(Soundbite of live concert)
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. COLIN MELOY (Lead Singer/Songwriter, The Decemberists): Thank you. OK.
(Soundbite of song "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect")
Mr. MELOY: (Singing) And here I dreamt I was a soldier, And I marched the streets of Birkenau, And I recall in spring, The perfume that the air would bring To the indolent town...
ALISON STEWART, host:
That's Colin Meloy, recorded live at the Aladdin Theatre in Portland, Oregon, the hometown of the band for which he's the lead singer and songwriter, the Decemberists. But that song can be found on a release of live tracks of Colin's solo performance at some of the best venues across the country. He's currently on tour right now, solo, and he stopped by our studio. Hi, Colin.
Mr. MELOY: Hello.
STEWART: So what made you decide to put out a solo, acoustic record full of covers and some stripped-down Decemberists songs?
Mr. MELOY: Ah, I don't know. I mean, it was just - I was doing the solo tour at the time, and it seemed like a good idea to record all of the shows and try to cobble together some sort of record out of it. The Decemberists had never done a live record, and it seemed like a good opportunity, since I didn't really have any plans of doing a solo record, you know, a proper solo record, that this would be fun to do as a project in and of itself.
STEWART: On the record, you were talking to the audience, doing the rock talk a little bit, and you're saying, hey, I want a jamboree vibe, everybody, dive in, sing. Were you able to accomplish that vibe?
Mr. MELOY: Yeah, I think, inevitably, people - it's - that just kind of happens. You know, I always think of the solo shows as being, you know, the 30-percent hardcore-Decemberists fan base, so inevitably they know not only all the words but they can sing the little guitar melodies that are missing from the songs, and...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MELOY: That's fun, to get them - but yeah, yeah. With the campfire vibe is a good thing.
STEWART: One of the - your fans, actually, told a Boston paper, "Decemberists' fans are the most amazing singers."
Mr. MELOY: They can be...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MELOY: No, actually, it's true. Last night at the show in Williamsburg, there was actually like three-part harmonies going on in the front row. It was pretty phenomenal. They're more than happy to have an opportunity to show off some of their local arrangement skills.
STEWART: To be fabulous for you?
Mr. MELOY: Yeah! Totally.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: When you're putting together your set list, how do you decide which covers you want to take on? Does it have to have a certain - do you have a criteria? Is it lyrics? Is it...
Mr. MELOY: Oh, ah...
STEWART: Playability? Is it...
Mr. MELOY: It usually just comes to me. I mean...
Mr. MELOY: I'm the - on the solo - on that live record, all of those little covers that were thrown in, the, you know, the Fleetwood Mac and the R.E.M. snippet and the Pink Floyd snippet, it's just pure - like, oh, this would be kind of fun if I did this right now and kind of funny, I guess?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MELOY: And so that's really what spurs those. But the cover - I do a cover EP each time around as well, and that's more, I guess, of a deliberate choice of picking an artist to cover.
STEWART: And tell me, a little bit, how you decide about the artist.
Mr. MELOY: Well, gosh, I think just whatever's kind of - I'm into at the time. It started out - I wanted to - the first solo tour that I wanted to do, I'd always harbored dreams of covering a bunch of Morrissey songs, especially like obscure, B-side Morrissey songs that I really liked. So I did that, and the next time around, I thought that I, you know, should just make it a thing, you know, and so I did some Shirley Collins arrangements of old folk songs.
And this time around, I was trying to figure out who to do, and I decided - Morrissey and Shirley Collins being about as Anglo as you can get, I figured I'd maybe get someone a little more American. So I went with Sam Cooke, which is kind of the polar opposite of Shirley Collins and Morrissey.
STEWART: What are you going to play for us today?
(Soundbite of guitar strums)
Mr. MELOY: Oh, I was going to play - this is one song that's on the "Sings Live" record that is - probably will forever be relegated just to that record. And it's called "Wonder," and it was written shortly after I found out my girlfriend was pregnant, and sort of that feeling of, you know, freaking out about it, which I'm sure you may be aware of.
(Soundbite of song "Wonder")
Mr. MELOY: (Singing) My darling, what wonder have we wrought here? It's weird and it's wonderful, dear. All ankles and earlobes and elbow bones, It's weird how it wonderful grows. And it was all really new. It made this three come out of two. My darling, what wonder have we wrought here? It's weird and it's wonderful, dear. Ooh, oh. Ooh, oh. At some glen in Dublin and next thing you know, A weird and a wonderful show. All ankles and earlobes and beating heart, A weird and a wonderful start. And it was only me and you That made this three come out two. My darling, what wonder have we wrought here? It's weird and it's wonderful there. It's weird, mostly wonderful here.
STEWART: We're speaking with Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists. And you've been out touring on your own, doing some solo work. But there's some other side projects you've been involved with. This book right here, look how thin it is, part of the "Thirty-Three and a Third" series. You wrote it about the Replacements' "Let It Be." As a songwriter, can you explain to me why Paul Westerberg is such a great songwriter?
