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The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy

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Wednesday, 16 April 2008

For some musicians, the further along they get—particularly if they’re lucky enough to be offered a host of critical kudos and built up a fan base always hungry for more of their favourite band—the more they look back on ‘the good old days’ warmly. They crave the simplicity and innocence of the circumstances under which they started and the beginning of the methodology that eventually got them to where they are; they wish they could get back to basics. Not often is such an opportunity afforded—once the machine is rolling, it’s difficult to shift it into reverse—so it falls upon those musicians to reach out and take what they want if they have the courage. Colin Meloy is one such musician and, while he won’t come right out and say it, his actions have spoken louder than words recently as he has once again set out on the road as he used to; with only an acoustic guitar and his songbook—no Decemberists.

The thing is, if offered the opportunity as Meloy has been, musicians still have to read the fine print. Going back to basics isn’t exactly the same as going back in time and an established musician hitting the road with established songs but a different, more intimate approach to them can be a very salacious idea to even passing fans. The venues are larger and those passing fans tend to be more critical than the super-fans that think anything their heroes do is great. It can go to a musician’s head. Granted, as the Colin Meloy Sings Live album attests, the singer can brilliantly pull The Decemberists’ songbook off alone but what’s the motivation behind doing it? These are the sorts of questions presented by interviewers even if they don’t have malicious intent in mind, and it tends to get the backs of the weary up. Meloy is no exception. Is it deserved? No. Is it human nature? Most definitely.

Bill Adams vs. Colin Meloy of The Decemberists

CM: Hello?
BA: Hey Colin, it’s Bill Adams calling. How’re you doing?
CM: I’m good, how’re you doing?
BA: Oh, I can’t complain. Where are you right now?
CM: I’m at home in Portland.
BA: That’s cool. When does the tour start?
CM: We head out on Sunday.
BA: Oh, okay. Now, how long is this solo jaunt going to be? How many stops?
CM: I think it’s going to be three and a half weeks. Just under twenty stops.
BA: Oh really? So you’re pretty much working every day that you’re on the road.
CM: Yeah, I think there are a few days off here and there, but for the most part it’s four or five days on.
BA: That’s alright. So I have to ask you—what spurred the idea to do a solo tour?
CM: Uhm, I dunno, I just really enjoy playing solo so when whenever there’s been downtime—at least in the last four or five years—whenever there has been downtime with the band, it has been a good opportunity to get out and play on the road for a little bit.
BA: Okay, so it’s just been a matter of being between things and this is a great way to kill time?
CM: Oh gosh, I can’t really hear you. Can you repeat that?
BA: Is that better?
CM: Yeah.
BA: Okay, so it’s just been a matter of being between things and this is a great way to kill time?
CM: Yeah.
BA: That’s cool, now, you just released the solo record correct?
CM: Uh huh.
BA: And it’s a live record?
CM: Yeah, it’s a live record.
BA: Okay, and it’s all Decemberists songs?
CM: Yup.
BA: So how does that work then? A lot of The Decemberists’ music is pretty instrumentally involved…. Is there the chance that we’ll see a studio record?
CM: Uhm, I’ll probably play some new stuff on this tour too, but I don’t know if you’d call it solo material. If I play new stuff on this tour, it’ll probably be stuff that’s slated for another Decemberists record.
BA: So in some cases you’re road testing future Decemberists songs….
CM: In some ways, yeah.
BA: How long have you been doing the solo shows?
CM: Uhm, I’ve been doing them since about 2005—I think that was my first solo tour.
BA: How have they been received thus far?
CM: Pretty well, people seem to like them. People come out.
BA: They show up, they applaud….
CM: Yeah.
BA: I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a hundred times but, why—with a band that’s pretty hot right now—entertain solo stuff?
CM: Uhm, well, we were taking a break from touring as a band and this just keeps it fresh.
BA: I don’t know how the process breaks down for you—do you end up writing a bit on the road as well? As I say, I don’t know how the process breaks down for the band; if typically you bring songs to the band and then work on them as a group or if the writing process is undertaken as a band….
CM: I just write the songs and then bring them to the band and I don’t do much writing on the road. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never found the environment to be very conducive for writing for whatever reason.
BA: So it’s more a matter of slating time while you’re at home to sit down and write?
CM: Yeah.
BA: I see, but as far as that’s concerned too, have you already started writing material for another Decemberists record?
CM: Yeah—I have been writing more for The Decemberists actually. I’ve been working fairly diligently on stuff for the next record. We have two months blocked out to go into the studio and get another one finished up.
BA: So no touring this summer for The Decemberists?
CM: No, we’ll just be recording.
BA: Okay, now what are the set lists going to look like for this tour? A lot of material off of The Crane Wife?
CM: Yeah, I think it’ll be a lot of different stuff from the whole catalogue probably. I’m sure I’ll be cycling through songs as I go, but I think stuff particularly off of The Crane Wife will be very likely.
BA: So what comes next? Summer’s pretty booked, are you going to continue doing the solo shows?
CM: No, this is just a one-off thing and then after that I’ll most likely be going back to Decemberists’ world.
BA: Okay, that’s cool. So what else can you tell me about? I’m still trying to get a feel for what spurred the solo thing anyway. Was it a matter of needing a change of pace?
CM: Yeah, it’s a nice change of pace. Getting out to play solo was also something that I did a lot when I first moved to Portland and when I was first starting out before The Decemberists started. This is an opportunity to get back and do that again. There’s no side band with this or anything, it’s just me and a guitar.
BA: Is it a distraction? Or is there the outside chance that we might see you explore the solo thing with studio albums and things?
CM: It’s not a distraction—it’s something that I definitely enjoy doing and I put my heart into. I’m sure I’ll do more solo stuff in the future, but The Decemberists is really my priority.
BA: Okay. And it’s just a matter of being something that you find fulfilling, so you go out and you do it. Simple as that?
CM: Yeah.
BA: I see. So what else am I forgetting to ask about?
CM: That’s good, I don’t think I really have anything else to add I don’t think.
BA: That’s good?
CM: Yup.
BA: Well, thank you very much for taking a few minutes.
CM: Yeah, thank you. Bye.

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Download "We Both Go Down Together" from Colin Meloy Sings Live! – [mp3]

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