Tift Merritt Will 'See You On The Moon'

Tift Merritt i i

Jim James of My Morning Jacket accompanies Tift Merritt on one of her songs on See You On The Moon, "Feel of the World." Jason Frank Rothenberg hide caption

itoggle caption Jason Frank Rothenberg
Tift Merritt

Jim James of My Morning Jacket accompanies Tift Merritt on one of her songs on See You On The Moon, "Feel of the World."

Jason Frank Rothenberg

Tift Merritt was expected to be the next great country music super star. Instead, she subtly produced five introspective and soul-filled albums that stayed true to her mission as an artist.

Eight years into her career, she's now released her sixth album, See You On The Moon.

"My work has always been very, very personal," Merritt tells NPR's Neal Conan. "I'm a writer, first and foremost, and I sort of take my cues from the songwriters of the '70s, who are talking about what's really important to them."

Merritt hopes her work will get even more personal — though "not in a way that's embarrassing to anyone, or feels like a journal entry," she says.

Merritt has a wide variety of musical influences. She calls herself a huge fan of old-fashioned country music, like that of Kitty Wells. But says she's not sure why she often gets pigeonholed into country music when she's always had an energetic rock band behind her and cites Delaney & Bonnie and George Harrison as major influences on her second album, Tambourine.

"I also was really intrigued by the energy of soul music," says Merritt. "As much as I love being a singer-songwriter, I love throwing down on stage and letting it all out."

So in an effort to make sure the album it wasn't full of "delicate songs that would fall apart in your hand," Merritt sought a balance between the power of soul music and the sincerity of the singer-songwriter.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

In 2002, after a debut album "Bramble Rose," some touted singer-songwriter Tift Merritt as country music's next superstar. Life didnt work out that way. Eight years later, she's on a smaller label, plays smaller rooms, and releases evocative albums that let her considerable ambitions soar. Her latest is "See You On The Moon."

(Soundbite of song, "Mixtape")

Ms. TIFT MERRITT (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) You, how did you get so wise? I take the advice I find in your eyes. Me, I've been waiting outside. Most of my life, oh, like a rare B-side. I'm just making you mixtapes with homemade covers. Analog...

CONAN: "Mixtape," from Tift Merritt's new album, "See You On The Moon."

If you'd like to talk with her about her music or about the music business, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Tift Merritt joins us from our member station in Philadelphia, WHYY. And it's great to have you back on the program.

Ms. MERRITT: Hi, Neal. Thank you so much for having me.

CONAN: I'm looking at your itinerary. It's got something like three dozen one-nighters. You started June the 3rd and you finish up mid-August. This looks like the Pennsylvania Turnpike-I 95 section of the tour.

Ms. MERRITT: Oh, yeah. And then there'll be a whole another leg, you know, to be announced in a few more weeks.

CONAN: Oh, boy.

Ms. MERRITT: So my suitcase is packed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I happened to I come in on the bus every day, and I happened to see Taylor Swift's bus in Washington, D.C. I think it was last week. And it's got her picture shrink-wrapped around the bus, and a picture of the album cover. Do you have a bus like that? Pretty cool.

Ms. MERRITT: No. No, I don't. I travel in a Ford Econoline van with a trailer. So it's not quite so glamorous.

CONAN: Not quite so glamorous. Its...

Ms. MERRITT: Although I don't know that I would ever want my own mug shrink-wrapped on the bus or on the car or on the bicycle, whatever - no matter what way we're traveling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You don't have the ambition for that huge, rolling billboard that says: Tift?

Ms. MERRITT: No. No. And thank goodness, no. I mean, you know, I think my ambitions are have always been as a musician and as a writer, and usually that impulse keeping your head down to sing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And these are intimate songs that you've written here.

Ms. MERRITT: I think so. I think so. I mean, my work is has always been very, very personal. And I mean, you're so sweet to talk about how I was touted as someone who was going to a big superstar. I'm not sure that that was really ever in my cards. I mean, I'm a writer first and foremost. And I sort of take my cues from the songwriters of the '70s, who are talking about what's really important to them. So I hope that as I go, you know, my work gets more and more personal, more and more intimate - not in a way that's embarrassing to anyone or feels like a journal entry but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's when you say the songwriters of the '70s, who you talking about - Joni Mitchell, people like that?

Ms. MERRITT: Absolutely. Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Neil Young, George Harrison, people who are really telling first-person stories.

CONAN: Well, those guys managed to have a hit or two.

Ms. MERRITT: Well, yeah. I mean, look, I'm not opposed to a hit. Bring it on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, in terms of an intimate and personal song, I want to play a clip here. This is another tune of yours from the new album, "See You On The Moon." And it's called "Feel of the World."

(Soundbite of song, "Feel of the World")

Ms. MERRITT: (Singing) I'll tell you what I will miss, California and horses. Down by the sailboats where we waded in, the feel of the world in my hands. In my hands, the feel of the world in my hands.

CONAN: And I've seen that you describe that tune as a letter.

