Best known as the mastermind behind the Magnetic Fields, singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt has juggled multiple projects throughout his career, releasing a string of acclaimed albums with the Magnetic Fields while also working as a solo artist, a magazine journalist, and a member of several different bands. Raised by his countercultural mother, he spent much of his youth moving from house to house throughout the Northeast. It was during that time that Merritt became enamored with Top 40 pop, specifically ABBA. His interest in music began to take on a physical form at the age of 14, when he made his first recordings with a cheap synthesizer and an old four-track recorder. That sound — a blend of electronics and lo-fi pop — still captivated the artist in later years, prompting him to form the Magnetic Fields in 1989. Based in Boston, the group initially resembled a solo project more than an actual band, with Merritt playing all the instruments himself. Claudia Gonson, who'd played with Merritt during the pair's high-school days, eventually signed on as drummer and manager, and the band's membership swelled during the 1990s. The Magnetic Fields released numerous records during that decade and earned the most acclaim with 1999's 69 Love Songs, an epic three-disc set that catapulted Merritt out of the underground and into the upper crust of indie pop.
Meanwhile, he released material with other groups like the 6ths, the Future Bible Heroes, and the Gothic Archies, almost all of which featured Merritt as the prime (if not only) member. Putting his talent as a wordsmith to another use, he also served as a copyeditor at Spin and wrote reviews for Time Out magazine in New York. Music proved to be Merritt's bread and butter, though, and he provided the soundtrack to the James Bolton film Eban & Charley in 2002, followed by his first proper solo release, which was titled Two Chinese Operas and issued under his own name in 2005. Showtunes followed in 2006, featuring selected compositions written for Chen Shi-Zheng's Orphan of Zhao (2003), Peach Blossom Fan (2004), and My Life as a Fairy Tale (2005). The Magnetic Fields continued releasing new music, too, having left the band's previous label, Merge Records, to sign with Nonesuch during the early 21st century. Not altogether willing to part with the band, Merge reached into its own archives for Obscurities, a 2011 compilation that included rarities and unreleased tracks from the band's early days. ~ James Christopher Monger & Andrew Leahey