Q&A: Death Cab for Cutie
By Edward Paik
To get you in the mood for some Death Cab for Cutie - since the group does play the Greek in Berkeley tonight - All Shook Down caught up with the band's Nick Harmer (bassist) and Ben Gibbard (vocalist, guitarist) in separate interviews to talk about their latest album, Narrow Stairs, their changing soundscape and the future...
Rolling Stone calls Narrow Stairs “as dark as anything [your] band has made.” Would you agree?
Nick Harmer: I’d say that it’s dark. I wouldn’t call it our darkest album made, but there are those who say it’s dark.
So what were some of the reactions you’ve heard or read?
Harmer: It’s pretty good reactions and kind of all over the place. For the most part it was good but there’s always someone or something that they’re not going to like. But I think at the end of the day that’s part of, you know, making music and putting it out into the world. I think it’s far more inspiring to make music in a band that some people will like and some people really don’t than it is to make something that a) something everyone really likes or b) everyone doesn’t like and even worse something that no one cares about. So I think we’re all really proud of our work some people don’t like it but were cool with it.
But isn’t the new, perhaps darker, direction alienating longtime fans that have grown accustomed to that Death Cab sound?
Harmer: I don’t think so. I mean, I think our longtime fans will understand this album better, but I think people who who’ve listened since the last album (Plans) might be a little bit more confused with this album or not quite sure what to make of it. But I think if people were able to go back and listen to our first album (You Can Play These Songs with Chords), I think they would be able to find a theme at the moment that echoes in the form of hard rock. I really think our longtime fans will get it.
There’s a focus on instruments and heavier rhythms on Narrow Stairs, was there perhaps a metal influence?
Ben Gibbard: Not really, I wouldn’t say a heavy metal influence on the record. They all seem like different stuff, but I don’t think its really made an influence on the album.
“Grapevine Fires” of your latest album sounds as if its an actual first hand account of the wildfires in Southern California. Is it?
Gibbard: Yeah, I wasn’t affiliated with the big huge kind of fires but I was down there. One of the many outbreaks. Kind of a very nice backdrop for a song as a metaphor, and it kind of grew into a tune.
Death Cab has crafted songs from personal experiences. What are some of the memories that went into your latest album?
Nick Harmer: Well I can’t speak for Ben so I can’t comment necessarily on the lyrics, but the music that I provide, just in terms of the bass, I think it has many different creative draws from all areas of life. From all different things, things I’ve seen to life experiences I’ve been through, kind a real grasp of stuff you can’t really stuff out. For this album it was just inspiring to make music.
So what are some of those inspirations?
Harmer: Let me think about that. I think by anything I was really inspired for this album by kind of older record bands like Wilco, in specific, and their last record Sky Blue Sky. The White Stripes stuff has always kind of been featured in my sound. I listen to a lot of The White Stripes, I listen to all of them because they’ve all recorded live and it really inspired me -- the sound from the band recording and laying together. Sort of the walking and talking each day when they’re there and not trying to strive for perfection, you know. I think there’s a tendency sometimes in modern day recording, well I guess you could say in anything where you start getting the computer involved, because you can do something perfect than might as well be. But you know for us, we’re all really inspired by older recording and how you come up with the album. It’s a nice inspiration certainly, like I said, in older albums that bands record, and certainly a few bands now a days that are doing stuff like that.
So after five studio albums, two of which sold over 500,00 copies, why change?
Harmer: It’s important for us, and it’s always important to explore different textures, different aggressions.
Since signing with Atlantic Records in 2004 how the transition been?
Harmer: It’s been great. I’ve had a really good time and we really feel like were at a good place right. It’s been a really good transition.
There were 11 short films created and inspired by Plans, is this something fans can expect for Narrow Stairs?
Harmer: Maybe, we’re talking about doing stuff for our new album but we’re not really sure yet. We’re really happy with how our direction turned out, and how the project grew but I’m, again, kind of like why we don’t make the same albums over. We don’t want to do the same project, so we’ll do a version of it hopefully, with new ideas. Maybe, we’ll put a little spin on it and make something different.
After the current tour, what’s in store for Death Cab?
Harmer: Let’s see we’re home for a few days, then were on the road in Europe through July and then we’re home again. So Europe then we’re on the road for the rest of August touring in Japan and Australia then we got a little break in September. But just more touring actually throughout the year, we’re going to kind of keep at it.