Pitchfork: You've spoken a lot about the importance of new technology in pushing music forward. Do you think that new technologies might actually revitalize song craft, by necessitating new techniques of writing and production?
Merritt: Well, I'm still waiting for the lyric generator.
Pitchfork: There are text machines, but they're not very well-oiled.
Merritt: The good lyric generator. I can imagine lyrics becoming better written by smart machines rather than stupid musicians. Songwriters generally have nothing to say. They may as well be replaced by machines.
Pitchfork: It seems like the problems with clichés per se is that they tend to be presented as transcendental truths. Is there anything original to say, or should we be liberating and recontextualizing clichés?
Merritt: Well, there are certainly original things to say. But I'm not sure that a pop song is the appropriate format to say them in.
Pitchfork: So you think there does exist a divide between "serious music" and...other music.
Merritt: Yeah, I think there is such a valid concept as "serious music," meaning that if you don't take it seriously, you don't get it all.
Pitchfork: Taking it seriously as...craft, as expression...
Merritt: As something you have to listen to. You are not going to understand [Alvin Lucier piece] "I Am Sitting in a Room", which on vinyl took up two sides of one disc, with what's essentially the audio equivalent of Xeroxes of Xeroxes of Xeroxes...you will not understand that at all if you're not listening to it. But nicely, there's no way in hell that you can possibly pay attention to it for two sides of a record. So yes, it's very serious music.
Pitchfork: I was thinking about that in terms of the way that you use production, because it seems like, especially with some of your older records, the production is never the new, mega-slick studio techniques. So I'm wondering if you think that there's a danger in trying to exist within the aesthetic of the moment, rather than maybe taking up an aesthetic that's already somewhat dated.
Merritt: When the Yamaha DX-7 keyboard came out, everybody used the same 3 sounds, because they happened to sound like nothing else anybody had heard before. It dated those records very specifically. Everybody is tired of those three sounds. And now only the most incredibly unimaginative artists, who might as well be playing in hotel lounges, would dare use those Yamaha DX-7 sounds. Or jazz artists who never give a thought to timbre on electronic instruments.
Pitchfork: Showtunes is actually not as stagey as I expected it to be.
Merritt: Really? How much more stagey could it possibly be?
Pitchfork: I guess that since so many of your songs are stagey to begin with, I imagined some new dimension in stagey emerging.
Merritt: Like Les Mis, or something?
Pitchfork: Yeah, some kind of Andrew Lloyd Weber-esque bombast.
Merritt: I actually prefer to hear small groups of instruments. Orchestras seem to lack a texture for me, or variety of texture. There's only about ten things you can do with one note in a string section. But a lone violin is continuously changing textures.
Pitchfork: How does it make its intentions clear without some kind of external interpretive framework?
Merritt: There's always some kind of external interpretive framework, everything being completely incomprehensible without it. Including "I Am Sitting in a Room". Especially "I Am Sitting in a Room".
Pitchfork: "I Am Sitting in a Room" isn't really a dance club favorite.
Merritt: If you start out with a song sounding like Britney Spears, and you end up with a song sounding like Pauline Oliveros, you'd better have pretty good liner notes explaining what on earth you mean.
Pitchfork: But that seems like one of the differences in expectations of "serious" and "popular" music...
Merritt: That you can actually depend on the liner notes to explain yourself? Yeah. Whereas in popular music you depend on photo shoots. A hardcore band who looked like Duran Duran would have to depend upon those liner notes.
Pitchfork: Or depend upon press, or texts outside of the music itself.
Merritt: And I don't think that's a bad thing.
Pitchfork: I read that when you were working on 69 Love Songs, you were writing three songs a day.
Merritt: Part of the time.
Pitchfork: Are you still that prolific?
Merritt: They weren't three good songs a day. Three songs a day. Songs like "Punk Love" don't take so long.
[Via The Standing Room.]