Q&Atcha

Talking shop with frontman Colin Meloy, of the newly signed major-label hopefuls the Decemberists

With the outta-left-field success of the Arcade Fire seemingly proving there's a large, cash-carrying audience out there hungry for lush, quirky, theatrical chamber-pop, you can imagine the conversations being held among major-label brain trusts huddling in their executive suites: "What we need is a band that writes songs about shipwrecks and chimney sweeps with the spirit of a Brontë sister or Herman Melville, that reminds people of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Smiths, and uses lots of accordion and violins." Fortunately, such a band exists -- Portland, Ore.'s the Decemberists! And after one of those notorious "bidding wars," Capitol Records emerged as the victor in late 2005, tempting the band away from its longtime home at tiny indie label Kill Rock Stars. We recently caught up via phone with brainy Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy, who explained that before the group starts spending those big Capitol bucks in the studio this spring, he's heading out on a solo jaunt with only an acoustic guitar and a brand-new, tour-only, self-released EP, Colin Meloy Sings Trad. Arr. Shirley Collins -- six covers of songs by the obscure British folkie.

So, have you caught wind of any fan feedback to your signing to Capitol?

Yeah, people have been really positive and congratulatory. There have been a few naysayers and I kinda expected as much, but I can understand people being concerned just because of the precedent of bands consciously changing their sound, or the label changing their sound, in order to become more marketable. But I'm pretty certain that that's not gonna happen to us. I don't know how you could make our music any more or less marketable!

You seem like a student of music history -- surely you've heard all those major-label horror stories?

Oh, absolutely. But just from hearing them and seeing people's pitfalls, I realized pretty early on that the only safe way to sign to a major label is to first develop a foundation for yourself as a band. I feel we'd gotten to that point, you know, where we were our own thing and had a pretty loyal fan base, and so it would be detrimental for a label at that point to step in and change something that really didn't need to be changed.

Was it just a matter of wanting better distribution and publicity and all of that?

No, Kill Rock Stars has done a fantastic job with us, and I have absolutely no complaints. I just felt like we were ready to try something new, something a little more risky and adventurous. We could have continued making records for Kill Rock Stars, but there was part of me that felt like we needed a change. The opportunity was there to try something a little bit bigger, and we just decided to go for it.

Does Kill Rock Stars hate you now for leaving them?

[Laughs] No, not at all. I'm actually gonna be recording all of these solo shows for a live solo album that's gonna be on Kill Rock Stars.

This is just your second solo tour, right?

Yeah. When I first moved to Portland it was pretty much all I was doing, but since the Decemberists started I kind of stopped doing any solo dates, and I've kinda been missing it a little bit. I did it last year around this time and it was really fun, so I figured I would head out again.

You've got this new Shirley Collins covers EP -- are you a longtime fan of her work or is she more of a recent discovery?

I guess kinda recent. Maybe a year and a half ago I was reading something about British folk and it mentioned Shirley Collins, so I started investigating. I heard a song and I loved it so much that I bought the box set, and I was immediately enamored of her.

Do you think fans of your music would naturally gravitate toward her stuff?

Maybe, I dunno. There's a song she did called "Turpin Hero" that's about Dick Turpin, who was a legendary highwayman in England in the 18th century, and it's pretty funny, so maybe that kinda fits in with what I do. I think some Decemberists fans might be interested in her. But also I just love the songs and love her arrangements, so it's kinda just for my own satisfaction.

Last year you did something similar withColin Meloy Sings Morrissey ...

Yeah, I just wanted to have something on the tour that people could pick up and it would be exclusive, and the idea of a Morrissey EP seemed like a great thing, and that just opened up the possibility of doing a kind of series of cover EPs on these solo tours. I'd love to make it a regular thing, once a year or something.

Maybe we should start a pool as to who you're gonna cover next year. I'm gonna go withColin Meloy Sings GWAR.

I think you'll probably lose.

 
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