Singer-songwriter Brandon Decker, better known by his musical moniker decker., is preparing for tour, which almost always includes a thorough vacuuming of his van.
“I clean it so it can instantly get dirty,” he says jokingly. “I feel like everyone’s in a better mood if they get in a clean van.”
His tour van holds a great deal of significance; it’s traversed the roundabouts of his home in Sedona, crossed state lines and roamed the roads of the Southwest. Much like his new album, Into the Red, it serves as tangible evidence of where he’s been and the journey in front of him.
Into the Red, which will be released by New York-based label Royal Potato Family on August 25, is comprised of two new songs and eight tracks from decker.’s previous six albums.
In many ways, decker.’s distinct brand of desert rock pays homage to his Sedona home, seemingly possessing a mysticism that matches the mountains that surround his studio. Marked by fervent guitar, raw, bluesy vocals and soul-baring storytelling, decker.’s atmospheric folk anthems are emblematic of Arizona.
Decker moved to the Grand Canyon State from Colorado in 2004 to attend NAU. He ended up in Sedona in 2008 via Phoenix, a move he attributes to not being able to handle the central Arizona heat. Decker says relocating to the red rocks was life changing. It was also a wise move for his music career.
“One of the things that changed about my life since I’ve lived in Sedona is that I began spending a lot more time in nature,” Decker says. “Sedona is just uniquely beautiful. It’s striking in the way that the ocean is when you see it; it just kind of grabs your attention.”
He says the pace and lifestyle of the sleepy desert town fuel his creativity.
“I realized recently that I don’t think I’ve ever written a Decker song outside of Sedona,” he says. “Except for one time in the van.”
Though his music is often referred to as “desert rock,” Decker claims he doesn’t intentionally inject desert themes or scenery into his songs.
“We played with a band from Manhattan the other day and as soon as we started sound-checking they were like, ‘That’s desert music!’ and I’m pretty sure these guys were not familiar with our desert propaganda,” he says with a chuckle.
“I don’t know what is. If I spent my last 10, 15 years in Chicago, I wouldn’t be making the same kind of music I am, so I think some of it is osmosis and environmental but… I spend a lot of time driving around the desert. I’m all over the state all of the time. I’m in love with the landscape, have been since I was a kid. I guess it’s just soaked into me.”
If the saguaros and red stones of Sedona have “soaked” into him, they’ve certainly seeped into his new album as well. Decker describes Into the Red as a “retrospective album, of sorts.”
“There are 10 songs on it, but only two of them are new recordings,” he explains. “There wasn’t a ton of recording unique to this record, but the two songs we did were definitely purposeful and with intent.”
The band released one of the songs, “Matchstick Man” as a single on June 9. He describes it as a “less flowery” version of a gritty protest song from the ’60s.
The album includes a set of tracks from last year’s release Snake River Blues, which is also the namesake of a documentary about decker. directed by Matty Steinkamp. The 22-minute film, released in May and available online, documents a year in the life of decker., including the production and release of the album, a whirlwind tour through the Southwest and the band’s month-long residency at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City.
Decker and Steinkamp connected in college and are currently working on their eighth music video together. Decker says Steinkamp had always wanted to make a film about a musician chasing the American dream.
“One day, I had just got done touring the country three times for our album Patsy and he was like, ‘You need to take a break, you need to take half a year off. Let’s spend a year not doing anything stupid,’ and I was like, ‘So, I’m gonna go do a residency in New York and make another album,’” he recalls. “Two days later, he was like, ‘I’m gonna make a documentary about this,’ and I was like, ‘Awesome.’ He just followed us along all year.”
Decker says Snake River Blues is a realistic representation of the trials and tribulations that plague traveling musicians. Though he has gathered a great amount of success through touring, it doesn’t come without struggle. He is also a single father to a 6-year-old son and supports both of them through his music.
“The finances are traumatizing. It’s hard to be an artist or a musician,” he says. “Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if the bank account balance isn’t a reflection of your art’s merit, so that can be daunting. I’m just trying to keep these wheels turning hard, making good art and getting it out there while also keeping a roof and feeding my son and myself.”
Decker says his musical influences include everything from Louis Armstrong to Portishead. He has always been a fan of female vocalists and “foreboding undertones,” a fact he hopes is represented on Into the Red.
“We’re really proud of this collection of songs,” he says. “We really feel like it’s this opportunity for the vast majority of humans who are unaware of our music to hear a good collection of what we’ve been up to.”
Decker + Paper Foxes Dual Record Release Party, Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. Second Avenue, 602.716.2222, crescentphx.com, 8 p.m. Saturday, August 26, $10 in advance, $12 at the door.