Colin Meloy sort of looks like a particularly sensitive accountant, or perhaps a rather mousy NPR field producer, or maybe both. But based on what he's saying about the new album from the Decemberists, it sounds like he and his band of merry Victorian pranksters are about to up the aggro.
"It's like I'm just writing what I'm writing right now, and it's trending towards kind of 'mossy and evil' a little bit. That's how I would describe it: mossy and evil," he laughed. "And I think the more mossy and the more evil, the better, at this point. I actually just saw some footage of [Canadian rock outfit] Black Mountain, and that's beautifully mossy, evil music ... so I want to make mossy, evil music too."
It's a change of pace for Meloy and the Decemberists, who made the leap to the majors (and actually managed to move a few units) with 2006's The Crane Wife. Since then, the band has been working on a follow-up in dribs and drabs — in between Meloy's solo shows and guitarist Chris Funk's fret-shredding appearance on "The Colbert Report" — and now, they've entered the home stretch. So recently, when MTV News spent a week in Portland, Oregon, to document the city's burgeoning music scene, we reached out to Meloy, who was nice enough to not only welcome us into his home but discuss at length the process of making the new record.
"We're doing a lot of stuff. We did about a week and a half in March, just kinda recording some odds and ends that I think we're gonna do something with in the fall, as like a little tide-the-fans-over kind of thing, because we realize it's been awhile since we put out a record," he said. "But I've demoed a lot of stuff for what will be the next proper Decemberists record, and we are going into the studio on the 28th of July to start work on that."
But before they actually enter the studio, Meloy needs to finish writing the album, so he's been spending most of July in France on a self-described "work retreat/ vacation" to wrap things up. It's just another break in tradition that he's trying this time around.
"[With the last record] I went to Chris Walla's house. He was touring with Death Cab and he offered up his house, so it was sort of a concentrated time of writing. I kind of put in office hours," Meloy explained. "I would just go over to his house, and he had a piano in his living room — not that I ever wrote anything on that piano, but it looked cool. It was there. I felt more writerly that way. This time I'm going a little farther away."
From the sound of things, the new album is going to be a completely Walla-free production (unlike the band's last two efforts). Seems the producer/guitarist is rather busy with his own band, Death Cab for Cutie (incidentally, Walla credits his work on Crane Wife with influencing the sound and feel of Death Cab's chart-topping Narrow Stairs). So the Decemberists are pressing on without him, bringing producer/musician Tucker Martine with them into Portland's Kung Fu Bakery Studios.
And while it sounds like the new album is shaping up to be a pretty massive departure for Meloy and the Decemberists, there's one thing he promises won't change: They're sticking with the epic rockers that have become their de facto trademark over the years. The lengthy rock tune, it seems, is a perfectly natural fit for the whole "mossy and evil" thing.
"It's probably gonna be more [on] the long side of things. That won't be different," Meloy said, smiling. "At least, that's the way it's looking right now."