STEELE INTERVIEWS: John Moen [Perhapst, The Decemberists]

Perhapst is a side-project for The Decemberists’ percussionist John Moen. The songs on the sophomore album, Revise Your Maps, contain varied instrumentation, gorgeous arrangements and soothing vocals. It’s mellower, personal and intimate–a welcome departure from The Decemberists [one of my favorite bands]. No one wants someone’s side-project to sound too much like the band he’s been in for years. A side project is the time to stretch, experiment and to express one’s individuality and John Moen certainly does that. He steps out behind the drum kit and proves to be a lovely singer/songwriter.


Recently John took some time to answer a few questions about the latest Perhapst album.

Amy Steele [AS]: This is a beautiful album. It sounds so different from The Decemberists—one of my favorite bands– which doesn’t happen when a lot of people in bands go off on their own. What have you learned from being in The Decemberists and what enabled you to do a solo project?


John Moen [JM]: Hello. Thanks for taking the time- thanks also for listening! I have been dabbling with song writing for a very long time. This is the second Perhapst record, and I fronted a band called the Maroons prior to that. I was also in a band called the Dharma Bums that shared songwriting between all four members. There isn’t much chance to write for the Decemberists, so I continue to work on my own material when I get the time. I love Colin from the Decemberist’s writing, and it has been awesome to be a part of that band; to be inspired by the way he makes and sees music. I also played drums for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks for several years, and took away a much different, but still inspiring way of looking at music from participating in that band. So, I’ve attempted to channel all these various inspirations without sounding too much like any one of them… I hope I have been successful in this.

AS: Did you grow up in Portland or move there for the music scene? How has the Portland music scene affected your development as a musician and your musical career?

JM: I was raised in Salem Oregon, less than an hour south of Portland. I moved to Portland after graduating high school in 1986. I was in a band then, and we wanted to move to where the action was… Needless to say, there is quite a bit more action here now! Staying in Portland has allowed me to meet many amazing musicians. I have definitely benefitted from this town being a draw to interesting people.

AS: How have you changed as a musician over the years?

JM: It is my hope that I’ve become a better listener over the years. I consider it to be a great quality in a musician… I’m sure there is still room for improvement.

AS: What was the first instrument you learned how to play? Are you a trained or self-taught musician?

JM: My first instrument was alto Sax in 5th grade. At the time, you could learn an instrument in public grade school! …no longer a given here in Portland. I had a few drum lessons when I was young, but am largely self-taught.

AS: Can you tell me about musical influences? Who are some artists/ bands you admire now?

JM: That’s a tough question. I find it hard to narrow it down to just a few. I loved heavy metal when I was younger, and am somehow still informed by that influence. Before that I was drawn to Bluegrass on my parents radio. Lately, I enjoy melodic psychedelic music and still have a big thing for Zydeco.

AS: Why the name Perhapst?

JM: It came to me while I was playing darts and drinking beer… It’s really hard to find a good band name.

AS: Can you tell me what inspired the following songs or something about writing/ recording them:

“Willamette Valley Ballad”

JM: This song is a reflection on where I grew up. It’s a beautiful area. I attempt to commune with nature in this song. I am not sure that nature is reciprocating my desires. It’s all pretty perverted.

“Revise Your Maps”

JM: Another song about stage fright, basically.

“Find Me”

JM: This song is really personal- I can’t divulge too much on this one. Nate from the Decemberists plays a lovely bowed bass line on the recording, and I finally found a place for the recorder my Dad has always had lying around; it’s the flute-like sound in the middle section.

“Thousand Words”

JM: Somebody musing about their lover while looking through a photo album. Sounds perverted, but isn’t. Ha!

AS: What makes a good song?

JM: I like a strong melodic line, and good (If great is not available!) words. I would bet that a large percentage of songwriters are trying to include both of these elements… Unfortunately, one mans “hook” is another man’s forgettable assemblage of chords, so defining “good” becomes the trick. Luckily, there are many listeners, so pleasing everyone is thankfully not necessary.

Perhapst, Revise Your Maps release date: June 25, 2013
label: Jealous Butcher Records

purchase at Amazon: Revise Your Maps [Explicit]

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