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The Decemberists




A interview from 2002, lending perspective on the early days of the HUSH alumns-come-good.

What is your name/ who plays with you/what do you play?
My name is Colin Meloy. I play guitar and sing in a band called the Decemberists with Mam’selles Jenny Conlee and Rachel Blumberg and Messrs. Chris Funk and Jesse Emerson. We live in Portland, Oregon.

How long have you been making music?

I started learning guitar in 7th grade. I began writing songs shortly after that. The first recording I ever made was in 8th grade in a musical collaboration called The B-Sides. Our first album, of which only two cassettes ever existed, was entitled “The Mellow Bluesmen Die: A Spiritual Progression.” It was a concept album.

Who/what inspired you to get started with your musical alter-ego?

It just so happened that the waxing of my adolescence (and with it my desire to entertain girls at parties by sitting on the stairs playing contemporary pop ballads on an acoustic guitar) coincided with my uncle Paul’s insistence that I begin listening to decent music. Starting at sixth grade, he began sending me mix tapes from his college home of Eugene, Oregon, which compiled the likes of The Replacements, REM, XTC, Husker Du, Robyn Hitchcock, Mission of Burma, Camper Van Beethoven and other usual suspects of the mid-eighties “college rock” idiom, all on little black TDK 90’s. Consequently, my repetoir was not as favored at parties as those who could play “Patience,” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” Which I inevitably tried to learn, but with mixed results. My heart, I found, was not in it.

What kind of music did your parents listen to?
Fleetwood Mac, Marshall Tucker Band, Joni Mitchell, Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, The Eagles. For which I will be forever grateful.

What are some songs that you cover?
Our covers have been sparse. “I’m Sticking With You,” by the VU, has inadvertantly been a staple. We’ve closed sets with a one-chord version of “Ask” by the Smiths. Otherwise, most of our covers are performed during anti-productive, over indulgent moments in practice: Rachel’s roommates have cringed to the likes of Allman Brothers, Eagles and Marshall Tucker Band classics rudely emanating from the basement.

Do you play in other bands / projects?
I have my solo band, called “Daisy Kingdom,” but that’s mostly for home use only. Songs for my girlfriend, and the like.

Do you have a job? What do you do?
I work at a pizza place and a bookstore. A bit duplicitous.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Oh god. I worked at Hastings: Books and Music for a summer following my first year in college. In the back room, there was an arrow on the ground which showed you exactly how far you should be from a customer before you greeted them. When the manager had a problem with you, she would say stuff like “Let’s talk about how you can help me,” or “Let’s solve this conflict together.” It chills me to this day.

How did you come to work with HUSH (I mean, what on earth were you thinking?)
Upon my arrival in Portland, in late ’99, Mr. Crouch had received initial word that I was in town and immediately set about wooing me into the fold. On a daily basis, I would arrive home to find flowers scattered about my doorstep, balloons tied to the doorknob, and bottles of ancient Moravian wine in the mailbox. All expenses paid sprees about town in the Hush limo were a nightly occurence, and all I had to do in return was suffer Chad’s inevitable bouts of self-effacing supplication that I join the label. In pity, rather than in genuine interest, I eventually agreed.

What have you been listening to lately?

The new Deerhoof record, Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” The Clean, The Bats. The new Cat Power. I’m listening to Echo and the Bunnymen right now.

What do you like to do when you don’t have to do anything in particular?

Read, play video games. A bit duplicitous.

Whose voice resonates with you most?

Who do people compare you to? Do you get it? Is it at all useful?

We get compared to Neutral Milk Hotel quite a bit, which I can understand. I adore Jeff Mangum’s writing. Robyn Hitchcock, the Go-Betweens. Aside from the Robyn Hitchcock comparison, which I believe is a sign of success on my part, my first instinct when hearing comparisons is to think, “Oh god, we’ve got to change that.” I just have issues with people who sound to much like a certain genre or a certain scene.

What is your opinion of the Portland music scene?
I go back and forth on that. I’m really pleased to see how many solid indie labels have taken such a vested interest in a lot of the more marginalized Portland bands right now: The Thermals, Desert City Soundtrack, The Standard, KOLS, The Joggers. Regardless of how disparate their musics, they all deserve what they get. I think a lot of other bands who are sinking themselves into the mire of major label grovel-dom could learn a thing or two from these bands and change their tune.
What are your favorite Portland acts right now?
The Places, The Thermals, The Shins, Norfolk and Western, Jeff London, The Tooth Fairy.

Do you tour? Do you like to tour? Where have you been?
I’m an incurable homebody, so I have a love/hate relationship with touring. On the one hand, I adore playing out of town, playing to new audiences, meeting new people, seeing new places etc. etc.; on the other hand, I am given to sorely missing the comforts of home.

What’s your song writing process?

It usually starts with a spark of an idea like, “I’d like to write a song about that. . .” or “I’d like to write a song that sounds like that. . .” And then I sit down with guitar and just improv my way through it, picking up and letting fall ideas as I go along. Everything sort of tumbles together at once.

How many songs (roughly) have you wrote? / Recorded?

I have no idea. Probably around 150-175. In my life. Including my halcyon days with The B-Sides and its follow up project, Figurehead. I’ve managed to record probably 70 or 80 of them.

How many releases have you bestowed upon the world (what are they)?

The B-Sides: “The Mellow Bluesmen Die: A Spiritual Progression”
Figurehead: “Jesus’ Mom”
Happy Cactus: “Cricket”
Tarkio: “Eponymous EP”
“I Guess I Was Hoping For Something More”
“Sea Songs For Landlocked Sailors”
“Live On KBGA”
The Decemberists: “Five Songs”
“Castaways and Cutouts”

What are your top three favorite songs to perform?

I’ve been really into “The Legionnaire’s Lament” lately. . . And then I suppose it’d be two of the new songs, “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” and “I Was Meant for the Stage.”

What do you want people to do/feel when they listen to your music?

Eat a nice breakfast.

What is the most rewarding aspect of making/sharing your music?

beats stealing cars for a living.

What bums you out about it?
Late bedtimes.

Any regrets with your music career?
It is not possible to develop a substantial or remotely successful music career in Missoula, MT.

How do you want to be remembered?
This questionnaire is beginning to remind me of my interview process at Hastings: Books and Music. Pass.

What is the future sound of [yourself]?
I want the next record to sound like “Astral Weeks.” I don’t know how we’re going to do it.

Who would you most want to tour with (can be anyone)?
Robyn Hitchcock.

Anything you want to say to your adoring fans?
Now that Hush has re-issued our EP, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to send us nice letters! Send away: 425 SE 3rd #201, Ptld, OR .97214 (old)
Anything you want to say to perfect strangers reading this?
Sometimes it’s worth it to spend the extra money for good orange juice. You owe it to yourself.