Natalie Anne Merchant (born October 26, 1963) is an American alternative rock singer-songwriter. She joined the folk rock band 10,000 Maniacs in 1981, and was lead singer and primary lyricist for the group. She remained with the group for their first five albums and left it to begin her solo career in 1993. She has since released seven studio albums.
Natalie Merchant was born October 26, 1963, in Jamestown, New York, the third of four children of Anthony and Ann Merchant. Her paternal grandfather, who played the accordion, mandolin and guitar, emigrated to the United States from Sicily; his surname was "Mercante" before it was Anglicized.
When Merchant was a child, her mother listened to music (primarily Petula Clark but also the Beatles, Al Green, Aretha Franklin) and encouraged her children to study music, but would not allow TV after Natalie was 12. "I was taken to the symphony a lot because my mother loved classical music. But I was dragged to see Styx when I was 12. We had to drive 100 miles to Buffalo, New York. Someone threw up next to me and people were smoking pot. It was terrifying. I remember Styx had a white piano which rose out of the stage. It was awe-inspiring and inspirational." "She had show tunes, she had the soundtrack from West Side Story and South Pacific. And then eventually... she'd always liked classical music and then she married a jazz musician, so that's the kind of music I was into. I never really had friends who sat around and listened to the stereo and said 'hey, listen to this one', so I'd never even heard of who Bob Dylan was until I was 18." During 1988-1989, Natalie claimed she still didn't have a TV: "I grew up in a house where no one watched the news on television and no one read the paper. I've been discovering these things as I get older, and the news has affected me more than it ever has before."
Merchant started working in a health food store at 16. She considered a career in special education after taking part in a summer program for disabled children, but in 1981 started singing for a band, Still Life, that became 10,000 Maniacs.
|This section of a biography of a living person needs additional citations for verification. Please help by adding reliable sources. Contentious material about living persons that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately, especially if potentially libelous or harmful.|
10,000 ManiacsMain article: 10,000 Maniacs
Merchant was lead singer and primary lyricist for 10,000 Maniacs, joining in its infancy in 1981 while she was a student at Jamestown Community College. The group recorded their album Human Conflict Number Five, and recorded a corresponding music video at the Hotel Franklin and at Group W Westinghouse studios (Jamestown, New York), in 1982. Merchant sang lead vocals, and later played the piano as well on seven studio albums with 10,000 Maniacs. In 1993 she announced that she was leaving the group. Her last recording with the band, a cover of Bruce Springsteen's and Patti Smith's "Because the Night" at the 10,000 Maniacs MTV Unplugged performance, reached #11 in the singles chart, becoming the band's highest-charting song in the U.S.
Merchant has said in interviews that after her split with 10,000 Maniacs she was so eager to begin writing her own material that she went home that very day and composed the song "I May Know the Word", which was originally meant to appear on the soundtrack to the Tom Hanks movie Philadelphia. The song was eventually cut from the soundtrack, but it would go on to appear on Merchant's debut solo album, Tigerlily, which was released on the Elektra label in 1995. Merchant chose to name the album Tigerlily as she felt it captured the feel of the album, which she described as both "fierce" and "delicate".
The third song on the album, "Beloved Wife", was featured as the first song in the trailer for the movie Message in a Bottle.
Seeking creative control, Merchant chose to fund Tigerlily herself, refusing the advance from the record company. She also wanted to work with a core group of young musicians who she felt would be enthusiastic about the music. The group would consist of guitarist Jennifer Turner, bassist Barrie Maguire, and former-Wallflower and eventual boyfriend to Merchant, Peter Yanowitz, who played drums on the album and who continued to do so with Merchant until their abrupt split in 2000.
Tigerlily was a critical and commercial success, spawning her first top-ten hit in the single "Carnival", and achieving top-40 success with subsequent singles "Wonder" and "Jealousy". The album would go on to sell over five million copies, and continues to be Merchant's most successful album to date. Merchant did extensive touring for the album and made numerous television appearances, including performances on Saturday Night Live, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and on late-night talk shows. The media's immediate and critical effect on culture and cultural icons was of particular interest to Merchant. In "River", a song from Tigerlily, Merchant defends River Phoenix as she castigates the media for systematically dissecting the child actor after his death. Much of their emphasis was on Phoenix's suspected drug-using lifestyle. In "River," Merchant asks, "Why don't you let him be / Give his mother and father peace." Merchant's anger is later replaced with quiet reflection, asking, "It was such a nightmare raving, 'How could we save him from himself?'"
