The Decemberists

The Decemberists

The Decemberists, playing live at the 2006 Sasquatch! Music Festival
Background information
Origin Portland, Oregon, United States
Genres Indie rock, folk rock, art rock, baroque pop,[1] progressive rock, alt-country
Years active 2000–present
Labels Kill Rock Stars, Capitol, Hush Records
Colin Meloy
Chris Funk
Jenny Conlee
Nate Query
John Moen
Past members
Jesse Emerson
Ezra Holbrook
Rachel Blumberg
David Langenes
Petra Haden

The Decemberists are an indie folk rock band from Portland, Oregon, United States, fronted by singer/songwriter Colin Meloy. The other members of the band are Chris Funk (guitar, multi-instrumentalist), Jenny Conlee (Hammond organ, accordion, melodica, piano, keyboards, harmonica), Nate Query (bass guitar, string bass), and John Moen (drums, backing vocals, melodica, guitar).

The band's debut EP, 5 Songs, was self-released in 2001. Their sixth full-length album, The King Is Dead, was released on 14 January 2011, by Capitol Records. It was the band's third record with the label.

In addition to their lyrics, which often focus on historical incidents and/or folklore, The Decemberists are also well known for their eclectic live shows. Audience participation is often a part of each performance, typically during encores. The band stages whimsical reenactments of sea battles and other centuries-old events, typically of regional interest, or acts out songs with members of the crowd. During their European tour in the winter of 2010, the band performed "The Mariner's Revenge Song" at the conclusion of each date. The audience was encouraged to scream as if they were being consumed by a whale mentioned in the track's narrative while the band pretended to die on stage.[2]


Musical style

Conlee playing accordion, with organs and other instruments nearby

The band's songs range from upbeat pop to instrumentally lush ballads, and often employ instruments like the accordion, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer organ, and upright bass. In its lyrics, the band eschews the angst and introspection common to modern rock, instead favoring a storytelling approach, as evidenced in songs such as "My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist" from the 5 Songs EP and "The Mariner's Revenge Song" on Picaresque. The band's songs convey tales ranging from whimsical ("The Sporting Life") to epic ("The Tain") to dark ("Odalisque"), and often invoke historical events and themes from around the world ("Yankee Bayonet").


On their website, the band claims that their official drink is Orangina, that they love the video-game Bioshock and "adore" the bands Norfolk & Western, Explosions In The Sky, The Postal Service, The Long Winters, Death Cab for Cutie, Dokken, Ulrich Schnauss, El Ten Eleven, The Shins, The Octopus Project, Electrelane, Camera Obscura, Clearlake, Tom Heinl, The Thermals, Modest Mouse, Swords and Earlimart. The band's official biography, keeping up their reputation for grandiloquence, also describes how they met in a Turkish bath. A footnote following the biography claims, "The Decemberists travel exclusively by Dr. Herring's Brand Dirigible Balloons." Colin Meloy has listed Anne Briggs, Nic Jones, and Shirley Collins – who led the 1960s British folk revival – as major influences on The Hazards of Love. Meloy has also confessed a "slavish love" for Morrissey, one of his principal influences.[3] The band has also cited their liking for Siouxsie and the Banshees,[4] and the pop tunes of R.E.M. and XTC. The band also draws inspiration from British and Irish folk music.[5]


2000: Formation

The Decemberists formed in the year 2000 when Colin Meloy left his band Tarkio in Montana and moved to Portland, Oregon. There he met Nate Query, who introduced Meloy to Jenny Conlee (they had played together in the band Calobo) and the three scored a silent film together. Playing a solo show prior to meeting Query, Meloy met Chris Funk. Funk was a fan of Tarkio and played pedal steel on the first two Decemberists releases, not "officially" becoming a member until the third effort. The band's first drummer, Ezra Holbrook, was replaced by Rachel Blumberg after Castaways and Cutouts. The band's name refers to the Decembrist revolt, an 1825 revolt in Imperial Russia that Meloy views as an attempted communist revolution.[6] 5 Songs, the band's debut EP, was self-released by the band in 2001. The members at that time played for several hours in McMenamins hotel the night before to raise the money needed to record in the studio the next day. This originally served as a demo tape and the five songs on it (minus "The Apology Song") were recorded in under two hours.

