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"O Valencia!" is a heartbreaking tale of undying love, enduring enmity, and uh, untimely death.
That may sound more like a Shakespearean tragedy or daytime soap opera than a pop song, but epic themes and literary songwriting are what Decemberists fans have come to expect from songwriter Colin Meloy and company.
These fans also know that even after just one listen, the band's severely infectious melodies and hooks get in their heads and keep them humming, no matter what unexpected twists and turns the lyrics take. "O Valencia!" is a great example of these qualities, so it's a perfect specimen to examine to help us learn more about this indie rock powerhouse.
|Producer(s)||Christopher Walla, Tucker Martine|
|Musician(s)||Colin Meloy (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Chris Funk (lead guitar), Jenny Conlee (piano, background vocals, glockenspiel), Nate Query (bass), John Moen (drums)|
|Learn to play|
|Album||The Crane Wife|
Lead guitarist Chris Funk said of the Decemberists that "we're one of the only bands you read about where we just talk about our influences—or we don't try to mask it." (Source) With that in mind, we'll let some of the band members speak for themselves.
Colin Meloy in an A.V. Club interview:
Hearing R.E.M. for the first time was as much of a watershed moment as anything else that's happened for me, creatively, in my life. My uncle, who was in college in Eugene, sent me a tape of this local band that he really liked, and he had some space at the end of Side B. And he put on R.E.M.'s 'Superman,' The Replacements' 'I Will Dare,' Hüsker Dü's 'Hardly Getting Over It,' and I think a Guadalcanal Diary song, and [The Smiths'] 'The Queen Is Dead.' I think those five songs probably changed my headspace and the way I thought not only about music, but about being a creative person—I think it changed things completely. From that point on, I found a musical identity that I really loved. (Source)
Chris Funk in a Time Out Boston interview:
We all like indie rock. When the band first started, we all listened to stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel, Belle and Sebastian and Yo La Tengo. And Jenny [Conlee] and Nate [Query] are into jazz and classical. It's really all over the place. (Source)
It might be too early to know which bands have been influenced the most by the Decemberists, but their sound is certainly familiar to a lot of the players in the current indie rock scene.
Colin Meloy, Let It Be, 33 1/3 Series (2004)
For the 33 1/3 book series, where a classic indie/alternative/underground album is discussed at length by an author who was profoundly affected by it, Meloy wrote about the Replacements' Let It Be.
Colin Meloy, Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I (2011)
Meloy's first widely published work of fiction is a book for kids. It's about a small girl who has to rescue her brother from a group of crows who have abducted him and taken him in the wilderness outside Portland, Oregon.
Castaways and Cutouts (2002)
The Decemberists' debut album showcases the old-fashioned storytelling, catchy pop melodies, and extensive vocabulary the band has become known for.
Her Majesty (2003)
The band builds on the promise of their first album and delivers another record of solid indie-pop.
Possibly the most fully realized and certainly the most musically dense of the Decemberists' first three albums, Picaresque is still a fan favorite.
The Crane Wife (2006)
The album "O Valencia!" appears on is the first that the band recorded and released on a major-label budget. The album includes two tracks that clock in at more than 12 minutes.
The Hazards of Love (2009)
First conceived as a musical that was later abandoned, The Hazards of Love is a very ambitious record that tells a complicated, fairy-tale-like love story.
The King Is Dead (2011)
After getting all that complicated storytelling out of their system, the Decemberists team up with folk favorite Gillian Welch to produce what is probably the most lyrically straightforward album in their discography.
Most images you find of the band have them dressed up in costume-like outfits with dramatic expressions on their faces. This one is no different, and they throw in an umbrella with dangly things coming down from it and a painted background of a volcano (or possibly just a mountain with a cloud over it).
The band sitting in a field of small yellow flowers.
Here's our songwriter looking a little grizzly.
Stephen Colbert vs. The Decemberists
In 2009, the Decemberists angered Colbert by allegedly copying his green screen challenge. After the Comedy Central host expressed his severe discontent and challenged his viewers to insert him into a Decemberists video, the band challenged Colbert to a guitar battle, which he accepted.
Official Decemberists Website
Get tour dates, albums, Decemberists water bottles, and all sorts of band-related information here.
Interview with Colin Meloy
An interview with Meloy by the A.V. Club has him explaining his influences as well as the Decemberists' distinct style.
Interview with Chris Funk
A 2006 interview with the Decemberists' lead guitarist Chris Funk on Tiny Mix Tapes. Luckily, that's a website and not a format, so you don't need to go out and buy a tiny cassette player.
"O Valencia!" Music Video
Two ill-fated lovers meet at a hotel and are dealt their terrible fates by amusingly named gangs.
Colin Meloy on Fresh Air
NPR interviewer Terry Gross talks to Colin Meloy about The Crane Wife, his songwriting, Colbert, and plenty of other interesting topics.