Welcome to the Machine Shop
My name’s Colin Meloy. I’m the singer and songwriter for the band The Decemberists; I’ve also written several books for kids — novels and picture books.
About seven years ago, my wife and I bought a farm. It’s a little one, the five acre remnant of a once-massive mid-19th century landclaim outside of Portland, Oregon. Most of the original buildings are still standing. The one to the northwest of the main house is where I work, it’s where my studio is. When we bought the place, the building was little more than a storage shed, filled with the previous owner’s bric-a-brac. Once that had been cleared out, you could see a glimmer of its original use: there were odd desks and platforms built into the walls, there were ochre rust stains all over the weathered concrete floor. This was the machine shop, where the various farming implements and engines and machines were all taken apart and repaired, where replacement parts were fabricated, where blades were sharpened and axles were greased.
We finished it out over time, insulating the bare-wood walls and filling the gaps between the beams with drywall, leaving as much of the original character of the building as possible. I liked the idea of having a work space that had once been a place where you’d go to get your hands filthy and your knuckles abraded, tearing down and building back up the guts of some stubborn machine. I’m not sure what the ghosts of the farm think of me, of a guy turning their machine shop into a place where songs are written and stories are built, where endless hours are spent not overhauling tractor implements, but instead summoning odd paracosms and melodies. I like to think that, maybe over time, they’ve recognized the labor that goes into these things — while not being identical, well, they’re not *dissimilar.*
And maybe this space, this internet-thing, will be a testament to that work and a tribute to the labor that’s gone on here before.
Here, I’ll be yanking some of my old songs off the shelf and laying them bare for you to see, showing the guts of the things, the weird lattice that makes them what they are. But not just my own songs; I’ll be carefully unbolting the casings on songs that I love and admire, putting them on the work bench (being careful to remember the order in which they’d been disassembled), and seeing what makes them tick. I’ll upload old demos of songs, the original model of each of them, and maybe we can marvel at how they changed, how they improved or, in some cases, lost some of their ragged charm. I’ll share writings-in-process, be that a kind of daily/weekly journal, or, as I hope to do, a serialized story, one that grows over time under your watchful eye. And, through all of this, I hope to create a better connection between myself and you, dear reader, one that is outside of the ad-driven, corporate-sponsored, algorithm-dominated social media space.
So: welcome to the Machine Shop. Make yourself at home. Don’t mind the rust and the dust. Everything’s a work in progress here.
What am I getting myself into?
I’ll be posting 2-3 times a week here; you’ll get an email in your inbox each I post to alert you. You’ll be able to read or listen to the stuff there or you can follow the link to the website. A lot of the what I’m posting will be free, some of it will be behind a paywall. I imagine what you’ll see here will change and develop over time. And of course, I’m open to suggestions as we go forward: what works? What doesn’t? What are you dying to hear/read? What could you do without?
Wait, did you say paywall?
Uh huh, I did. Like I said, a lot of the stuff I’ll be posting here will be viewable to anyone who subscribes, paid or not. Of course, I’d encourage you to be a paying subscriber. My feeling is that musicians and writer have too long been inured to giving away their work, often to the profit of morally suspect corporations, and this is a way for you, should you be so inclined, to *directly* support my work.