After a trilogy of albums that were defiantly synthesizer free, Stephin [cq] Merritt brought the keyboards back for Magnetic Fields' latest release, "Love at the Bottom of the Sea" -- and was surprised at how the technology had evolved in the nearly 12 years since he'd last recorded with it.
"I ignored synthesizer technology for about 10 years and then did an epic shopping trip late last year," says Merritt. "The big manufacturers haven't done all that much interesting; what's new is things that are sort of on the periphery. They're making sounds an entirely different way, which was very interesting.
"It was a great deal of fun to work with, and they look really different, too. They're designed more by visual artists than by instrument manufacturers, and my favorites...look like they're in Hollywood in 1930. They look more like 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' than 'Dr. Who.' "
Ironically, while Merritt and Magnetic Fields are performing "Love at the Bottom of the Sea's" songs on their current tour, the group is surprisingly NOT using synthesizers in the show.
"There's no synthesizers on stage," he says. "The only electric keyboard is my pocket piano, which is small and only makes a few pleasant sounds. There's no techno drums or bass, no rhythm section.
"The songs have very little to do with the eventual production style; they're written in such a way that we can easily switch genres at a moment's notice and change things up. That's something we like to do. It keeps everybody on their toes."
Magnetic Fields and Emma Straub perform Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Crofoot Ballroom, 1 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Tickets sold for the Redford Theatre will be honored. Call (248) 858-9333 or visit www.thecrofoot.com.