Those words, uttered in an interview, rippled across the Twitterverse and left many with the impression that Meloy’s band, The Decemberists, are breaking up.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” Meloy said Saturday on his tour bus in the parking lot behind Bonnaroo’s big stage. “With this record I feel we have a whole world in front of us with plenty of options and I’m excited to continue writing music for The Decemberists and performing with The Decemberists.”
He just wants to do something else for a while.
Driven by a powerful lead song, “Down by the Water,” that featured harmony from Gillian Welch, The King is Dead hit No. 1 earlier this year, a rare feat for an indie folk rock band known for its challenging material. A top-selling record is often a bonanza for a band and the impulse is to tour nonstop to capitalize on the opportunity.
Yet The Decemberists will wind down touring in August and won’t tour in the fall. Instead Meloy, who calls himself “compulsively creative,” will begin promoting his new illustrated young adult book “Wildwood,” the first in a fantasy series for HarperCollins he plans to produce with his wife, the artist Carson Ellis. The book idea predates The Decemberists when Meloy worked in a pizza place and played open mic gigs and Ellis worked in a bar and painted in her free time.
“I’ve managed to pull it off over the last year and a half but it owes a lot to chance and luck and, thankfully, some creative epiphanies,” Meloy said. “I think it would water down both things if I tried to do them at the same time.”
He also would like to write a musical and tackle a studio project or two during this ... quiet period? And he wants to spend more time at home to be with his son, Hank, who is autistic.
The other members of the Portland, Ore.-based band have things to focus on as well. Founding accordion and keyboard player Jenny Conlee was diagnosed with breast cancer this spring and sat out the band’s summer dates.
“We’re just glad we’re at the point where she has insurance and some flexibility so she has time to do the treatments and come out the other side better,” Meloy said.
Conlee also is in the dark, experimental bluegrass band Black Prairie with Decemberists bandmates Nate Query and Chris Funk, and that group expects to produce new material while Meloy works on his projects.
Long waits for new songs are nothing new to fans of The Decemberists. It took three years between the band’s complicated breakthrough, The Crane Wife, and the 2009 release of Hazards of Love. It took another two years for The King is Dead to come out. Fans waited patiently and were rewarded with something a little different.
“Going into this it felt right to sit down and write some simple, pretty songs, but as it turns out the simple, pretty songs in this day and age are what people are into,” Meloy said.
And he thinks they’ll be waiting for more after ... time away?
“I just assume that they’ll still be there in three years,” Meloy said. “And also we’re not a band that’s afraid to take risks, and if this seems risky it doesn’t really bother me. I think we’ve taken bigger risks in the past. I’m just following my whim and I think that’s what The Decemberists have been all along, and I think that’s why we have our audience.”