2003–2005: Kill Rock Stars

After releasing its first full record Castaways and Cutouts on Hush Records, the band moved onto the Kill Rock Stars recording label. After the re-release of Castaways, Her Majesty the Decemberists was released in 2003. In 2004, the band released "The Tain," an eighteen-and-a-half minute single track based on the Irish mythological epic Táin Bó Cúailnge. The band's final album with Kill Rock Stars was Picaresque, which was recorded in a former church.

In March 2005, the band distributed a music video via BitTorrent, the self-produced "16 Military Wives" (from Picaresque).[7] In the same month, the band's equipment trailer was stolen;[8] fans contributed to a replacement fund, and another fundraiser was organized via an eBay auction, with buyers bidding for copies of Colin Meloy Sings Morrissey and original artwork by Carson Ellis. The band also received help from Lee Kruger, the Shins, the Dandy Warhols, and other musicians. The Martin Guitar Company offered 6- and 12-string guitars on permanent loan. In early April, police discovered the trailer and a portion of the band's merchandise in Clackamas, Oregon, but the instruments and equipment were not recovered.[9]

2005: Capitol Records debut

On December 12, 2005, Meloy revealed to Pitchfork Media that the band had signed to Capitol Records, and planned to begin recording their major label debut with producers Tucker Martine and Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie) in April 2006.[10] The band's first album on Capitol, The Crane Wife, was released on October 3, 2006.[11] The release was accompanied by an appearance the same day on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, during which the band performed "O Valencia!". The supporting tour (called "The Rout of the Patagons Tour") began on October 17, 2006, at Portland, Oregon's Crystal Ballroom. The opening act was Lavender Diamond. Later in the tour, Alasdair Roberts opened for the band. NPR listeners voted The Crane Wife their favorite album of 2006, as announced on the December 5 episode of All Songs Considered.[12]

2006: Green screen music video

In November 2006, the band encouraged fans to create a music video for the single "O Valencia!" using footage of the band in front of a green screen. On his Comedy Central program, Stephen Colbert started a mock feud with the band, claiming his "green screen challenge" came first;[13] the band countered that its 2005 on-stage lightsaber fight in San Francisco preceded Colbert's idea.[14] The feud culminated in a December 20 guitar solo competition[14] on Colbert's show, with lead guitarist Funk representing the band. After Colbert feigned a hand injury, Peter Frampton took over for Colbert and won an audience vote. Show guests got involved, with New York Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer and Dr. Henry Kissinger declaring, "Tonight, I think the American people won." The prize for winning the challenge was revealed to be a copy of The Crane Wife. According to Meloy, the Colbert challenge was not scripted, though the band was told that Frampton would step in for Colbert.[15]

2007: "A Bit of Grass-Stain Does Not a Ruined Pair of Jeans Make" tour

In July 2007, the band embarked on a five-date tour with a full orchestral accompaniment. On July 7, the tour put the band on the stage of the historic Hollywood Bowl for the first time, pairing them with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.[16] On July 15, the band performed with The Mann Festival Orchestra at The Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they debuted a new song.[17] The band then played a free concert in Chicago at the Millennium Park with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra.

