Tift Merritt, On the Fabric of Her Life
A lot has happened in the last year and a half for singer-songwriter Tift Merritt. A new baby, a new album, and a new creative outlet - textile design.
Almost none of it has come simply or easily.
Her work in textiles, for example, emerged when she was eight months' pregnant, though her interest goes back years. "I'm a textile junkie," Merritt explains. "I buy wool blankets at flea markets, and scarves, and handkerchiefs. And then I started getting into vintage ribbon, and I didn't know what to do with it."
So Merritt started sewing the ribbon onto leather and making her own guitar straps. It just so happened, then, that an old friend - who owns a furniture company - recruits artists from other media to do design projects.
"And I never, ever said, 'Don't you think that I should do something?'," Merritt laughs. "But I had my fingers crossed." The result was a line of upholstery fabrics she created for Bernhardt Design.
For Merritt, it was a welcome trip back to an earlier point in her creative life. "You know, it’s a return to unknowing," she explains, "it’s a return to being at the beginning, which - if you can do that every time you make something, that’s really wonderful.
"So it was a little like sending off super early demos and having somebody say, 'Oh my gosh - that’s good.'”
The fabric ties in to Merritt's latest album, or at the very least, the name of her latest album, Stitch of the World. It's an album that came out as Merritt settled back in her home state of North Carolina and began to adjust to being a mom to her daughter, Jane, even as she sees the world around them shifting.
"My life has gone in some unexpected ways," she says. "I'm in my 40s now, I have a child. I never really turned a corner in the music business, so I can't really go around the world playing for 150 or 200 people. I just can't."
"So you kind of have to say, as an artist, let's get real about this."
And so Merritt says her current tour of Europe, with musician Jason Isbell, is likely to be her last extensive series of concert dates for a while. "I never was someone that wanted to do music as a hobby," she says, "but I might have to do it on the side. And I've always been this kind of 'full-on' person.
"But I also feel really confused by the world at this moment. And I really feel very confused about what our culture is mirroring."
Merritt says she feels increasingly alienated by what she sees as increasingly indulgent pop culture. "And trying to take up space in the world of so much content makes me uncomfortable."
Where does that leave an artist who has been recording albums for nearly 20 years? She's still working that out. "I think... maybe the world needs something different from me, and I'm just trying to listen very carefully to what that might be.
"And it may just be - Jean's mom."
Tift Merritt played three songs for us in the Lake Effect performance studio: