Survival Mode:
Creating Sonic Experiences with Sedona-based Songwriter Brandon Decker

Words by Steve Melone

The coffee shop is bustling in midtown. People constantly walking in and out, giving the door little rest between shuts. Brandon Decker sits with a hot cup and a cart filled to the brim with belongings next to the table. His time is limited on the road, giving him few moments to sort out the logistics that go into frequent shows and life in general. Even though we’re sitting still, the coffee shop stays in motion, much like the mind of the artist in front of me. “We have not settled since we’ve been in New York, it’s been so on-the-go”, he shares. “I spend a lot of time working on the infrastructure of ‘decker.’ – actualizing it. It’s so ‘survival mode’ that it’s not a creative feeling.”

Decker’s creativity comes to him best when he’s up on the mountain back home in Sedona, Arizona. I ask him if he likes the seclusion and he responds instantly, “I do.” Something about that space lends itself well to the writing that precedes the gruesome touring schedule he embarks on after each album. After seven releases, he’s figured out (relatively) his best creative plan of attack: “I tend to write albums when I’m done with the other. Our last record, Patsy, was written, recorded, then we went and toured for basically a year straight. I didn’t write a song for a year and half from the whole process. And once we got home, I was done. That phase of my life was done, and I got into being human again. Then I wrote this album really quickly. I don’t anticipate before I get to rest in September getting any creative juices flowing.”

That latest release, Snake River Blues, is responsible for the maddening schedule that lies ahead. The EP is a slight departure from previous “decker.” releases. Taking on remnants of folk and psychedelic styles, with much of its inspiration drawn from the vast and moody terrain of Sedona itself. Of course, adding to that is the inevitable touch of the blues that’s felt by any music in the realm of rock and roll.

“Everyone encounters the blues, I definitely have”, he says. “But this was more a renaissance for me. It’s definitely more of a rock and roll album. I mean, there’s no acoustic guitar on it, which is different than our previous records. I wanted it to be straightforward; we had a lot of meandering moments on the last record, really drawn out songs and stuff. I didn’t want any of that.”

There’s definitely a change that can be felt and heard in the new EP, Snake River Blues. It’s been seven years since Decker’s debut album, Long Days, came out. He reflects for a moment, “I feel that every album we’ve made has progressively become a better piece of art, though I listened to the first album for the first time in a few years the other day. I was really proud of it, ’cause I wasn’t as good of a songwriter, I wasn’t as good of a guitar player, I wasn’t as good at expressing myself in a piece of art.”

Self-expression is a clear necessity for any artist. It’s the whole point of art, and somehow in Sedona, Arizona that expression comes out easier, pen to paper to music. “I definitely think of it as therapeutic”, Decker admits. “More and more it’s the thing that causes the need for therapy though. I’m not trying to be mysterious or esoteric, but I don’t know or understand the space that it comes from anymore. I don’t feel like I can predict it, or control it or manage it. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to create something tangible over the last several years. Sedona for the time being is where I’ll write songs. I feel inspired there in a lot of ways not just musically; in spiritually and life.”

That sense of spirituality is one I’m curious about. The relationship it has to expression in artwork. It’s clear it’s something that Decker has contemplated over the years as a musical artist and former philosophy student. “To me spirituality is seeking and understanding a better relationship with yourself, and with yourself, in relation to everything else”, he explains. “I think those ideas have always been the kind of things I think about, that’s what I’m drawn to. Getting to a point where I feel like I’m getting the most out of my existence.” “And being creative helps that?” “Maybe”, he replies. “I’m grateful that I don’t work at a bank, you know?”

As someone who plays upwards of a hundred shows a year, there’s a clear drive and a need to do this type of work. The start to this type of career is rarely normal or planned, but he delves into how he got going in this artistic direction.

“Honestly I was kind of late. I don’t feel like I really started working on music until I was twenty six. I had just ended a decade long struggle with drugs and depression. I tried writing songs, but when I came out of that period it was definitely therapeutic. I just felt like I had something to say that I wanted to get out.”

And getting it out on stage is a path that has taken up a significant amount of time and energy since the inception of “decker.” began. That decision to share and perform is unlikely to change anytime soon.

“There’s a different thing to performing music than there is to fucking playing music, ’cause if there was, we wouldn’t be here. We would be playing it in our room just having a great time, and some people, that is what they do. They play it in their room, they have a great time, and that’s all they need, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not any less valid than being Father John Misty, but part of the whole creative process to me is the intention of sharing with other people in some sort of sense. In the earliest times I was playing guitar because I wanted to convey something to other people. That’s the magic of music. That is the weird thing. I mean, you can’t really create a mood in a conversation. We can dim the lights, light a candle and have a glass of wine, but it’s not the same sonic experience.”

With a full day ahead of him, I ask if he has a couple more minutes to spare. It’s been close to a half hour now in the coffee shop. There’s a show in a few hours that requires a lot of preparation and parts to move. As soon as he walks out that door he’s making sure everything is where it needs to be. I mention how hard it must be, “There’s just so much that goes into it.” He jumps back, “Fuck man, I’m just trying to figure out how to find my storage unit off of the subway.”

Snake River Blues is out now, available on iTunes and Amazon | Snake River Blues