Epic four-piece Death Cab For Cutie are the Washington Dons. Seven albums strong, they remain at the forefront of new music, setting the definitive standard for soft indie rock the world over.
First landing with founding member Ben Gibbard’s debut album ‘You Can Play These Songs With Chords’, Death Cab exploded, garnering the kind of international interest that makes legends. Selling out the biggest stadiums in the world the cuties work, play and vibe together 24/7. Band members Chris Walla, Nick Harmer, Jason McGerr and Ben have gone on to work with the world’s most reputable labels, supported by music label heavyweights Warner, Atlantic, Sub-Pop and equally established bands and artists The Postal Service, All-Time Quaterback and Martin Youth Auxillary.
Christening their current album ‘Codes & Keys’ as an ode to the tone of their new material, the theme of the lyrical content is, as Ben explains, “all about the fact that all of us have to interface with some kind of code or key system. Whether that’s entering your passcode on your mobile to listen to your voicemail or your pin code at a cash machine, or the password to your email account. I think that because we’ve all gone through major changes in the time between the previous album and this one, ‘Codes & Keys’ is also about discovering where your home is both in an emotional and physical sense.”
Moody, charged and nostalgic, their signature sound has developed, grown and adapted as each musician in the band has. They were there when we were growing up and they’re still here now. i-D Online caught up with Jason to find out where we can expect to scout them out next.
How do you think the music has developed since the first album? Wow that’s a long jump back! You know I think if you follow any band who has made 7 albums – The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Tom Petty, you can always find a common thread through the work. Of course peoples’ voices mature and perhaps everyone knows how to play a little better but there’s always going be that common thread. I think everyone still has their own signature moves, so when you hear that guitar riff or drum beat you can tell it’s a Death Cab record.
What song are you most proud of as a band in the history of your music? I guess for me it would have to be ‘We Look Like Giants’ off ‘Transatlanticism’ because that’s the first song we wrote with me as part of the band. I also think that song marked a change in songwriting and instrumentation, and it’s kind of a testament to a new era of Death Cab. I see that song as very different to all that came before it.
What is your fondest memory whilst playing in Death Cab? We were playing a show in Stuttgart, it was the last song and I stood on my drum seat and started smashing cymbals. Just before the final note of the song I jumped into the air and did this split kick, landing back on my stool and hitting my cymbals as the final note rings out. But as I do this my drum stool breaks and I fall 10 feet backwards off the stage to the ground below, but I’m so amped up on adrenaline I don’t really feel anything. Then the tour manager runs over to me trying to haul me up with this crazed look on his face, which makes me think the P.A. speaker stack is about to fall on me or something so I throw him off and run off backstage. So I guess you could say I still have fond memories of those bruises.
Do you remember the first time you played a gig together? The first time I played with Death Cab was at a place called Walla Walla in Washington, and it must’ve been November 2003, right after we released ‘Transatlanticism’, the first record I played on with the band. Actually I was also at Death Cab’s first ever gig which was in a place called Humdinger House, in ’98. It was a basement show and at that point I was just another crazed fan.
What new music are you listening to right now? I’ve really fallen for the new PJ Harvey album and I’m also loving The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Also the new Fleet Foxes record is amazing and the new Elbow album – they’re really just a great band in general. Telekinesis have a new record out called ‘12 Desperate Straight Lines’ that’s probably fairly unknown in the UK, but I’m really into that album.
What has been your worst cab journey? I remember being in a taxi travelling from Malmöheading to Oslo after playing this big Norwegian festival. There was this young lad driving and he had this GPS unit, so we weren’t really paying attention but this kid was driving like a bat out of hell, so we trusted that we’d make this flight at 4am the next day. His navigation device was set to take us the shortest route, but we wound up going down this road where the trees started overgrowing the road and slowly as the sun started to come up we realised we were in the middle of a pasture in the Norwegian countryside. We did manage to make it to the airport in time for our flight, but it was right down to the wire.
Who would you follow into the dark? I’d follow my family.
What comes next? Well once the album’s out we’ll tour the record and stay on the road for as long as it makes sense. It’s nice to let the songs continue to evolve in a live setting so we’ll want to keep touring probably into 2012 doing North America, Europe and beyond. After that who knows? Right now the focus is on getting the new album out there, playing a bunch of shows and really having fun with the live aspect of it.
Watch the new video for ‘Home is A Fire’, by Shepard Fairey and Nicholas Harmer.