Essays — November 7, 2018 18:18 — 0 Comments

Springtime with the Decemberists

Below is a story that appeared in Alaska Beyond Magazine in March 2018

For their new album, “I’ll Be Your Girl,” released in March, the members of Portland-based rock band The Decemberists set out to challenge themselves. The group hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with its 2011 LP “The King Is Dead” and has built a following for creative sounds and lyrics. But fresh tactics, says frontman Colin Meloy, had to be taken to keep making invigorating music.

“I just had this suspicion,” Meloy says, “that we were falling into some old habits. I felt like I was doing that with songwriting. So it seemed like a good opportunity to try something different.”

Recording in an unfamiliar studio with a new producer, the five-piece band drew from Russian folklore, played vintage synthesizers and experimented with bold choruses. They arranged songs on the lip of a skate bowl and recorded drums inside the bowl for its distinctive acoustics.

“We wanted to create an environment that would force us to make different decisions,” Meloy says. “Whatever got everybody excited got the green light.”

The resulting album is a sweeping set of songs that’s at times raucous and energetic and at other times solemn, even dirgelike.

Meloy, a singer with a voice that is both lilting and edgy, started the band in 2000 after moving to Portland from Missoula, Montana. He says he’s “always looked west,” even as a child. He considers “the boundaries of Cascadia” his true home. And the identity of the group, says Meloy, who lives on a 5-acre farm outside Portland with his family, is built around a Pacific Northwest mindset. “I feel attached to the elbow room that I have out here,” he says.

The Decemberists will travel all over the country, as well as to Canada and Europe, on their extensive 2018 tour. While the lead singer says he’ll be “living for those two hours onstage,” he and his bandmates have also planned a routine to wait out the long hours between sound checks and shows. “We have a road case full of board games,” says Meloy, naming Settlers of Catan and Pandemic as favorites. “And I can be a little competitive.”

They also want the tour to be about more than board games and hotel rooms. Meloy says he plans to explore more this year. “I’m going to go out and try to find independent bookstores,” he says. “Where the good coffee is, that’s where I want to spend the day wandering, getting exercise.”

It is The Decemberists’ bent toward exploration that Meloy feels has helped the band produce its reinvigorated new album. “The thing about having a body of work that people know is that it’s very easy to close yourself off to new ideas,” Meloy explains. “But if you throw yourself into the same spaces all the time, you’re probably not going to push yourself very far.” The group’s latest set of songs offers a new direction. Learn more at decemberists.com.

It is The Decemberists’ bent toward exploration that Meloy feels has helped the band produce its reinvigorated new album. “The thing about having a body of work that people know is that it’s very easy to close yourself off to new ideas,” Meloy explains. “But if you throw yourself into the same spaces all the time, you’re probably not going to push yourself very far.” The group’s latest set of songs offers a new direction. Learn more at decemberists.com.

Bio:

Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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