Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Mar-Apr Contents Rhythms 35
So much water has passed under The
Decemberists’ bridge since they last visited
Australia for the Big Day Out in 2010, they could
hardly be considered the same band.
Emerging from indie-rock beginnings, the band has
settled into its home at Capitol records with a series
of highly ambitious recordings and tours, peaking,
in 2011, with a US Number One on the week of debut
for the more openly Americana influenced ‘The King
Is Dead’ album. Later that year, The Decemberists
moniker was put on hiatus while the band members
took stock of the past decade’s triumphs and
The album that emerged from the break, ‘What A
Terrible World, What A Beautiful World’, was an epic
– 14 songs, a number of them openly self-reflective.
Indeed, opening song, ‘The Singer Addresses His
Audience’, addressed fans: “We know, we know we
belong to ya. We know you built your lives around us.
And would we change? We had to change some”.
But the “change” that characterised ‘What A Terrible
World...’ was a conspicuous lack of change. The band
did not embark on some wild concept, or attempt to
force a cohesion onto the material with some theme.
Instead, they settled into a mature amalgamation of
their influences and interests and set about recording
every song they had. That resulted in one of the most
difficult relationships that singer -songwriter Colin
Meloy has yet developed with a Decemberists album.
“I think it was because we’d taken so much time with
it,” Meloy muses on the eve of the band’s return to
Australia at the invitation of Bluesfest.
“We had so many actually finished songs. Typically
the way we’d recorded records in the past, in your
five or six weeks there’s a natural sort of survival of
the fittest. The songs that everybody’s really into are
the ones that get finished and there’s some attrition
where there’s a few that just never quite get their say
and kind of get left off. So you have some choices
and decisions made for you. But because we recorded
this over a year -and-a-half with the intent of finishing
everything and not being done with the sessions until
everything was finished, as a consequence at the end
of it we had 18 songs that were all perfectly... that were
“So the sequencing was such a hassle. I feel like you
could have made three totally different records.”
Meloy accedes that criticisms of ‘What A Terrible
World’ being the band’s least focussed record could
have some grounding; that “you could have hacked
off four songs and it probably would have felt more
Anyone who secured a vinyl copy of the album would
have noticed it contained three sides, with the final
side left blank. Meloy confirms that he did toy with
the idea of filling out all four sides with the material
they had available, but was talked out of it.
“I’m of the opinion that there are very few records in
the world that really deserve to be double records,” he
reasons. “And most of the other ones are just slogs,
overly ambitious slogs.”
Instead, late last year we were granted a five-song EP,
‘Florasongs’, of material not used on the album. With
a strong REM influence still in evidence, there are
some striking songs, including the stomping ‘Fits &
Starts’ and plaintive ‘Riverswim’ (an public reply to
“I really love that one too,” Meloy says of ‘Riverswim’.
“I love that it sits where it sits and just stays there.
But I think in the context of the record that we were
putting together, it would just never fit. That mood,
that low, constant eddying, if I can use that analogy, it
lives well on its own and in an EP or a different record
it would have worked, but not on this one.”
Having taken a break to reflect on the remarkable
successes of The Decemberists, does Meloy harbour
an ambition yet to be fulfilled?
“Um, I’d like to co-write a song with Morrissey. That’s
really the only thing, the only dream I have left in my
hardened old soul.”
A wish that might remain more attractive in fantasy
than reality some might suggest...
“I know – careful what you wish for, it might be an
awful experience. I expect it probably would be.”
‘What A Terrible World, What a Beautiful World’ and
‘Florasongs’ are available through Capitol/EMI. The
Decemberists play Bluesfest on Saturday March 26
and Sunday March 27. Also: Hamer Hall, Melbourne
on Tuesday March 29; Sydney Opera House on
Wednesday March 30.
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