The Great Pumpkin won't be paying a visit to Colin Meloy this year. Yes, the lead singer and songwriter for the English-major-friendly band The Decemberists is praised as a gifted storyteller with a Beatles-meet-Sondheim songwriting sensibility, but the Great Pumpkin doesn't care about those things. He only cares about an individual's Halloween spirit.
Judging by the artwork accompanying the liner notes and lyric sheets in The Decemberists' latest disc, Picaresque, you would think Meloy would be in the Great Pumpkin's good graces. After all, the photos feature the Portland, Ore., band dressed as the characters in the songs a collection of tales about gay hustlers, revenge-hungry sailors and international superspies. Very Oct. 31, yes? No.
"I actually don't like Halloween. I try to stay home," Meloy says. "I'd rather dress up for other things. The reason for the dressing up for the rock photos is more of a thumbing our nose at the rock establishment."
Still, the photos help convey the theatrical nature of Meloy's songs. There's the woeful tale of Eli the barrow boy in the song of the same name, the woeful tale of the fallen athlete in "The Sporting Life" and the woeful tale of the mariner in "The Mariner's Revenge Song." Notice a trend? When it comes to storytelling, Meloy leans toward the somber. "Tragedy is much more interesting," Meloy says. "I find a character's pathos a little more interesting than their successes and victories."
Thanks in part to Picaresque and the somewhat surprising radio presence of "Sixteen Military Wives," Meloy has begun making a name for himself as something of a storyteller. Success is not something to be expected from someone whose stock-in-trade is music with Victorian overtones, and the pigeonholing that comes with it namely the repeated insistence that he's a storyteller isn't something he's comfortable with. "I prefer to refer to myself as a musician and a singer. I reserve the title of storyteller for people who actually sit down and tell stories," Meloy says. "It's kind of a hokey thing for songwriters to call themselves storytellers."
But the truth of the matter is that Meloy is very much a storyteller. In fact, he and his girlfriend Carson Ellis, who oversaw the artwork for the new album, have just inked a deal with HarperCollins to produce a children's book about a talking cat named Albert in turn-of-the-century Butte, Mont.
For the bandleader, writing a children's book is as natural as was penning Picaresque's tales about peasants, widows and county linemen. "Being a fan of Maurice Sendak and some of the children's book authors and illustrators I grew up with really informed the songs that I write, especially the level of respect they give to kids," Meloy says. "They trust that kids can handle dark subject matter and that it's almost an important part of the creative growing process."
In the end, telling a story whether it's on the page or on the stage is simply telling a story. And for Colin Meloy it's simply what he does best, titles be damned.
with Sons and Daughters
7 pm Wednesday, Sept. 28