In what seems like a relatively short period, but in fact extends almost ten years, The Decemberists have become a household name, at least among households with long-form progressive folk fans in the Anglo-Saxon-plus-Celtic style. Their regular acknowledgement and inclusion of traditional material while fusing it with prog rock influences and high quality songwriting has fueled their critical and commercial success in the current wave of folk rock.
Ultimately, however, the tenets of the tradition the Decemberists have inherited insist the creation of songs that last through waves, through generations, through centuries. Bandleader and main songwriter Colin Meloy weaves archetypal characters and storylines into the rock opera The Hazards Of Love, the band’s latest release, connecting their often-bucolic sound with universal material in a further effort to create enduring music.
Of course, the band has long been toying with traditional material, adopting the Japanese fable of the Crane Wife for their 2006 album of the same name and including folk tunes and sea shanties on their records long before that. Drummer John Moen took some time to talk about the release, the tour and the genre-blind trend toward concept records.
Where are you guys on the tour right now?
I feel like it’s just kind of started. We’re in Milwaukee, had a handful of shows, five, six shows, something like that. As complicated as the show is to play, because we’re playing the record all the way through, it still feels kind of fresh and exciting every night like anything can go wrong. Lots of instrumentation and there’s no in between song time to fix things that go wrong, etc. It’s exciting still.
So if you break a head, you’re screwed.
Yeah, it’s over. (laughs). I start crying and that’s the end of it.
So how are you integrating the album’s concept into the stage show if at all?
That’s sort of up to the individual, actually, it turns out. I think we sort of agreed as a band, as a core band-the five of us, minus the two guest singers-that we weren’t going to do much. We have a kind of, for us, elaborate light show compared to any tour we’ve done before. We had someone design a special lighting and backdrop. Nothing literal, it’s not like a stage piece or anything like that. So that’s going on, and we’re just dressing in black and white suits and not trying to illustrate too much. But Shara [Worden] and Becky [Stark], who are singing different characters on the record, both get into their characters a lot, and that’s just something that they took on themselves I think. Just the way they dress and the way they move, things like that.