North Carolina native Tift Merritt comes to town for July's WFPK Waterfront Wednesday on July 28 at Waterfront Park. She just released her fourth studio album, See You on the Moon, in June, working with a new producer, Tucker Martine, who has also worked with Spoon and The Decemberists, among others.
With plentiful string arrangements and songs that hearken back to classic 70s soft rock, it's a great summertime album, featuring the gorgeous vocals and emotionally resonant songwriting that Merritt is known for. Rounding out the band behind her is long-time bandmate (and husband) Zeke Hutchins on drums, Jay Brown on bass and vocals, and guitar player Scott McCall, along with a few guests. I recently spoke to Tift about the new record and how it came together.
“My attitude for the whole thing was to do what was natural. When I sat down to write this stuff I said, hey, I just want to write really taut, strong stuff, and I want to get out of the way of it. I don't want to mess around with stupid angst.”
Stressing the natural evolution of the songs and the recording process, Tift seemed to be signaling a more comfortable, confident place from which her new music is emerging. She still finds that the inspiration for songs remains somewhat mysterious, likely to arise from the most unpredictable of moods or situations. “You never know what is going to spark a connection or a feeling, or a strain of thought that's worth following. It might be something you see, or something you read, or something you eat, or something that you drop in the street.”
One thing that definitely inspired her on this record, however, is writing about the people who have mattered to her the most. One song, which she wrote from the perspective of her late grandfather, is a hauntingly beautiful track called, “Feel of the World,” which features what she calls the “otherworldly” background vocals of Jim James, a collaboration that came about through James' friendship with producer Martine. “ I was just so floored that he would be a part of that song. It was a very moving thing to have him be part of that.”
Taught to appreciate music and play the guitar and piano by her father, Tift credits him with giving her a “genreless” taste in music from his diverse record collection of everyone from Dolly Parton and Bob Dylan to Michael Jackson and Percy Sledge. She is a great believer in that kind of “mingling” of the arts, in general. Tift cultivates an array of interests, including photography and hosting a public radio show called The Spark, in which she gets to interview artists that inspire her, not only musicians, but also painters, poets, and authors.
Tift's debut was the critically acclaimed Bramble Rose (which is still in pretty constant rotation on my iPod) followed by Tambourine and Another Country. See her new video for the single, “Mixtape” below.
Tift will be joined for next week's free Waterfront Wednesday show by two L.A.-based acts, the band Dawes and singer-songwriter Robert Francis. The evening kicks off at about 6:00 p.m. with Tift appearing at around 9:30.