Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields: ‘I used to live in a commune where music was forbidden’
As he releases Quickies, an LP of minature gems, the master songwriter contemplates a pop song’s perfect length – and whether Covd-19 has ended his career
Stephin Merritt has just spent six weeks confined to his Manhattan apartment after contracting coronavirus. He was ill for 10 days, then recovered. He’s usually a crazily prolific songwriter – two of his band’s most celebrated albums, 50 Song Memoir and 69 Love Songs, obviously contain 119 songs between them – but he hasn’t come up with any new numbers since he got ill. The problem is that he can only write songs in bars. And not just any bar – it needs to be “one-third full of cranky old gay men gossiping over thumping disco music”. Plus he needs a glass of cognac, to be slowly sipped, and a corner with a light so he can see his notebook.
Fortunately, before the outbreak, he was able to find a place that fulfilled these conditions and the result is the Magnetic Fields’ latest album. Like most of Merritt’s records, there’s a concept – on this one, titled Quickies, all the songs but one are two minutes 15 seconds or less. However, that’s not an unusual length for a Magnetic Fields tune – as Merritt points out over the phone, one-third of the songs on 69 Love Songs would qualify.