Artist profile: The Decemberists

When you think of the traditional rock band, you probably think of a four-piece band with guitar, bass, drums and a vocalist. Portland rockers The Decemberists have made a niche for themselves, even amongst other indie rock acts, by using instruments like piano, accordion, the Hammond organ and the upright bass.

They formed in 2000 when front man Colin Meloy left his previous group Tarkio and moved from Montana to Portland, Oregon where he met future bassist Nate Query. Query introduced Meloy to future multi-instrumentalist Jenny Conlee and the three of them wrote the score to a silent film together. From there, they added guitarist Chris Funk and drummer John Moen.

Their first full-length record Castaways and Cutouts gained little attention, but established their sound as something innovative. After switching record labels and re-releasing Castaways and Cutouts, they released Her Majesty the Decemberists in 2003, but still gained little attention.

It wasn’t until their release of Picaresque in 2005 that the band gained any notoriety. The band used peer to peer torrent website BitTorrent to get their music video for their single “16 Military Wives” out in the open. In the same month as the release of the video, the band suffered a setback when their equipment trailer was stolen. Fans helped contribute to a replacement fund and bands like The Shins and The Dandy Warhols also pitched in.

With their equipment replenished, the band released The Crane Wife in 2006 on different record label. The same night as the album release, the band performed “O Valencia” on “Late Night with Conan O’ Brien,” firmly planting them on the national music scene. NPR listeners voted The Crane Wife as their favorite album of 2006, proving they had a dedicated fan base.

They expanded their exposure yet again by performing the same single on “The Colbert Report.”

In 2008, the band released a set of singles titled “Always a Bridesmaid”. The single came in three volumes and was not released on any album. They embarked on a limited tour to promote the singles which involved another performance on “Late Night with Conan O’ Brien.”

The Decemberists’ biggest success to date has been the release of The Hazards of Love which received 4 out of 5 stars from Rolling Stone. The album was inspired by 1960’s British Folk revivalist Annie Briggs 1966 EP of the same name. The albums success landed them another performance on “The Colbert Report” and a performance at The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, a Mecca of music festivals that did wonders for their exposure.

Currently, The Decemberists are on tour with Andrew Bird and Blind Pilot and will be performing at Marymoor Park on Friday, July 17 as part of the Marymoor summer concert lineup.

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