Natalie Merchant

Natalie Anne O'Shea Merchant (born October 26, 1963 in Jamestown, New York, U.S.) is a professional musician. She joined the alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs in 1981 and left it to begin her solo career in 1993. Merchant has a vocal range of a contralto.


Her paternal surname Merchant is of Sicilian origin and was originally Mercanto before being Anglicised. The name O'Shea is on her maternal side; they are of Irish extraction.

As a child, her mother listened to music (Beatles, Al Green, Aretha Franklin) and encouraged her children to study music, but she wouldn't allow TV after Natalie was 12. "I was taken to the symphony a lot because my mother loved classical music. But I was dragged to see Styx when I was 12. We had to drive to Buffalo, New York. Someone threw up next to me and people were smoking pot. It was terrifying. I remember Styx had a white piano which rose out of the stage. It was awe-inspiring and inspirational. "She [her mother] had show tunes, she had the soundtrack from West Side Story and South Pacific. And then eventually... she'd always liked classical music and then she married a jazz musician, so that's the kind of music I was into. I never really had friends who sat around and listened to the stereo and said 'hey, listen to this one', so I'd never even heard of who Bob Dylan was until I was 18.". During 1988-1989, Natalie claimed she still didn't have a TV: "I grew up in a house where no one watched the news on television and no one read the paper. I've been discovering these things as I get older, and the news has affected me more than it ever has before. Her mother raised Natalie and her siblings alone, as Natalie's parents divorced in 1972. Her mother later remarried.

She is married and has a daughter. She likes gardening and painting. Some paintings can be seen at her official website.

While she has been a vegetarian since 1980 due to her pregnancy she once again resumed eating meat. She once said: "The '60s aesthetic has never really appealed to me, the tie-dyed Deadhead running barefoot through the forest on LSD. I don't think that's really me. But I've been a vegetarian for 17 years and I consider myself an environmentalist inasmuch as I can be, considering the job that I have. I prefer living in the countryside rather than the city; I find it more sane and sustaining for myself.


Merchant was lead singer and primary lyricist for the band 10,000 Maniacs, joining in its infancy in 1981 while she was a student at Jamestown Community College.

Merchant's first solo album, Tigerlily

Merchant has said in interviews that after her split with 10,000 Maniacs she was so eager to begin writing her own material that she went home that very day and composed the song “I May Know The Word,” which was originally meant to appear on the soundtrack to the Tom Hanks movie, Philadelphia. The song was eventually cut from the soundtrack, but it would go on to appear on Merchant’s debut solo album, Tigerlily, which was released on Elektra in 1995. Merchant chose to name the album Tigerlily as she felt it captured the feel of the album, which she described as both “fierce” and “delicate.”

Seeking creative control, Merchant chose to fund Tigerlily herself, refusing the advance from the record company. She also wanted to work with a core-group of young musicians who she felt would be enthusiastic about the music. The group would consist of guitarist Jennifer Turner, bassist Barry McGuire, and former-Wallflower and eventual boyfriend to Merchant, Peter Yanowitz, who played drums on the album and who continued to do so with Merchant until their abrupt split in 2000.

Tigerlily was a critical and commercial success, spawning her first top-ten hit in the single Carnival, and achieving top-forty success with subsequent singles Wonder and Jealousy. The album would go on to sell nearly 5 million copies, and continues to be Merchant’s most successful album to date. Merchant did extensive touring for the album and made numerous television appearances, including performances on SNL, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and all late-night talk shows.

Ophelia 1998-1999

Three years passed before Merchant would release her sophomore solo effort, Ophelia. While Tigerlily contained a lot of sparse instrumentation, the music on Ophelia featured plenty of lush symphonic arrangements composed and conducted by British composer Gavin Bryers. Merchant treated the recording of Ophelia as a series of workshops, where she would invite a various musicians she had met over the years into her home studio to collaborate and record. In the end, 30 different musicians featured on the album, among them Brand New Heavies frontwoman N'Dea Davenport (with whom she duets on the song Break Your Heart), famed trumpet player Chris Botti, and the husband and wife duo, Don and Karen Perris, from the band The Innocence Mission.

While Ophelia is not a concept record in the traditional sense, the album-cycle saw Merchant flexing her creative muscles in surprising ways. The name of the album and the title track are a literary reference to Shakespeare's Ophelia, who in the play Hamlet becomes mad and eventually commits suicide. Merchant's Ophelia describes a woman who is also mad and suffering from what appears to be Multiple-Personality Disorder. Ophelia is described as being at once a "novice carmelite," a "suffragette," a "circus queen," a "demigoddess" and a "mafia courtesan." The album sleeve saw Merchant pictured in colorful and ornate costumes as each of these different characters. As a companion to the album, she also released a film where she portrays each of these different characters, with voice-overs used for the "novice carmelite," the "sweetheart" and the "courtesan" as they are Latin, German and Italian, respectively.

The first single off the album was a happy and uncharacteristically simple song called Kind and Generous, which received massive airplay on VH1 and which solidified Merchant's role as a bonafied solo artist. That summer Sarah Maclachlan invited Merchant to co-headline the year's biggest music festival with her, Lilith Fair, which took her to over 50 different cities and proceeds from which were donated to various charitable organizations in each city. The exposure from the tour helped the album reach Platinum status in just under a year, with subsequent singles Break Your Heart and Life is Sweet receiving moderate airplay on adult contemporary stations. No video was filmed for the latter, however, with a clip from Merchant's appearance on VH1's Storytellers being used instead. She would also go on to appear on PBS' Sessions on West 54th and VH1's Hard Rock Live before the year's end.

