When Merchant was a child, her mother listened to music (primarily Petula Clark but also the Beatles, Al Green, Aretha Franklin) and encouraged her children to study music, but she wouldn’t allow TV after Natalie was 12. “I was taken to the symphony a lot because my mother loved classical music. But I was dragged to see Styx when I was 12. We had to drive 100 miles to Buffalo, New York. Someone threw up next to me and people were smoking pot. It was terrifying. I remember Styx had a white piano which rose out of the stage.
It was awe-inspiring and inspirational.” “She [her mother] had show tunes, she had the soundtrack from West Side Story and South Pacific. And then eventually… she’d always liked classical music and then she married a jazz musician, so that’s the kind of music I was into. I never really had friends who sat around and listened to the stereo and said ‘hey, listen to this one’, so I’d never even heard of who Bob Dylan was until I was 18.” During 1988–1989, Natalie claimed she still didn’t have a TV: “I grew up in a house where no one watched the news on television and no one read the paper. I’ve been discovering these things as I get older, and the news has affected me more than it ever has before.”
Merchant started working in a health food store at 16. She considered a career in special education after taking part in a summer program for disabled children, but in 1981 started singing for a band, Still Life, that became 10,000 Maniacs.