Exclusive interview: Decemberists' singer-songwriter Colin Meloy

Indie-rockers The Decemberists' singer-songwriter Colin Meloy is temporarily leaving his highly-praised and steadily-momentous band to go on a solo tour to promote his upcoming acoustic live album, Colin Meloy: Sings Live! Meloy, who was kind enough to share some words with The Lamron, will be performing at the Tralf Music Hall in Buffalo on April 18.

The Lamron: Tell me about the new solo album you have coming out. It seems to have a more laid back, informal feel to it. You even mention campfire sing-a-longs. Is that the vision you have about it?

Colin Meloy: Yea, I guess so. It's an opportunity to kind of strip away the arrangements of the records into kind of a sing-a-long.

The Lamron: The prior EPs you've released that cover other artists - is that kind of the same feel?

CM: Yea, definitely. It's just me. I recorded them at home, so, other than getting a few friends in to help out here and there, it's mostly just me compiling a little EP together at home.

The Lamron: Do you have any plans for a solo studio album?

CM: You know, it's crossed my mine, but I think if I were to do it, it would just be a Decemberists record, I mean, without the input of the four other people who are in the Decemberists. For now I think that everything that I write is sort of Decemberists material, so I don't see any reason to put the songs anywhere else.

The Lamron: On the upcoming album, you have a couple of previously unreleased songs. Did you write those with the intensions of playing them with the Decemberists or were they purely for yourself?

CM: I wrote them for myself - the one that really sticks out is the song "Wonder," which seems just like such a simple and personal song; I couldn't hear any arrangement over it. I think it's one of the only songs I've written that felt more like just a Colin Meloy song and not a Decemberists song.

The Lamron: While we're on the same track, is it alright if I ask you about "Dracula's Daughter"? [editor's note - "Dracula's Daughter" is Meloy's self-proclaimed worst song he's ever written]

CM: [Laughs] Sure. That was actually written only like, three years ago. It was basically written in the process of writing The Crane Wife - around the same time - so you know, I never really write songs specifically to be on a record. You're just constantly fielding pitches from your imagination and trying to get them out before they fade away. And that one happened to be kind of a wild pitch maybe, and I discovered pretty quickly into it that no amount of writing would redeem it. I kind of was just struck by how incredibly bad it was.

The Lamron: You seem to have an impressively broad array of musical influences. You've released EPs that cover Morrissey, Shirley Collins and Sam Cooke. On your upcoming album, you cover Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac. What other musicians influenced you and the Decemberists?

CM: Gosh, you know I always think of us as kind of a record collector's band. We're pretty avid record collectors. I think of us as being kind of academic music listeners, so I think the music that we write, in its own way, is the sum total of our record collection. There's a little bit here and a little bit there, and some stuff you probably wouldn't pick up on, but it's there somewhere.

The Lamron: There's one band in particular - and I had a little help from Wikipedia on this one - but I saw that you actually wrote a 100-page book on the Replacements' album, Let It Be.

CM: Yea, I did. It was for a series called 33?, which was kind of different musicians and mostly rock critics giving kind of treatises on their favorite record of all time. And the editor of the series hit me up to see if I wanted to do one, being a music fan, and it was kind of hard to turn down the opportunity to write 100 [pages] about your favorite record.

The Lamron: A lot of your songs have lyrical themes that evoke, at least to me, old English literature and epic poems. What kind of books did you read growing up?

CM: I read all sorts of stuff. I mean, when I was a kid, I read a lot of fantasy and horror fiction. Then, through like junior high and high school, I got more into heady stuff, discovering Joyce and Faulkner and Hemingway and things like that. Not that I would say that those have been direct influences on the music that I do, but it's kind of built a love for books in me.

The Lamorn: Let's take "Mariner's Revenge Song." What inspired that story?

CM: I don't know, that came from a bunch of different directions. For one thing, I've always had in the back of my head that I wanted to write a song that was set in the belly of a whale. I liked that idea. And then, it just happened sitting down writing and strumming the guitar that I came up with the melody line. It had kind of a vaudeville sensibility to it; it felt like it was also a story that I could probably make as long as it needed to be told, and so I just kind of built it from there.

The Lamron: I had the luxury of seeing the Decemberists perform at Bonnaroo last summer. How was that like for you?

CM: It was amazing. It was really, really super fun.

The Lamron: I'm a bit disappointed we didn't get an appearance by the giant whale costume you traditionally bring out for "Mariner's Revenge Song." I suppose it was too much to ask somebody to wear it on in that blaring heat.

CM: We need to come up with a new costume. Our last whale costume was sacrificed to the crowd at the end of the summer tour, so it is sadly no more.

The Lamron: This interview wouldn't be complete if I didn't ask you about your feud with Stephen Colbert. For our readers who may not be familiar, why don't you quickly sum up how this rivalry started?

CM: Well, it happened really organically. We had shot a video that was supposed to be animated that we ended up not really liking the animation for, but it was too late. So we kind of tried to turn lemons into lemonade and turned it into a contest - turn it over to the kids and see if they could come up with something interesting for it. Apparently, Stephen Colbert had done a similar thing, but I had no idea. And one night, [Decemberists guitarist] Chris Funk was flying back from New York on Jet Blue watching The Colbert Report on TV and actually saw him call us out about supposedly taking his idea. You know, there was no communication about it beforehand. So he called us out and said we were stealing his ideas, and we, in turn, challenged him to a guitar duel, which is the only gentlemanly thing to do. He accepted, and there was the infamous shred-off.