“I think of myself as a musician and not a celebrity. Celebrity status is something you have to deliberately pursue - I couldn't imagine myself seeking that.” Natalie Merchant
American singer, songwriter, and musician Natalie Merchant first came to fame as the lead vocalist and main songwriter of the alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs. During her tenure with the band from 1981 to 1993, she recorded five studio albums, including the band's platinum selling records “In My Tribe “(1987), “Blind Man's Zoo” (1989) and “Our Time in Eden” (1992), not to mention one EP, one live album and one compilation album. After leaving the band, Merchant continues to perform as a solo artist. Her debut album, “Tigerlily” (#13 US, 1995), has received five times platinum from the RIAA. The follow ups “Ophelia” (#8 US, 1998) and “Motherland” (#30 US, 2001) respectively brought her platinum and gold status in the US. After leaving Elektra Records, Merchant released her fourth album “The House Carpenter's Daughter” in 2003 through her own label, Myth America Records. A new album, “Leave Your Sleep” (#17 US) followed in 2010. It was her debut with Nonesuch Records. Merchant has scored three singles on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Carnival” (#10, 1995), “Wonder” (#20, 1996) and “Jealousy” (#23, 1996).
Merchant is married to Daniel de la Calle and has one child. She has been romantically involved with drummer Peter Yanowitz, Michael Stipe and Robert Buck.
Childhood and Family:
Natalie Anne Merchant was born on October 26, 1963, in Jamestown, New York, to an Italian father and an Irish mother. Her parents divorced when she was eight years old, and her mother later remarried. The third of four children, she has an older brother and sister and a younger brother. Natalie was encouraged by her mother to study music at an early age. She took piano and voices lessons but she had to spend her days without television starting at the age of 12. She dropped out of high school at age 16 and enrolled at Jamestown Community College of The State University of New York (SUNY). She got an Associate's degree instead of a GED. After quitting school, she landed work in a health food store before starting her music career in 1981.
In 2003, Natalie was married to Daniel de la Calle. Together, they have a daughter, Lucia. Natalie, who has been a vegetarian since 1980, irregularly took up eating meet during her pregnancy. Her nicknames are Whirling Dervish and Gnat.
In My Tribe
Natalie Merchant, who once dreamed of becoming a teacher, changed her direction to music after she met Robert Buck, a guitarist and founding member of 10,000 Maniacs, in 1981 and became the lead singer for the band. First formed as Still Life, the band eventually changed their name to 10,000 Maniacs, which was named after the low budget horror movie “Two Thousand Maniacs!,” and performed for the first time with the new name on September 7, 1981.
With 10,000 Maniacs, Merchant had her first recording experience in “Human Conflict Number Five,” a debut EP released in 1982 on the band's own label Christian Burial Music label. In addition to providing lead vocals, Merchant also co-wrote four of five songs in the LP. In 1983, the band released their first independent album, “Secrets of the I Ching.”
In November 1984, Merchant and her bandmates signed to Elektra Records and they soon worked on their first major label debut album. The resultant, “The Wishing Chair,” produced by Joe Boyd, was released on September 23, 1985 and though it never became a commercial blockbuster, the album gained generally positive reviews from music critics and brought the band more visibility than their previous independent releases had. The album produced two singles “Can't Ignore the Train” and “Scorpio Rising.”
With four remaining members following the departure of co-founder John Lombardo, Merchant began the recordings of a new album in Los Angeles, with Peter Asher, part of the duo Peter & Gordon, as producer. “In My Tribe” was launched on July 27, 1987 and became their first major success. The album reached No.. 37 on the US Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 77 weeks. It has been certified double platinum by the RIAA. The album also was well received in the UK. The single “Like the Weather” reached No. 37 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks and entered the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 68. The follow up single “What's the Matter Here,” which Merchant wrote with Robert Buck, hit No. 9 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. Merchant also co-wrote other tracks such as “Hey Jack Kerouac,” “Cherry Tree,” “The Painted Desert ,” “Don't Talk,” “My Sister Rose” and “City of Angels.”
