The Decemberists still plan to go on "a really long break" and open-ended hiatus after it finishes touring to promote its latest album, "The King is Dead." But the group does not intend it to be the cataclysmic split that some fans have been fearing.
"It was a pretty short-lived rumor," bassist Nate Query told Billboard.com during a conference call with reporters to promote the group's Aug. 13 appearance at the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival in San Francisco. "We talked about it in the press, specifically Colin (Meloy)...It seemed like such a big deal, all this big hiatus, it's gonna be long or whatever. Really it's just a break. It's not uncommon for a band to take a couple years between records, especially if you've been around 10 years or more. We didn't feel like it was a big deal because we've been really busy this year. We've been trying to work hard this year while this record is out."
Query predicted that the group's concerts Aug. 25-26 at the McMenaminis Edgefield Winery near its home base of Portland will be "the last ones probably for a couple of years" but quickly added, "Who knows? We'll see how it goes. The plan is we're really going to let the Decemberists be on the back burner for a little bit."
The group plans on staying busy right up until that end. The Decemberists just released an eight-track "iTunes Session" which includes covers of Leonard Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" and the Fruit Bats' "When U Love Somebody," and it's slated to tape an episode of 'Austin City Limits' on Aug. 9.
Meanwhile, Query and bandmate Chris Funk are gearing up to get their side project, Black Prairie, back "into high gear in September." Query says the duo is "working on songs for a new record we're going to try to record this winter" and is also writing the score for a theater adaptation of the graphic novel called "Stormin' the Barn." Query says Black Prairie is also considering "a series of EP collaborations with other singer-songwriters" while the Decemberists are on hold.
"I think that's kind of the way the break is going to go, everyone having these other projects that don't get to be the focus of our time and energy when the Decemberists are active," Query says. Nevertheless, he's also thinking about what the group might set up when it does get back to work -- and some specific guests he'd like to see on the next Decemberists album. "It would be nice immediately to start thinking about getting some heroes in -- not that we haven't done that already," he says. "It would be fun to get guys like Neil Young or Willie Nelson... Who knows if you can incorporate those guys with whatever record we're making next. The sky's the limit."
Query also provided an update on Decemberists and Black Prairie bandmate Jenny Conlee, who was diagnosed with cancer in May. "Jenny's doing alright," Query said. "She's right in the middle of months and months of chemo treatment... and she has good weeks and bad weeks. She is gonna be joining us in Texas for Austin City Limits… and will then play our Portland shows with us. When she's feeling good she can do shows. She stays busy but is certainly spending a fair amount of time just kind of dealing with everything."