Whether it be the scrabble-board scholastics or the English-lit theme lifting, you can bet that the reason people are so drawn to the Decemberists' wily productions has a great deal to do with front man and wordsmith Colin Meloy. There's the drama--sure. The presentation makes it impossible to ignore the theatrics--stage made-up and costumed whimsically, fancifully, ridiculously; ornate and elaborate. But when it really comes down to it, what fuels the Decemberists' Victorian vision--a vision that, over the last few years, has propelled the Portland band into the national spotlight--is less about their music's theater, and more plainly rooted in the clunky confines of language. Or more clearly: it's really all about the words.
It stands to reason, then, that the band's songs would be of all the more effect in a stripped-down, solo acoustic setting--a notion on which Meloy is banking with his selective solo tour beginning this week. The Mercury sat down Meloy to discuss the band's soon-to-be released third album Picaresque, the band's recent line-up shifts, and Dashboard Confessional.
What can we expect from the next Decemberists record? Is it a narrative in the tradition of last year's the Tain EP?
"With every record we try to make it bigger--and I think in our work with [Death Cab For Cutie's] Chris Walla on the Tain we found somebody who was really willing to do just that, and had the resources to do that within our budget. There's a lot of really over the top production--there are moments where it reaches the sort of narrative flow that the Tain had, but I think the similarities are much more in the production choices. It's a collection of songs--not super conceptual like the Tain. When we first started working on it, it felt like it was more Meta-narrative, but it turned out to just work better as a collection of songs."
What else is happening with the band?
"Rachel [Blumberg] left the group recently, so we took that as an opportunity to expand a bit. We're getting a new drummer, we just hired him, actually. His name is John Moen, and he's played with Steve Malkmus and the Minus 5--we just got him yesterday. We also got a new player, Petra Haden [formerly of That Dog, the Rentals, etc.]…"
"Do you know her?"
I'm a big fan.
"Yeah, so she's going to be coming out with us to sing back up vocals and play violin. She recorded with us on the album--all the strings and some of the vocals and stuff."
What's the motivation of this solo tour?
"It grew out of these talks we were having with the guy from Dashboard Confessional, who wanted to put together this solo tour with the two of us and another guy--which I know sounds really bizarre. After talking about it for a little while, it sort of planted the seed. I was a little leery about going out with Dashboard Confessional, even though that guy's really nice. We ended up backing out, but decided to book what was supposed to have been just a short West Coast run. The first year I was in Portland, pretty much all I did was play solo in small clubs, and this was sort of an effort to come back to that."