Brandon Decker Had A Musical Epiphany When He Simplified His Approach

Brandon Decker of decker.EXPAND
Brandon Decker of decker.
Matty Steinkamp

During the past seven years, decker. has been recording music quite clearly drawn from the very land of the Southwest itself, from all that is comforting, eerie, haunting, healing, harsh, and beautiful about it, as though he and his partners are able to somehow evoke the very taste of Arizona.

While the band’s lineup has rotated through the years, it has always revolved around Brandon Decker’s musical vision. Decker taps into the mysticism of old, weird America, divines its power, resurrects what he sees fit, and crafts it into musical odysseys of treachery, redemption, enlightenment, and tenacity. This has never been more evident than on decker.’s sixth studio record, Snake River Blues.

New Times asked Decker if he considered the new project an album or an EP.

“I consider it the Snake River Blues,” he replied with a grin.

The answer makes sense. To be fair, the five songs comprising Snake River Blues would make it an EP, but the sheer weight of the material makes you feel like it’s an album. It takes you on a journey from the frenetic encounter with “The Holy Ghost” all the way to the cumulative finale of the title track. This record tells a story of discovery, betrayal, desperation, loss, and, yes, redemption. It’s a heavy, heady record, and it seems to cover a lot more ground than you would think 23 minutes could allow, but it’s paced perfectly, compelling you to listen to it from beginning to end. 

For years, Decker has considered “psychedelic desert folk” to be the best summation of his band’s unusual music. The first two records, Long Days (2009) and Long As The Night (2010) fit that description nicely, acting as complementary companion pieces to each other. It was on 2011’s Broken Belts, Broken Bones that the group began to truly hit its stride. Slider (2013) only served to solidify their standing in Arizona as one of the most vital music acts the state had to offer. Finally, last year’s Patsy, considered their greatest work to date by fans and critics alike, was the culmination of their psychedelic desert folk mission. And while across these records, the cast surrounding Brandon Decker was ever-changing, the band’s musical vision was not. Snake River Blues will be officially released this September, and it marks a departure point in their sound and their approach. Until now their live album, Last Exit Live, released earlier this year, had been the only hint of what is now coming.

“I was drained of all resources with Patsy,” Decker says. “At the end of 2015, I hadn’t written a song in a year. I was disenchanted. I was exhausted on every level: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was tired of ‘Cellars,’ of needing backup singers and a lead guitarist. It’s 10 minutes long, and it takes five people to do it.”

Decker eventually found inspiration in records like Folk Singer and Electric Mud by Muddy Waters, the obscure San Francisco Dues by Chuck Berry, some Tom Petty records, and even contemporary records by Thee Oh Sees. The new discoveries led to an epiphany of sorts. A change was coming, and while writing the songs, decker. played a handful of shows where it was only Decker and keyboardist Amber Johnson, stripping the sound down as far as he could in order to rebuild. He wrote songs that could be performed as easily with a band as with just Decker and a guitar. As a result, Snake River Blues is decker.’s most succinct and concise record to date. It also has a renewed vitality about it, with a looming, undefined spirituality that taps into your soul a bit. With that in mind, there’s no mistaking it for anyone else other than Brandon
Decker’s signature sound; it’s just more electrified than ever before.

Snake River Blues is decker. unchained from the mythology and sonic trappings of the band’s previous records. Decker realized that on Folk Singer, Muddy Waters didn’t need an extravagant band or backup singers; it was just a man with a guitar. It sounded bigger than anything Decker felt he was doing, and he set about harnessing that power, realizing the only real change that needed to be made was within himself.

“I wanted to rock out,” Decker says, grinning. “The songs came real quick.”

Soon, he had five tracks to lay down with some new players and producer Bob Hoag behind the board at Flying Blanket Recordings. The record is saturated with the themes of treachery and conquest and how the two intertwine. What becomes clear from the songs is that Decker simply needed to cultivate his own take on rock ’n’ roll and leave the folk behind for a bit. Whether it is the pure rock blues of the first single, “The Holy Ghost,” the rapid-fire near-pop trajectory of “The Phantom,” the ode to a psychopath that is “The Black Widow,” “Blackwash,” which serves as the EP’s thematic center, or the title track, which is the band’s take on classic, confident blues, this record is decker.’s most consistent and most aggressive work to date. These are songs of authentic desperation delivered with a fiery passion and a vision unlike any other band these days.

Upcoming Events

Snake River Blues will culminate in a September residency and release show at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City as well as a documentary film, directed by Matty Steinkamp, on the entire project from its inception to its performance in New York. Steinkamp has done video work with decker. on several occasions, including most recently the video for “The Holy Ghost,” as well as videos for “Patsy” and “O.D.B.” He also recently featured Brandon Decker in his new documentary, Play, which premiered last weekend.

“We’re going to playing the record live in New York City for a month,” Decker says. “It’s very much a statement. We may be a small band, but we want people to fucking know us. I demand we get our day in court.”

On the pre-release single “The Holy Ghost,” Decker howls, “You better dig deep now, boy. You’re getting close.” There is a sense in that line that this is what Snake River Blues is all about — Decker searching deep within himself to make the music his soul is screaming for, and the more he digs into his heart, the closer he gets to a world where audiences outside Arizona are recognizing decker. the band as one of the most original voices in American music. Let’s hope that it is a prescient line in the song as well.

Decker. will be releasing Snake River Blues at Valley Bar on Saturday, August 27, with Harrison Fjord and Bear Ghost. Decker. has also teamed up with Flagstaff’s Dark Sky Brewing to present the Snake River Blues Double IPA, which will be on hand that evening, as well as copies of the new record.

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