When the Decemberists settled into a converted barn on a farm near their home base of Portland, Ore., to record its sixth album, the group already had some sense of what the music would sound like.
“We were putting these words on it, like ‘rural’ and what have you,” recalls drummer John Moen. “We were all attracted to the idea of creating an atmosphere around the recording that would reflect the way the songs were built, at least in our mind — taking more from R.E.M., California country rock, maybe the Byrds, that sort of stuff ...
“I don’t know if it really sounds rural, but we had this picture in our heads of that being a nice experience — which doesn’t mean anything except it’s a place to start, and then we followed that.”
The path led to the top of the Billboard 200, where “The King is Dead” bowed at No. 1 in January — 13 places higher than its predecessor, “The Hazards of Love” in 2009. The album marks something of a change from the thematic song cycles of the Decemberists’ last two albums, including 2006’s “The Crane’s Wife,” and Moen, 42, says he’s always curious to see how the band’s various stylistic shifts are greeted by fans.
“We’re so kind of hard to pin down that you never know how people will react,” he acknowledges. “I remember when ‘Hazards’ came out, I thought, ‘Well, this will really be challenging for a lot of the old fans who like more of the fey pop we’ve been doing,’ or whatever that was. Then all these people really rallied around it ... and we probably got some new fans.
“Now here we are with another album, and it’s very different, and you can’t help wondering what everybody will think of this move. It’s always interesting.”
The Decemberists and Justin Townes Earle perform Friday, April 22, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are sold out; tickets from the Feb. 2 show postponed due to weather will be honored. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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