An Interview with Stephin Merritt

Stephin Merritt is a musician, songwriter and co-founder of Magnetic Fields, an influential indie rock band.

Known for his offbeat yet melodic style, he has released a number of critically acclaimed albums and collaborated with artists such as The 6ths, Future Bible Heroes and The Gothic Archies.

With a career full of artistic accomplishments, Stephin Merritt has earned a place among the most respected figures in the music industry. In this exclusive interview, Merritt gives us a rare insight into his creative process, his thoughts on the industry, and his plans for the future.

Merritt’s Creative Process

How do you come up with new music? Do you have a certain process or ritual? Almost all of my best ideas come to me in the form of a melody—a tune that pops into my head, often without warning.

When this happens, I stop what I’m doing and hum the tune into a voice recorder on my phone. I don’t ask myself why the melody came to me.

I don’t analyze it. I don’t try to “make it better.” I just record it, get it out of my head, and move on with my life.

Sometimes the melody sticks with me long enough to turn into a fully formed song. Other times, the melody is gone as quickly as it appeared.

Merritt’s Thoughts on the Music Industry

How has the industry changed since you started? What are the main challenges? The biggest change is the disappearance of physical formats (CDs, records, cassettes, etc.).

When I started making music, I had the sense that there was a long-term future for people who make albums. Now, I’m not so sure.

The main challenge is that there are so many people making music. Finding a way to get your music heard is harder than ever.

Merritt’s Plans for the Future

What’s in store for Magnetic Fields in the future? We’ve been touring our most recent album, “50 Song Memoir,” for almost two years. We’ll be done with this tour in September (we’re playing in Berlin on September 29th—I highly recommend it).

Then it’s time to start thinking about the next record… On the non-Magnetic Fields front, I’ll also be releasing an album with my collaborator, Julia Kent.

It’s called “The Trick Is to Keep Breathing”, and it comes out in October. And in the spring of 2020, I’ll be releasing my first solo record since 2005. I’m very excited about all of these things.

Merritt’s Advice for Aspiring Musicians

For musicians starting out, what do you wish you knew when you were first starting out? When I was first starting out, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

All I knew was that other people were getting signed (or at least being offered record deals) and I wasn’t. So, I assumed that I was doing something wrong.

It took me five or six years to figure out that I wasn’t doing anything wrong; that I just wasn’t very good. If I could go back in time and tell myself something, it would be this: You’re not supposed to be good. Not yet. You’re supposed to be learning how to get good.

Merritt’s Reflections on His Career

What do you think you’ll be most remembered for? I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years. It’s hard to imagine that anyone who isn’t a huge music nerd would know anything about me.

And I’m fine with that. I don’t think about it that much. I do think about making music, and the process of making it. I’m very lucky. I love what I do, and I get to make a living at it. I try to appreciate that rare privilege as fully as I can.

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