In the past five years, Sedona-based psychedelic folk outfit decker. has played somewhere near 600 shows, according to frontman Brandon Decker, and the band has played more out-of-town dates than most Arizona-based bands have performed locally in that time. Through four albums, countless shifts in lineup, and the retirement of integral member Kelly Cole, decker. has persisted.
"I've been working so hard for, I mean, six years -- and there's been a lot of sacrifice. I don't want to lay it on thick, but I miss out on a lot of things that normal people don't miss out on. We all do. We work our asses off," says Decker, who, if nothing else, misses spending time with his young son because of his relentless schedule.
But without such a gung-ho attitude about its music, decker. easily could have folded in 2014. The year did produce Patsy, an album set for release on Tuesday, February 17 and all the band's current members agree is "head and shoulders" better than 2012's Slider. But it also was one of the roughest years that decker. had ever experienced.
"2014 was the year of the gut check," the singer says.
Now, he sits with his head held high, proud of the fruits of his year's worth of labor on Patsy, but that 12 months of work shook Decker and his band at their foundation.
Shortly after a Midwest tour that the band described as "terrible" and Decker himself says, Simpsons-style, was "the worst suckiness that has ever sucked," the band rolled into Los Angeles to headline a midsummer gathering of Phoenix talent (including Future Loves Past, Samuel L Cool J, and Party Gardens) at The Hotel Cafe.
"This show in L.A. was the most painful show I've ever had, period," Decker says. "I wanted to kill myself, literally. I was despondent and suicidal."
The stark change in humidity that accompanies monsoon season in Sedona had wreaked havoc on Decker's archtop hollow-body guitar before he set out for the tour. Then playing a show in the arid desert of Phoenix, directly followed the next night by one in a humid midsummer San Diego, before the gig in the more humid L.A. didn't do him any favors, either.
"We get on stage and my guitar is wonky from the beginning, and I was already stressed because the door guy was trying to rip us off," he says. "So I'm arguing with him. I'm all stressed out [and] I get up there and my guitar is fucked. I shit you not -- not one, not two, but three tuners all crap out on me. My tuner is just flashing numbers at me like a goddamn Pac-Man game and I'm like, 'Oh, fuck.' Then I had an onboard [tuner], and it wouldn't work, then Andrew [Bates, bass player] gave me one and the battery turned off."
"We all wanted to help, but we didn't know how," said violinist Amber Johnson.
The band made it through four songs before running out of tunes to which Decker's malfunctioning guitar would be vital.
"I just hung up my guitar, and everyone was looking at me, so I ran off the stage.There was a door to Hollywood Boulevard right off the stage. No one had used it and I slammed right through it. And it's like out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I walk onto the street, [and] it's a Saturday night in downtown Hollywood. Music is happening, people dressed up walking down the street, and I'm, like, running down the street freaking out. I just curled up in an alley and said, 'I'm going to kill myself right now,'" Decker says. "But we pulled it back together."
But the year that was so trying for decker. also was paramount to the shaping of the album, and for all the gut checks, as Decker puts it, the group managed to record with Craig Schumacher of Neko Case and Calexico fame.
"You ponder, why do I do this?" Decker says. "But there is always going to be gut checks in life, and they are good if you learn to extract lessons from oversights and failures. I've chosen to not look at it through the lens of arriving anymore. We are here."
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