Three years passed before Merchant would release her second solo effort, Ophelia. While Tigerlily contained a lot of sparse instrumentation, the music on Ophelia had lusher arrangements. The reprise at the close of the album featured a symphonic arrangement composed and conducted by British composer Gavin Bryars with whom she would collaborate nine years later to put Shakespeare's sonnets to music. Merchant treated the recording of Ophelia as a series of workshops, where she would invite various musicians she had met over the years into her home studio to collaborate and record. In the end, 30 different musicians were featured on the album, among them Brand New Heavies frontwoman N'Dea Davenport (with whom she duets on the song Break Your Heart), famed trumpet player Chris Botti, and the husband and wife duo, Don and Karen Peris from the band The Innocence Mission.
While Ophelia is not a concept record in the traditional sense, the album-cycle saw Merchant flexing her creative muscles in surprising ways. The name of the album and the title track are a literary reference to Shakespeare's Ophelia, who in the play Hamlet becomes mad and eventually commits suicide when Hamlet remains noncommittal and lost in himself. Merchant's Ophelia describes a series of women throughout time—women who dared question the patriarchal status quo and who were often castigated for doing so—and is a cry for women's rights and for more understanding of female archetypes beyond the scope of the "mother" and the "whore", both of which severely limit women and attempt to turn them into little more than chattel. The portrayal of the women in the song is a tribute to the non-traditional "too smart for her own good" type of woman who is often misunderstood by society. As a lyric to the title song cries: "Your common sense, your best defense, was wasted and in vain!" A reflection of women driven mad by social limitations, Natalie's tribute described Ophelia as being at once a "novice carmelite," a "suffragette," a "circus queen," a "demigoddess" and a "mafia courtesan." The album sleeve saw Merchant pictured in colorful and ornate costumes as each of these different characters. As a companion to the album, she also released a film where she portrays each of these different characters, with voice-overs used for the "novice carmelite," the "sweetheart" and the "courtesan" as they are Spanish, German, and Italian, respectively.
The first single off the album was a happy and uncharacteristically simple song called "Kind and Generous", which received massive airplay on VH1 and which solidified Merchant's role as a bona fide solo artist. That summer, Sarah McLachlan invited Merchant to co-headline the year's biggest music festival with her, Lilith Fair. The exposure from the tour helped the album reach Platinum status in just under a year, with subsequent singles "Break Your Heart" and "Life Is Sweet" receiving moderate airplay on adult contemporary stations. No video was filmed for the latter, however, with a clip from Merchant's appearance on VH1's Storytellers being used instead. She would also go on to appear on PBS' Sessions at West 54th and VH1's Hard Rock Live before the year's end. In 1998, Merchant also recorded George Gershwin's "But Not for Me" for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot + Rhapsody, a tribute to George Gershwin, which raised money for various charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease.
The Ophelia tour ended in 1999 with the final few shows being performed and recorded on Broadway. The performance would be released as the album Natalie Merchant: Live in Concert with a companion video of the same name. The performance was notable in that it featured numerous covers including songs by David Bowie, Neil Young, and the Breton-Welsh singer-songwriter Katell Keineg.
American Folk Music Tour (2000) and Motherland (2001)
In 2000, Merchant embarked on a folk tour in the United States with many shows being supported by alt-country band Wilco.
Merchant's next studio album on the Elektra label was Motherland, released in 2001. Motherland saw Merchant at her most experimental musically. Motherland achieved Gold on the Billboard charts after debuting at No. 30 on the Billboard 200 and No. 13 on the Top Internet Albums of 2001, respectively. Rolling Stone favored this album with 3½ stars, and also noticed a difference in Merchant's voice, which was more deep and gritty like that of Sade than her previous albums. Singles that were released from Motherland were "Just Can't Last", "Build a Levee" and "Tell Yourself".
