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8 October 2006 -
Interview: The Decemberists
The Portland-based band the Decemberists released their fourth full-length album, The Crane Wife, on October 3, 2006. The highly-anticipated release marked the band’s first record with Capitol Records.
The Decemberists’ new line-up of Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query and John Moen will begin their North American tour, The Rout of the Patagons Tour, on October 17, in Portland.
DeadJournalist.com is proud to bring you this exclusive interview with Chris Funk of the Decemberists.
With The Crane Wife based around the Japanese folk tales “The Crane Wife” and “The Island”, was there greater motivation to create an album that was different from the band’s past works?
CF: I don't think it's really that different. If you listen to our four LP’s and two EP’s, you'll hear the influences for this record.
That said if there are audible differences to the listener then I'd have to say that time simply creates change. It's hard for me to hear unless I was to go back and listen to all of our records, which I haven't done in a long time.
Was it difficult to decide on this album’s first single?
CF: Ultimately that is the choice of the label, always has been even while on Kill Rock Stars. Obviously "The Island" and "Crane Wife 1 & 2" were out as the format only allows for a few minuets.
I don't think it's something we really pay attention to or labor over as we've never been a single driven band despite the fact we consider ourselves a pop band.
CF: The Crane Wife marks the first album on the band’s new record label. Was it a difficult decision to leave Kill Rock Stars and sign with Capitol Records?
More frightening, just simply stepping into something new after working really hard on all aspects of what it means to be "in a band" - the music, live, etc. "Would these new people mess it all up?" or "Who are these people?" or "What about this band that I heard had this happen to them ...?"
At the end of the day it really doesn't affect a band like us, that is somewhere in the middle ground of pop music and it's felt much the same.
This record we made would be the same record for KRS. Really nice folks down in that tower on Hollywood and Vine...so far!
What influence did producers Tucker Maritine and Chris Walla have on The Crane Wife?
CF: Well, they just let us create for a few weeks, and then started sifting through bit and pieces that we had a hard time with.
We are pretty comfortable as a band at this point, and I'm always reminded how talented my band mates are not only in songwriting but also in feel and technique, so I'd imagine our producers were able to spend more time on "getting sounds", experimenting a bit.
They are real studio nerds in the best sense of the word(s). We love them.
Did line-up changes in the band affect the recording process on the new album?
CF: Yes. For those that don't know we switched drummers, rather Rachel Blumberg decided to focus on her band Norfolk and Western and also tour with M. Ward.
She is a great drummer, has more of a jazz feel in my opinion although she grew up playing rock music.
John Moen, our drummer now, tunes his drums lower and hits a bit harder I guess. Everyone is different, not that one is better, but of course different people create different music.
After five years of recording and touring, what keeps the Decemberists breaking new ground musically?
CF: I think it starts at the record store. I really think we are becoming an audio files band. We love to go record shopping and find out about new/old music. So, as the years pass, it seems like we all start obsessing on a new group or genre.
We’re all basically from upper middle class families, which tend to be the most bland in their musical heritage. You know, like, I didn't grow up with "a daddy or grampie teaching me banjo". I had to find out about it after having spent a year trying to break dance, and then the next year trying not to get beat up by jocks who thought I shouldn't like Prince, and the next year trying to get my hair to stand up like Robert Smith's, and then trying to fit in at a bluegrass festival years later.
We're all just repeating the traditions of my genres of music and throwing them on to a little silver disc and praying people buy it.
Has the band’s increasing popularity, combined with the ability to play larger venues, changed your live performances?
CF: Yes, of course. We are conscious of the fact that thanks to Ticketmaster people are spending a bunch of cash to see us play, so we don't want to let them down.
However, we never really talked about changing parts of a show, everything has come with the tedium of playing the same song over and over. (laughs)
Has the Decemberists’ commercial success been a surprise to the band?
CF: We don't really feel commercially successful, to us that means like Jay Z or Fergie or some huge act.
We make a living doing this, but you know we just live the same. We are flattered that people want to share this with us, however we're surprised everyday by it in some way.
What makes being in the Decemberists unlike being in any other band?
CF: So many instruments on stage and so little cocaine backstage.
As a musician, who are the artists that influenced you the most?
CF: Like I hinted at before, so many from all over the map - it changes every week. Some weirdo's with beards on the covers of British folk records to more burnouts on psy-rock LP's to trange-gypsy mamas on the covers of bad, jug band records.
What were you listening to in 1996?
CF: I think I had just moved from NW Indiana and Thrill Jockey was really a strong label, so Tortoise, Sea and Cake, etc., and Wilco, and the Jesus Lizard.
Once I came to Oregon I found out about Elliot Smith. I saw him play a bunch in Eugene at this place, Sam Bond's Garage, and freaked out. The next night at Icky's Tea House - across the street - I saw Modest Mouse!
Probably a bunch of Pavement, Guided By Voices, June of 44 and Stereo Lab in there, I was that college rock dip shit snob for a hot minute for sure, though I always went home after nodding my head at a show and secretly listened to some Tim O'Brien.
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