Naming yourself after an unfinished Tolstoy novel and composing a rock opera would seem like unlikely steps on the road to success nowadays. That is unless you happen to be the Decemberists. The indie folk combo hails from Portland, Oregon and was formed in 2000. After initially releasing their first full-length debut album, Castaways and Cutouts on Hush Records, the heavily Fairport Convention-influenced folk rockers signed to the Kill Rock Stars label who reissued the band’s debut and provided a more international platform for the Decemberists’ eclectic, literary, musical inspirations.
The Decemberists were founded by singer Colin Meloy and their current lineup is comprised of Meloy along with multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk, keyboardist Jenny Conlee, bassist Nate Query and drummer John Moen. The band has always drawn heavily from the past when it comes to their musical and lyrical content and even their live shows. Onstage the band often encourages audience participation and they are prone to cheekily reenacting sea battles and other historical events related to the region where they are appearing in. The band released two subsequent albums on Kill Rock Stars, 2003’s Her Majesty and 2005’s Picaresque, before moving up to the majors and signing with Capitol.
Their next album, 2006’s The Crane Wife, hit no. 35 in the Billboard top 200 and garnered the band a more widespread fan base. The band spent the next several years touring and working on their rock opera, The Hazards of Love. That work eventually surfaced in 2009 and featured a guest appearance from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James among others. The band’s most recent album, The King is Dead, features a guest appearance from R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and perhaps surprisingly made its debut at no. 1 on the Billboard charts.
The Decemberists display their typical Celtic folk pop influences, while using historical artifices to make a contemporary statement about child soldiers in this video clip for “This Is Why We Fight” from The King is Dead.