Song River of YabYum gets metaphysical in her recent interview with Brandon Decker of decker. The band is currently on tour, but they’ll be back in October just in time for the Apache Lake Music Festival.
Song River: Tales are often better told from the spirit and heart. Do you feel you have to live through an experience to write about it, Brandon?
Brandon Decker: I don’t think anyone can talk authentically about anything they haven’t experienced. It’s like the difference between knowledge and wisdom; experience. To me and for me, art is about authenticity. That’s what makes art powerful – its unique and personal nature. I’m aware all storytellers do not necessarily need to have experienced every single thing they’ve written about, but I do feel we need to deeply grasp the underlying emotions to really capture them in some way that is powerful and meaningful.
SR: I read the words, “Old Testament terror,” to describe your music. How akin do you see yourself as the Moses parting the proverbial musical seas of Indie/Folk/Gospel music?
BD: Haha! In no way do I see myself like Moses. A wonderful dude and music writer from Phoenix, Jason Woodbury, wrote that quote and I really enjoy it. And while I do love biblical imagery and references I don’t think the most recent album was really up that alley in terms of content. But the audience who has heard, let alone embraced, my music is so small that I’m more akin to your local bartender.
SR: Are the two elements of desert (from where you hail location wise) and water (which is in short supply, but shows up quite often in a variety of ways around you in your work) a part of who you are as a person and a song writer?
BD: I’d have to say so. I’m in love with the Southwest for the most part. Especially Sedona. I feel at home there and I’m excited for some time off to continue exploring Arizona deeper still. I am also a water baby for sure. I love swimming in natural water and integrate it into my life as much as possible. In that regard, I suppose it shapes my music, because it shapes me.
SR: How do those two elements guide or define you? Have they created who and what you represent in your words and sound?
BD: I am spending more and more time thinking about what makes me feel peaceful, healthy and whole in sum. So, I guess I’m trying to seek out the things that do that for my body, mind and spirit and certainly being out on the red rocks and being near water guides me and perhaps somewhat defines me. I don’t know about “created,” but I think I’m transforming constantly, at least I seek to and certainly the desert helps.
SR: Where were you born and raised? Was it Sedona? What was your formal education?
BD: I was born in Denver and raised primarily between there and St. Louis, MO with interludes in Dallas and Louisville, KY. I went to a Catholic high school until I got kicked out at 17. But I did get a GED and then put myself through college and, subsequently, into seeming insurmountable debt…
SR: You were raised in the Catholic religion?
BD: I grew up in a pretty Catholic family. It took me a long time to get through the guilt complex I picked up from it. It took me a long time to begin cultivating a relationship with a creative force that felt personal and real to me. I had some angry atheistic times.
SR: Was music a part of your growing up?
BD: I listened to a lot of classic rock from my mom, but also spent a lot of time with my grandparents who loved Venezuelan and other Latin music as well as that big band era type stuff. I loved music and singing from a young age, but didn’t really play anything.
SR: Were there certain aspects in your environment that lead you to this artistic side of expression?
BD: I mean, I guess from growing up around the classic rock. It was ingrained. But not environmental so much as personal I think. I had a long dark time; a rough time emotionally, and when I began exiting and reflecting upon it in my mid-twenties is when I started making music.
SR: What instrument did you first decide to learn, and what other instruments do you play?
BD: Well, I’m learning to play guitar and that is the instrument I’ve used. I’ve dabbled on bass and keyboards and synths, but guitar is my main instrument.
SR: How did you develop yourself as a songwriter?
BD: I just keep writing songs. I keep trying to make sounds and melodies and words that feel like the best and truest thing I can create. I’ve been writing about 10 years and I think I just continue to try and grow. Obviously you listen to the greats, but what I’ve been more inspired by has always been a feel. So I work at finding what my feel is and trying to create that.
SR: “Patsy” came to being after your diving for several hours into Lee Harvey Oswald. What was it about Oswald that you felt needed to be said?
BD: I definitely had no specific agenda. I had already had a concept for an album called Patsy that would be a set of songs about how we’re played in so many different angles and avenues. As the set of songs was wrapping and recording was approaching I just became aware I needed to write one on Lee Harvey Oswald since that is where the Patsy imagery came from. So I just went where the story took me.
SR: Would you say “Patsy” has become the song everyone has come to know you by?
BD: Well, again, “everyone” is a funny term, because I’m just not sure who has heard it. I don’t really know what people connect with. I hope they connect with this song, or any song or several songs. We’ve had some activity around it lately so maybe more people are getting to know it. I hope so!
SR: At times I suppose a love/hate relationship can develop with certain songs we have produced. Are there any songs up to this day in time you have this split relationship with?
BD: I grew to hate the song O.D.B. because it didn’t feel authentic. That said, we joined it with the alternate version of it “Ol Dirty Revival” and it is revived seemingly. There are certainly songs from the first 3 records I don’t identify with anymore and we don’t play. Most of it actually.
SR: Your persona projection seems to have taken on a mixture of the Old West, but also a smattering of the southern portions of the United States. Gospel sounds and garb, along with the folk remedies blending, and again that aspect of water, as I was watching the video to “O.D.B.”. All of those pieces melded together to do what? What are the connective links you are desiring to wrap up between your fans as you spread your borders even wider, world-wide even?
BD: There’s a lot at play in this question. The “O.D.B.” video itself was to be a kind of desert gospel/choir/cult thing. It was largely tongue-in-cheek and meant to be fun. For me, my “image” though has always been essentially – let’s dress like adults not like a party band. We’re not kids. We’re not a party band. When you’re rolling into a different town and music venue every night I think it’s important to make a statement – we’re not jack-offs. We’re serious about the work we’re doing and I think that the way we dress helps to convey to strangers working at music venues.
