By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
"The first review mentioned [Neutral Milk Hotel], and it sort of spread like wildfire from there," Meloy says. "I also think some people really wanted somebody to come up and take Neutral Milk Hotel's place, because there's been an absence there. It's definitely been an influence, but I think what we do is pretty different. Our writing styles may have some of the same elements in them, but I'm borrowing as much from Robyn Hitchcock and the Pogues." While NMH slathers lyrics in metaphor and alternate realities -- tales of two-headed boys and the king of carrot flowers -- Meloy's work simply hearkens back a century or two. He sings of dungarees and petticoats, legionnaires and revolutionaries. They are theatrical songs, with a dash of the slaphappy show tune. "I'm a huge Sondheim fan. Closeted," admits Meloy. "Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals. I grew up involved with the community theater and as far as storytelling goes, musical theater is where that is done and done well." Her Majesty the Decemberists could almost be considered the songbook for a smart, postmodern musical: part Oliver!, part Les Mis, part Sweeney Todd. Absolutely no Rent.
Meloy studied acting at the University of Oregon before transferring to Montana. He is, in short, a theater geek--witness the dramatic flourishes of "Shanty for the Arethusa" (featuring, among other things, creaky floorboards and drum rolls) or "Song for Myla Goldberg," in which Meloy uses the stage warm-up tongue twister "I know I need unique New York." The band has been known to play dress-up for photo shoots, clowning around as gypsies or soldiers. In the epic, seven-minute "I Was Meant for the Stage," Meloy sings of the poor sap who can't forfeit the spotlight: "I was meant for applause/I was meant for derision/Nothing short of faded self has affected my decision."
"That song is totally about me," Meloy says. "I adore playing live." He doesn't, however, always love being on the road. "I have sort of a love-hate relationship with touring. I always feel like it's basically 22-and-a-half hours of grueling tedium and an hour and a half of excitement."
But Meloy will have to be content with the traveling life. Finally, his world will resemble the ramshackle nomads he champions -- all fingernail dirt and glory. "It's true," he says. "When you're on tour, you feel like a total vagabond."