Mr. MELOY: I don't know. You know, I think he's a great songwriter. I also think that he's a - what I've learned and what I've taken from Paul Westerberg and the Replacements is a certain ability to not take yourself so seriously on stage, and otherwise and, you know, have the courage to, kind of, tear down what you are doing.
CBGB's, infamously packed to the gills with A&R, like heavy, heavy A&R people. This was like when "Hootenanny" came out. And rather than what I would have done, you know, it's like, get really nervous and go on stage and try to put on the best show that you can, you know. What they did is they just got absolutely wasted.
STEWART: Rip-snorting drunk.
Mr. MELOY: And then played a bunch of covers, like, half-remembered covers, all the way through. And to have the courage to tear your career apart like that is really impressive, not that I've come close to doing things like that. But I don't know that I would ever actually do that.
STEWART: One of the other projects the Decemberists have been involved in is the theme song for one of my favorite shows, "Weeds."
Mr. MELOY: Oh, yeah.
(Soundbite of song "Little Boxes")
Mr. MELOY: (Singing) Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky-tacky, Little boxes, little boxes, Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one, And a blue one, and a yellow one. And they're all made out of ticky-tacky, And they all look just the same.
STEWART: Did the producers contact you? And were you aware that they have different artists for the theme song each week?
Mr. MELOY: Yeah. Somebody contacted our management and they asked us, and we went online and looked at some of the other people who have done them. And I really liked the original song. So, yeah, and everybody's kind of taken their different stab at it. So we, kind of, turned it into a dirge.
STEWART: For people who don't know the show, it's about this woman who is widowed, and to make ends meet, she becomes a weed dealer in the, sort of, perfectly manicured McMansion-like cul-de-sac. Did you watch the show before you recorded that?
Mr. MELOY: Yeah, I haven't watched it regularly, but I saw a few episodes.
STEWART: Did you bring anything, after watching the show, to the cover of it? Or were you just into the music of it all?
Mr. MELOY: I think we were just getting into the music of it all. I don't think we were really reading into it. I mean, I guess you could say, you know, the major key part is about the veneer and the minor key part is about what's going on underneath, which is obviously a major theme of that show.
Mr. MELOY: In case you didn't get that.
STEWART: And I have to ask this or else I'll be stoned by NPR listeners, or I'll at least be scolded badly, because your album, "The Crane Wife," was the best album of 2006, voted by NPR listenership. So are you working on a new record? When can we expect a new record? What's going on?
Mr. MELOY: Yeah, well, we have - we just recorded a handful of songs that we're not quite sure what we're going to do with, but we have two months blocked out in the summer to work on a project.
And what that project will be is still sort of up in the air. But it - you know, it may - I don't know, it'll be a Decemberists record as, you know, but probably a very different one. That's all I can really say at this point.
STEWART: I tried, everybody. I tried. Before I let you go, can you play one more song for us?
Mr. MELOY: Oh, sure. All right. This is "A Cautionary Song."
(Soundbite of song "A Cautionary Song")
Mr. MELOY: (Singing) There's a place your mother goes When everybody else is soundly sleeping, Through the lights of Beacon Street. And if you listen, you can hear her weeping.
She's weeping, 'cause the gentlemen are calling, And the snow is softly falling on her petticoats. And she's standing in the harbor, And she's waiting for the sailors in the jolly boat. See how they approach.
With dirty hands and trousers torn they grapple 'Til she's safe within their keeping. A gag is placed between her lips to keep Her sorry tongue from any speaking, or screaming.
And they row her out to packets Where the sailor's sorry racket Calls for maidenhead, And she's scarce above the gunnels When her clothes fall to a bundle, And she's laid in bed on the upper deck.
La de da da, de da-ah, la de de da, de da-ah, la de de da, de da-ah.
And so she goes from ship to ship, Her ankles clasped her arms so rudely pinioned. Until at last she's satisfied The lot of the marina's teeming minions, in their opinions.
And they tell her not to say a thing To cousin, kindred, Kith or kin Or she'll end up dead.
And they throw her thirty dollars, And return her to the harbor, Where she goes to bed, And this is how you're fed.
So be kind to your mother, Though she may seem an awful bother, And the next time she tries to feed you collard greens, Remember what she does when you're asleep.
STEWART: Do you like collard greens?
Mr. MELOY: Oh, I hate them.
MARTIN: I love them.
Mr. MELOY: Oh, you do? I can't stand them.
MARTIN: Maybe you have to have them made right.
Mr. MELOY: Maybe so.
MARTIN: Next time you come to New York, I'll hook you up.
Mr. MELOY: OK.
MARTIN: Colin Meloy, thanks for stopping by NPR.
Mr. MELOY: Thank you for having me.
RACHEL MARTIN, host:
Caught you mid-gulp!
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: Stay with us. Coming up on the BPP, Chris Rock's mom is here to lay down the law. She's got a new book on raising kids and she's going to give my friend Alison some tips as she heads out on maternity leave. This is The Bryant Park Project from NPR News.
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