Music / 10,000 Maniacs
An Alternative Rock
band from the Hudson Valley in New York state, 10,000 Maniacs (a reference to the '60s horror film Two Thousand Maniacs!
) began life as the cover band "Still Life", whose line-up included guitarist Rob Buck, keyboardist Dennis Drew and bassist Steve Gustafson, all of whom would go on to become life-long 'Maniacs' (Buck died in 1999). After a series of line-up changes, the newly-christened "10,000 Maniacs" played their debut gig on Labor Day, 1981, fronted by a 17-year-old Natalie Merchant. After a year of exhaustive gigging, a debut EP Human Conflict Number Five
, and various changes of drummer, 1983 saw the arrival of now-longstanding member Jerry Augustyniak, followed by the group's debut album The Secrets of the I Ching
, released on the Maniacs' own label, Christian Burial Music.
As with any burgeoning Alt. Rock group in the Eighties, touring became a way of life for the group until Elektra Records
signed them in late '84, with their sophomore release The Wishing Chair
following in the fall of '85. Shortly thereafter, John Lombardo, the band's rhythm guitarist and co-prinipical songwriter (alongside Merchant), quit the band, which in some ways proved a blessing in disguise when the group's third LP, In My Tribe
, charted at #37 in the US and went double platinum, vastly outselling their previous releases. Their next three albums met with similar success, peaking in 1993 with an MTV Unplugged live release, whereupon Merchant publicly announced her decision to go solo.
Lombardo and his new musical partner, singer/violaist Mary Ramsey, were drafted in by the remaining the Maniacs, with whom they put out a further two albums until the sudden death of lead guitarist Robert Buck in late 2000. After a year out, the Maniacs reconvened with Jeff Erickson, an ex-roadie, as new lead guitarist and Oskar Saville (formerly of Rubygrass) as lead vocalist. These decisions prompted Lombardo to quit a second time, and Ramsey also left, but rejoined the band as lead singer upon Saville's departure in 2007. In 2011, the year of the group's 30th anniversary, the Maniacs put out the EP "Triangles", their first release in 10 years.
Once aptly described by rock critic Robert Christgau
as R.E.M.'s (musical) "kissing cousins", the Maniacs were also proponents of the "jangle pop" style that dominated both bands' musical output in the mid-to-late-'80s.
- Natalie Merchant: Vocals (1981-1993)
- Rob Buck: Lead guitar (1981-2000)
- John Lombardo: Rhythm guitar (1981-1986, 1994-2002)
- Steve Gustafson: Bass (1981-present)
- Dennis Drew: Keyboards (1981-present)
- Jerry Augustyniak: Drums (1983-present)
- Mary Ramsey: Vocals, viola (1994-2002, 2007-present)
- Jeff Erickson: Lead guitar (2002-present)
- Oskar Saville: Vocals (2002-2007)
- Human Conflict Number Five EP (1982)
- Secrets of the I Ching (1983)
- The Wishing Chair (1985)
- In My Tribe (1987)
- Blind Man's Zoo (1989)
- Our Time in Eden (1992)
- Love Among the Ruins (1997)
- The Earth Pressed Flat (1999)
- Triangles EP (2011)
"Our Trope in Eden":
- Abusive Parents: "What's The Matter Here?", although since all the singer ever sees is a parent threatening to hit a kid, and she never bothers to find out what's actually going on, the song is also a Broken Aesop.
- The Alcoholic: The addressee of "Don't Talk", but the singer seems to be torn between fascination and disgust, making the drinker also a bit of a Manipulative Bastard.
- Alternative Rock: One of the first alternative bands before Nirvana to achieve significant commercial success.
- The Band Minus the Face: Played straight, with the band being generally best remembered for launching Natalie Merchant's (briefly successful) solo career.
- Canon Discontinuity: The band's cover of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train" was removed from later U.S. CD pressings of In My Tribe after rumors spread that he supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie (which proved to be false).
- Cover Version:
- Early Installment Weirdness: The band's first EP Human Conflict Number Five was considerably more abrasive and punkish than their later stuff. Not that surprising knowing that the members first met playing Joy Division and Gang of Four covers.
- Granola Girl/Soapbox Sadie: Natalie Merchant.
- Green Aesop: "Campfire Song".
- Lighter and Softer: At least musically. The band had a softer, more melodic style that was basically folk rock updated for The '80s, compared to the edgier alternative bands of the time. They crossed over into the adult contemporary charts and the songs from the Merchant era remain staples of adult alternative radio. They still had a lot of artistic credibility.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Very common on the band's songs.
- Protest Song: Lots of them, courtesy of Natalie Merchant: "What's the Matter Here?", "Gun Shy", etc.
- Scary Musician, Harmless Music: With a name like 10,000 Maniacs, you'd probably expect them to be a Death Metal or a Hardcore Punk band. Instead, they play socially-conscious folk rock.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: "Like the Weather":
"Do I need someone here to scold me?
Or do I need someone who'll come and grab me out of this
Four poster, dull torpor pulling downward?"
- Teen Pregnancy: "Eat For Two".
- Transatlantic Equivalent: To The Smiths. Both bands had a melodic jangle-pop sound and lead singers who were outspoken animal rights activists.
- Viewers Are Morons: Discussed in "Candy Everybody Wants":
"So their eyes are growing hazy
Cause they wanna turn it on
So their minds are soft and lazy
Well who do, who do, who do you wanna blame?"
- Word Salad Lyrics: Evident in the band's early material, before Natalie Merchant started writing protest songs.