Stephin Merritt has released twelve albums by his band the Magnetic Fields, and two albums from the 6ths, all of them featuring extremely catchy songs.
Besides the Magnetic Fields and the 6ths, Stephin also creates music under the names Future Bible Heroes and the Gothic Archies. Merritt's five former Magnetic Fields albums –“Distant Plastic Trees”, “The Wayward Bus”, “Holiday”, and “The Charm of the Highway Strip” and “Get Lost” placed him deep within the heart of the underground music community for nearly a decade. Then in 1999, with domestic sales of his latest album "69 Love Songs" reaching over 100,000, Merritt's work brought him away from his former rarified status as "indie rock hero", and garnered him mainstream success.
Spin and Rolling Stone magazine, along with dozens of major national magazines and newspapers, hailed "69 Love Songs" as one of the best albums of 1999. Merritt gained official recognition as one of the country's best recent songwriters; the "Cole Porter of his generation".
Merritt credits much of his singular compositional ability to his early grounding in classic Top 40 pop, notably the shimmering structural perfection of ABBA, which he cites as his favorite band.
Merritt's lovely melodies are complemented by lyrics ripe with melancholy personal insights and bittersweet imagery. As the Village Voice pointed out, "These songs and their characters can get no closer to satisfaction than the margin, a memory or a daydream. Merritt sings obsessively about travel- alone in his living room sad shimmering music box melodies, he imagines a 'free love zone' somewhere far away."
Self- producing and arranging his songs, Merritt conjures meticulously crafted soundscapes using a variety of acoustic, electronic and improvised instruments. "Recording oneself allows the freedom to develop a production style other than the usual one," Merritt states. "As a producer, I'm not looking for a "realistic" effect. I like Phil Spector and ABBA records because they aren't striving for realism. I can't hear individual instruments, just the notes."
Starting in 2003, in collaboration with Shi-Zheng Chen, Merritt created two theatre pieces based on Chinese operas: “The Orphan of Zhao” (2003) which appeared at the Lincoln Center Festival, and “Peach Blossom Fan” (2004), which premiered at the Roy and Edna Disney/Calarts Theater in Los Angeles. Merritt and Chen then collaborated on “My Life as a Fairytale”, an opera based on Hans Christian Andersen’s work, which premiered during the Lincoln Center Festival in 2005. “Showtunes,” Merritt’s album of music from the three operas, is available via Nonesuch, as are the three individual cast album recordings.
After recording the music for the audiobook edition of Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline, Stephin Merritt wrote the songs for an off-Broadway musical based on the book, a production which garnered Merritt an Obie award.
Stephin Merritt has also done film soundtrack work, starting with the 2002 film
“Eban and Charley.” Merritt then provided the soundtrack to Peter Hedges’ film “Pieces of April,” (2003), and “Dans La Cour” (2013). Soundtracks for “Eban and Charley” and “Pieces of April” are available via Merge Records.
In 2010 and 2014, Merritt composed original scores for the silent films “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “The Unknown,” and performed them live at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The first film’s performance included musicians Daniel Handler, Johny Blood, and San Francisco’s Castro Theatre organist David Hegarty.
In 2010, Stephin Merritt was the subject of a prize-winning documentary, “Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields,” a film by Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara.
In 2011, a few months before releasing the latest Magnetic Fields album, “Love at the Bottom of the Sea,” Merritt released “Obscurities,” (Merge Records), a compilation of early Magnetic Fields tracks, plus songs from his unfinished musical “The Song from Venus,” a song from the Coraline audiobook, 7 inch b-sides, and five previously unreleased songs.
In 2013 and 2014, Merritt provided live accompaniment for a dance piece, “Performance,” by Rashaun Mitchell. To date, the piece has been performed at Boston’s ICA and LA’s REDCAT theater.
Stephin Merritt is currently at work on a new independent film score, and an album project, due 2016. He will tour as a solo act, with cello accompanist Sam Davol, in May and June, 2015.