10000 Maniacs Biography

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Birth Place: Jamestown, NY, United States
Years Active: 1981–2001, 2002–2007, 2009–present
Genres: Alternative Rock, College Rock, Jangle Pop


10,000 Maniacs is a United States-based alternative rock band, which formed in 1981 and continues to be active with various line-ups. Between the years of 1981 and 1993, the band was led by singer Natalie Merchant.

The band was formed as Still Life in 1981 in Jamestown, New York, by Dennis Drew (keyboards), Steve Gustafson (bass), Chet Cardinale (drums), Robert Buck (guitar), and Teri Newhouse (Buck's ex-wife and vocalist). Gustafson invited Natalie Merchant, who was 17 at the time, to do some vocals. John Lombardo, who was in a band called The Mills and used to play occasionally with Still Life, was invited to join permanently on guitar and vocals. Newhouse and Cardinale left the band shortly after, and Merchant became the main singer. Various drummers came and left. The band changed its name to Burn Victims and then to 10,000 Maniacs after the low-budget horror movie “Two Thousand Maniacs!.”

They performed as 10,000 Maniacs for the first time in September 1981, with a line-up of Merchant, Lombardo, Buck, Drew, Gustafson, and Tim Edborg on drums. Edborg left and Bob Wachter was on drums for most of the 1981 gigs. Tired of playing cover songs the band started to write their own music, usually with Merchant handling the lyrics and Lombardo the music. In March 1982, with Jim Foti on drums, the band recorded an EP album called “Human Conflict Number Five.”

At the beginning of 1983, Jerry Augustyniak joined the band as their permanent drummer. Between March and July, the band recorded songs for their debut full-length album, “Secrets of the I Ching,” which was pressed by Mark Records for the band's own label Christian Burial Music. One song, “My Mother the War” turned out to be a minor hit in the United Kingdom, where it entered the Independent Singles chart.

10,000 Maniacs signed to Elektra Records in November 1984. In the spring of 1985, they recorded their second full-length album, “The Wishing Chair,” in London at Livingston Studios, with Joe Boyd as producer. Though the album was not a blockbuster hit, its status as the band's major label debut did win it some notice, and it received significant critical acclaim.

Co-founder Lombardo left the band during a rehearsal in July 1986. The remaining five members started the recordings of a new album in Los Angeles, with Peter Asher as the producer. “In My Tribe,” a more pop-rock oriented record, was released in July 1987, hit the charts where it stayed 77 weeks, peaking at #37 and established a large U.S. audience for the group.

Their next album, 1989’s “Blind Man's Zoo” hit #13 and went gold, further increasing the group's following. In 1990, with the help of Lombardo, they remastered their first two records “Human Conflict Number Five” and “Secrets of the I Ching” and released them as a compilation called “Hope Chest: The Fredonia Recordings 1982-1983.”

In 1991, during the recordings of a new album, Merchant revealed to the other members that she would be leaving for a solo career in two years' time. In 1992, “Our Time in Eden” was released. It became their most successful studio album, reaching #28 on the Billboard 200 and certifying 2x platinum. It contained the single, “These Are the Days,” which went to #1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart.

In April 1993, 10,000 Maniacs recorded MTV Unplugged and Merchant announced her leaving the band on MTV in August 1993.The “MTV Unplugged” album was released in October 1993 and it peaked at #13 on the Billboard 200. It featured their most successful single to date, “Because the Night,” which reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart.

In late 1993, the remaining members of 10,000 asked Mary Ramsey to join the band and continue. The revamped band began performing new material almost immediately, initially calling themselves “John & Mary, Rob, Steve, Dennis, & Jerry,” before they were to legally regain control of the 10,000 Maniacs name.

10,000 Maniacs released two albums with Ramsey on vocals. In 1997 they released “Love Among the Ruins” on Geffen Records and followed up in 1999 with “The Earth Pressed Flat” on Bar/None.

In 2002, Gustafson, Drew, and Augustyniak decided that they wished to continue with a new lead singer. Lombardo showed up at the first band practice, found out that the band had hired Erickson to play lead guitar and Oskar Saville of the Chicago-based band Rubygrass to sing, and quit the band. This lineup toured sporadically between 2002 and 2006, playing at various festivals. Ramsey rejoined the current edition of 10,000 Maniacs for several dates in 2006, playing viola and singing backing vocals.

In January 2004, Elektra/Asylum/Rhino Records released “Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure and Unknown Recordings,” a two disc set compilation, with 31 digitally remastered songs, four of them demos and one unreleased. The second disc contained B-sides and outtakes throughout the band's career up to that point, including many covers. Saville left in 2007 and Mary Ramsey regained the lead vocalist spot.

The current edition of the band (Augustyniak, Drew, Erickson, Gustafson and Ramsey) remains active. In 2011 they issued the EP, “Triangles,” on Ruby Wristwatch Records.





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