On October 6, 2007, the band announced the cancellation of the remainder of their European tour, citing the ill health of a band member. On November 1, 2007, the band further canceled the remaining 28 shows of their "Long and Short of It" tour.[18]

2008: Always the Bridesmaid

The members of The Decemberists appeared, individually billed (as "Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and John Moen"), to perform in support of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at a rally at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon, on May 18, 2008. On October 14, 2008 the band began releasing a series of singles called Always the Bridesmaid; a volume was released every month until the end of the year. The band also took up a limited tour in support of the singles, including an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

2009: The Hazards of Love

The Hazards of Love was released on March 24, 2009 on Capitol Records, under Red Light Management (Jason Colton and Ron Laffitte).[19] It was made available for download on iTunes one week earlier, on March 17, 2009. The track "The Rake's Song" was put up for download on The Decemberists website in advance of the album's release. During Meloy's 2008 U.S. tour, he played several new songs that were included on the album. The album was produced by Tucker Martine.[20]

In a post on Rolling Stone's "Rock 'n' Roll Daily" blog, the band revealed more details about the album. The original plan was for The Hazards of Love to be a staged musical. However, it seems that the story was "unstagable" in such a format. Instead the band played the entire album start to finish at each concert on the spring tour.[21] A press release read: "The album began when Meloy – long fascinated by the British folk revival of the 1960s – found a copy of revered vocalist Anne Briggs's 1966 EP, titled The Hazards of Love. Since there was no actual song with the album’s title, he set out to write one, but was soon immersed in something much larger. The Hazards of Love tells the tale of a woman named Margaret; her shape-shifting lover, William; his fey forest queen mother; and a cold-blooded, lascivious rake, who recounts with spine-tingling ease how he came "to be living so easy and free" in "The Rake's Song". Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden deliver the lead vocals for the female characters, while My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Robyn Hitchcock and The Spinanes’ Rebecca Gates appear in supporting roles. The range of sounds reflects the characters’ arcs, from the accordion’s singsong lilt in “Isn’t it a Lovely Night?” to the heavy metal thunder of 'The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing.'"

On February 9, 2009, the Decemberists announced in a newsletter to fans that they would be embarking on the first leg of the "A Short Fazed Hovel" Tour 2009 starting on May 19 in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Palladium. The newsletter included a complete list of dates for the first leg of the tour ending on June 14 at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. On Monday April 27, the band performed a shortened version of "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid" on The Colbert Report.

On September 19, 2009, The Decemberists played a "lottery show", originally billed as a "by request" show,[22] at Terminal 5 in New York City. The setlist was composed of songs drawn from a large bingo turner kept on stage. The master of ceremonies for the evening was singer/songwriter John Wesley Harding and the opening act was Laura Veirs and the Hall of Flames. Some of the songs in the setlist included, but were not limited to, "July, July!", "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)", "The Tain I-V", "Annan Water", "The Crane Wife 3" and "The Island/Come and See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Feel The Drowning", and an original song, as a bingo ball suggested, called "Miracle on the Hudson".[23][24][25]

In 2009, The Decemberists also contributed the song "Sleepless" to the AIDS benefit album Dark Was the Night produced by the Red Hot Organization.

2010/2011: The King Is Dead

The Decemberists remained off tour as they embarked on a new studio album. On September 4, 2010, the band opened for Neko Case and the headliner, Bob Dylan, the first day of the Bumbershoot Arts and Music Festival in Seattle, WA. There they announced that they were wrapping up a new album before debuting three of the upcoming album's tracks. The King Is Dead was released on January 14, 2011 with Peter Buck of R.E.M. appearing on three tracks. Colin Meloy has noted that R.E.M. was an inspiration on some of the songs.

However, in a Twitter announcement on November 2, 2010, Colin Meloy confirmed that The King Is Dead would be released on January 18, 2011. "Down by the Water," a track from the new album, was released via the band's official site on November 2, and was immediately available on iTunes as a free download. The King Is Dead debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 in the United States upon its release.

As compared to The Decemberists' previous work, The King Is Dead is more influenced by genres including country, blues, and folk.[26]

The Decemberists' "Popes of Pendarvia World Tour" began with a show on January 25, 2011 at Beacon Theatre in New York City.[27] The tour, which included engagements throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe, ended on August 26 at the McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale, Ore., according The Decemberists' official website.[28]

On May 3, 2011, it was announced on The Decemberists official site[29] that Jenny Conlee had been diagnosed with breast cancer.[30] and would miss most of the band's 2011 tour dates while recovering.[31]

In August 2011, The Decemberists released an eight-song set on iTunes featuring six previously released tracks and two new covers: Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” and the Fruit Bats’ “When U Love Somebody.”

