Though the Magnetic Fields have been creating music since 1989 most of their discography prior to 1999 has been overshadowed by the overwhelming scope and success of 69 Love Songs. It would seem their succeeding works; i, Distortions and Reality, have all been reactive to the wake left behind that particular trilogy. The release of Love at the Bottom of the Sea sees both the end and return to an era. Moving on from the self imposed ‘no-synth’ restrictions and a return to the accepted one album format, their history as a band seems to continuously fold in on itself like origami. Though that’s not to say, by Stephen Merritt’s own admission, that they won’t take an unexpected turn in the future. Ahead of The Magnetic Fields’ first visit to Cork on April 29th and return to Dublin the night before (win tickets below), State posed some questions to the prickly taciturn frontman in the unrequited hope of enlightenment.
The Magnetic Fields have been around for about 22 years. It has put you in a unique position to gauge and view an ever changing musical landscape, what’s been most interesting for you in terms of trends? Have you ever noticed yourselves, consciously or otherwise adapting in response to those trends?
I noticed years ago that reggae comes back in, like clockwork, every five years, like hemlines going up and down. I always think I should plan ahead and do a reggae album timed perfectly (like Willie Nelson, and the Clash, and Serge Gainsbourg). But I never get around to it.
Interestingly, in your discography you have something of a concept heavy double trilogy in contrast to your latest offering, which you’ve admitted is relatively void of concept. Why did you feel a trilogy was appropriate? Would you attempt one now, in today’s musical climate?
The trilogy never goes out of style. And, it’s always a surprise.
With Love at the Bottom of the Sea; did you feel restricted in the scope of a single album? Or was this balanced out by the relief of the return to synths?
Artistic limitations are helpful as definition. Like the first thing a painter knows is the dimensions of the frame.
I noticed that you mentioned your ‘no-synth trilogy’ was a result of you becoming bored with the over usage of synth and the limits of the technology.
I wouldn’t say that. I was bored by the way they had become essentially electric organs.
What first fascinated you about the synth sound?
I’m always intrigued by sounds and textures I haven’t heard a million times.
Do you think you could become bored with the new technology available to you?
Well, no, because it’s like a new family of instruments, sort of like percussion and sort of like mechanical instruments; hard to describe, which is the point.
I notice, at least in Ireland, there’s a lot of synth-heavy music being made. Do you think synth is in danger of being overused now?
No, just used too badly.
You also mentioned it’s a sound that started off as being futuristic but then began sounding retro – has this affected your use of them in your work?
I’ve played with that for decades.
And finally, thank you for taking the time to respond – as well as taking the time to play for us here in Ireland. I hope you enjoy yourselves and that we’re kind to you.
You’d better be!
The Magnetic Fields are playing in Dublin on the 28th of April in the Olympia Theatre and in Cork’s Opera House on the 29th. We’ve got pairs of tickets to both gigs, email email@example.com by Friday noon with your choice of Dublin or Cork to be in with a chance to get them.
Tickets are available from the venues’ websites or from Ticketmaster.ie.