Merchant embarked on a year and a half world tour to promote Motherland. The first leg of the tour started in Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 17, 2001, trekking all over the United States, and then heading to Europe with some special acoustic shows in Europe. Merchant also participated in the Rock am Ring Festival and Rock im Park in 2002. In the summer of 2002, she was paired with Chris Isaak and played at both stadiums and arenas.
The House Carpenter's Daughter (2003)
After her contract with Elektra expired in August 2002, Merchant decided not to sign with them again, or any other major label. Her next studio album, The House Carpenter's Daughter, was released in September 2003 on her own label, Myth America Records. To date this has been the only release on Myth America.
Leave Your Sleep (2010)
In October 2009, the official websites of Nonesuch Records and Natalie Merchant announced that she had signed with the label. Leave Your Sleep was released on April 13, 2010 and is a compilation of five years of inspiration from a "conversation" with her daughter over the "first 6 years of her life." The album debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at No. 17, Billboard Folk Albums at No. 1, Amazon.com at No.1, and iTunes, No. 3. The album was co-produced by Grammy winning Andres Levin.
Merchant contributed a cover of Buddy Holly's "Learning the Game" to the tribute album Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, released September 6, 2011.
Natalie Merchant (2014)
In February 2014, Natalie Merchant announced her eponymous album. The album consists of entirely new works. It is her first collection of original material since 2001's Motherland. Natalie Merchant was released May 6, 2014, on Nonesuch Records and was named Album of the Week by The Daily Telegraph. The album debuted at #20 on Billboard's Top 200 albums and #2 on Billboard's Folk Albums charts for the week of May 24, 2014. She toured from July 3, 2014, kicking off in Kingston, New York, concluding at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee on July 25, 2014.
Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings (2015)
In 2015, Merchant released an album of all-new recordings of the songs from her multi-platinum solo album. She spoke of making the album for her loyal fans, to honor the journey that both they and the songs have taken together over the last 20 years. She enhanced many of the tracks with strings and strips others bare. She says, "The distance this music traveled once it left my hands is humbling, and I am moved by how many lives it has touched along the way."
Merchant met Michael Stipe of the band R.E.M. in 1983. The two became close friends and eventually had a romantic relationship. The two credit each other as inspirations for some of their songwriting. In an interview with The Independent, Stipe said "Natalie was really the reason my work became politicised in the late Eighties."
In 2003, Merchant married Daniel de la Calle and had a daughter named Lucia. However, in an interview in 2012, she indicated that she was divorced. She likes gardening and painting. Some paintings can be seen on her official website.
She has been a vegetarian since 1980, except for the duration of her pregnancy when she temporarily resumed eating meat. In 1997, she said:
|“||The '60s aesthetic has never really appealed to me, the tie-dyed Deadhead running barefoot through the forest on LSD. I don't think that's really me. But I've been a vegetarian for 17 years, and I consider myself an environmentalist in as much as I can be, considering the job that I have. I prefer living in the countryside rather than the city-I find it more sane and sustaining for myself.||”|
In 1998, Merchant collaborated on the making of the Woody Guthrie tribute album Mermaid Avenue with Billy Bragg and Wilco, featured previously unreleased Guthrie material. She provided vocals for the song "Birds and Ships", and later showed up on the second volume of the album in year 2000, Mermaid Avenue Vol. II, with vocals on the song "I Was Born".
In 2012, Merchant, along with actor and writer Mark Ruffalo, organized a concert to protest oil and gas fracking in New York state. A documentary, written and directed by Jon Bowermaster, was made of the event and titled Dear Governor Cuomo. She directed a short 2013 documentary titled Shelter: A Concert Film to Benefit Victims of Domestic Violence, that shone light on a group of women living in the mid-Hudson region of New York State responding to the crisis of domestic violence in their community with compassion and creativity. Musicians, advocates, criminal prosecutors, victims and survivors all took to the stage, illuminating the darkness surrounding this public health epidemic. It was inspired by an event for One Billion Rising, a global campaign calling for an end to violence against women, held on February 14, 2013. Merchant presented a screening of the film at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston, New York, on the day of One Billion Rising for Justice.
Merchant, an outspoken critic of president Donald Trump, participated in an anti-Trump protest organized by Mark Ruffalo and Michael Moore, held outside Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York City on January 19, 2017. Merchant performed her single "Motherland". She concluded the event with a group sing-a-long of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land". The event was covered by CNN and broadcast live.
