- 2 Career
- 3 Personal life
- 4 Activism
- 5 Discography
- 6 Filmography
- 7 References
- 8 External links
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 she wouldn't 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 [her mother] 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."
"A suicidal high school dropout," 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 she started singing for a band, Still Life, that became 10,000 Maniacs.
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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 performed 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, for 10,000 Maniacs for seven studio albums. In 1993 she announced that she was leaving the group. Her last recording with the band, a cover of Patti Smith's "Because the Night" at the 10,000 Maniacs MTV Unplugged performance, reached #11 in the singles chart, becoming the band's greatest U.S. success.
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.
The fifth song on the Tigerlily album, Carnival, was requested by the serial killer Aileen Wuornos to be played at her wake after her execution. It was also played over the end credits to Nick Broomfield's documentary Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, which was aired on the Crime channel.
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 5 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 SNL, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and all late-night talk shows. The media's immediate and critical impact 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' 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 featured plenty of lush symphonic arrangements composed and conducted by British composer Gavin Bryars. 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 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 non-committal 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, the "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 recordedGeorge 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 increasingAIDS 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.
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 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 both played at stadiums and arenas.Merchant at the piano in 2005
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.
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.
In February 2014, Natalie Merchant announced her self-titled album, The album consists of entirely new works, 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. Natalie announced a summer tour where she will kick off the tour in Kingston, NY on July 3, 2014 and finish it at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee on July 25, 2014.Merchant became known for her swirling style of dancing and her simple dress while performing with 10,000 Maniacs
In 2003, Merchant married Daniel de la Calle and had a daughter with him named Lucia. However, in an interview in 2012, she indicated that she is now divorced. She likes gardening and painting. Some paintings can be seen at her official website.
"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 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, "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 take to the stage, illuminating the darkness surrounding this public health epidemic.
Shelter 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 SHELTER film at the Old Dutch Church in Kingston, New York, on the day of One Billion Rising for Justice.
- 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)
- 1998: Ophelia
- 2001: Motherland
- 2003: The House Carpenter's Daughter
- 2010: Leave Your Sleep
- 2014: Natalie Merchant
|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|
|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|
|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|