Interview: No 'Hazards' here: The Decemberists mesh a whole new sound

decemberistsRich literary experiments drive The Decemberists' sound.

Nobody thought it could be done, but the Decemberists have out-Decemberisted themselves, as it were. Their most recent album, Hazards Of Love, one-ups even 2006's The Crane Wife in large-scale form and thematic unity, spending the whole hour on one storyline instead of splitting it in half. Frontman and principal songwriter Colin Meloy is a famously brainy aficionado of both folk tales and folk music, a combination which points quite accurately to the band's center of gravity, and he shared both his love of bedtime stories and his disdain for rhyming dictionaries when we interviewed him last year shortly after the band signed with Red Light Management. Now, guitarist Chris Funk, who admits the songs can be "dense, not easily accessible," gives us some insight into what it's like to co-pilot the band with the highest average SAT scores in indie rock.

The Hook: How has the band grown over the years?
Chris Funk: Well, more people come to our concerts, our sound has evolved into more realized records, there's more instrumentation, and as we've plodded along, there's more confidence in Colin's songwriting.

The Hook: The narrative stuff, in particular?
CF: Initially, it was just messing around with the idea of "indie-songwriting." You can see the traditions of our songs in folk music, and there have obviously been a lot of strong character writing in rock music–- The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks–- instead of writing another love song, maybe we'll write songs in a narrative form. We're trying to do something we thought was a bit different from our peers.

The Hook: What do those literary leanings look like from behind the scenes?
CF: We don't sit around and talk about books that often, we're just average people, not that exciting. I'm the least bookish of the bunch–- Jenny, John, Nate, Colin all read like crazy, but it just makes me antsy. If I have the time to read, I have the time to do music.

The Hook: Why do you think people should listen, if not for the stories?
CF: I don't know why you should be listening to us, and I don't think I care... I think if you have an interest in music in general, in different genres–- rock, folk, indie, contemporary rock music–- there's probably something for you. The lyrics are interesting enough that people can let it blow by or dig deeper into the story that's happening. It's not just "I kissed a girl and I liked it"–- you can't immediately grab a lyric from our songs. Some people think that's totally f**king annoying, that there are big words and what's wrong with that pretentious a**hole.

The Hook: Well, isn't that a common criticism? That The Decemberists are too pretentious?
CF: I don't know what that means–- people get confused with Colin onstage. He's actually trying to be funny and make fun of pretentious people. This is theater, and it's always theater no matter who you are or what band you're in.

The Decemberists perform at the Charlottesville Pavilion on 9/24. Laura Veirs & the Hall of Flames opens. The show starts at 7:00 pm and tickets are $25.