Ms. MERRITT: Yes. My grandmother was dying, and I was really far away at the time. My father was with her. And I wasn't quite sure how to be there. And I was thinking about her life and thinking about life and death, and the things that you do think about when someone is passing. And I just began to think about the tactile things in the world: you know, a good wooden table, a good pen in your hands, paper. And I began to write this song about my grandmother. And when I finished it - I wrote it very quickly, which I don't usually do - I realized that it was really my grandfather's song to her. And he had passed away in the '70s...

CONAN: Before you were born.

Ms. MERRITT: About a month after I was born. And I've always felt very close to him, for some mysterious reason. But I looked down at this song and I thought, this is my grandfather's letter to my grandmother, just letting her know that it's OK to let go and that he's waiting for her.

CONAN: Hmm. When you write these - it seems that these songs are - sound better in a small room.

Ms. MERRITT: Well, that's really interesting. You know, I'm not someone who's played gigantic stadiums. But I do enjoy, you know - my favorite place to play is in a small theater, where the acoustics are really beautiful and the band can really shine. So you know, maybe not the corner of the coffee shop with the PA-on-a-stick sort of thing, but enough good - you know, enough of a good room to shine but that you really are making a connection with people that's very direct.

CONAN: There are a lot of places across the country that are 200-, 250-seat theaters.

Ms. MERRITT: Yeah, and I'm going to all of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with Tift Merritt who's, at the moment, in a studio in Philadelphia. And she has a new CD out. It's called "See You On The Moon"; 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org.

Let's see if we can get Holly(ph) on the line. Holly is with us from Kansas City.

HOLLY (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to say, I'm very excited that you have Tift Merritt on your show today. And I listen to your show every day.

CONAN: Oh, thank you.

HOLLY: And I just wanted to say that I used to get CDs from friends that worked at CD stores. And I somehow got Tifts - I think it was her first album. Is "Bramble Rose" your first album?

Ms. MERRITT: Yes, it is.

HOLLY: OK. I got that. And if it - it was a CD; if it was made out of vinyl, it would be unplayable by now.

Ms. MERRITT: Oh, you are so kind. Thank you so much.

HOLLY: I listen to it over and over again. I love it. I listen to it in my car. And it just - something about it just really connected with me.

Ms. MERRITT: I really appreciate that. Thank you so much.

HOLLY: Thank you.

CONAN: She's got a few others out you could pick up and actually, spend some money on.

HOLLY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOLLY: I should. I do have another one of hers. But I just keep going back to that first one. Ill eventually get to the other ones.

CONAN: OK.

Ms. MERRITT: Well, you take your time. Do what you need to do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOLLY: Thank you.

CONAN: That was your first solo album - though you had issued a couple of other recordings, I guess, as a member of a group.

Ms. MERRITT: I did. Well, it's funny. I - I made a seven-inch with my band, called the Carbines, when we were - you know, we were all really just starting out and playing in bars. And it looked really cool. But it sounded really awful. And it came with a little yellow thing to put in the hole of the 45. And then, we were playing a lot with a great band called the Two Dollar Pistols, and I did a record of country duets where I was the girl singer on that EP. So, you know, we were just cutting our teeth and going to clubs and doing a lot of the same things we still do now. But I - we had a great time.

CONAN: This is back in North Carolina?

Ms. MERRITT: Yes.

CONAN: And you returned to North Carolina to record this record.

Ms. MERRITT: Yes. And it's funny because the band, the Carbines, is - most of those guys are still in my band. I mean, it's really - the drummer is my husband, and he's from Durham, North Carolina. Our bass player, who has played music with me for 12 years and is my singing partner, he is from North Carolina as well. So our band is extremely rooted in North Carolina. And I actually live in New York City now, but we go back to North Carolina a lot. And I would say, going back to North Carolina was such a great way for us to just feel comfortable and be ourselves and make a fort and, you know, hide away from the world and just allow this record to bloom in a really natural way.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Deborah(ph), Deborah calling from Austin.

DEBORAH (Caller): Hi, Tift. I am calling from Austin. I'm hoping that one of those 200-seat rooms you are going to play might be the Cactus, here in Austin.

Ms. MERRITT: Oh, you know, I had heard the Cactus was closing.

DEBORAH: The Cactus is in transition. But we...

Ms. MERRITT: OK. Good.

DEBORAH: ...taken over to some degree by KUT Radio. But that's more information than you probably want.

Ms. MERRITT: Great. No. I'm happy to know. I love Austin.

DEBORAH: Well, Austin loves you. We would love to hear you here. The Cactus has not died. It's in transition. But KUT has taken over management of the Cactus, and they're working out an agreement with the University of Texas. So hopefully, it will still be here. Is Austin on your current tour?

Ms. MERRITT: It's not on my June and July list of...

DEBORAH: OK. You don't want to be here...

CONAN: I didn't see any T-Xs, no.

Ms. MERRITT: But it is coming, I promise. You know, it's so funny. I've - after we've been in the van for a few days, we've been - already we've been from Pittsburgh to Buffalo to Vermont. And then now down to Philly. And I wish that we could just have a time machine and sort of vortex ourselves from place to place, but we are definitely going to cover the ground and get to Texas.

