Back in 1996, a few years before the Magnetic Fields went from an indie band with a cult following to the critically acclaimed collective that they are today, Stephin Merritt and Claudia Gonson became involved with a local sideproject headed by Chris Ewen called Future Bible Heroes.
“It started in Boston and it evolved when Stephin moved to New York,” said founder Chris Ewen in a gracious, Fourth of July, in-person interview near his home in Central Square, Cambridge. “My band, Figures on the Beach broke up and I was still working on a lot of instrumental things. One day Stephin said, ‘Why don’t you just have someone write lyrics and sing songs to your music?’ I said, ‘Well, why don’t you do it because you’re a great lyricist.’ So we messed around and wrote some songs.”
After releasing two LPs and three EPs in seven years, the band remained dormant for a decade. Now, 11 years since their last release, the band returns with “Partygoing,” available on Merge Records, on its own, or even more appealing as a box set with all of their previous recordings together in one package.
“A lot of our stuff was really unfindable, and it was all on different labels,” notes Ewen. “We owned the rights to them all, so it seemed like a good thing to do to make all of our stuff available again and have it all on one label, and to have Merge do it. It’s worldwide and it’s all available again.”
Picking up where the band left off, Future Bible Heroes’ sound is still steeped in analog synths, and while the band dives into darker and dancier terrain on "Partygoing," Merritt’s signature whimsy and witty sarcasm provide some humor to their seemingly somber tales. With song titles like “Digging My Own Grave,” “Keep Your Children in a Coma” and “Let’s Go to Sleep (And Never Come Back)” the Future Bible Heroes remain scathingly satirical and inherently fun.
“I think that we have always straddled that line of being really perky with lyrics that maybe aren’t as upbeat,” says Ewen. “I love that juxtaposition and Stephin does too. I think it brings some depth to the songs. I think the albums have tended to be loose concept albums. The first one was love songs or anti-love songs. The second was about people’s obsessions with death, youth and beauty. I’m not saying we are feeling our age, but we have a different perspective than we had 10 years ago. Maybe 'Partygoing' is our reaction to who we are and us versus the youth culture.”
Though Merritt will not be able to join the band on tour due to health issues with his hearing, Ewen and Gonson will be joined onstage by Shirley Simms and Anthony Kaczynski for the Future Bible Heroes first tour since 2002.