Colin Meloy has come a long way from his days as a young songwriter penning fanciful songs in the Oak Street Building in Industrial Southeast Portland. At that time, around the turn of the millennium, Meloy was writing to his internal muse alone. Now Meloy is writing those songs for a lot of people, including his fellow bandmates in the Decemberists and an international audience that will surely grow with the release of the band's recent major-label debut, The Crane Wife (Riff City, WW, Oct. 4, 2006). Meloy has also gained a different audience with his partner, Carson Ellis (who does all the album artwork for the band), and the couple's seven-month-old son, Hank "The Tank," who—despite the fact that he is teething—is a considerate onlooker as Meloy answers questions about the evolution of his songwriting on a recent Sunday afternoon in his Northeast Portland home.
Riff City: The writing on Crane Wife is very different. Are you getting bored with the way you used to write songs?
Colin Meloy: Maybe. I mean, there is still a lot of straight narrative on the record, but it does delve into more abstractions. A lot of the writing on the new album was done in service to the song, rather than exploring a lot of verbal acrobatics, which I think I had done in earlier records in a way that was just kind of fun and kind of funny, too.
Do you regret those verbal acrobatics?
No, not at all. I still do it. There's this part of me that feels that those records are a lot more funny than this record. This is certainly a more serious record. Not that I don't still do that now, but moving on to doing more sprawling storylines, as a consequence, some of that minutiae has fallen by the wayside.
Do you feel, in the past five years, that your idea of a song has changed?
Yeah, definitely. The first record was essentially my songs with a backing band. That was what the Decemberists were early on, because everybody had day jobs and had other projects they were working on, and they couldn't spend that much time in the studio. People would pop in every once in a while, and rehearsals were once a week for a couple hours. So, as a consequence, I had to pick up the slack by being a central leading figure. Now I'm able to cede that authority more to the other people in the band. Now I think we are much more of a cohesive unit, and we all have a good sense of what we should be moving toward.
Are you scared of losing your voice in that collective?
No, I don't think so. This is really exciting to me. Maybe I got a little sick of always having the songs and the songwriting be the focus when I was working with so many amazing, creative musicians. So, I think that this record was a really good chance to play that up and pull back from the songwriting, because maybe everyone's sick of hearing that story of the Decemberists with their weird, crazy songwriting.
The Decemberists celebrate the release of The Crane Wife