DEBORAH: Well, thats good to hear from...

Ms. MERRITT: We love you guys down there.

DEBORAH:: You started in Charlottesville. And my college reunion was there that next weekend, but we didnt overlap. So...

Ms. MERRITT: Oh.

CONAN: You couldnt move it?

DEBORAH: Yeah, I know. (unintelligible) sorts of thing. I actually have a question about Another Country, which...

Ms. MERRITT: Oh, sure.

DEBORAH: ...I have to tell you, the first time I sat down and I put it in the car CD as soon as I bought it and was listening. But I sat down and listened to the whole thing through the first time - and was in tears by the time I finished...

Ms. MERRITT: Oh, youre so kind.

DEBORAH: ...and read the liner notes. And would love to know more about just what it was like to just pick up and go to Paris and pour that album out. Was it as - a cathartic experience for you as it is for those of us who listened to it?

Ms. MERRITT: Oh, you - thats so nice. It was a big accident in a lot of ways, and it was also a cathartic experience. I mean, I certainly didnt go over there planning on writing a record. And it was very comforting to know that I could still do that, or that that was what happened when I was left alone to my own devices.

But you know, I - as much Im an - a huge fan of Paris, I also think that people dont often get time alone - that time alone is really a luxury, when you can kind of clear the docket and say, oh my gosh, what is this mess all about, and really get back to the essentials. And you know, that was an extremely important thing to me. And the things that I learned while I was over there were really, really simple, but I really tried to just hang on to them in my day-to-day life and, you know, hopefully grow them a little. I really appreciate that that record means that to you because it certainly means a lot to me.

DEBORAH: When I need reassurance that its going to be OK, Morning is My Destination is the song that I (unintelligible). So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MERRITT: Thanks. Thats great. Im so glad.

DEBORAH: Thank you so much for your time. We look forward to seeing you in Austin.

Ms. MERRITT: Well see you soon down there. Well have a drink at the Hotel San Jose.

DEBORAH: That sounds fabulous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEBORAH: Thanks so much.

CONAN: Thanks, Deborah. Were talking with Tift Merritt about her new album, See You On the Moon. Youre listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And this is Bob(ph). Bob, with us from Ann Arbor.

BOB (Caller): Yes. Tift, I got to tell you, your lyrics really speak to men in relationships, too. And thank you for all your great writing.

Ms. MERRITT: Oh, thats great. Thank you.

BOB: I - my question has to do with singing the Austin City Limits concert. And while you certainly stand in the country tradition, that was a great rock and roll show in so many ways. And I would just like to hear more about who some of your rock and roll influences are.

Ms. MERRITT: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, you know, I mean, Im a huge fan of old-fashioned country music, like Kitty Wells and that sort of thing, but Im not sure why I get pigeonholed into country music because I have always had a very energetic rock band. And at the time of the Tambourine tour...

BOB: Yeah.

Ms. MERRITT: ...when we filmed that Austin City Limits, I was really, really inspired by Delaney & Bonnie, which was this amazing rock group and lots of different singers, lots of different...

CONAN: Good guitar player in that band.

Ms. MERRITT: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MERRITT: And then maybe some George Harrison. And I also was really intrigued by the energy of soul music. You know, as much as I love being a singer-songwriter, I love throwing down on stage and letting it all out. And I wanted to make sure that when I was writing, I wasnt just writing kind of delicate songs that would fall apart in your hand. And I think soul music is this really powerful place where you are speaking really genuinely and straightforwardly and loudly.

BOB: Yeah.

Ms. MERRITT: But you - so it has the sincerity of, you know, singer-songwriters, but also the power and the energy of soul music. And I was very, very swept up in that at the time. And we had a great time on that tour.

CONAN: After she says that - I do want to point out, there is a pedal steel guitar on the new album.

Ms. MERRITT: Yes, there is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So, going right back to that country star thing?

Ms. MERRITT: Oh, well, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MERRITT: I guess theres no way around it. You know, pedal steel is a pretty amazing instrument and can make all sorts of different noises. And were actually on tour with a great pedal steel player right now, Eric Heywood, who plays - hes an amazing guitar player, and then he jumps right over to the pedal steel. So no strict rules, right?

CONAN: There's no rules.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Bob, thanks very much for the call.

BOB: Thank you, Tift. Take care.

Ms. MERRITT: You too.

CONAN: Also intercepted some conversation youre having - apparently about Anne Murray at some point. So...

Ms. MERRITT: Oh, yeah.

CONAN: ...next album, electric sitar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MERRITT: No rules. Im completely open.

CONAN: Were talking with Tift Merritt. Her new album, without the electric sitar, is See You On The Moon. Shes with us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia, appears tomorrow night at the Birchmere in Virginia. I have so screwed my life that I cant go. So thanks very much. Well see you next time, Tift.

Ms. MERRITT: Thank you so much for having me, Neal. Its such a pleasure.

CONAN: All right. This is Dannys Song from See You On the Moon. Youre listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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See You On The Moon

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Album
See You On The Moon
Artist
Tift Merritt
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Fantasy
Released
2010

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