such a subtle emotional shift to a piece of music as opposed to just dealing with an electric band—bass, drums, guitar, maybe organ. I wanted to find a way to blend those two worlds on this record: all the years of making pop music with a standard electric band alongside this new world that is full of symphonic instruments. So when you hear a song like ‘Lulu,’ the woodwinds and strings really blend in beautifully with electric guitars and drums. And I have the courage now to do a song like ‘The End,’ which is just arranged for strings. It took years and years to get to this point. I have not had formal music training other than being a professional musician my whole life. That sounds like such a contradiction, but it’s true.”

Her musical approach mirrors the interplay between her alternately inward and outward-looking lyrics. Deeply personal moments are juxtaposed with more overt social commentary, though the lines are often intriguingly blurred like on “Lulu,” a look at silent screen icon Louise Brooks. “By writing ‘Lulu’, I tried to compress her colossal life into a few verses of a song. She was such an intelligent, sensuous woman, and intuitive artist born years before her time. She was hedonistic and unapologetic, headstrong and impulsive. She rose to dizzy heights of international stardom and fell into a life of hand to mouth subsistence and seclusion only to be rediscovered and revived again before her death."

“Go Down, Moses” is a charged, gospel-fueled examination of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath which takes a longer view of the human crisis the storm precipitated: “The way that I cope with the world, the cruelty and insanity of the world, is to write about it, reflect on it, try to sort it out on my own, in private. The piano has saved my life many times.”

While these songs evolved over more than a decade, the recording was completed in about four months at The Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, New York, with additional string and woodwind sessions at Electric Lady in Manhattan. Merchant worked with a handful of longtime fellow players as well as musicians she’d befriended in the Hudson Valley, including organist John Medeski and vocalist Elizabeth Mitchell. She duets memorably on “Go Down, Moses,” with gospel singer Corliss Stafford, of the Harlem Gospel Choir.

“There’s this little family of musicians that I used for the core band,” Merchant says. “Some of these people like guitarists Gabriel Gordon and Erik Della Penna, I’ve been playing with them for 14 years—and with pianist Uri Sharlin for five years. There is an amount of trust and mutual respect that can’t really be gained in one session. The album-making process was so comfortable and so much fun, and the energy that was in the room was great. And that comes across. In this digital era we are in, it’s really possible to make an album and never encounter the other people who play on your record. The energy of a group of people in a room live, collaborating, there is no substitute. That’s the whole reason I do this—for that connection, that camaraderie.”

The songs on Natalie Merchant, like the visible streaks of grey in the artist’s hair, are signs of her maturation. As she says, “I love the amount of experience I have to draw from now, the confidence that I have, the connections that I have. I feel like I am in command of my career in a way I didn’t feel when I was in my 20s, 30s, or 40s. It’s a craft that I have been working on, being a musician, for so many years, and I feel I am getting closer to having the level of facility I wanted to have so many years ago.

“The songs that I’m writing now have so much more depth of understanding of human experience and emotion,” she concludes. “Having a child taught me how to love people, and how to be patient and generous with myself in ways that I never ever pretended to be. I didn’t know what it was like to be responsible for someone else’s welfare. That depth of feeling has to come through my work now because it’s a part of me. The death of parents, marriage, divorce—all these profound experiences that you have when you’ve lived more than half your life become part of what you can draw from. I feel like I’ve found my voice.”

—Michael Hill

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

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