By Heather Corcoran
Colin Meloy is the front man of the Decemberists, what some consider the most literary band in rock music. A Japanese folk tale was the inspiration for their latest album, “The Crane Wife.” It was their major label debut and has received rave reviews. With the band about to set out on tour, Meloy talked to the Resident about the new album and how Manhattan stacks up against Jersey City.
How did you come across the story of “The Crane Wife?”
CM: I was working at a bookstore here in Portland and it came across the desk, somebody brought it in, to sell a used copy. It was a kids’ book, and I kind of flipped through it and read it and I was just struck by how beautiful the story was.
How did it find its way into this album?
CM: I was struck by the story; I thought it would make a good song. This was a couple years ago, and I started working on a song based on it … and was never really happy with it. I ended up coming back to it, trying to rewrite and rephrase and readjust and kept scrapping it and then trying it again, and then trying a different version … so it was a really long and involved process, finally coming and getting the final version.
In what ways does literature affect your music?
CM: I think it’s kind of an inadvertent thing. It’s inexplicable; I guess I just come across things – maybe not the story itself, but also what [about] the style and the approach that seems interesting to me – so I try to apply it to my own writing, I guess.
Any particular books or authors?
CM: It always changes. I guess I always go back to Dylan Thomas in tone and in approach. The language has really informed a lot of the things that I’ve done.
And what kind of music do you guys listen to?
CM: I listen to all sorts of stuff. I’ve really been getting into a lot of old British folk music actually, and have been collecting a lot of records like Nic Jones … kind of obscure British folk people.
You know I just picked up that new Shins record; that was pretty great. There’s a band called Midlake. A band called Land of Talk.
What’s next for the band?
CM: I’ve been kind of working on some things here and there, but mostly I think in the back of my mind, building ideas and directions and approaches. At this point it’s such a nascent idea. It’s in its fetal form, so it can really turn out to be anything. Some days I’m thinking that I want to record the record in two weeks in a barn and only use acoustic instruments and make it sound like a country record. And then other days I want to try making it sound like an Azerbaijani Gypsy band. You know, it changes day to day we’ll see what eventually comes out.
Now you’re about to set out on tour.
CM: It’s great. It’s always fun to get out on the road and play shows and reinvent songs a little bit onstage.
You bring a lot of books, you have your laptop. Watch movies on the bus, go tool around town, go secondhand shopping.
So the tour starts out in Jersey City?
CM: Well, it’s what they call in the industry parlance the secondary-market tour, where you play, not all the big cities, you play the cities that are—the Jersey Cities and the Madison, Wisconsins, and the Tallahassee, Floridas.
We’ve never wanted to be exclusive about where we play. It’s nicer to play in the more out-of-the-way places because the fans don’t get as much music, so they’re really excited when a band comes to town.
Do you have a favorite place to play?
CM: Playing San Francisco I’ve always loved. We played in Dublin recently, in Ireland, and that was a blast. New York, the experience has always been fun for us.
Why should our readers go out to Jersey to see the show?
CM: That’s a devil of a question. ’Cause there’s great hot dogs.
I think we’ve got those, too.
CM: You just really haven’t tried a really great hot dog until you’ve had one in Jersey City.
Any particular place?
CM: No. I’ve never had a hot dog in Jersey City. I’ve only heard mythic tales.