Most of The King Is Dead—the Decemberists album that's due out Jan. 18—was made over the course of six weeks at Pendarvis Farm, an 80-acre site east of Portland, Ore. that also hosts the annual music festival Pickathon, at which the Decemberists' bluegrass side project Black Prairie played this summer. The Portland-based quintet and co-producer Tucker Martine didn't quite anticipate how wet the sessions were going to be, though. "The idea was to camp out a little bit more, which the weather has not necessarily permitted," singer/guitarist Colin Meloy observes. "A lot of rain on the roof will probably make it into the recording."
Indeed, this is the most pastoral, rustic record they've ever made, despite its flashes of the band's trademark rococo wordplay ("Calamity Song" features the phrase "queen of supply-side bonhomie bone-drab"). Meloy notes that his songs were inspired in part by the sound of early R.E.M. The track "Down by the Water," in particular, "started out as more of a paean to R.E.M. than I think any of us really wanted it to be." The band tinkered with it to make it sound a bit less like Reckoning — and then R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck joined them to play on it. "It was really cool," Meloy says. "Even playing those simple parts, he's a master."