This week’s edition of Ask An Indie Rock Dude About Sports takes us deep into the deciduous, rain-slicked streets of Portland, Ore., which Colin Meloy and The Decemberists have called home for the last 15 years. Originally unkempt indie darlings stitching together MFA indie-folk for stalwarts like Kill Rock Stars, they’ve gradually shifted their scale towards massive concept albums like The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love, and vendors like Capitol Records.
All the while, singer/guitarist Colin Meloy has been coaxed from a playoffs-only holdout to a legit, unabashed Portland Trail Blazers fan. We caught up with Colin to talk about his appreciation of Robin Lopez, Damian Lillard’s dominance and the peculiar relationship between the city and the Blazers. The Decemberists’ 7th studio album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, comes out today (you can pick up a copy right here).
Extra Mustard: You mentioned before this interview that you’ve watched the Trail Blazers on and off, but in the last couple years you’ve been watching more closely. How did that happen?
Colin Meloy: Yeah, I have a weird relationship with sports. I played them in elementary school and junior high, but then you start to find your own scene, that whole “are you a jock or are you a nerd” thing. I always fashioned myself as a cool kid at school, so I was sorta anti-jock. It came at the same time when I was getting into music and smoking pot and stuff like that. So when I first moved to Portland it was all “ugh it’s so corporate,” but you always get caught up in the spirit of things. It wasn’t until last year at the beginning of the season where something really changed. I think the team is just really compelling, and they play in such a team-oriented way. I’m usually turned off by the showmanship of stars, and there’s something about watching a team playing together really well, the sportsmanship hooked me.
EM: I think a lot of people are initially drawn to basketball because of the characters you find, and understanding and relating to these guys you watch every night. What is it about this Blazers team that resonates with you?
CM: I think they’re just so well rounded. Nobody is taking center stage, nobody is particularly showy. They all seem very mindful of what everybody’s role is, at least for now. The starting five is really dynamic and interesting. You have Aldridge with his signature turn-around jumpers, Damian Lillard with his crazy drives and shooting, Wes Matthews bombing threes, and Nic Batum bringing it all together. And you have Robin Lopez, who is awesome under the basket and also a super funny guy who’s into comic books and TinTin shirts.
EM: I feel like Robin Lopez is the sort of guy who brings shut-in nerds like me and maybe you closer to the sport.
CM: Yeah. I mean, could you ever imagine a basketball player wearing a Snowy shirt? I don’t need that, because I like what the other guys do too, but it helps me see that there’s a little bit of quirkiness. These aren’t the jocks I aligned myself against at school.
EM: Let’s talk about Damian Lillard, who you guys drafted a couple years ago and who’s become one of the best guards in basketball. What’s it been like watching him develop?
CM: It’s been really exciting. He was such an unknown, even at the beginning of last season, I think it was surprising to people. He still doesn’t get a ton of press. I think he’s underrated as a point guard. I see him talking about that, not getting credit. The Blazers as a whole, even though they’re the first team to 30 wins in the league, aren’t getting enough attention, because they don’t have a LeBron or a Steph Curry, but it’s been great watching him grow. That game against the Lakers, how can you ignore that?
EM: Did you see that dunk he had in that Lakers game?
CM: Yeah it was insane! I don’t know how he managed that. It was coming off this casual 3-pointer he had. He has an ability to bring it when the pressure is on. He must do some crazy meditation or chakra to pull that stuff off.
EM: Where were you and what you were doing when you saw that Damian Lillard three that clinched the series against the Rockets last year?
CM: I was watching it at home and my wife had just gotten the kids to bed. We watch the games together. When that happened, I don’t think I had ever screamed and jumped around like that. I think my son heard me all the way upstairs and was like “dad just swore, a lot.” He ran down to see what was going on. And when he took the mic and shouted out “Rip City,” that solidified my fandom of the Portland Trail Blazers.
EM: The trade deadline is coming up, would you like to see the Blazers make any moves?
CM: I’m pretty content with the guys we got. I think our bench has gotten better from last year. But maybe a few more big guys on the bench, because we were scraping the bottom for a bit. I think we’re in good shape. What do I know? Terry Stotts is the master.
EM: Right now it kinda feels like a sports movie. You bring in Damian Lillard a couple years ago and there’s all this promise. Last year LaMarcus Aldridge starts to really bloom and you have this great series win over the Rockets, but then get handled pretty good by the Spurs who are older and wiser and have been there before. This seems like the year where you put it all together and make a run to the Finals. Do you think this could be year?
CM: I don’t want to jinx it, but we’re starting to outshine last year. I think Lillard has more experience. We were riding so high on the Rockets win that we had an implosion in the second round. I’m gonna call it, I think we’ll see Portland in the finals.
EM: What makes Portland’s relationship with the Blazers like?
CM: I don’t know, I think it’s just funny to have a professional basketball team that embraces a city that trends towards anti-corporate. I think the management has embraced that they’re a sports organization in a weird town, it’s part of the fabric of the team. I mean, I don’t know what the players thinks about Voodoo Doughnuts or our great record stores. It’s a fun Odd Couple relationship.