SR: Do the arts at times take themselves all too seriously, or is it interviewers and reviewers who misconstrue words and visuals to make themselves sound like they’ve got something to say?
BD: I think art is a serious subject. Serious as damn near anything. But I also think a bit of levity; a great deal actually, is in order. This whole life thing is over so quickly – we need to breathe and seek joy. I’m working on lightening up. I can’t speak to reviewers and interviewers too much, but I’ve been grateful for more kind words than negative ones having been said thus far. That said, many face to face or phone interviews I’ve done, I come across them later and they end up so far off from the conversation I remember having. Or they seem to zone in on the one thing I randomly rambled on about that had no context to the rest of the talk. We all have our own spin, don’t we?
SR: Indeed we do, Brandon, as I think perspective as well comes into play so often. We all come at the same fork in the road and interpret it in multiple ways. You seem to embrace the laid back musicians and friends all over Arizona and across the land. You say Sedona for you is home, would you ever consider moving away?
BD: I have talented friends and pockets of friends all over the country and I’m profoundly grateful for that. I live in Sedona and I’m there. I’d never live in a big city like LA. Maybe New York for short spell. I have a son and I very much need to be with him and he’s in Sedona. But I find cities overwhelming. I’m happy to visit big cities and conduct my business. I could see spending some time in places like New York or Chicago, but I know where my home is.
SR: What is it about this diverse state you find so endearing?
BD: It’s at a cellular or molecular level really. I was with my son at a park the other day and it was approaching sunset and the temperature was perfect. A monsoon was pulling in and the breeze picked up. It was a perfect moment – the breeze, the temperature the dryness and moisture at once. There’s nothing like it to me. I love getting on desert mountains. The expansiveness, the geography, the extremes. I love the sun and the dust and the oases.
SR: If you were given the chance and of course some of the great old-time country singers (Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, George Jones) were still around today would you consider singing with them, and who would have loved the chance to perform with? (I had read you would like to open for Cohen- that would be a beauty indeed).
BD: I’ve been fortunate enough to cross paths with many of the people who inspire me. I don’t really zone in on too many iconic types, like them though I may. For quite a few years I’ve been zoned in on people that are making art and working hard right now. I love Angel Olsen’s most recent record. I’d love to play with her. Had a show with AA Bondy that got canceled recently, but he’s one of my favorites. I love a guy named Wesley Hartley in Maine. Adam Faucett in Little Rock, AK. There are so many. In terms of living legends – Cohen, Nick Cave, Will Oldham, but that stuff seems too remote, almost too remote to discuss.
SR: Your thoughts through your lyrics come across as someone who is an observer, a reader, and quite possibly astute in history. Do you have a favorite ‘thinker,’ ‘author,’ ‘book,’ and moment in ‘history’ you would care to delve into?
BD: I was deeply impacted in my early 20’s by a book from psychotherapist, Vikto Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning. It documents how his brand of therapy, an answer to Freud’s psychoanalysis, developed from his years spent in Holocaust camps. He was a Holocaust survivor and his whole model on finding peace stemmed from what he watched people do to maintain it in those conditions. I’ve read the book many times and its part of who I am. It’s so heavy and inspiring and tragic and beautiful.
SR: It has been said, if we don’t know our history we are doomed to repeat it. Why do you think it is common among humankind to keep dancing in the same circles of dust?
BD: Ultimately, we are so insignificant. By that I mean the human race. But in terms of themes of doom, as it were, I think it always comes back to fear and love. Fear is the absence of love and it’s where greed and violence come from. We have a lot of fear as a race. And a lot of love too, I guess. But I guess we “dance in the same circles of dust” as you say, because there are greedy violent assholes out there and we can’t figure out how to change that. It’s overwhelming to read the news sometimes. I’m working on staying present in the moment and being of love.
SR: Your current tour has you crisscrossing the states. Stories or tales to share yet?
BD: We are driving from Portland to Seattle right now. All is well. We had a transcendental night off camping in the Redwoods a couple of nights ago. We’ve played in the ocean. San Francisco was a meaningful show for me. We’re early on in this trip and just excited to play and share and experience.
SR: Your final performance for this leg of your tour will conclude at Apache Lake Music Festival in October. There is that element again…water. Talk a bit about your insight on the making of the album Patsy and bringing it home to the man-made lake in the middle of a dust-filled starlit night.
BD: Haha! I had no idea it was man-made. That will be one of two or so Arizona shows that wraps up this whole Patsy project in essence. I’ve realized for me that albums are very much a season of my life. There is the writing and sculpting. Then working with the band to make it something bigger. Then we record it. Finally we tour it and perform it. In all, it’s almost a two-year endeavor that sees so many extremes in emotions and is really a roller-coaster ride. I’m grateful that we will come home from tour and get to deliver a show to our home state friends and fans. It should be epic.
SR: And bringing this all to home. Favorite food to eat, video game to play, and mahjong or chess?
BD: Realistically, I seem to eat a lot of pastries as much as I hate to admit it. I do like a good doughnut. I like the fake buffalo chicken at Green Restaurant in Phoenix. I gave up video games in 2005 to play music and haven’t touched one since, except for like a week of playing “Angry Birds” on tour once, but I just don’t do that. I’ve never heard of mahjong, so chess I guess? However, I have played my share in rehabs, jails and halfway houses…