I interviewed Stephin Merritt last week for an article that ran in the paper. Here are some bits that didn't make it into the article, sometimes because I couldn't make out what he was saying on the tape.
Me: I know you're playing sit-down venues this time, and not clubs.
SM: Yeah. We've been doing it for years. We try not to play bars and nightclubs. We don't have a drummer or a rhythm section, we play very quietly. We really need the full attention of the audience so a theatre is (?).
Me: And you're finding that people are being quiet except at the end of songs.
SM: Pretty much. Except for people who bring their babies and such things.
Me: Does your audience have a lot of newborns?
SM: In Spain, yes.
Me: I see from your setlists that you're playing a greater selection of songs from all over your discography. Any particular reason?
SM: We've just come from Europe where we were promoting a catalogue re-issue. That's what we had rehearesed.
Me: So you rehearse a pool of songs that you pull from when making the setlists?
SM: No, we're travelling with a stable setlist. Where did you get the setlist?
Me: Fans post what songs were played from show to show.
SM: That will be a very boring setlist to read, because it will be the same songs every night.
Me: I don't know about boring.
SM: Well repetitious anyway.
Me: Peter Gabriel covered Book of Love for Shall We Dance? Soundtrack and sang it live with you. Some people think of the work as songbook-quality material. Do you have much interest in people interpreting your songs?
SM: Well yes. I'm not exactly the world's greatest singer and it would nice if the world's greatest singers would cover my songs.
Me: Do you think of yourself kind of like Bob Dylan in that the covers of the songs would be better than the originals?
SM: Well most of the people who cover my songs are more idiosyncratic than I am so, no. Like Woodie Guthrie where he had a raspy, not necessarily pleasant voice and everyone who covered him has a raspier, downright unpleasant voice. [ed. note: not sure what he meant here, Divine Comedy & Kelly Hogan don't have raspy voices, but I moved on]
Me: On "I", the liner notes say "no synths". Did you set that up as a challenge, or change in aestethics?
SM: We had just done a Future Bible Heroes "Eternal Youth" which is all electronic. So I just wanted to switch directions. It wasn't particularly a challenge. I have a whole lot of instruments.
Me: There's a neat effect where "I Thought You My Boyfriend" sounds synthy. Were you trying for that originally, or just work out that way in the recording process?
SM: By synthy sounds do you mean that some instrument sounds like a synthesizer or that it would ordinarily be played on a synthesizer?
Me: A little of both.
SM: Oh. Well there's an electric piano on it, in the background. I think it sounds more like early disco than synth-pop but everyone else seems to think it sounds like synth-pop so I'll let that stand. I think it sounds like New Order covering George McCray.
Me: Most and least essential records of the year?
SM: By other people?
SM: Like year end top five?
Me: Well not necessarily. Maybe ones that should be listened to and ones that absolutely shouldn't be listened to.
SM: Well, everything should be listened to once. Only the Loretta Lynn album with Jack White made such an impression on me that I would recommend it to everyone.
Me: What did you think of the Tom Waits album?
SM: I haven't heard it yet. Also haven't heard Smile.
Me: Oh really?
SM: I have them, I just haven't had a chance to listen to them.
Me: Are there records you found particularly distasteful?
SM: Hundreds? I couldn't name them. I generally don't learn the names of albums I hate.
Stephin paid to have the London all-69LS shows filmed, so he owns the footage. He sort of forgot that he had it when I brought it up. He may put it out on DVD on the 10th anniversary of 69LS, though he was just speaking off the top of his head.