decker. Makes a Bold Political Statement on Into The Red

decker. returns with a new record.
decker. returns with a new record. Courtesy of decker.
Brandon Decker wanted to accomplish three goals when he and his decker. bandmate Amber Johnson went to New York City last September: Get a booking agent, a label, and management. After playing 20 shows in 23 days, including a monthlong residency at Rockwood Music Hall, they eventually scored a professional hat trick.

The exhausting experience was documented in Matty Steinkamp’s short documentary Snake River Blues. Personally, Decker now knew he could make it anywhere. He felt like the subject in Frank Sinatra's standard “New York, New York.”

“Being from Sedona, having a monthlong residency there seemed unlikely,” he recalls, “We hatched that plan and did it in nine months. It was a proud accomplishment for Amber and me.”

Now, Decker is set to release Into The Red, a collection of songs from his psychedelic folk band’s previous releases and two new recordings. Unlike his preceding self-released efforts, the album is being distributed nationally by the Brooklyn label The Royal Potato Family.

While Into The Red is an effort to acquaint newcomers to Decker’s musical past, there is also a sense of immediacy on the record in the form of the timely protest track “Matchstick Man.” It is the first time the singer-songwriter has set out to make a political song.

“I feel like when the election took place, it seemed there was no other option than to make a statement concerning our times,” Decker says.

Like a certain evil wizard in the Harry Potter books, the subject of “Matchstick Man” is not even mentioned by name until late in our conversation, which took place days after the president reaffirmed his initial comments about "both sides" being to blame for the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Emotions are raw, but Decker doesn't just talk politics with New Times.

As he prepares for the dual record release party with Paper Foxes on Saturday, August 26, at Crescent Ballroom, we also discuss how he went about selecting the tracks on Into The Red and maintaining that balance between being a father and a musician. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

New Times: How did you go about selecting the tracks for Into The Red?
Brandon Decker: We knew we were going to do two new recordings. I really wanted to have a protest song lead the album. Some of the songs were no-brainers. “Holy Ghost” and “Patsy” had done okay on the radio. Things became difficult when we were trying to decide what to do with the older material.

I definitely don’t look back on some of the early stuff without cringing. We asked ourselves what we could pick from the older stuff that I could feel good about sharing and would sonically fit in with the collection. I didn't want anything that was too much of an outlier. The early stuff is a little more twangy, but I was really pleased how they all came together.

Is “Matchstick Man” your first foray into topical songwriting?
I don’t think so. Our album Patsy wasn't a political statement, but it was gleaned off of Lee Harvey Oswald and tales of the everyman. I felt it was more of a sociological statement.

“Matchstick Man” is the first time I set out to make a political statement of sorts. It’s sketchy ground to be on, but I like the way it came out.

We live in a red state, so I’m always afraid to make overt political statements, but I think the song is a brave declaration of what you value.
The thought was definitely there. Do we really want to potentially alienate half of our fans when we have so few to begin with? [laughs]

Has there been any backlash so far?
There’s been some trolling and some alienated fans. I don’t think there’s a way around that without making some polarizing statement. If people aren’t open to the idea that there is perhaps something wrong with voting for someone who espouses the values he stood upon during his campaign, I don’t know what else to say than something alienating. I find standing behind someone like that alienating.

I don’t think I approached the subject in a gratuitous way. I think we are on a slippery slope right now. The left and right are becoming more opposed. If you go on social media, you will find few people in the middle. Instead of deepening the chasm, we have to try to pull the whole thing together.

With how divided social media makes people, do you think that people would be open to hearing a song like “Matchstick Man?”
I don’t think the song comes off as super-political or alienating.

I agree with you, but it is obvious who you are talking about. I don’t know how to put what you did without putting words in your mouth…
Toeing the line.

When I go on my social media, I see people believing in a man who is advocating racism. I think that is old news, man. The people who voted for him are okay with racism. I don’t buy for a second that anyone who voted for Donald Trump is tone-deaf on that issue. I think they are okay with it.

Are they overt racists? Are they covert racists? To me, not everyone was exterminating Jews during the Holocaust, but it took a lot of people being okay with it going on. I’m not trying to call everyone who voted for Trump a genocider. It’s crazy times. That whole conversation is a conundrum. Whatever side you are on, you are doubling-down and convinced you are right.

No good comes from [calling names and pointing fingers]. I just go on a hike, keep meditating, do psychedelics, and spend time with my son. I let my humanitarianism show day to day with my actions. Our humanity is our number-one currency. It is our legacy. I keep my emphasis there.

You mentioned your son. I’m still relatively a new parent and I am fascinated by how artists such as yourself find the balance between being creative and being responsible. How do you walk that line?
I’m 37 and I don’t know if I am responsible. For me, the moment I laid my eyes on my son, I knew I wanted to give him the best life I could. I know I’ve fallen short several times. I’ve had a lot of realizations lately that even with the best of intentions of working hard to provide for him and leaving a legacy, it still feels like “Cat’s In The Cradle.”

You shouldn’t be too busy for your kid. It’s always a work in progress. For me, it’s my career, my son, and trying to cultivate a life of my own.

I always feel like I am going to miss out on something. Do you feel that way when you go out on tour?
Tours have gotten harder for me and him. I try not to approach anything from a stance of fear. I just try to be as present with my son as possible. I put the phone down and turn off the computer. Presence is really the answer to all relationships.

decker. is scheduled to perform Saturday, August 26, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets are $10 to $12 via Crescent Ballroom’s website.
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil