Photo: Jackie Butler/WireImage.com
The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy On Festivals, Community & New ‘Florasongs’ EP
Just nine months after the release of their seventh studio album, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, the Decemberists are back with a five-song EP. Florasongs is a collection of tracks that frontman Colin Meloy says were all contenders for What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World but ultimately did not make the cut. The EP was recorded along with the rest of the full-length album at producer Tucker Martine’s Flora Recording & Playback in the band’s native Portland, Ore.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Meloy in between the two weekends of Austin City Limits Music Festival to talk about the tracks that make up Florasongs, how the band approaches a festival performance, and the sense of community in the Portland music scene.
What about the songs included on Florasongs did not fit with What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World?
These songs were as big a contender for the record as anything on the record itself. I feel like What A Terrible World is a bit overlong as it is. It kind of had an embarrassment of choices to choose from and it is nice to see these songs get their due in their own space because I think standing alone they work well.
After sitting on these songs for a few months, do you hear any of them with a different perspective?
Yeah, one thing is the songs tend to gain their own life when you start playing them live and we started playing “Why Would I Now?” on this last little run. It got a really good crowd response and so now I’m second guessing, maybe that should have been on the record in place of one of the other more upbeat songs. There’s always an opportunity for second guessing for sure.
How do you approach a festival set differently than your own set?
Doing our own show I feel like we have a little bit more freedom, the audience is your own, you sort of have them to yourself. With a festival there’s so much to take in all at once. That’s the thing about festivals; you have to cater your set in trying to make a mark in whatever way you can in this environment of people having so many bands they will see that weekend or have seen and terminal exhaustion. So everybody is trying to put their best face forward and, to me, it always feels a little bit pushed. We do what we can to put on a good show, but I certainly prefer doing our own show to a festival.
What is the best festival set you’ve ever seen?
I saw the Police at Bonnaroo and that was amazing, it was seeing the Police reunited and realizing how every single one of their songs was a massive single. I was in the pit for that and that was fun.
Who are some of the people you admire in how they handle their career?
Some of the people I most admire are the ones ended up committing career suicide. You think of somebody like Nick Drake, who was completely unknown in his time, was championed by a few people, but his last record was Pink Moon, which was, I think, as clear and accurate portrait of his interior life as anything that’s been made. But it certainly wasn’t a very well-managed career. I think of Big Star. Unfortunately I grew up admiring bands that weren’t very careerist, that were mostly just sort of doing whatever and their career be damned, bands like the Replacements, who famously played their label showcase at CBGB’s in ’84 and got so wasted that they couldn’t play their songs. They played a bunch of covers singing their songs over the covers into a room full of label executives that they were trying to woo. To me, that’s the ballsiest move you can possibly do even though their career survived despite that. I look to R.E.M.; I think they did a really good job of maintaining their kind of creative integrity, but appealing to a wider audience. That’s the thing about being in a band, if you want to continue to grow you just have to try to reach a wider audience and inevitably that involves compromising some ideals. There are very few people who are able to kind of keep that integrity and reach a wider audience, that’s really the challenge.
How does living in Portland affect your music?
Initially it was exciting to be here because there was very little going on and there wasn’t any polar north star dragging everything to it in its gravity. There were the Dandy Warhols, but for the most part there was a bunch of bands that had existed in the early Nineties that were in various states of breaking up. I think of like Cracker Bash, Heatmiser and Hazel, things like that, Elliot Smith. There are little bits of stuff floating around that was exciting, but it wasn’t enough to make it feel like it was a scene, like you had to play a certain way to get noticed in town. It changed quite a bit. Now there are nationally known bands, Modest Mouse, Sleater Kinney, Shins, though a lot of those bands are holdovers from years ago. And it’s cool, it was exciting when all those bands were starting to take off. I appreciate all those bands have done, they were disparate enough that I never felt particularly bothered by other people’s success over other bands, everybody was doing different things, but supportive. You’d run into Carrie Brownstein or Isaac Brock and feel there is a sense of camaraderie even though they’re not like hanging out all the time.