The Magnetic Fields' 50 Song Memoir chronicles the 50 years of songwriter Stephin Merritt's life with one song per year. He sings vocals on all 50 songs and plays more than 100 instruments, from ukulele to piano to drum machine to abacus. Unlike his previous work, the lyrics are nonfiction—a mix of autobiography (bedbugs, Buddhism, buggery) and documentary (hippies, Hollywood, hyperacusis). Available in five-LP and five-CD editions including a 100-page book with an extensive interview by Daniel Handler and facsimile handwritten lyrics by Merritt, and as a standalone book with a full-album download card. It's "quite an achievement," says NPR. The Wall Street Journal calls it "a highly entertaining summary of pop culture of the past half-century ... 50 Song Memoir is a treat."
Nonesuch Records releases the Magnetic Fields’ 50 Song Memoir on March 10, 2017. The five-CD / five-LP set chronicles the 50 years of songwriter Stephin Merritt’s life with one song per year; it was produced by Stephin Merritt with additional production by Thomas Bartlett and Charles Newman. On tour, the Magnetic Fields perform the 50 Song Memoir over two nights per city, beginning Friday and Saturday, November 18 and 19, 2016, at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA, and continuing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on December 2 and 3. Further dates begin in spring 2017. 50 Song Memoir is available in five-LP and five-CD editions including a 100-page book with an extensive interview by Daniel Handler and facsimile handwritten lyrics by Merritt, and as a standalone bound book with a full-album download card.
Merritt began recording on his 50th birthday: February 9, 2015. Unlike his previous work, the lyrics on 50 Song Memoir are nonfiction—in Merritt’s words, “a mix of autobiography (bedbugs, Buddhism, buggery) and documentary (hippies, Hollywood, hyperacusis).” As he says in the album’s liner note interview with his friend, the author Daniel Handler, “I am the least autobiographical person you are likely to meet. I will probably not write any more true songs after this than I did before, but it’s been interesting working on it.”
In addition to his vocals on all 50 songs, Merritt plays more than one hundred instruments on 50 Song Memoir, ranging from ukulele to piano to drum machine to abacus. In concert, the music will be played and sung by a newly expanded Magnetic Fields septet in a stage set featuring 50 years of artifacts both musical (vintage computers, reel-to-reel tape decks, newly invented instruments), and decorative (tiki bar, shag carpet, vintage magazines for the perusal of idle musicians). The seven performers each play seven different instruments, either traditional (cello, charango, clavichord) or invented in the last 50 years (Slinky guitar, Swarmatron, synthesizer). The stage extravaganza will be directed by the award-winning Jose Zayas (Love in the Time of Cholera, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter).
To date, Stephin Merritt has written and recorded twelve Magnetic Fields albums, including the popular and critically acclaimed 69 Love Songs. A song from that record, “The Book of Love,” has been covered by Peter Gabriel and has appeared in numerous TV shows and films; notably, the Nairobi Chamber Orchestra performed the song at an official state dinner in Kenya, before Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta delivered their toasts. Merritt has also composed original music and lyrics for several music theater pieces, including an off-Broadway stage musical of Neil Gaiman's novel Coraline, for which he received an Obie Award. In 2014, Merritt composed songs and background music for the first musical episode of public radio’s This American Life. Stephin Merritt also releases albums under the band names the 6ths, the Gothic Archies, and Future Bible Heroes.
Produced by Stephin Merritt
Additional production by Thomas Bartlett and Charles Newman
Stephin Merritt and Gabrielle Valenti at New Wave Life (Hudson)
Thomas Bartlett at the Dwelling (Manhattan)
Charles Newman at Mother West (Brooklyn)
Jay Pellicci, Gabriel Sheppard, JJ Wiesler, and Charles Newman at Decibelle (San Francisco)
Benny Grotto and Steph Durwin at Mad Oak (Allston)
Mastered by Jeff Lipton at Peerless Mastering (Boston)
Assistant Mastering Engineer: Maria Rice
Cover art: Alix Merritt
Liner notes: Daniel Handler
Design: Evan Gaffney
Photography: Arnulfo Maldonado, Catalina Kulczar, Stephin Merritt
Executive Producer: Robert Hurwitz
Stephin Merritt (in order of appearance), National resonator ukulele, bass ukulele, all lead vocals, bass drum, log drum, slit drum, cymbal, woodblock, tambourine, bells, sleigh bells, cabasa, bottle, glockenspiel, cavaquinho, Joia Tubes, Dusty Strings harp, Farfisa organ, Dusty Strings hammer dulcimer, Kazoobie kazoo, Veillette Avante Gryphon guitar, AdrenaLinn drum machine, Tempest drum machine, Andes melodica, Realistic organ, Sequential Circuits Pro One synthesizer, Danelectro baritone guitar, mandola, Rhythm Ace drum machine, Harmony bass, Almeira classical guitar, Wurlitzer electric piano, thunder sheet, Rhodes Piano Bass, Oscar Schmidt autoharp, Oberheim OB-12 synthesizer, Kamaka 8-string ukulele, feedback, Congost Xylomatic, Simcha tongs, Roland JP-8000 synthesizer, tapes, TomCat drum machine, shakers, Fender acoustic bass, Roland TB-303 bass computer, Roland TR-606 Drumatix drum machine, Vermona DRM-1, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer, Adam bell set, bowed psaltery, Roland vocoder, xylophone, EML 101 synthesizer, Roland TR-707 drum machine, Dawg electric dulcimer, Oberheim drum machine, LP Trash Snare, cowbell, bar chime, Metasonix D-1000 drum machine, Gretsch organ, Rheem Kee Bass, guiro, djembe, cajon, bell stick, LP Street Cans, electric sitar, Martin 12-string guitar, XBASE 999 drum machine, Yamaha CS-60 synthesizer, Dewanatron Keyed Melody Gin, Moog Voyager synthesizer, Schoenhut toy piano, Virus Access synthesizer, Gold Tone bass banjo, Metasonix S-1000 Wretch Machine vacuum tube synthesizer, Marxolin, metals, one-man band, Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano, charango, celeste, Fender Stratocaster, Yamaha RX21 drum machine, Fender acoustic bass, Yamaha U4 piano, hihat, wind chime, Hohner Pianet, Kilpatrick Audio Pattern Generator, Dewanatron Triple Slice, prepared piano, Korg Sigma synthesizer, zill, triangle, Suzuki Omnichord, ARP String Synthesizer, Baldwin organ, Casio VL-Tone, ocean drum, Korg KR mini drum machine, abacus
Thomas Bartlett, Mellotron, Clavinet, Suzuki Omnichord, Rhodes Bass, piano, Moog, iPad, Optigan, Teenage Engineering OP-1, Akai Music Production Controller
Daniel Handler, background vocals, accordion, vibraphone, Yamaha and Acrosonic pianos, Hammond B3 organ, celeste
Christopher Ewen, Altair 231, Andromeda A6, Syndrum, Heterodyne Synth, electric kazoo, anklung, Roland SH-101, Stylophone, BugBrand Synth, K-Station, Suzuki Omnichord, Polysix
Sam Davol, cello, circular saw
Johny Blood, flugelhorn, tuba, mouthpiece
Claudia Gonson, background vocals, piano
Pinky Weitzman, viola, Stroh violin, musical saw
John Woo, Martin HD-28, Truetone Speed Demon, Fender Telecaster
Shirley Simms, background vocals
Randy Walker, background vocals
Anthony Kaczynski, background vocals
Brad Gordon, trombone, pocket trumpet
Otto Handler, spoken word