The Decemberists

  • Indie-folk rock band from Portland Oregon, formed in 2000. Members of the band are Colin Meloy (frontman, vocals, guitar, harmonica, percussion, songwriting), Chris Funk (vocals, guitar, piano, dobro, mandolin, saxophone, theremin, banjo, many other instruments), Jenny Conlee (accordian, keyboards, glockenspiel, backing vocals), Nate Query (bassist) and John Moen (drums, banjo, melodica).
  • The band formed when Meloy left a band in Montana, moving to Portland. There, he met Query and Conlee, who had played in a Portland-based band. The three collaborated on a silent film score. Meloy independently met Funk, who was a fan of Meloy’s band in Montana, and Funk began to perform with the others in the group. Ezra Holbrook joined as their first drummer, and the band was complete.
  • The name of the band refers to the Decembrist revolt, an uprising in Imperial Russia in 1825. Meloy also has stated that the name is meant to invoke “the drama and melancholy” of the month of December. Lyrics to their songs often refer to historical incidents and folklore.
  • Their first released recording was a self-released EP titled 5 Songs, in 2001. The band played at a hotel the night before recording it, to raise the money they needed to get the studio time – they recorded 5 of the 6 songs on the EP in less than 2 hours. The sixth song, Apology Song, was added later when the EP was released by a small Portland-based record label. The original 5 songs were used as the band’s demo to secure their recording contract.
  • Their first studio album was Castaways and Cutouts, released in 2002. The band moved to another northwest regional record label in 2003, when the debut album was re-released. The band also released the albums Her Majesty The Decembrists in 2003 and Picaresque in 2005 with this regional label. These records were produced in true indie form – no Top 40 pop music here!  Picaresque was recorded in a church – the band members filled a bike helmet with slips of paper with ideas to try out while recording. These records received little national play, though Picaresque managed to barely touch the Billboard 200 album chart.
  • In 2005, The Decemberists signed with a major national record label to expand their visibility. They released The Crane Wife in 2006, and they appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien the night that the record was released. The album was chosen Favorite Album of the Year by listeners of National Public Radio. The album peaked at #35 on the Billboard 200 chart, and 2 singles were released – O Valencia! and The Perfect Crime #2. 
  • Their next album, The Hazards of Love, was released in 2009. Originally, it was planned to be a staged musical, but they couldn’t make that work. Instead, they played the album from start to finish when they toured. It’s a tale about a woman named Margaret, her lover William, William’s jealous forest queen mother and a villanous Rake. The album peaked at #14 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
  • Their 2011 album The King Is Dead debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Unlike earlier albums that were influenced by British folk music, this album is more influenced by American genres like blues, country and Americana. Three singles charted in the top 10 of the U.S. Adult Album Alternative chart, and the single This Is Why We Fight peaked at #19 on the Alternative Songs chart. The song Down By the Water was nominated for Best Rock Song for the Grammy Awards.
  • After taking a break from recording and touring, the band released an album in 2015 – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World. The single Make You Better topped the Adult Album Alternative chart.
  • The Decemberists are a true indie band – no ambitions to be the next mega-pop group. Their concerts are eclectic – audience participation often is part of the show, and the band sometimes stages re-enactments of historical events during their performances. If you’re looking for a band that wants to tell stories rather than sell records, give them a try. Here is the video from their song This Is Why We Fight. 

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