SFBG The song "Xavier Says," off the Magnetic Fields' latest album, Distortion (Nonesuch), seems to describe a relationship between two not-terribly-happy and at least somewhat fucked-up people. I know you hate these questions, but is this based at all on personal experience?
STEPHIN MERRITT It's certainly based on personal experience in that I spend a lot of time sitting around writing in sleazy gay bars with a lot of old men because that's where they play the thumping, boring disco music that I find is best to write to. And so I hear this kind of conversation.
SFBG On the surface, "Nun's Litany" seems to be about a nun thinking back on her life. Is there a deeper meaning or perhaps a social criticism to the song?
SM Someone pointed out that it could be the same protagonist as in "California Girls" in fact, maybe the protagonist in "California Girls" is already a nun. I am not intending any social criticism in music. I think social criticism is best done in prose. If you want to do social criticism in rhyme, then you can't be very serious neither about the rhyme or the social criticism.
SFBG In a somewhat recent interview, you said that "serious music isn't listened to in a casual setting." Now you seem to be playing more formal concert halls around the country instead of smaller venues or art galleries. Is this because of your growing fan base or because you prefer playing concert halls?
SM Well, we have more people who want to get in, so we can't play in galleries. With our growing fan base, where we would be playing is not arenas but large, big, clunky venues. We're keeping it down because of my hearing problem.
SFBG Are there any particular noises in a live music environment that bother your ear?
SM Well, that's a leading question. Why, yes: applause. Applause is seemingly perfectly tuned to send my ear into lawn-mower mode.
SFBG Does feedback or distortion bother your ear?
SM Not as much it seems to be pure tones. Actually, what bothers me most is high white noise. [Irving, Merritt's Chihuahua, named after Irving Berlin, starts barking for the third time during the interview]
[Thirty seconds later] There, I killed the dog. [Laughter] n
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
With Interstellar Radio Company
Feb. 2829, 8 p.m., sold out
War Memorial Veterans Bldg.
401 Van Ness, SF
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