By Ed Condran
Colin Meloy is refreshingly unpredictable. Fans never know what’s next for the leader of the Decemberists. The Portland, Oregon based band has released six literate, folky and quirky albums.
But the acclaimed singer-songwriter elects to work on other stimulating projects, such as children’s books and solo EPs, such as “Colin Meloy Sings Morrissey.”
“I think it’s good to do other things just so you step out of the write, record and tour cycle,” Meloy said. “It’s easy to fall into that. But change can be good and things happen in life.”
Meloy, 42, has two sons, Hank, 11, who is autistic and Milo, 4. His bandmate, keyboardist Jenny Conlee was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, which is in remission.
“That changed things,” Meloy said. “I started on different projects.” The lone Decemberists songsmith who comes from a family of writers (his sister Maile Meloy is often published in the New Yorker and his late aunt Ellen was also published) started writing his bestselling Wildwood series of children’s novels. His wife Carson Ellis is his illustrator.
“It takes me to a place where the Decemberists don’t go,” Meloy said. “It’s also good to be around my family as much as possible.”
It’s a juggling act for Meloy and those like him. He’s the lone songwriter in the band. “People rely on me for their income,” Meloy said. “I have that responsibility.”
Country icon Charlie Daniels recently said he is more proud of the fact that he’s employed 30 people for the last 45 years than having written any particular song. That’s quite a bit of heavy lifting but so is having to raise two children.
Meloy is not surprisingly a thoughtful, progressive and thankful father, who is an autisum advocate. “Rise to Me” is arguably the most moving song Meloy has penned to date. The tune was inspired by his son Hank. “Hey Henry can you hear me/Let me see those eyes/This between us/Can seem a mountain size/But boy you are going to stand your ground.”
“People don’t understand autism,” Meloy said. “I wouldn’t trade my son’s autism for anything. It’s given him certain gifts and his personality wouldn’t be the same without autism.”
The Decemberists, who will perform Friday to a sold out Fillmore Philadelphia, are akin to a contemporary Sonic Youth, a critical darling with a devoted fan base, which enables the band to pack theaters.
“It’s different than it was when we started out,” Meloy said. “There are fans who expect certain things. I still enjoy writing and when we perform. But we don’t have to put out album after album at this point.”
It’s been two years since the band, which also included multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk, bassist Nate Query and drummer John Moen, released its last album, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World,” which is filled with earnest and poignant songs. The album is also packed with the band’s most thoughtful and emotional songs.
Meloy and his band are content. “We’re in a good place,” Meloy said. “We’ve worked hard to get here.”
The Decemberists appear Friday at the Fillmore Philadelphia, 29 E Allen street. Julien Baker will open. The show, which starts at 8 p;m., is sold out. For more information, 215-309-0150,www.thefillmorephilly.com