In late August 2011, The Decemberists debuted a new music video for their track entitled "Calamity Song". The video depicts a game, played on a tennis court by children, of thermonuclear war as described in the "Eschaton" scene of David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest.[32]

Colin Meloy has said the band will take a multi-year hiatus once the touring cycle for The King Is Dead ends. The band released the outtake EP Long Live the King to cap off this period of activity.


Colin Meloy
Chris Funk
Jenny Conlee
Nate Query
John Moen



  • Ezra Holbrook (also of Dr. Theopolis) – 5 Songs and Castaways and Cutouts (drums, backing vocals), The Crane Wife (backing vocals)
  • Jesse Emerson (bass guitar) – Her Majesty
  • Rachel Blumberg (drums, vocals) – Her Majesty, Billy Liar single, The Tain, and Picaresque
  • David Langenes (guitar)
  • Petra Haden (violin, vocals) – Picaresque, also supporting musician for the Picaresque tour.
  • Lisa Molinaro (viola, guitar, keyboards, vocals) – supporting musician for The Crane Wife tours


  • Laura Veirs – duet vocals on 'Yankee Bayonet' on The Crane Wife and The Long and Short of It Tour
  • Shara Worden – duet vocals on 'Yankee Bayonet' for live performances in 2007. Sings vocals as the character of The Forest Queen on The Hazards of Love and the "A Short Fazed Hovel Tour"
  • Becky Stark – vocals as the character of Margaret on The Hazards of Love and the "A Short Fazed Hovel Tour"
  • Gillian Welch – duet vocals, several songs on 'the King is Dead'
  • Peter Buck – mandolin on "Don't Carry It All", 12-string guitar on "Calamity Song" and "Down by the Water" on The King Is Dead.


Studio albums

Year Album details Peak chart positions
2002 Castaways and Cutouts
2003 Her Majesty the Decemberists
2005 Picaresque 135
2006 The Crane Wife 35
2009 The Hazards of Love 14 50
2011 The King Is Dead 1 30 24
"—" denotes a title that did not chart, or was not released in that territory.


Title Date Label
5 Songs 2001 Independent Release, reissued on Hush Records
The Tain March 4, 2004 Acuarela Discos
Picaresqueties September 13, 2005 Kill Rock Stars
Connect Sets November 17, 2006 Sony Connect Exclusive
Live from SoHo January 16, 2007 iTunes exclusive
Live At Bull Moose[35] April 16, 2011 Capitol Records, for Record Store Day 2011
The Decemberists August 2, 2011 iTunes exclusive
Long Live the King[36] November 1, 2011 Capitol Records


Title Date Label
"Billy Liar" September 14, 2004 Kill Rock Stars
"Sixteen Military Wives" November 21, 2005 Kill Rock Stars
"O Valencia!" September 19, 2006 Rough Trade / Capitol
"The Perfect Crime #2" September 26, 2007 Capitol Records
"Always the Bridesmaid: Volume I" October 14, 2008 Capitol Records
"Always the Bridesmaid: Volume II" November 4, 2008 Capitol Records
"Always the Bridesmaid: Volume III" December 2, 2008 Capitol Records
"The Rake's Song" April 18, 2009[37] Capitol Records
"Down By the Water" November 12, 2010 Capitol Records
"January Hymn / Row Jimmy"[citation needed] December 14, 2010 Capitol Records
"This Is Why We Fight" January 25, 2011[38] Capitol Records


Title Date Label
Dark Was The Night February 16, 2009 4AD
Metro: The Official Bootleg Series, Volume 1 July 25, 2010


Title Date Label
The Decemberists: A Practical Handbook March 20, 2007 Kill Rock Stars


