Natalie Merchant feels a bit like an impostor.

Now touring behind her first album in seven years "Leave Your Sleep," the onetime frontwoman of 10,000 Maniacs has left the quiet life she leads with her husband and daughter and is back on the road performing before thousands.

"It's interesting. I haven't had this life for so long, I feel like I am living someone else's life," she said. "I should be brushing someone else's hair or I should be cleaning the kitchen. ... I feel like I ran off to join the circus."

If you go Natalie Merchant Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda When: 8 p.m. Sunday Info: $55;

What started as a detour from her college education became the successful 10,000 Maniacs, which Merchant fronted for 12 years before she became a solo artist. Her first solo album, "Tigerlily," was the first of several critical and commercial hits for Merchant. Everything changed when Merchant discovered she was pregnant at age 40.

"Once I had a child, I went from first to fifth gear," she said. "People ask me 'So, what have you done the last eight years?' What I done? What have I not done? I feel like I barely sleep, and days turn into weeks, which turn into months into years."

Those years have been spent not only raising her daughter but working on the project that would become the two-disc "Leave Your Sleep," which is a collection of songs adapted from poems written by British Victorians, early- and mid-20th-century Americans, contemporary writers, and anonymous authors.

More than 130 artists -- ranging from Wynton Marsalis to players from the New York Philharmonic to the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York -- collaborated on the album, which was produced by Merchant and Andres Levin.

"I started the first songs I wrote when [my daughter] was a week old, and the project was born with her and developed in parallel," Merchant said. "When I started, I really thought I was making a lullaby album. That's where I was at that moment. As I said, time is like a swift moving river and I felt like she went from newborn to preschool and then I was at her kindergarten graduation."

As Merchant reflects on her new tour, she considers where her work will fit into culture.

"Pop music is so much about youth culture. I am not young anymore," she said. "I am not ashamed about that. We have no control over time. I don't want to be doing today, when I'm 46, what I did when I was 16. I can acknowledge it by [performing] a couple 10,000 Maniacs songs with this ensemble completely reinterpreting the music. That is fresh and exciting to me ... I want to be an educator, a musicologist, a historian. These have always been parts of me and interests of mine, and these are the times to present this side of myself."