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Stephin Merritt is one of the most brilliant songwriters of our time. Through his projects The Magnetic Fields, The Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes, and The 6ths, he’s deconstructed and reimagined the art of the song. Stephin’s lyrics are wonderfully dark and witty, often gender-bending, sometimes intellectual, occasionally utterly heartbreaking. His melodies are addictive enough to be illegal under drug-dealing laws. Stephin is able to make listeners laugh, cry, and think, all in the same song.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of 69 Love Songs, widely considered the crown jewel of Stephin Merritt’s vast catalog. A three CD (now also a six 10” vinyl) box set, the album is a meta conceit: a record not only full of love songs, but also about love songs themselves. Running 172 minutes and 35 seconds, the songs stylistically jump between indie rock, synth-pop, country, faux punk and jazz, Sondheim-esque showtunes, folk, a capella, ’70s singer-songwriter, world music and much more.
For today’s show, Stephin sat down with Daniel Handler — aka, A Series Of Unfortunate Events author Lemony Snicket — who played accordion on 69 Love Songs as well as interviewed Stephin for the liner notes. The old friends and collaborators chop it up on the triumphs and occasional difficulties of 69 Love Songs’ improbable existence — the arduous recording, uncharted release campaign, surprising live shows, initial reaction and beloved legacy. Their deep dive talk also takes in: Daniel’s theory that 69 LS has become a children’s album; “tweecore” beefs with Belle and Sebastian and Stereolab; the record release show that found Stephin trapped above the stage; the best music to get busy to; whispering hecklers; and why 69 Love Songs should’ve been sold in sex shops.
Today’s episode was co-produced by Mark Yoshizumi. It was recorded at Hook and Fade Studios in Brooklyn.
The Talkhouse Podcast’s theme song was composed and performed by The Range.