Ilya S. Savenok, Getty Images The sad news came across late Wednesday afternoon…
- Posted on Jan 25th 2010 4:00PM by Eric R. Danton
"I did almost drown as a child, and I've had drowning nightmares, so I guess every few months or so, drowning comes forcefully to mind," Merritt tells Spinner. "I have songs about desert islands a lot. I think it's because it might be so cheap to make movies with very small casts on the coast of California, and probably every time I see one, I go and write a song about it."
Childhood and the movies are a common thread on 'Realism.' It's a mostly acoustic album that Merritt describes as the band's "folk record," by which he means a record that borrows and updates ideas from earlier artists.
"As a good post-modernist, I'm a big fan of appropriation, which in folk is called 'the folk process' and in hip-hop is called 'sampling,'" Merritt says. "I've had samplers for decades and I feel like I'm well within the essential creative tradition on both the technical and folk-based sides."
Sometimes the appropriation comes with a sardonic twist: Merritt wrote the cheerfully menacing song 'We Are Having a Hootenanny Now' after seeing the obscure 1963 movie 'Hootenanny Hoot.' The film features "early '60s folkies having a great time and all agreeing about everything, like a cult," Merritt says. "Which is why I wrote the song from the perspective of a cult."
Along with tunes about loneliness and heartache, there's the unsettlingly precocious song 'The Doll's Tea Party,' sung by pianist Claudia Gonson, and an arch holiday number, 'Everything is One Big Christmas Tree,' featuring a lusty German chorus. Few of the tunes turned out the way Merritt thought they might when he started writing them, but he says that's not unusual.
"The arrangements always come later," he says. "I'm a big fan of the Abbott technique, in that first you write the song and then you try it in 14 different genres and styles and then settle on one, which is almost never quite what you imagined."
'Realism' comes out Jan. 26 on Nonesuch.