The Decemberists’ “Down by the Water” Lyrics Meaning

On The Decemberists’ “Down by the Water”, the narrator reminisces on America’s past maritime life by describing the elements that were present at the time. He recalls how he often walked beside the river and the port area.

The narrator portrays himself as someone who was possibly looking for a lover to hold their hands, signifying the hope present in the area. He also makes mention of the difficulties the shipping industry faced during the summer seasons and how mariners still endured because of their love for the trade.

The song essentially captures the concept of remembering how people’s livelihoods, the ships, and societies though beautiful, gradually became a thing of the past.

“Down by the Water” Facts

This was released as a single in November 2010. Following its release, the track climbed to number 33 on the US Rock charts.

Colin Meloy played a harmonica intro to this track though he had not played the instrument in several years. Speaking to the Rolling Stone, he revealed that the song was influenced by the works of the iconic rock band R.E.M.

It was listed among National Public Radio’s Top 100 songs of 2011.

During the 54th Grammys, the track earned two nominations, including one for “Best Rock Song”. It lost to Foo Fighters’ “Walk“.

The “King is Dead” album, which spawned this single is said to have been recorded in a barn close to Pendarvis Farm, in Portland. Front man Meloy, who got married at this same place has said that he and the band were often beaten by the rain while recording the album.


The Decemberists use this song to pay a homage song to the once thriving Portland area and how its people, traditions and maritime life died out after railroads were introduced.

Creation Credits

Writing: Colin Meloy
Production: Tucker Martine alongside members of The Decemberists

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