Colin Meloy (The Decemberists): Interview
A Singer in a Band
If you haven't heard about this amazing band called the Decemberists, go out to
the record store right now and buy an album by the band. To date, the band has
released two full-length albums (Castaways and Cutouts and Her Majesty)
and two EPs, Five Songs and the recently-released The Tain on
Acuarela. Colin, lead singer/songwriter/legionnaire extraordinaire answered a
few questions from myself via e-mail. He talks about the band in the limelight
of it all and what he wanted to be when he was a kid.
TMT: Hey Colin! Thanks for doing this interview for Tiny Mix Tapes.
How are you?
Colin (The Decemberists): I'm quite well, thanks.
TMT: Noisepop Festival is coming up and the Decemberists are playing. Is
the band relatively busy these days?
Colin: We're keeping busy. We've had a little downtime since our last
west coast tour (the Left Coast Layabout Tour '04), but are gearing up for a
pretty eventful spring. The Tain, our little EP on Acuarela, just saw
official release yesterday, so that's a bit exciting.
TMT: The band has had amazing success in the past year. I'm so glad to
see you guys get the recognition you deserve. How does it feel to play sold out
Colin: Of course it feels great to play sold out shows. It's funny to
recall that even last May we were excited to play to 150 people out of town, and
now here we are playing to 500-600. Things have changed in town, as well. I
think there's been a complete turnover of people who come to our shows. It used
to be that I could recognize most of the audience at our Portland shows, and now
we're playing bigger shows to a mostly folks I don't know.
TMT: Do you remember the first show the Decemberists played? How many
people were there, etc?
Colin: The first show the Decemberists played was at Berbatis Pan, on
something like a ten band bill in which each band had a fifteen-minute allotment
for their set. There were not that many people there -- maybe 60? I don't
remember. We played three songs, one of which was "California One / Youth and
Beauty Brigade." I'm the only surviving Decemberist member from that show.
TMT: Does the whole band hang out together or maybe a few of you get
Colin: We actually have been hanging out with each other during
non-band times quite a bit -- at least more so than usual. I think once you've
spent as much time as we have in a van with the same five people, you develop a
pretty indelible bond.
TMT: What's something you guys enjoy to do on your down time?
Colin: We usually go to shows together, when friends' bands are in
town. Jenny gave me a ride to the airport a few days ago.
TMT: How did the Decemberists get together?
Colin: There's really no defining moment. The band is sort of cobbled
together with folks I've met during my time here in Portland, playing music.
We've undergone some changes, but the lineup as it currently stands seems to be
TMT: You guys have quite an eclectic collection of instruments. How
did you guys decide to incorporate such unique sounds into your music?
Colin: It happened accidentally, really. A lot of the songs I was
writing at the time we formed were really pop oriented, but I was finding it
difficult to completely shake my penchant for folk songs. Nate suggested he
start playing upright and Jenny had been toying around with an accordion as
well, so it seemed fitting and strange to play pop songs using upright, acoustic
guitar, and accordion as a base. Things grew from there, I suppose.
TMT: The band seems to record new music pretty fast. Is this because
you have written material backlogged or is it just your ethic to continue
writing songs and recording?
Colin: We like to stay busy. Writing songs is my favorite part of the
whole music-making process, so I tend to do it a lot. This, naturally, leads to
a desire to work the songs with the whole band, which in turn leads to
recording. Though I don't think we're abnormally prolific.
TMT: The lyrics in your songs seem to be themes of characters trying
to make their way without having much. What inspired to you write about these
people you speak of in the albums?
Colin: Most of the characters in the songs are fictitious. I think people
have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the idea that a songwriter can
effectively write outside of their frame of reference in a pop song because the
pop idiom, traditionally, is almost entirely built of really self-reflexive,
first person narratives. I'm just writing stories, really.
TMT: Is the band working on anything new at the moment?
Colin: We're working out the kinks for performing The Tain
live, which, we've found, takes some doing. We're also fidgeting with some new
material, though we won't be recording until the summer.
TMT: What music are you listening to right now?
Colin: I don't have music on right now, actually. I just finished
watching "Athens, GA -- Inside Out" which is really fantastic.
TMT: The song "I was meant for the Stage" from Her Majesty, the
Decemberists is so wonderful. The title had me curious to ask if you have always
wanted to live a lifestyle that included playing live shows, and writing music.
Is this a childhood dream come true?
Colin: It is, yes. When I was about five, I went on a family river trip
and my sister and I were on a raft with my uncle Mark. To pass the time, Mark
was predicting our future. He predicted that my sister would be a partner in a
successful law firm. I asked him what he thought I would be. He said, "I don't
know. What do you want to be?" I said I wanted to be a singer in a band. He
said, "Then you'll be a singer in a band."