Tift Merritt gets tender – April 2008
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Tift Merritt gets tender  Print

By Jeffrey B. Remz, April 2008

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"I know that those two records ("Bramble Rose" and "Tambourine") are very different. I know that. I'm always surprised that's a bad thing or a confusing thing. I think an artist should strive to be more than the same tone over and over."

"What was really great about this record was nothing was a means to an end. The songs were very clear what they called for, which was a very natural, not overwrought, thing. If there were any sort of forward thinking of my part about that I wanted to make a sound that was unique and my own."

Merritt readily acknowledges that the sound is different from "Bramble Rose" and "Tambourine." "After being so long on the road, 'Bramble Rose' was a really quiet kind of record...'Tambourine,' was all out kind of record because I wanted to throw it all out on stage. With 'Another Country,' the material was really personal, and it wasn't ever about show business at all. I wanted the sonic quality of this record to be an invitation, to not be something that bowls you over, that did not dance in your face that this is just what I think. Will you join me? It's a bit of an extending of a hand. So, I did want a gentler sound."

"What's the point of all of this if you're not speaking in a really direct way, one singer, one song for one listener. I think that direct communication is really important."

Being personal, was it hard to put these songs out to the public? "Because I was so far away, and I wrote about my life more candidly than I ever had before because there was no one there to hear the songs, you always feel that way when you play a new song - you always feel, 'I'm just putting myself out there, and I'm making a fool out of myself.' That was definitely a scary moment."

"There was a nice sense of relief...I can't talk about my life in a way that is a journal entry that everybody knows Zeke and I have a fight when I got back from the grocery store last Tuesday," she says referring to drummer/boyfriend Zeke Hutchins. "It's not that. I do think it was really great to find going that open (road) was not really any different. It was very freeing. Nothing broke, and I didn't make a fool of myself, and everything is okay."

"My Heart is Free" is written from the perspective of a dead soldier. "I had a cousin who was killed in France in World War I. He was a young writer. I've always felt very tied to him for reasons beyond logic. Being in France, I just thought a lot about him. I think as a writer, you can't help but want to comment on the world around you in a pertinent way...but I'm not really comfortable with proclamations and angry deductions or anything like that. But from a personal standpoint, it was the most effective contribution I could make - his point of view from a dead soldier about what war must be (like)."

Not only is "Tambourine" stylistically a mix, but linguistically as well. Merritt closes with "Mille Tendresses," French for "Thousand Tendernesses." She wrote and sang the song in French. "I had my friends help me help me make sure I didn't say anything bad."

"I just noticed that anything important in life happens with really really small and tender exchanges that we have. That's where I want to live. That is where I hide myself in this world."

"It was so fun. It's hard. You feel a little bit like you did in second grade where there's something that you really want to say, and you're trying really hard, and it comes out really clunky and goofy, but I love to sing in French. I was there long enough that I was thinking in French. It just felt really natural to give it a go."

"It's great because any time you're on new territory, you're really free," says Merritt, who says she wrote the song initially in French. The liner notes contain the song in English. ("It really isn't as nice in English," says Merritt)

Not all the songs were written in France. "Keep You Happy" was penned in New York. "I was kind of going back and forth, so a lot of them were worked on in both places. Starting (a song) is such an important (thing), and finishing it is a really different kind of thing. So the things that didn't happen in France were technical...and maybe some icing on the cake, but this record was really written over there, conceived over there...the process belongs there."

Merritt moved to New York in October 2007, living in California prior to that. "Most of the people that I'm working with are in New York," says Merritt, explaining the move with Hutchins, adding, "We both love it, and we see so much music...North Carolina is our home for sure...(but) I think it's such a privilege for an artists to be where all the other artists are."

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