Stephin Merritt wrote and recorded a little ditty called "A Man of a Million Faces" for NPR’s Project Song… um, project.
So for the first installment of a new multimedia experiment called Project Song, All Songs Considered set up a bar for Merritt in NPR’s Studio 4A, an expansive wood-floored room with plenty of space for a creative artist to spread out and experiment. We supplied him with a grand piano, an assortment of other keyboards (including a ’70s MOOG synthesizer), drums and guitars — even a sampler, from which Merritt extracted the sound of a vintage Mellotron.
And just as we’ll do with each Project Song artist, we showed Merritt six vivid images, along with six words or phrases printed on white cards.
The instructions: Choose one photo to inspire the subject of the song; choose a word or phrase that will inspire the style.
From the words, Merritt picked "1974." The photograph he chose, by artist Phil Toledano, is an incredible image of a man covered head to toe in what looks like a bodysuit made of baby dolls.
Then we left him alone in the studio to write. Over the course of two days, a song emerged: "A Man of a Million Faces."