Already renowned for their ambitious narratives and literary bent, Portland indie rock band the Decemberists have topped themselves with an hour-long story-album based on the themes of British folk songs. Detailing clover’d beds and crowing corn crakes, their Hazards Of Love is a massive swirl of ivy-covered imagery playing out as churning rock. Leader Colin Meloy conceived the album after a period of dabbling in records from British folk revival bands like Fairport Convention, and recruited an all-star line up of indie rock heavyweights to help flesh out a tangled tale of forest queens and shape-shifting animals. Guests include members of Lavender Diamond, My Brightest Diamond, My Morning Jacket, the Spinanes and original psych-folk-punk Robyn Hitchcock. Rolling Stone caught up with Meloy before a Spring tour where the Decemberists plan to play the album in its entirety, like they did at SXSW.
How do you feel about the phrase “concept album” being bandied about?
I think it’s fine. I think we’ve come a long way since the halcyon days of the concept record, and we’ve gone through a lot of changes as a musical culture. I never really listened to those records growing up. I was listening to the Smiths and R.E.M. and Hüsker DÃ¼ and these little terse pop songs. And so it’s interesting for me to go back and revisit the concept record because I like the idea of these massive, ambitious narratives. What’s the point of it being off-limits?
When did you actually start listening to concept records?
I listened to a lot of musicals growing up. Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, things like that. The ’70s versions of those where that have that organic quality where nothing is that polished. I’m an admitted drama fan from the beginning. Those are my people.
What was the last musical you saw?
I don’t really like contemporary musicals. I have a hard time with them. Being in Portland, it’s not the best place to go out and see live musical theater, so I haven’t seen that much. Unfortunately in a lot of modern musicals, the music that it’s based on is marginally more complex versions of bad television pop music. The ones that are successful are the ones that are going to appeal to that crowd, so I don’t really like the music of modern musicals — except for maybe Steven Sondheim.
The “jukebox musical” craze is at full pitch right now.
I know, and it’s just hideous. Inevitably, as much as I’d like to delude myself that I could write a successful musical, I don’t know if I have it in me because I don’t write in that form.
There’s some heavier riffs on the new album. Are you a metal fan?
I don’t know that this means my pedigree is not up to snuff, but I’m a metal fan of maybe eight years ago. I think if you’re really gonna be a metal fan, you gotta be a metal fan from your nascence. From birth. I missed my opportunity for my adolescent metal phase until I moved to Portland and started working at this pizza place where people were playing Sabbath all the time.
American Dream on Glisan and 48th. I worked there two and a half years. There was one guy who was a lifer, had been there forever. And was a bit of redneck and a total dick. Since he was such a veteran, nobody could mess with him, so he sort of had the run of the place until my friend fired him. He had this freaky breakdown where he left, got into his car, and spent the rest of the afternoon circling the pizza place. Stopping occasionally and then driving back around the block. We knew he carried guns in the back of his car, so we were all sitting there all afternoon totally expecting the disgruntled pizza delivery guy to come in and just mow down the entire place.
Was that your last day job?
No, I was working at a bookstore at the same time — technically my last job. Considerably more mellow.