Navigating Stephin Merritt's Many Shades of Dry

Welcome to the droll house

No hurt feelings, though. "We've known Stephin for a long time," McCaughan says. "I appreciate his sense of humor. And I also appreciate that he is not like anyone else we work with, both in terms of his art but also just in terms of the way he approaches things." He says that the band kept in touch while Merge was reissuing their catalog on vinyl. "There was never a falling out or a bad scene or anything in the first place; I think maybe it just made sense to them. And to my ears, anyway, the new record has more of a similar feel to their old records than, say, a record like Distortion."

The Magnetic Fields recently started their third decade. Merritt admits that he makes more money from his theater career than his bands, and that all the real lucre is in the merch anyway. "T-shirts are all important to the music industry at the moment, which is actually an arm of the garment industry." (He's so proud of the "God Wants Us to Wait" shirt, he shows me a picture of it on his phone at the mere mention of the thumping opener.) At this point, there's nothing left for him to prove, and as fun as Sea is, the band isn't likely to become much bigger than cultishly worshipped. He jokes (I think) that as time goes on, "we could gradually change our name to something . . . more or less fashionable. We could be the Jefferson Magnetic Fields," before getting more sincere after a lengthy pause. (I think.)

"I write songs compulsively, and if I got paid not to write songs, I would have to do it on the sly," Merritt says. "And the fact that whatever I say goes helps. Because the band's part may be boring, but the music part is not boring at all."

Up from the Bottom: Magnetic Fields
Marcelo Krasilcic
Up from the Bottom: Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields play the Beacon Theatre on April 4.

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