The band reunited with Peter Asher for the follow up album “Blind Man's Zoo.” Released on May 16, 1989, the album peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard 200 and went on to receive platinum certification from the RIAA. The first single “Trouble Me,” which she co-wrote with keyboardist Dennis Drew, reached No. 3 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, No. 7 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary, No. 20 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks and No. 44 on the The Billboard Hot 100. The second single “Eat for Two” charted at No. 12 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks. Merchant also played piano for the album.
On October 1, 1990, 10,000 Maniacs released “Hope Chest: The Fredonia Recordings 1982–1983,” a compilation of tracks from their first two releases “Human Conflict Number Five” and “Secrets of the I Ching.” On September 29, 1992, the band released a new studio album, “Our Time in Eden,” with producer Paul Fox. The song “These Are Days,” which she wrote with Robert Buck, topped the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in November 1992. The second single “Candy Everybody Wants” reached No. 5 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks and No. 67 on the Billboard Hot 100. The third and fourth single “Few and Far Between” and “ Everyday Is Like Sunday” peaked at No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 22 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, respectively. “Our Time in Eden” marked Merchant's last album with 10,000 Maniacs before she left in August 1993 to pursue a solo career.
Two months after her exit, on October 26, 1993, the band released a live album called “MTV Unplugged,” featuring Merchant as vocalist. A live version of Patti Smith Group's “Because the Night” peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, the group's highest position on the chart. The album went on to receive triple platinum from the RIAA.
Merchant's first solo album, “Tigerlily,” was released on June 20, 1995 on 10,000 Maniacs' label, Elektra. The album, which she also produced and written, was a commercial and critcal success. It peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard 200 and No. 49 on the UK Albums Chart. The album went on to be certified 5x platinum by the RIAA. “Tigerlily” spawned three hit singles: “Carnival,” “Wonder” and “Jealousy.” “Carnival” peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 8 on the Adult Top 40, No. 12 on the Modern Rock Tracks, No. 6 on the Top 40 Mainstream and No. 1 on the Top 40 Adult Recurrents. “Wonder” reached No. 16 on the Modern Rock Tracks, No. 32 on the Top 40 Mainstream, No. 18 on the Adult Contemporary, No. 1 on the Top 40 Adult Recurrents, No. 2 on the Adult Top 40, No. 7 on the Top 40 Mainstream and No. 20 on the The Billboard Hot 100. The last single “Jealousy” reached No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 1 on theTop 40 Adult Recurrents, No. 17 on the Adult Contemporary, No. 5 on the Adult Top 40 and No. 8 on Top 40 Mainstream. Merchant toured extensively to support the album and made a number of television appearances, including performances on “SNL,” “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” and all late-night talk shows.
Her sophomore effort, “Ophelia,” followed on May 19, 1998. It peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and No. 52 on the UK Albums chart. The lead single “King & Generous” reached No. 3 on the Adult Top 40, No. 15 on the Mainstream Top 40 and No. 32 on the Modern Rock Tracks. The second single “Break Your Heart” peaked at No. 24 on the Adult Top 40 and No. 124 on the UK Singes chart. The third and final single “Life Is Sweet” peaked at No. 12 on the Mainstream Top 40. “Ophelia” went platinum in the US.
On November 9, 1999, Merchant released a live album called “Live in Concert.” It peaked at No. 82 on the Billboard 200.
Back from extensive tour, Merchant released the third solo album “Motherland” on November 13, 2001. The album reached No. 30 on the Billboard 200 and went gold in the US. The single “Just Can't Last” hit No. 30 on the Adult Top 40. “Motherland” marked Merchant's last mainstream record to be released through Elektra. Her contract with Elektra expired in August 2002.
On September 16, 2003, Merchant released an acoustic album, “The House Carpenter's Daughter,” through her own indie label, Myth America Records. It contains both traditional songs and cover versions of contemporary folk music.
Two years later, on September 27, 2005, Merchant released her first greatest hits album, “Retrospective: 1995–2005.”
Merchant resurfaced with a fifth solo album, “Leave Your Sleep,” on April 9, 2010. Released via Nonesuch Records, the album debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200, No. 1 on the Billboard Folk Albums and 5 on the Billboard Rock chart. It also charted at No. 46 in the UK.