This new collection of songs, Leave Your Sleep, is my first studio album since 2003. It is the most elaborate project I have ever completed or even imagined.
I have always loved many different styles of music but had barely scratched the surface of those genres in my own recordings. This time in the studio I really wanted to experiment so I called on some of the most accomplished musicians in Cajun, blue-grass, reggae, chamber and early music, jazz, and R&B, as well as Balkan, Chinese and Celtic folk. Some were old friends and some were artists whose work I had admired from afar, such as The Wynton Marsalis Quintet, Medeski, Martin & Wood, The Klezmatics, members of the New York Philharmonic, Lúnasa, The Chinese Music Ensemble of New York, The Memphis Boys, Katell Keineg, the Ditty Bops, The Fairfield Four and Hazmat Modine. The sessions were recorded in live ensemble settings to capture a fresh and spontaneous energy; they were some of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had making music.
The lyrics for Leave Your Sleep are another departure from the way I had written for the past 28 years. I decided to set poetry created by other writers to music. I chose works by both well-known and obscure poets, ranging from anonymous nursery rhymes and lullabies to poems by British Victorians, early and mid 20th Century Americans, and a few contemporary writers. Ogden Nash, E.E. Cummings, Robert Louis Stevenson, Christina Rossetti, Edward Lear, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Robert Graves are among the most well known of the group.
The poems inspired vastly different musical settings with themes that ranged from humorous and absurd to tragic, romantic, and deeply spiritual.
The recording took a full year to complete, involving over 100 musicians. My co-producer was Andres Levin, who has worked with Marisa Monte, David Byrne, Carlinhos Brown, and Orishas. Leave Your Sleep was engineered by Nick Wollage, a British soundtrack recordist for such films as Atonement, Pride And Prejudice, Miss Potter, Gosford Park, and The Merchant of Venice. The mixing was done by the legendary Steven Rosenthal in his downtown Manhattan studio, The Magic Shop.
Five years of research and writing went into Leave Your Sleep. Over time my curiosity about the lives of the poets that I had included in my anthology grew. So I read biographical accounts and letters, searched archives, and contacted heirs, executors, or the poets themselves in an attempt to know more about my co-writers. Much of this information is included in the 80 page book that accompanies the collection of music.
Two versions of Leave Your Sleep will be available April 13th on Nonesuch Records: a 26 song version with deluxe packaging and a 16-track “selections” version with abridged liner notes.
— Natalie Merchant
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