  1. ^ Brian Wise (2007-06-24). "Segue From ‘Gigi’ to Geek-Chic Rock". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  2. ^ Steven McCarron and Brandon Hartley, Unfold Magazine, "The Decemberists", 6 April 2011
  3. ^ Tasha Robinson, AV Club, "The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy", 31 March 2009
  4. ^ Pitchforkmedia, Decemberists interview by Colin Meloy, posted September 15, 2006 "The Last Beat of My Heart", It's one of my favorite Siouxsie and the Banshees songs
  5. ^ "Pitchforkmedia, interview by Brian Howe, posted October 30, 2006". 2006-10-30. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  6. ^ Gene Armstrong (June 17, 2004). "On Behalf of Orangina: The Decemberists perform their dramatic, literary alt-rock, with orangina soda in tow". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 2006-10-10. 
  7. ^ "Rockers Flex BitTorrent's Muscle". Wired News. March 23, 2005.,1412,66969,00.html. 
  8. ^ "Decemberists Shipwrecked By Pirates". CMJ. 22 March 2005. 
  9. ^ Hunt, Pete. Thieves Who Took the Decemberists' Gear. Willamette Week, March 23, 2005.
  10. ^ Exclusive: The Decemberists Sign to Capitol Records. Pitchfork. Retrieved on November 6, 2007.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "All Songs Considered". NPR. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  13. ^ Maher, Dave (2006-11-30). "Video: Stephen Colbert Vs. The Decemberists". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  14. ^ a b Matthew, Solarski (2006-11-30). "Exclusive: Decemberists Counterchallenge Colbert!!". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  15. ^ "Colin Meloy of The Decemberists". National Public Radio. 2007-01-29. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  16. ^ Peters, Mitchell (2007-04-20). "Decemberists Get Orchestra Treatment On Tour". Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  17. ^ Decemberists at the Mann Center in Philadelphia- New Song. YouTube. Retrieved November 6, 2007.
  18. ^ Decemberists cancel 28 shows due to illness. Retrieved on November 6, 2007.
  19. ^ "The Hazards of Love (The Decemberists, cover art) at" (PDF). Capitol Records. 2009. 
  20. ^ Austin L. Ray (2009-04-06). "Decemberists' Colin Meloy talks Hazards of Love :: Music :: News :: Paste". Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  21. ^ By Rolling Stone (2008-11-18). "In the Studio: The Decemberists Return With Fairy-Tale Album | Rolling Stone Music". Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  22. ^ at 10:44 AM (2009-08-19). "Decemberists playing 'By Lottery' in NYC & other new dates". Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  23. ^ "The Decemberists Lottery Show w/ Laura Veirs - September 21, 2009 - New York, NY". Rockscope. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  24. ^ at 3:13 AM (2009-09-23). "The Decemberists & Laura Veirs w/ lotto master John Wesley Harding @ Terminal 5 in NYC - pics & setlist". Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  25. ^ "The Decemberists Concert Setlist at Terminal 5, New York on September 19, 2009". Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  26. ^ Meatto, Keith. The Decemberists in January – A Review of The King is Dead. Frontier Psychiatrist
  27. ^ "The Decemberists Reveal 2011 Tour, Play Montreal, Toronto". 
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Jenny Conlee Diagnosed With Breast Cancer". 
  31. ^ "Decemberists keyboardist Jenny Conlee diagnosed with breast cancer". 
  32. ^ "First Watch: The Decemberists, 'Calamity Song'". 
  33. ^ Steffen Hung. "Discography The Decemberists". Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  34. ^ "DECEMBERISTS - The Official Charts Company". 2011-01-29. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  35. ^ "SpecialRelease". Record Store Day. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  36. ^ Template:Http://
  37. ^ "Decemberists, The - The Rake's Song (7", Ltd) at Discogs". 
  38. ^ Praxis Media. "Radio1 Rodos Greece ::: USA Forthcoming Singles ::: Charts, DJ Promos, Dance, Lyrics, Free Mp3 Samples Downloads". Retrieved 2011-07-20. 

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