EQ Interview Extras: The Decemberists
By Bud Scoppa
The February issue of EQ profiled The Decemberists’ The King is Dead. Here, read interview outtakes with Tucker Martine and Colin Meloy.
Tucker Martine on embracing the bleed:
“We brought in some foam baffles that we moved around from track to track, and we built little forts to minimize the bleed, but we never eliminated it. We eventually found something where all the players seemed comfortable and I was getting really usable sounds. All in all, the bleed seemed pretty flattering.”
Q&A Colin Meloy
EQ: What inspired this radical change of course?
MELOY: The genesis of the concept for this record was undeniably a reaction to what kind of record Hazards was. I was in a very different head space writing the songs for The King Is Dead, and that definitely added to the relaxed vibe. This was something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’m really lucky to work with people who have humored me at every turn, and who’ve been remarkably game for everything I’ve thrown at them. While there’s not a ton of crossover in our record collections, we all love ‘genuine’ music, whatever that means, and for all of us, doing this record was a breath of fresh air. I feel like the record was really an exercise in restraint, from the writing to the recording. Rather than looking for opportunities to make songs bigger and more cinematic, we were cutting verses where they didn’t need to be there and making the songs economical.”
What shape were the demos in when you presented them to Tucker and the band?
My demoing process has definitely gotten more developed as I’ve become more comfortable doing home recording. I switched over to using Logic about four years ago, and that changed my demoing process completely. It’s so much more of a user-friendly interface. The drum sounds are pretty good, so if I’ve got an idea for a drum beat, I can put that in, or if I can lay down a bass track or a guitat track without interrupting the house. So a lot of them were pretty well formed with just me putting my ideas down. Demoing is very handy; before I would just record voice and guitar, and I’d have these ideas for what the bass or the drums would sound like, but then I’d be stuck trying to explain them in rehearsal. And now, with a little more time demoing, they’re there—and I always tell everybody that they’re kind of a blueprint and you can discard them if you need to, but a lot of times they stick around. Y’know, you see it in 360 this way—you get it out of your skull and see what it will sound like later.
It’s surprising how seamlessly the late-’60s/early-’70s feel of most the album coheres with the ’80s jangle rock of the rest of it.
I came back to listening to Neil Young and the Byrds and Dylan much later, because that was always my parents’ music. It was ever-present growing up, but when I established my own musical identity, it was in opposition to what my parents were listening to – that junior high school rebellion thing. But little did I realize that the guys who were inspiring me were steeped in that stuff. So I got Dylan and Syd Barrett through Robyn Hitchcock, the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers through R.E.M., Fairport Convention through Bob Mould and Husker Du, because Richard Thompson was his guitar hero. So it’s interesting to see the layers there.