With 10,000 Maniacs
- Human Conflict Number Five (EP) (1982)
- Secrets of the I Ching (1983)
- The Wishing Chair (1985)
- In My Tribe (1987)
- Blind Man's Zoo (1989)
- Hope Chest: The Fredonia Recordings 1982-1983 (1990)
- Our Time in Eden (1992)
- MTV Unplugged (1993)
- Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure and Unknown Recordings (2004)
SoloMain article: Natalie Merchant discography
- 1995: Tigerlily
- 1998: Ophelia
- 2001: Motherland
- 2003: The House Carpenter's Daughter
- 2010: Leave Your Sleep
- 2014: Natalie Merchant
- 2015: Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings
- 2017: Butterfly
|1990||Time Capsule||Herself (Vocals, Piano, Organ)||Video Documentary|
|1996||One Fine Day||Performer "One Fine Day"||Soundtrack|
|1999||Bringing Out the Dead||Performer/Writer: "These Are Days"||Soundtrack|
|1999||Natalie Merchant: Live in Concert||Herself (Vocals, Piano)||Live Concert Video|
|2002||When in Rome||Performer/Writer: "These Are Days"||Soundtrack|
|2003||Cheaper by the Dozen||Performer/Writer: "These Are Days"||Soundtrack|
|2004||Purgatory House||Performer/Writer: "My Skin"||Soundtrack|
|1985||The Tube||Herself (as 10,000 Maniacs)||(Channel 4,UK) Aired 1985 ; Songs My mother the war and Can't ignore the train|
|1988||Saturday Night Live||Herself (as 10,000 Maniacs)||(NBC) Aired 27 February 1988; songs Peace Train and Like The Weather|
|1989||The Arsenio Hall Show||Herself (as 10,000 Maniacs)||"Eat for Two"|
|1990||MTV Unplugged||Herself (as 10,000 Maniacs)||MTV|
|1992||Saturday Night Live||Herself (as 10,000 Maniacs)||(NBC) Aired 31 October 1992; songs: Candy Everybody Wants and These Are Days|
|1993||MTV Unplugged||Herself (as 10,000 Maniacs)||First artist to make 2nd appearance|
|1993||Rock & Roll Inaugural Ball||Herself (as 10,000 Maniacs)|
|1993||MTV VMAS||Herself-Presenter||TV Special|
|1995||Concert for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame||Herself-Performer||Sang "I Know How to Do It"|
|1995||Saturday Night Live||Herself-Performer||(NBC) Host David Schwimmer|
|1997||Sessions at West 54th||Herself-Performer||(PBS) "Planctus" with Philip Glass|
|1998||Saturday Night Live||Herself-Performer||(NBC) Host Matthew Broderick|
|1998||Hard Rock Live||Herself-Performer||VH1|
|1998||VH1 Storytellers||Herself-Performer||Later released as DVD|
|1998||Sessions at West 54th||Herself-Performer||(NBC) Host David Byrne|
|1999||Man in the Sand||Herself||Video Documentary|
|1999||Late Night with Conan O'Brien||Musical Guest||(NBC) "Life Is Sweet"|
|1999||Lifetime's Intimate Portrait||Herself||Biographical|
|2000||ABC 2000: The Millennium||Herself-Performer||"Kind and Generous"|
|2001||Come Together: A Night for John Lennon's Words & Music||Herself-Performer||"Nowhere Man"|
|2001||Up Close and Personal||Herself-Performer||Oxygen|
|2002||Austin City Limits||Herself-Performer||PBS|
|2010||Good Morning America||Herself-Performer||ABC News|
|2015||The Today Show||Herself-Performer||NBC News|
|2016||The Andrew Marr Show||Herself-Performer||"Where I Go" (BBC UK aired March 20, 2016)|
|The Arsenio Hall Show:||1989|
|Late Show with David Letterman:||1995, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2001, 2004|
|The Rosie O'Donnell Show:||1996, 1996, 1998, 1998, 1999, 1999, 2001, 2002|
|The Tonight Show with Jay Leno:||1992, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2010|
|The Katie Show||2014|
|Late Night with Johnathan Ross:||1990's|