The Decemberists’ founding multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk is quite the busy man. In addition to transitioning effortlessly between every instrument in the indie-folk-rock book (from the guitar and banjo to the theremin and, his favorite, the square-necked dobro) Funk has kept active in what little Decemberists downtime he has with a flurry of his own projects.
From the living-room experimentation of Flash Hawk Parlor Ensemble, to guest appearances/mentor sessions on friends’ musical endeaors to a slow-boiling project with fellow Decemberists Jenny Conlee–Drizos and Nate Query called Black Prairie, Chris is keeping the musical juices flowing heavily outside the Decemberists spectrum, a way to balance some of the intensity of being in one of the biggest bands in America.
Funk and the rest of the band are in the first act of a lengthy tour in support of their latest album, the excellent The King Is Dead (read our review and grab your free vinyl/cd copy of the album), and are prepping for a few high-profile festival appearances, including this year’s Bonnaroo tenth anniversary festival and the sold-out Sasquatch! festival in Washington. We conducted a little email chat with Mr. Funk to discuss the new album, his side projects and his perspectives on the musical format wars, among other topics.
I was speaking with the Cold War Kids singer the other day, and he made mention of how the band wants to provide incentive for people to buy the physical copy, to maintain that relationship with the music, as opposed to strictly sticking to the iTunes digital format. To do so, they’re putting extra tracks on the vinyl and CD singles. What’s your perspective on that?
I see why people are doing that, but I don’t think the consumer should be told what format to purchase and therefore be penalized to a degree for not buying a CD for example. I grew up in the midwest, and I often think of the kids that are so connected to the internet now that may not have the opportunity to go to a store and buy those formats, or the patience. We as artists and the industry in general are lucky that people are still buying music period at this point. That said I really don’t care what people buy. I like vinyl, but that’s me.
The last three records seem influenced by the British folk revival, but The King Is Dead delivers a sense of seasonal Americana. Aside from Colin’s songwriting architecture, was there a set goal in going in to record the album?
The goal I guess was simply to make a record we liked, frankly.
The outline going into it was:
1.) A barn
2.) Stripped back
3.) 10 songs
4.) Everyone playing in the same room
5.) A "female" singer.
That was about it.
You recorded with Blue Giant in their new studio last year, and you’re known to have a restless streak of activity during Decemberists down time. What are the plans for this year and the discussed downtime, if any?
I’m opening a studio which is being built now as a part of a company called Search Party. The creative director is Randall Poster who is a very well know music supervisor (who works out of the NYC office and beyond), and I’ll be producing out of that space as well as chipping in with some music supervision at times I suppose. But also writing all that music for Black Prairie as well, that’s my only "side band" focus for now. I’d love to produce another record for a band soon.
What’s the story on Black Prairie these days? Feast of the Hunter’s Moon was great, and the idea of you guys working with several different singers on a series of EPs is an enticing one…
We will put out another record sometime, an LP. We’ll start recording it in the late spring in between tours. Indeed a series of EPs backing singers…also a companion CD to a book my friend is writing as well as possibly a score ("the book") to a children’s theater piece. We’ll see, that’s a long list.
A long while back you said your most intimate relationship with an instrument is with the square-necked dobro, a bluegrass instrument by way of Hawaii. "It’s closest to my voice," you said. Do you still feel that way, and can you elaborate?
I do. It’s basically the instrument I reach for first in my down time which says something, though lately I’ve been really into electric guitar as well as the uke and piano. The dobro is just what feels most comfortable to me and I love writing on it.
Are any future film or multimedia collaborations in the works, such as with Here Come The Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized?
I read you were working on setting up your own gin and bourbon stills in your basement?
Hahahaha, no comment.
What are your thoughts on the new comedy show "Portlandia," with Sleater Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and SNL’s Fred Armisen? Very funny series spoofing Portland’s more 90s-rooted hipsterism.
Yes. I feel like this tour we are on is more of a press campaign about that show than our new record. It’s very well done, very on point. Jenny and Colin are in the season finale.
Catch The Decemberists on the following tour dates:
02-18 Seattle, WA – Paramount Ballroom #
02-19 Portland, OR – Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall #
03-04 Dublin, Ireland – Vicar Street
03-05 Glasgow, Scotland – ABC
03-07 Birmingham, England – Birmingham Institute
03-08 Bristol, England – Bristol Academy
03-10 Manchester, England – Manchester Academy
03-11 Leeds, England – Leeds Academy
03-12 Bexhill, England – De la Warr Pavillion
03-13 Antwerp, Belgium – Trix
03-14 Amsterdam, Netherlands – Paradiso
03-16 London, England – Hammersmith Apollo
04-16 Colorado Springs, CO – University of Colorado ^
04-17 Omaha, NE – Holland Performing Arts Center ^
04-18 Iowa City, IA – University of Iowa ^
04-19 Madison, WI – Overture Center
04-21 Pittsburgh, PA – Benedum Center ^
04-22 Royal Oak, MI – Royal Oak Music Theatre
04-23 Columbus, OH – The LC Pavilion ^
04-25 Grand Rapids, MI – Calvin College ^
04-26 Louisville, KY – Iroquois Amphitheater ^
04-27 St. Louis, MO – The Pageant ^
04-29 Dallas, TX – House of Blues
04-30 Austin, TX – Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheatre
05-01 New Orleans, LA – New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
05-02 Atlanta, GA – Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre ^
05-27-30 Quincy, WA – Sasquatch! Music Festival
06-16-19 Telluride, CO – Telluride Bluegrass Festival
# with Mountain Man
^ with Justin Townes Earle