The Ophelia tour ended in 1999 with the final few shows being performed and recorded on Broadway. The performance would be released as the album Natalie Merchant: Live in Concert with a companion video of the same name. The performance was notable in that it featured numerous covers including songs by David Bowie, Neil Young, and Irish singer-songwriter Katell Keineg.

Folk Tour 2000

In 2000 Merchant embarked on a Folk Tour in the states with many shows being supported by alt-country band Wilco. Having always had an interest in folk music, she finally decided to do extensive research, unearthing many long-forgotten songs. Merchant took liberty with many of the songs' musical arrangements and she also performed many contemporary songs which she felt were essentially "folk" music in their own right. Among these songs were "Sally Ann" by The Horseflies and "Crazy Man Michael" by British band Fairport Convention. The tour would later inspire Merchant's folk album The House Carpenter's Daughter released in 2003.

Notable about Merchant's folk tour was the noticeable change in her vocal style and sound. Always known for having a very clear and distinctive voice, Merchant's vocals began to sound considerably deeper and more scratchy.

Motherland 2001

Merchant's next studio album on the Elektra label was Motherland, released in 2001. Motherland saw Merchant at her most experimental musically. Motherland achieved Gold on the Billboard charts after debuting at No. 30 on the Billboard 200 and No. 13 on the Top Internet Albums of 2001, retrospectively. Rolling Stone favored this album with 3 1/2 stars, and also noticed a difference in Merchant's voice, which was more deep and gritty than her previous albums.

Merchant vamped on a year and a half world tour to promote Motherland. The first leg of the tour started in Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 17, 2001, trekking all over the United States, and then heading to Europe with some special acoustic shows in Europe. Merchant also participated in the Rock am Ring Festival and Rock im Park in 2002.


With 10,000 Maniacs

Solo albums

Single releases

  • "Carnival" was her debut single, which was released to U.S. airwaves in the summer of 1995 and climbed to the #10 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The single received a radio edit, cutting the song down from the six-minute LP version.
  • "Wonder" was the second single from the album Tigerlily. The single was released in the autumn of 1995, peaking at number 20 on the Billboard Singles Chart and number 7 on the Top 40 Mainstream Charts. "Wonder" received a slight radio remix for its commercial release. The released commercial single contains the radio version of the song (credited as 'remix') and the bonus track "Baby I Love You". The U.S. single even saw new interactive elements on the single containing the music video for "Wonder". This was one of the very first singles ever released to contain the music video of the song (since this was a new technology).
  • "Jealousy" was the third single by Natalie Merchant. In a magazine interview, it was revealed that the song is about Merchant's broken engagement to record company executive David Bither. "Jealousy" was released in the spring of 1996. The single reached number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and climbed to the number 8 spot on the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream Singles Charts. Natalie Merchant decided to re-record the song for its final release. Introducing new instruments, speeding up the track and creating a more upbeat tempo. The final commercial release of the single was released in the U.S. on May 28, 1996. The CD single contained the live bonus track taken from Merchant's current U.S. tour, "Sympathy For The Devil", a cover of The Rolling Stones hit. The CD single also contained the brand new version of "Jealousy", also credited as the 'remix' or 'radio remix'.
  • "San Andreas Fault" was the fourth single taken from Tigerlily. However, the single was never officially released commercially, but only in support of Natalie's current tour. The single received a decent radio edit with new vocals and a slight alteration of the song from the original. A music video was never created and a commercial single was never released for purchase. Promotional singles were sent out in late summer of 1996. The song was covered by Japanese artist UA on her 2007 album Golden Green.
  • "Kind & Generous" April 1998 saw the release of the first single from her second solo album Ophelia. A soft uptempo ballad became one of Merchant's most catchy singles to date. Managers felt sales of a single might lower the sales of the album, therefore without a commercial release the single did not make the Billboard Hot 100, although it was a hit on the radio, peaking at number 12 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart.
  • "Break Your Heart" was Merchant's second single taken from the second album Ophelia. The song was released in February 1999. The delay in the release of the follow up single to "Kind & Generous" was due to the fact that Merchant had gone on tour with the Lilith Fair. The single peaked again at the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream Singles Chart (peaking at 38). The final commercial release received two versions of the song, the 'pop radio edit' running at a total of three minutes and twenty seconds while the standard radio edit ran a total of four minutes and twenty five seconds. A commercial single was never released for purchase.
  • "Life Is Sweet" was the third and final single released from Ophelia. "Life Is Sweet" also hit the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream, peaking at number 38 just as her previous single "Break Your Heart". The song was released to radios in June 1999. Several versions of this single were released for radio airplay. The main version release was the VH1 Storytellers Radio Edit, the second version was the standard radio edit. A commercial single saw no release in the US or internationally.
  • "Space Oddity" is the first and last single taken from Merchant's Live album. The song is a cover of David Bowie's hit single. The single was never really released for airplay but for promotion for the album. The promo single contained a radio edit of the live version and the LP live version.
  • "Just Can't Last" was the first single to be lifted from Merchant's fourth album. The single was released in November 2001. It also hit number 1 on the Triple A charts. The single peaked at number 37 on the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream Charts. The single released to the radio was very different from the version released on the album. The single is credited as the radio edit, and received different vocals and a different sound (a more pop sound). A commercial single was not released domestically but internationally.
  • "Build a Levee" was the second, and so far last single released by Merchant. However this single received no music video. The final version released was a shortened version from the album (aka the radio edit) and there was also a radio remix with new vocals and instruments. The single never charted and was never released commercially, except as a promo given to local radio stations in the U.S.

Compilation albums



See also

External links

Search another word or see Natalie_Merchanton Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature