There's no way I could have fit all the good stuff from my interview with Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt into my feature about the band's tour that stops at Southern Theatre tonight. So here I present to you the full transcript.

But first, a bit of background: Merritt has been writing ornate, sophisticated pop tunes with deviously clever lyrics since 1990 under the Magnetic Fields name. He also records with a slew of other bands and has gotten into writing operas and showtunes too. In January, he released the eighth Magnetic Fields LP, Distortion, a fuzzed-out tribute to the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy that takes that album's Phil Spector-style "wall of sound" treatment and applies it to the sort of prim and proper pop Merritt's made his name on.

We talked at length on the phone last Friday on topics ranging from Merritt's love of Psychocandy to his hatred of touring to his amusement with Vampire Weekend. Here's how it went:

There's no way I could have fit all the good stuff from my interview with Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt into my feature about the band's tour that stops at Southern Theatre tonight. So here I present to you the full transcript.

But first, a bit of background: Merritt has been writing ornate, sophisticated pop tunes with deviously clever lyrics since 1990 under the Magnetic Fields name. He also records with a slew of other bands and has gotten into writing operas and showtunes too. In January, he released the eighth Magnetic Fields LP, Distortion, a fuzzed-out tribute to the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy that takes that album's Phil Spector-style "wall of sound" treatment and applies it to the sort of prim and proper pop Merritt's made his name on.

We talked at length on the phone last Friday on topics ranging from Merritt's love of Psychocandy to his hatred of touring to his amusement with Vampire Weekend. Here's how it went:

Where am I getting you at today? Rainy, rainy Atlanta, Georgia. The tops of the tallest buildings are shrouded in clouds.

Have you ever been there when it's not raining? I've always heard of it as "Hotlanta." That's a publicity gimmick.

I've been reading that your current tour is a mostly acoustic, quieter kind of show. Is that right? It's an entirely acoustic, quietest show ever. We are barely amplified. No one ever complains we're too loud, but we have had complaints that we're too quiet.

Is that because you have a hearing condition? I do. Overly loud, shrill sounds sound a lot louder to me than to other people in my left ear. So they sound a lot louder in my left ear than in my right ear. They sound like a weedwacker. They get painful quickly.

Is that something that has developed over time? Yes. It gets progressively worse. It's an extremely annoying condition to have for a musician.

Did it develop because of being around loud music so much over the years? I think it's partly hereditary. My mother has bad hearing, so I think it's kind of genetic. And it's partly environmental. I've worked in punk rock nightclubs and played electric guitar in front of cymbals and a drum kit. And used headphones for hours a day for decades on end.

What exactly is this ailment called? Hyperacusis.

With this new album being so fuzzed out, was the hearing disorder a problem for you in the studio? In order to push stuff up into the red, it seems like by definition it would have to be loud. Actually distortion is what happens when you feed a loud signal into an amplifier that can't produce the loud signal. So it's sort of by definition not loud. It just sounds loud because you can tell that it was originally loud. So distortion is the sound of it being stepped down into a quieter level than the original. So we had trouble when we were recording the cello, seeking feedback, because our cellist kept saying, "It's too loud in here!" And then we'd walk into the booth and discover that not only was it not too loud, it wasn't really loud enough. It was kind of whisper quiet. So we were getting too much original cello signal. But it just sounded so loud that he experienced it as being too loud.

So that was basically the technique: You tried to distort everything, right? Well, not the bass and drums and vocals, but all the melodic instruments. Guitar, cello, piano, organ, accordion.

Obviously it gets compared a lot to Psychocandy... That's intentional.

I remember you saying in another interview that you saw that as the last great production breakthrough. But why did you decide to play with those ideas now of all times? I'm bored with popular music, and I want it to move forward, and I think the way to move forward is from the last place, the most forward place that one got to. So I think that was Psychocandy. And I thought I would do a little development from Psychocandy. So we made a sort of orch-pop Psychocandy in which the production doesn't correspond to the songwriting at all. Like there's a Christmas song, for example. And we hope that's an incremental step forward. I can easily imagine there being new bands basing their entire shtick on Distortion, as there were with Psychocandy. But I think maybe that doesn't happen so much nowadays.

Maybe not quite as much, but it could happen. Well I guess Vampire Weekend, for example, are based entirely on Adam and the Ants' Prince Charming. But I don't know so much of a band basing themselves on one new album. So probably if there are Magnetic Fields fans who want to start bands, they'll just base themselves on Psychocandy and they'll dispense with the accordions and such.

Did you write these songs with the distortion in mind as a songwriting tool? Not at all. That's the whole fun of the album. I only decided on the production style two weeks before starting to record the record. And the entire album had been written, and I didn't allow myself to change the songs one iota. And the only concession that we made to the individual songs was putting the sleighbells on "Mr. Mistletoe," the Christmas song. But how can one not, really?

So that's how the conceit of the album comes together. Yeah, it's like a Christmas gift for you from Phil Spector. He doesn't really... he doesn't have any concessions at all to the material. He just feeds it through the wall of sound it's a very severe, almost German approach to the material except that he has sleighbells on every second song. So as part of the ongoing Phil Spector tribute that is Psychocandy, we felt that it wouldn't be cheating to use sleighbells on the Christmas song. Jesus and Mary Chain, of course, would never in a million years do a Christmas song at least, at that point they wouldn't but if they did, I like to think that they would use sleighbells.

You mention "cheating" and kind of getting around these rules you've set up... In this case the rule was incredibly simple. It's just, "If it sounds like Psychocandy, it's right."

Do you prefer to have these constraints set up? Obviously you've used some before. Yeah, otherwise every single second is a whole set of decisions to be made. But if you've already made a lot of decisions before you start, then you don't have to wonder what sort of record you're making. I don't know why I keep picking on Vampire Weekend, but if Vampire Weekend didn't know whether they were Adam and the Ants or Edie Gorme and the Trio, then they would continually have to stop and think.

I imagine by having those constraints you end up with something more focused and more of a whole. Yeah, and if not you sound watered-down and wishy-washy.

I guess since the songs weren't intended to be distorted in the first place, then playing them in this ultra-quiet setup isn't really that much of a stretch. Not at all, no. Although they also weren't intended for this setup. So "Zombie Boy" sounds a little laughable, I think.

You still playing it nonetheless? Oh yeah. I'm all in favor of humor in music, intentional or not.

When you're putting together a setlist, with so many records to your name at this point, do you try to do a career overview thing, or is it more the band who comes out and plays their new album and maybe a couple older tracks? Hmm... I think we split those two approaches. We try to focus on the record that we are actually selling in the lobby because otherwise the poor people who are selling the records in the lobby have to say, "No, I'm sorry, we don't have that one. I'm sorry, we don't have that one." And they don't have to be informed about 25 records, only the ones they're selling. It sounds cynical, but it's actually humanitarian. We also do other songs that we're not selling in the lobby, but we explain them before we play them. For example, "This song is from the opera The Orphan of Zhao. It's where the evil general Tu An-Gu impales the baby, thinking it's the orphan, but we know it isn't."

So you provide context for some of the songs. Yeah. Particularly the ones we aren't selling in the lobby.

And a lot of bands are just more excited about the newer material. They find it's just fresher for them. Is that true for you guys? After the second or third show, it doesn't matter what seemed fresher in rehearsal. So no.

You have this reputation from some of the reviews I've been reading that you're not a big fan of touring. Do you really hate it as much as some of these writers are saying you do? Well I don't know what they're saying. But I do in fact hate touring. I don't like live music in the first place, so I don't enjoy the whole live setup. I don't feel like it's a creative outlet for me at all. I feel like writing songs and recording them are creative activities and playing live is sort of an administrative task.

Don't you think you could get away with not doing it at this point, though? No, I don't. If I did, I wouldn't be doing it, believe me.

That said, is there anything you do to make it a more pleasant experience for yourself? Um.... no. I basically turn off my short-term memory acquisition for three weeks while we go on tour. It's the equivalent of going on a three-week bender, but I don't particularly drink a lot. But my bandmates are stunned at my ability to forget what happened earlier that day.

I think I would be stunned as well. I don't know if I could turn off my brain quite that way. Is that something you had to teach yourself to do? No, I think I just... I stop making the effort to remember anything at all. I sort of stop paying attention to what I'm doing and what other people are saying. I can't write songs on tour because I've essentially turned off my brain.

That must suck for you as someone who writes as many songs as you do. Do you find yourself with all these kind of plates spinning that you can't return to until the tour's over? Yes, in fact. I've been working on a musical of the Neil Gaiman novel Coraline. And I'm one song away from finishing it. Or I was when we left on tour. One song away. But I'm still one song away, and I've got absolutely nothing done on it on this tour. And not for lack of trying. I just don't have any ideas.

On this tour, you've been playing a bouzouki. Of all the instruments, why that one? I don't know how familiar you are with the bouzouki, so I don't know how much I need to explain about it.

Well, I have some friends who are in an Irish folk band, and they use the bouzouki. That's basically the context I know it from. So you know it's like two thirds of a 12-string guitar. It's like the upper two thirds of a 12-string guitar, only it tunes down a full step. I play the Greek bouzouki, not the Irish. The Irish is more like a mandolin. I usually play the ukulele, but it seemed like for Distortion we needed something a bit more assertive than the ukulele, so I have temporarily switched to the bouzouki. But I think I should have switched to the eight-string ukulele, which I didn't know about when we began rehearsals for this tour. And I've got one now, and it sounds so lovely and yet a bit more assertive than the ordinary ukulele, so I think for the next tour I'll switch to the eight-string uke, which is more portable than the bouzouki.

You obviously have so many different projects, and you work under so many different names. How do you discern, "I'm writing a Magnetic Fields song," or "This is a 6ths song," and so forth? I write one thing at a time.

And because you've got those constraints set up ahead of time, you're able to focus strictly on, "This is what I'm working on right now." Yeah, I just focus on what I'm doing at the time without having to worry about how it's distinct from the other things that I have been doing. They wind up quite different from each other.

I definitely can see the differences between how they end. Do they start from some place differently? Do you approach them differently? Yes. Primarily I'm working from who the singers are going to be. (Long pause.) People ask me that question all the time, but I really don't have an answer for it because I don't see it as... it's not a question in my life because I don't have any trouble distinguishing between the different activities. One is driving, and the other is walking. You don't get confused about them.

Actually, that's a perfectly good answer. It makes a lot of sense. So feel free to keep using that one in interviews. Oh, that's a good idea. If it makes sense to you, maybe it will make sense to other people.

Yeah, I think that actually gets the point across pretty well. Finally, I have something to say!