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A Chat with Natalie Merchant
The Former Maniac has a Soulful New Album

Natalie Merchant interview Listen as Scott Simon talks with Natalie Merchant

Nov. 17, 2001 -- Slip Natalie Merchant's new CD Motherland into your player, and you might think much of it, particularly the title track, was written in response to the Sept. 11 tragedy. "Where the hell can you go," she sings,

Far from the things that you know,
Far from the sprawl of concrete that keeps crawling its way
About 1,000 miles a day?
Take one last look behind,
Commit this to memory and mind.
Don't miss this wasteland, this terrible place.
When you leave, keep your heart off your sleeve.

The new album.

The other two songs she performs during her interview with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday -- "Build a Levy" and the single, "Just Can't Last" -- seem equally prescient. When she wrote "Motherland," she says "I think I was (being) a bit cynical. But it's changed meaning for me." The song represents a "painful nostalgia now for a time that seems really distant." In other words, earlier this year.

This is the third solo outing for the one-time singer for the megapopular college band 10,000 Maniacs. Motherland has a certain spiritual quality about it -- with more direct religious references in the lyrics than usual, and a sort-of gospel feel to some of the music. Merchant says she was raised in a Catholic household, but at age 11 she "drifted from the church when my mother married an atheist."

"Those are impressionable years, 1 to 11," she says, conceding the impact religion had on her early life.

But just as important, she says, was gospel music. She discovered Mahalia Jackson at age 18. "That opened the door for me, definitely," she says. What does gospel mean for her? "Good news in bad times."

Other Resources

•The official Natalie Merchant Web site.