Death And Woe And Rodeo

5.31.2009

By Robbie Imes

Stephen Merritt's lyrics can break your heart and make you laugh -- all in under three minutes. A long time indie icon, he's managed to juggle not only heading up the wildly popular band The Magnetic Fields, but also a slew of other pop music projects including Future Bible Heroes, The 6ths and The Gothic Archies. And even with his hand in so many rock n' roll endeavors, he also finds time to score films like Eban and Charley and create original works for various musical stage productions, such as My Life as a Fairy Tale, based on the life of writer Hans Christian Andersen.

Merritt's latest addition to his ever-growing artistic empire is the musical stage version of the children's book, Coraline. Based on Neil Gaiman's strange cult horror novella, this adaptation features music and lyrics by Merritt, and brings a new vision and voice to the dark but playful tale. But Merritt's involvement should really come as no surprise: Coraline herself is an unsatisfied and overly curious outcast, discontent with the world she inhabits. In her teenage years, she would certainly be a big fan of the Magnetic Fields and their songs of death and woe and the rodeo. Out managed to catch a few minutes with the king crooner of doom and gloom to find out more about his latest project.

Out: How's your new home in L.A.?
Stephin Merritt: Well, I've been in New York for 2 months working on Coraline. In L.A. I have a house, though. It's spacious -- much more room. I don't have any room for a harpsichord, though. I've been considering a vertical harpsichord. Now if I could put bookshelves in the attic, it would be perfect.

I'll have to image search vertical harpsichord.
It's a harpsichord that goes up the wall rather than across the floor.

Your new project Coraline opens on June 1st at the MCC Theatre in Greenwich Village. What made you choose that story for a stage adaptation?
It actually chose me. I did the music for the audio books for the novel. I'd thought then about it but the stage rights were tied up with the theatrical rights, but magically somehow they became available and I snapped them up. I knew it would make a good musical.

How did you and (downtown stage maverick and the writer of Coraline's stage book) David Greenspan come together for this production?
We've worked together in past productions. David is great for a degree of stylization; he demands a stylized approach, and this project needed that. Everyone in the production has songs, people turn into mice and dogs, and there are magical powers. We're asking the audience to believe that impossible things are happening. No one says anything normal and everyone has fake and multiple accents.

The novel is a children's book. Tell me how you made this production more adult.
I didn't think about it. But there are adult elements present in the book. There are primal dangers in the story. And the parents have no eyes. Those things were already present.

Your band's music often has a story within it, seemingly inspired by many things. What do you think inspired you most in making the music for this production?
I have a lifelong antipathy for the word inspire. It's hard to say what inspires. But the play's setting wasn't necessarily motivated by the book. I haven't looked at the Gaiman version in a long time, maybe two years or more. It was David's work (from the book's adaptation) that I was looking to.

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