Decemberists Push The Envelope On 'Crane Wife'

The Decemberists' upcoming album, "The Crane Wife," is thematically based on a tragic Japanese folk tale, but band leader Colin Meloy promises a fair dose of rock'n'roll, rape, murder and violence as

The Decemberists' upcoming album, "The Crane Wife," is thematically based on a tragic Japanese folk tale, but band leader Colin Meloy promises a fair dose of rock'n'roll, rape, murder and violence as well. "It wouldn't be a Decemeberists record without it," he tells Billboard.com.

Due Oct. 3 via Capitol, the set is the fivesome's fourth full-length and their first since moving over to a major label from Kill Rock Stars. Recruiting Death Cab For Cutie's Chris Walla and Seattle mainstay Tucker Martine to man the decks, the group finished writing 22 songs and is in the midst of whittling them down to a single record.

"The last thing we want is a double album," Meloy says. "85 to 90 percent of double records smack of self-indulgence and we just didn't want to hand that to [Capitol]. But it's not like the songs we're cutting are throwaways. We're kinda attached to all the songs we make."

Describing the forthcoming set as their "weirdest yet," Meloy says "The Crane Wife" will be bookended by "epic-long" songs, both clocking in around the 12-minute mark -- "The Island" and the title track. The latter, which is performed in three "movements," defines the thrust of the record, revolving around the story of the title character.

Paraphrasing Meloy: A poor man finds a wounded crane in the woods and nurses it until it is able to fly away on its own. A few days later, a woman shows up at his door, they fall in love and get married. As they're poor, the wife suggests that the poor man sell a special cloth that she weaves in the nearby town, on the condition that he not look in the room while she's making it. Ultimately, the man's curiosity and greed overtakes him and he peers in the room only to discover his wife is a crane and she plucks out her own feathers to infuse into the cloth. She sees that he sees and she flies away.

"Yes," Meloy says, "it'll definitely be sad in places." As for how Capitol executives have taken to the new material, Meloy says the experience has been nothing but positive.

"At first, we played them a couple songs that we thought they would consider singles and they liked them. Then they asked to hear more and we were like, 'Okay,' and they got really excited about that," he says. "We felt that in some ways, if we continued putting out records on [Kill Rock Stars], we'd totally be fine. But we also felt like we needed to kind of up the ante a little bit. One should only move to a major label when one can pretty much call the shots. Luckily for us, we have an audience which is amazing and extremely loyal. When you show that to a major label, you're showing them you're doing fine on your own. Our audience demands we continue to challenge them and to push our boundaries. And I think we're going to do that."

Carson Ellis, Meloy's long-time girlfriend, is constructing the packaging and album art once again. Nate Query, Chris Funk, John Moen, Jenny Conlee and Meloy will begin touring around the same time the album is released in October.

Meloy, who toured solo with Laura Veirs in January, hopes to eventually release a album or EP of songs recorded from those shows early next year. He and Ellis, who recently became new parents in February, are also working on a children's book together that will be released through Harper Collins in 2007 or early 2008.

"It'll be based on a cat that lives in Montana and his various adventures," says Meloy, who hails from the Great Plains state.