Decker: Love, God, and Sex in Sedona

The music of Brandon Decker, who records as decker. has proven to be a pleasant surprise. Primarily based in Sedona, an area known more for snoozy New Age, smooth jazz, and coffeehouse folk, Decker's third record, Broken Belts, Broken Bones doesn't sound unlike something you might hear over the sound of your espresso being made, but there's enough grit, creeping unease, and lyrical darkness on the record to appeal to fans of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen as much as fans of The Swell Season or Damien Rice.

I spoke with Decker while he was grabbing some coffee in Oak Creek Canyon. Decker is a bit of an rambler; he's temporarily relocated to Flagstaff, lived and gigged in Phoenix with his old band, A Vacant Night Sky, and has toured the West Coast will his full band. We discussed his record, the "big three" topics, and his impressions of the Phoenix music scene.

decker. is scheduled to perform Thursday, December 22, at The Rhythm Room.

Up on the Sun: A lot of singer/songwriter records really bore me. The "dude with an acoustic guitar" is tough to pull off. That's why I like Broken Belts, Broken Bones -- there's a lot of orchestration.

Brandon Decker: I do all the arrangements, not to toot my own horn. But one thing I'm really looking forward to is making another album. Every time I've made an album, I've kind of sessioned out different people. But the band I have now, a seven-piece, we've really solidified. We're going to start a new album in January. I'm really looking forward to it. [The band is] tight, we've played a bunch of shows. The guys have been some some extensive tours with me, and it's finally shaping into the sound I'm desiring: more psychedelic and more band-oriented. Relying less on me and more on a band...the next one is going to be awesome. Broken Belts, Broken Bones features some great players -- my drummer, Ed Barattini played with Richie Havens and Stanley Jordan.

Some of the press has likened you to folk singers like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt. Is that the kind of stuff you actually listen to?

I do. I definitely have always had - I dunno, what came first the chicken or the egg - but ever since I started writing songs guitar has always been my true limit. I've played guitar 14 years, and I finally feel like I'm starting to get somewhere with it. In my younger years I was listening to Mars Volta and At the Drive In, and I've always liked more complex constructs, but what my guitar playing required was more Neil Young-type compositions.

My interests cross all genres. I love the folk, and with my second album, Long as the Night, I was listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, The Band, Townes Van Zandt, stuff like that. Stuff with a rustic, old-timey feel. I want my music to be modern, and not emulate anybody. I want my songs to be a cross section of all the things I listen to. It's like a puzzle, every piece that impacts you.

Your BandCamp page lists one of your genres as "white-boy gospel." Is that a part of things, too?

A lot of that developed live. I got into the idea of these harmonies, breakdowns with clapping, kind of chanting, and that was definitely inspired by negro spirituals. Not that I was specifically listening to a lot of that. I kind of started steering away from the white-boy gospel description [after seeing it in press], because it gives people this religious connotation that might scare some people off. I'm not religious. I'm definitely agnostic. I don't have anything against religioun, but I don't want to pigeonhole myself into that.

It's easy for people to confuse the shared religious language most Americans have an innate understanding for expressions of belief. In folk music, those are common metaphors. You sing "Wretch like these," on the record, and have a song called "Judas Kiss." That's just terminology people understand.

I'm sure if we were in India, it would be different. For me, music has always been really personal. I had a treacherous in in my younger life; my teens and early 20s were remarkably fucked up. There's no way for me to separate that from my music. That's why my music deals with salvation, redemption. When you get into that, that kind of language just kind of flows. I read an article where Sam Beam from Iron and Wine said his songs were about love, God, and sex, what else is is there to really write about? [Laughs]

You've been playing more in Phoenix, opening up shows for bands like Deer Tick.

It's been a long crack, trying to break through and get good shows. I just feel like the Phoenix music scene is different from when I lived down there [in 2008]. It used to be there were two or three bands that had a draw. Most bands had a hard time getting a draw, no matter who they were, how good they were, or where [they were playing]. Now it seems like there's packed shows, artists supporting artists, sharing fan bases.

You're playing Psyko Steven's Christmas show with Sunorus and Bad Cactus Brass Band. Any chance you'll play some Christmas songs?

Naw. [Laughs] That's not really my bag.

decker. is scheduled to perform Thursday, December 22, at The Rhythm Room.

Follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.