When you spend as much time on the road as songwriter Brandon Decker does, you begin to feel at home on it.
The Sedona-based musician and bandmates in Americana outfit decker. have spent countless hours on Southwest highways, promoting their brand of blissed-out desert folk in a "new" 1999 Toyota Sienna.
The band has settled into a comfortable life on the road, so en route to Santa Cruz, California, on the night of August 17, no one felt the need to question the travel situation until guitarist Bryant Vazquez noticed something wrong with the U-Haul trailer in tow.
A tire flew, the van rolled several times, and everything went black. Decker's eyes were open the entire time, as he tried to grasp what was happening. When the dust finally settled, vocalist/percussionist Kelly Cole was missing. She had been sleeping soundly but was ejected from the van, which settled mere feet from oncoming traffic on Interstate 5.
"We rolled several times, and as soon as we stopped, we realized Kelly wasn't in the van. It was just horrifying," Decker says. "I don't want to get into details, out of respect, but I will say it did not look good at all. I've been through some crazy shit in my life. [I've] had guns pulled on me in bank robberies and other situations, overdoses, a lot of crazy stuff, but the first five minutes after we stopped rolling were the most terrifying moments of my life."
When medical personnel arrived, they kept the band away from Cole in order to minimize panic. She was airlifted to a nearby hospital, and, miraculously, she was alive. A fractured C-2 vertebrae and bulging discs in her lower back will keep Cole in a cervical collar for about three months. She'll require some physical therapy, too. Drumming is out of the question for now and singing is a matter of comfort, but Cole considers herself "incredibly lucky," considering what could have happened.
"Everything happened so fast that I really could not process it," Cole says. "Before I knew it, I was in a trauma center in Fresno, on pain meds, alone, and in shock. Once the guys came to visit me the next day, the main feeling was just gratitude that we were all alive."
Decker and his band have been careful not to exploit the publicity they received in the days following the crash. He initially was reluctant to give an interview to New Times and has been cautious when mentioning the accident on the band's Facebook page, trying to focus only on showing gratitude for the tremendous outpouring of support from local musicians and fans.
But there are musical matters to attend to, and the band has been ceaselessly prolific in the past few months. Before the crash, the band started a Kickstarter project to fund the production of its fourth album, set to be finished September 27 ("barring some sort of disaster") and released early next year, Decker says. Of course, the crash's resulting medical expenses, hotel bills, and broken equipment are factoring into the cost of the album. If the band reaches its $3,800 fund-raising goal and not a dime less, he'd be ecstatic, he says.
The upcoming record feels like a debut, in many ways. Though Decker remains the band's primary songwriter, the new album is the first to feature a solidified lineup, swapping out "hired guns" for permanent players. Decker feels it will expand on the sound of his haunting third release, Broken Belts, Broken Bones (2011) but will feature a fleshed-out sound, one that's more personal and conversational than his solo recordings.
The cemented cast of players isn't the only change in Decker's life. He recently became a father, something that has taught him a lot about patience.
"I know I speak for all of us when I say we couldn't be prouder of this record, but we are in no rush to release it. We are definitely excited to put it out, but in the past, I've just finished it and put it out as quickly as possible. We are going to give it some time to give it its best chance of being heard," Decker says. "That's not ego; it's just justice. It is something really special — all the more so now — and we want to give it its best chance. When someone makes something and truly believes in it, I think they want as many people as possible to see the creation and have an experience with it as well. It's just due diligence, I guess."
Decker is no stranger to the Phoenix music scene, even though he makes his home more than a hundred miles away. Aside from playing Valley shows, he helped organize this June's Oak Creek Music Festival, where bands from Phoenix and Sedona gathered for a free, one-day romp on the red rocks. It was no surprise when local musicians wanted to give back — though Decker has been moved by the outpouring of support.
Megyn Neff of Tempe Gypsy rockers Dry River Yacht Club saw the recent success of local music benefits like Hollywood Alley's effort to help owner Ross Wincek with medical bills after he suffered from a stroke earlier this year. She contacted DRYC's local label, 80/20 Records, and together they decided to piece together a benefit for decker.
"When I first started contacting bands after we agreed to do the show, I wasn't sure what kind of response we'd get, since decker. doesn't play regularly in Phoenix and I wasn't sure how many bands had even heard of them," says Jason Shoff, A&R scout for 80/20 Records. "But not only did every band I contact tell me they wanted to play the show, but every band made their schedule work so they could make that date. So just that kind of support and willingness for all these bands to want to help out one of their own is just simply tremendous and touching, and it shows that the Valley definitely has a true music 'scene,' where all the bands care for each other and are willing to help each other out."
In fact, the show of support was so heavy that Echo Cloud Productions' Nicole Parasida was having trouble fitting everyone on the bill, which now includes a host of local heavy hitters like PALMS, The Madera Strand, Japhy's Descent, Banana Gun, Danger Paul, Future Loves Past, Dry River Yacht Club, and more.
"We are all in this together, to have fun, to create amazing music, and help each other out," says Spike Brendle, bassist for locals PALMS and Sister Cities and artist relations rep for Echo Cloud Productions. "This is a time where one of our family needs help, and what better way to help them than doing what we all love — play music. When it comes down to it, though, Brandon would do the same thing for each and every one of us, and that's why we feel this is necessary."
There's plenty of physical, emotional, and financial recovery that needs to take place for decker. in the upcoming months, and the organizers of the September 12 benefit fully intend to help with the latter (which just might help with the emotional distress, too). A percentage of the night's food truck and bar sales will go directly into the decker. fund, as will the $5 suggested donation.
For now, though, the band is coping with a dichotomous mix of openness and dark humor.
"I'm alive," Bryant Vazquez bluntly wrote on his Facebook fan page following the crash.
"But you ugly," Decker jabbed.