Stephin Merritt's Town Hall Meeting

The man behind the Magnetic Fields digs our cultural centers, fabric stores, and deviled eggs.

When Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt plays Seattle on Feb. 24, he'll return to Town Hall, where he first appeared supplying musical accompaniment to readings by the group's accordionist, Daniel Handler—better known as the author Lemony Snicket.

"Magnetic Fields shows are really more like book readings than they are like arena rock shows or jazz-band shows or any of those that really require giant sound systems," Merritt says, explaining in his deliberate, low monotone why an atypical venue like Town Hall—which normally hosts high-minded lectures for the NPR set—suits him just fine. "We're barely amplified."

Merritt likens his band's technique to that of a bluegrass group, a particularly accurate assessment considering Magnetic Fields' January release, Realism, which eschews drum kits and incorporates electric guitar on only one song. Instead, the band amassed a wide array of instruments, from bouzoukis and banjos to tubas and tablas, and Merritt found inspiration in the work of '60s and '70s folk musicians like Joshua Rifkin and Judy Collins.

"I was buying folk records in quantity, filling shopping bags, and going home and devouring them," Merritt says. "I always listen for ways of making a record under the rubric of 'folk music' as varied as possible. I didn't want to sound like just one artist throughout the record; I prefer a variety-show approach, where there's a different sound every two minutes."

Populated by a diverse array of characters that match the album's stylistic eclecticism, the songwriting on Realism is impressively brief and sharp. And though Merritt toyed with the idea of doing some traditional folk standards—such as "Silver Dagger," made famous by Joan Baez—the pieces never fell into place. Because his next project will be a synth-heavy follow-up to his recent trio of synth-free records, those recordings will have to wait for a future incarnation of Hyperrealism.

Meanwhile, Town Hall won't be the only stop Merritt makes in Seattle. Tuuli of Finland, the colorful clothing and fabric shop on First Avenue, is one of the places he can find the Marimekko notebooks he favors for songwriting—each with a different cover, so he can differentiate between them. And if he can remember its name (we're thinking it might be Matt's in the Market), he'll pay a return visit to the "delightful tiny gourmet restaurant" nearby where he once enjoyed some deviled eggs. Merritt's a sucker for deviled eggs.

nfeldman@seattleweekly.com

 
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