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This article is from Issue 50: Mar/Apr 2011

The Decemberists

Talking belief, politics and making people care about your relationship with your mom.

Film director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) gave a TED lecture on the power of storytelling, saying, “We are the stories we tell ourselves.” This philosophy has its holes when you try to move from mere affirmation to an attempt at actual transformation.

Yes, people can boost their self-esteem—but positive affirmation alone can’t turn someone into a pirate, an old-fashioned gangster or a dream architect. Unless, of course, you’re Colin Meloy, lead singer and lyricist for The Decemberists.

Meloy has etched out a name for himself since The Decemberists’ first EP, 5 Songs, debuted in 2001. The six-song collection could best be called quirky, but it was a modest beginning. Trapped in a whale? Transforming spouses to birds? Just another day at the office for the Portland-based quintet, which also includes Chris Funk (multi-instrumentalist), Jenny Conlee (keys/accordion), Nate Query (bass) and John Moen (drums).

Despite his band’s larger-than-life appeal, Meloy—who studied writing at the University of Montana—sees The Decemberists’ mission as a simple one: communicating meaning through common themes, no matter how bizarre they might seem. “If you’re writing a memoir and you’re talking about your relationship with your mother, the reader doesn’t care about your relationship with your mother,” he explains. “The reader cares about their relationship with their mother. So it’s important if you’re writing in anything from your own mind, you feel like people will connect with it, that it’s important, the voice is open-ended enough that people will be able to apply their own experience to it.”