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Natalie Merchant Biography


Home > Music > M > Merchant, Natalie > Biography


Birth Name: Natalie Anne Merchant
Born: 1963/10/26
Birth Place: Jamestown, New York, USA
Years Active: 1981–present
Genres: Alternative/Indie, Folk, Pop, Rock


Natalie Merchant (born October 26, 1963) is an American singer-songwriter and musician. She joined the alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs in 1981 and left it to begin her solo career in 1993.

In 1981 she started singing for a band called Still Life, which was to become 10,000 Maniacs. 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” in 1982. Merchant sang lead vocals, and later played the piano as well, for the band’s first seven studio albums. In 1993 she announced that she was leaving the group.

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.” 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 10 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.

Three years passed before Merchant would release her second solo effort, “Ophelia” in 1998. While “Tigerlily” contained 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, famed trumpet player Chris Botti, and the husband and wife duo, Don and Karen Peris, from the band The Innocence Mission.

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 Swee” receiving moderate airplay on adult contemporary stations.

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.

Merchant's next studio album on the Elektra label was “Motherland,” released in 2001. “Motherland” saw Merchant at her most experimental musically. “Motherland” debuted at #30 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and #13 on the Top Internet Albums chart. Singles that were released from “Motherland” were “Just Can't Last,” “Build a Levee” and “Tell Yourself.”

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 in April 2010 and debuted on the Billboard 200 at #17 and at #1 on the Billboard Folk Albums chart. The album was co-produced by Grammy winning Andres Levin.