Seattle foursome, Death Cab For Cutie, consisting of lead guitarist and vocalist Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla (guitar and keyboard), Nick Harmer (bass), and Jason McGerr (drums), return with their seventh album ‘Codes and Keys’.
Getting their name from a song of the same name by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, they had become an independent favourite with fans of all rock genres, as well as the upcoming popular emo scene. Talking about taking inspiration from Ok Go videos, their new album, and why they don’t consider themselves emo, Gigwise caught up with Ben and Nick on their recent tour.
So you guys are here promoting the new album, ‘Codes and Keys’. How have you found your time so far?
Ben: It’s been great. It’s been the best trip we’ve had over here in years. I feel the shows have been really great too. Now that we’re no longer a new band to the UK, and we now have a couple of albums under our belt that people know things have never been better. When we first started coming over here, because of the minimal distribution of our albums, people may have known some of them but wouldn’t necessarily know our previous records. Now they are widely available people download them, whether legally or illegally, so people tend to know the new material.
Going back a bit, it’s fair to say that you guys were a part of the original emo movement, when it wasn’t really classed as emo, along with bands such as Incubus, Jimmy Eat World, and early Fall Out Boy. How would you say the scene has changed, if at all?
Ben: I don’t really have anything against those bands, certainly Jimmy Eat World - we know those guys, but I don’t think we’ve really associated ourselves with that term or particularly those bands. When I think of the term emo I think of the two phases. I think of the early 90s more melodic slow kind of music, but then I think the genre became something more pop punky towards the end of the 90s in to the early 2000s. With all due respect to all the bands that fall under that category, I can certainly see why some of the people that like those bands would also like our music. However, the roots of that music are certainly not included in anything that influences our music. So I’m not really the best one to know how it’s changed or evolved because it’s not something I’ve really paid attention to.
The new album, ‘Codes and Keys’, seems more musically mature in comparison to some of your previous material. What did you do differently this time around?
Ben: With every record we make we want to do as much as possible differently. There’s the technical aspect and what new instrumentation we can use. Then there’s that aspect of bringing things new and different to the table. Each time you go in to the studio it’s no fun making the same record over and over again. It wouldn’t be inspiring if the conversation constantly included questions like, “What should I play on this song?” and answers like, “Well why don’t you play something like you played on such and such.” That’s not fun to do. I think that fans of any band that has been around as long, or longer than we have, or even not as long as we have, tend to gravitate towards particular periods of the band’s sound that they heard and loved and want it recreated again. Just like the public with their everyday lives. They want their friends to stay the same. They want them not to get older and to not change. They want bands to maintain that same spark that made them love the band in the first place. That’s just not something as a band we’re interested in. We want to do new things and evolve reasonably over time.
Why did you guys choose the track ‘Codes and Keys’ to be your album title?
Ben: Well we had the song ‘Codes and Keys’ already and we all came to the conclusion independently, in fact we all called each other at about the same time and said, “You know what would be a good album title? ‘Codes and Keys’.” I think it kind of wraps up the esoteric theme to the record with a nice little bow.
With the single ‘You Are A Tourist’ you made history by recording the video in one take and broadcasting it live to the world, via the web, at the exact same time you recorded it. Whose idea was that?
Nick: Initially it was a friend of ours, Aaron Stewart, who one day was just talking about the last OK Go video (‘This Too Shall Pass’), the one with the big Rube Goldberg device. He had read some story about how they had to do that like twelve or thirteen times before they got it right. Then he thought, “Wouldn’t it have been great if they had just done it once? If it had failed they would have had to have just worked out a way to just keep doing it.” So that spawned a discussion about the bravery of a live video and standing by the live chaos that could happen. We just started talking about it and the band got really excited about it and how we could attempt to do it. We took the idea and passed it on to a director called Tim Nackashi, who took it to the goal for us. We had a lot to do with it on some levels and then very little to do with it on other levels. It was very inspiring for me, and the rest of us, how many people were excited about the project and how a big team came together to make it happen. If we had taken one variable from any side of it then it definitely would have fallen apart. We’re very happy with the way it turned out.
You guys have been around for a while now, you’ve seen so much, and have achieved so much. What would you say have been your biggest achievements so far, and what would you still like to achieve?
Ben: I still think one of the most poignant moments for the band, well for me anyway, was when we first headlined a club in Seattle called The Crocodile Cafe. It was a Friday night – not a lot of people were there in relation to what we play to now, it was sold out at 300 people. It was the first time I realised that this was a real band. We weren’t just goofing off. We weren’t these four guys who were doing this as a preamble or distraction to something else in our lives that we had to do. This could actually be a real thing. We could go on tour and make records, like this could be a thing.
There was never an ambition or a thought that we would be where we are now – talking to you in London at the Brixton Academy, but there was a, “Yeah, maybe we could actually do this.” As far as things we’d like to accomplish... Years ago we ceased having concrete numerical or numerically based goals. We weren’t, “We want to headline Reading (festival),” or, “We want to sell out Wembley Stadium.” At this point the band has become such a fabric of who we are and what we do to an extent that we’re just in this cycle – write album, make album, tour album. Really that’s all we do now. Would we like to play to more and more people? Would we like the band to become more successful? Of course. There’s no cap in mind that when we reach a certain point people will be satisfied. It’s not even about being satisfied. We just want to continue to make music that is inspiring and relevant to our own lives, and hopefully relevant to other people’s lives who like the music.