With the Magnetic Fields about to play the lush theatre of the
libido that is The 69 Love Songs at the Lincoln Theatre
at the end of March for the very last time and a brand new Future
Bible Heroes album with Merrit just completed, anybody would
think Magnetic Field's drummer and vocalist, Claudia Gonson would
be just sitting around with nothing to do. But the end of one thing
is invariably the start of something else. Especially in the case
of the profilific 'Fields. Whether or not anything else will be met
with the same rapturous applause of the 69 Love Songs remains to
be seen, but as Allan Kemler finds out, nothing is impossible in
the world of Gonson and Merrit. Save for tickets to actually see
the final show, perhaps.
How did you meet Stephin and get involved in the MF's?
I met Stephin back in 1983, when we attended nearby high schools
in the Boston area. The other Magnetic Fields were also schoolmates;
Sam, the cellist, went to my high school, and then Sam went to Harvard,
where we officially started the band with Stephin. John, our guitarist,
was a friend of Sam's from Harvard, but he didn't join until 1993,
when we all came to New York.
Crud: What's the best thing about being in the MF's?
Regular blowjobs backstage, mountains of cocaine and busty girls.
Crud: You're getting set to play 69 Love Songs for the last time
in it's entirety at the Lincoln Centre in March, does that mean we'll
never hear those songs again? What's to become of the MF"s?
This is a confusion which I seem to be correcting over and over.
The "last show" does not mean that our band is breaking up. On the
contrary, we just signed a two-album deal with Nonesuch Records.
What I meant to say was that Stephin is not interested in performing
our "69 Love Songs" show again, or at least not any time soon. He
has a bunch of projects on his plate, including making a new TMF
album. He wants us to move into performing new material, rather than
continuing to re-perform the album from 1999.
Crud: You have, perhaps the loveliest voice in all of indie rockdom,
are you a formally trained vocalist?
Thanks. I am not formally trained (I have had 2 lessons, spaced about
3 years apart). But I have been singing since childhood, mostly in
Crud: You did the arrangement for Busby Berkeley Dreams, which
parts did you arrange? Do you think your audience knows who he is?
I imagine that some younger people don't know Busby Berkeley, but
it's nice to think that we might propel them to rent some Esther
Williams movies. My mom is a high-school teacher, and apparently
when she asked her class if they knew who Busby Berkeley was, one
person said "no, but there's a Magnetic Fields song written about
him"! I arranged all the parts for the song (piano, cello and guitar).
Crud: Do you like Busby Berkeley-choregraphed films?
I've always hated Yankee Doodle Dandy, that's him right. Yuck! I
confess that my knowledge of his films is limited, mostly "greatest
hits" montages in films like "That's Entertainment!". That's a good
way to see his best scenes back-to-back. Of course there's the million
rip-offs of his signature aerial choreography, from Gap commercials
to "Singin' in the Rain".
Crud: What's next for you? Any new projects?
Just yesterday (March 20, 2002), I finished the new Future Bible
Heroes album, on which I am the singer. Stephin has been doing a
lot of projects, including scoring a modern-version of an ancient
Chinese Opera for Lincoln Center, co-writing a musical film, performing
at Lincoln Centre and writing the new Magnetic Fields and Future
Bible Heroes albums. He's also recording theme songs for the audio
versions of the childrens' books "A Series of Unfortunate Events",
by Lemony Snicket. He will record the Magnetic Fields album this
year, for an early 2002 release.
Crud: I know you're taking classes, what for? Where?
I am working slowly on getting a PhD in English, at CUNY (City University
of New York).
Crud: What other creative pursuits do you engage in?
I enjoy making Ukranian Easter Eggs and painting clay pots. But really,
my main daily work is music management. I manage Stephin and his
many bands. It's a full time job, and while not particularly artistic,
it demands a lot of creative thinking and is a full time job.
Crud: Are you more at home playing live or in the studio? Why?
I don't actually participate much on Stephin's albums. He records
many of his songs by himself. I enjoy performing live.
Crud: Were you a horny teenager?
Crud: What's your idea of an ideal day?
Getting to a yoga class, getting a lot of band work
done (rather than spinning around in circles with dialogues
that go nowhere), and still having some number of quiet
hours for reading. Cooking at home. And falling asleep
to the BBC World Service.
Crud: Where will you be and what do you hope to be
doing 10 years from now?
I wouldn't mind being Stephin's manager all my life.
It's a job which changes and modifies as time goes by,
so it never gets tiring. Even if we stop being a live
band, as we grow older and "rock" life becomes unfitting,
I still feel that my work with him as manager will continue
to be vital and interesting. Like Mark Mothersbaugh
or Randy Newman, or more currently They Might be Giants,
I see Stephin already moving from being more of a performing
artist to being more of a composer.
Crud: Your musical training or history?
I was a classical pianist from age 3-18, and took up
drums at 16. I quit the piano after high school, and
played drums with Stephin in various bands from age
16 until the present. About 3 years ago I switched from
drums to piano. It's been nice to return to the piano,
although sadly I don't have the technical expertise
I once had, due to the decade off. The other band I
played drums in was a folk-country-rock combo called
Lazy Susan, from Boston (there's a new Lazy Susan now,
in New York, but they're different). I was with them
from 1986-88. They consisted of two female singer-songwriters,
one of them Shirley Simms, who sang on "69 Love Songs".
Crud: What's the secret to not becoming discouraged
for lack of exposure and therefore receiving feedback
. How do you handle that?
It's a hard question to answer simply, there's a lot
of facets to it: One's family, one's personal outlook
on the world, one's gender, one's age and the place
in which one is raised, etc. It does help to work with
others, who you can share your enjoyment with. It is
also good to recognize the fun in making art; like you
said, we do it because we want to communicate something
to the world, and not purely for commercial success.
Many people who have the "make it big" attitude never
seem fulfilled. Ultimately there really isn't a goal
to reach, other than your own satisfaction (unless you
depend on your artwork for a living, in which case money
is another goal). It's good to do art because it can
bring a sense of joy and satisfaction, and the bonus
comes from hearing good feedback from others.
Allan Kemler for Crud Magazine 2002©