Decemberists’ drummer speaks out about new solo CD
Although he calls Portland his home, John recently returned to record a solo album under the name Perhabst with old friend and Dharma Bums bandmate Eric Lovre doing the engineering. They recorded the album on analog tape at Steven Malkmus’ house in Portland and Lovre’s basement studio in Salem.
“[It was] like recording in a museum by today’s standards,” Moen said.
Malkmus guests on some of the songs, but Moen plays most of the instruments. I spoke with Moen about his influences and the process of getting his solo album made.
Salem Monthly: What bands or music have been influential to your own sound?
John Moen: A lot of your first ideas stay with you. Some of my first influences were pop heavy metal like Scorpions, then I started listening to R.E.M..
I just bought the new Fleet Foxes album but I can hear what they like because I know a lot more about music. When I was a kid I loved ELO but I didn’t know they were trying to be the Beatles, because I didn’t know the Beatles. Now, when I listen to the Fleet Foxes I can hear a Beach Boys influence, like crazy harmonies and jingle bells. The more educated you get the less bowled over you are by an album.
SM: Your new solo album made me think of `60s psychedelic pop.
JM: That’s totally true. One of my current favorites before making the record is John Fahey, who does a lot of finger picking guitar. I’m not good at it but I admire it. I’m a drummer in my real life but I have more finger picking guitars than any drummer that’s ever … (laughter). I’m into the more psych-y stuff.
SM: Is this your first solo album?
JM: Yes and no. I had a band for a while in the late `90s-early 2000s called the Maroons. I wrote all the songs, sang, and played guitar, although all the recordings were done with a band. Perhabst was done without a band with a bunch of songs I had written, but playing the instruments with the help of a few friends. This is more of a true representation of me and my rambling concept of music.
SM: How long have you been working on the songs for this album?
JM: I started recording it in 2003. I was in Steven Malkmus and the Jicks at that time, playing drums, and we recorded the solo album in between tours. I became a little chickenshit when it came time to put it out because I didn’t feel really confident about it.
A lot of the songs were written during the process of making the album. The radio was stolen out of my van, so driving down to Salem I’d hum and make up ideas. It was cool that way, free form. I was able to pursue my own ideas for better or for worse. It was fun.
SM: It must’ve been difficult to find the time to do your own album while playing with the Decemberists and other bands.
JM: It was kind of hard to do. The Decemberists started around 2005. I think I’d finished the recording by then, got it all mixed before I hit the road with them for the first time and didn’t do anything with it for a year, then I got it mastered and didn’t do anything with it for a year. It’s been kind of hard to do … part of it was my idea that there are too many bands around already. Part of me wasn’t sure why I continued to do it because I had a lot going on musically and I had this idea that it’s just more noise pollution and people could do without it (laughs). For the most part I think there’s room for more music out there.
SM: I thought it was really good. (John laughs). I didn’t think it was pollution (more laughter).
JM: It has been better received than I thought it would. It was amazing. I think that I’m like anybody else who thinks they’re an artist and are waiting for someone to tell them they’re no good. I have half of an album now and I’m excited to do another one. I’d probably do that in Salem again maybe with the band I’ve assembled. It would be kind of similar in vibe.
SM: I was wondering what your favorite song off your solo album is, and why?
JM: My favorite song is “Cruel Whisk.” It’s not one that really rises to the top so much for people I talk to. I like it because it’s really simple. When we recorded it there were just three tracks, two guitars and vocals. I like my singing on it, it’s really weird and high and the song is as simple as can be. It hit that kind of weird country/folk/pop thing I wanted it to. The words still entertain me, which is odd. Most musicians, when you get done with something you don’t really listen to it too much, but that song still kind of makes me happy somehow. The lyrics are kind of absurd; it sounds like a vegetarian call-to-arms, but I’m anything but a vegetarian.