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Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie recently wrapped up an Australian tour, promoting their seventh studio album Codes and Keys. Before one of the band’s wonderful shows in Melbourne frontman Ben Gibbard, the man behind the Bellingham quartet’s solemn lyrics, sat down to chat with FasterLouder backstage to chat about about the band’s career, adventures with street art icon Sherpard Fairey, and chasing the road of author Jack Kerouac in search for deeper meaning.

I spoke to Chris just a few months ago and I asked him this question and it left him a bit stumped. I referred to a quote from an interview of yours where you said you believe Arcade Fire will be looked back on in 25 years as being incredibly important for our time, and compared them to U2. How do you think Death Cab will be looked back upon in 25 years? And could you draw a comparison to yourselves and another band?
I feel that’s a very dangerous territory to get into, or as my friend Ted Leo likes to say, it’s kind of like ‘jousting with karma’. I think that whenever you compare yourself to a band that has existed before you have, it’s somewhat erroneous in the sense that it assumes that the cultures of the times are similar. What I will say is, we grew up loving The Cure and R.E.M. and as you look at their career arcs and what they were able to accomplish, if we were able to accomplish even just a fraction of the careers that those bands had, or are having in the case of The Cure, that would be amazing.

At the same time I’m shocked that I’m sitting here talking to you fifteen years after our first recording. It’s maybe a coy answer to say I’d like to be the Death Cab For Cutie of our generation, but I’m not trying to say that, I’m just saying I admire the career arcs of The Cure and R.E.M. I don’t necessarily want to be those bands of our generation but I would like to have a body of work that resembles their arc by the time we’re done.

Codes and Keys was a different recording process for the band, especially compared to the likes of Narrow Stairs, how are you finding replicating some of the studio tricks from the album into your live performances?
There are certain songs that… it’s not that we cant play them, they just fall into a category that’s kind of soundscape-y, quieter moments, something like Unobstructed Views is not necessarily a track we’re playing live on this tour, not to say that we won’t at some later point. We’ve always been pretty adamant about having it be just the four of us on stage, which means we do end up playing to some tracks from time to time, but what we try do is make sure whatever we’re playing to is reacting to what we’re doing. We do have a couple of tunes throughout the catalogue where we basically have to start a sample and it has to go with us, when we play Different Names For The Same Thing it’s a sequence throughout the whole song, so we have to play the sequence, we can’t just go off book. What we try to do is make sure that we have enough things that can go wrong in a particular song, that we’re never just phoning it in, we’re always having to remain present in a song.

It’s been out for a while now, have you settled on a favourite track?
I really like Doors Unlocked and Open. I really like playing it as it allows just enough improvisation and breathing to keep me on my toes every night.

I’ve developed a fixation with Bixby Canyon Bridge and trying to draw my own interpretations from it, which I guess forms a certain level of irony considering its narrative. I want to know if your own Big Sur adventure ultimately led to the emotional balance of Codes and Keys?
I think so, I feel throughout my 20s I was on a particular… I don’t want to say self destructive, but I found myself on a particular path that I knew was going to have to come to an end at some point. I think a lot of that came from the band being the sole focus of my life all the time, living my life on the road as if it was real life, and just losing a little bit of a grasp on things in life that are certainly more important than playing in a rock band. For me, that song in particular is a shot for shot recreation of an actual event in my life when we were shooting the documentary about Kerouac’s Big Sur, and one of the carrots that was dangled in front of me was like ‘if you do this, you can go to the cabin that Kerouac stayed at during that time’.

I’m sure you probably have this analogue in your life, but when you have a favourite book that takes place in a real physical place, you have your own mental image of what that place looks like, and what it is, and what powers exist there. So to actually go and see it with my eyes was sort of re-writing 15 years of having this image in my mind of what this place looked like. I went there thinking this place was going to save me, or that somehow being in this space was going to have some power over me, that I was going to get the answer, that somehow the answer was just going to make itself very clear to me. In going there and finding that there was no answer there – that was the answer; that no physical space is going to save you, no other human being is going to save you from yourself. You have to find that balance and that peace within yourself, it can’t be something that is handed to you by another person, and certainly not by a cabin in Big Sur.

The band’s work from Something About Airplanes to Plans all feels like it was gradually building towards Narrow Stairs, which is a really blunt, but explosive descent into something very dark. That album is almost your Big Sur in a way. But whereas Kerouac’s journey came towards its end, it seems that with Codes and Keys you guys have started a completely new journey, it’s the most optimistic album you’ve made. Is the aim for future Death Cab records to be as emotionally balanced as this?
I think that with every record that we make it’s always a reflection of where I am in my life at that particular time, and not just necessarily where I am, but where a lot of the people in my life are at that particular moment. That’s in a constant state of flux and change, just as my life and the lives of those around me are changing.

There are things about every one of our records that I like, and I do like the fact that Codes and Keys is a pretty balanced album, but that’s not to say that that’s going to be a trend in the subsequent albums we will make from now on. I have no idea what the next album is going to sound like. As we continue to be out touring the record, it leaves me a lot of time to think about what I want the record to be, but not a lot of time to actually write it. When we get home for an extended period of time, and are able to settle, I think the record will start to show itself to us.

I know that the Keys and Codes remix EP_ is something that you’ve wanted to do since as early as Transatlanticism, now that you’ve done it, is it something you want to do again?
Not necessarily. I really like everything that came out of it, and I think we found ourselves in a situation where we were like yeah this is finally something we’re able to do. I don’t want to not do it because I’m disappointed with it. I really love it, and I especially love the Andrew Maury and Cut Copy remixes. I think they’re just fantastic. Having somebody else take on these songs and re-envision them is really inspiring. If we were to ever approach remixes again I think it would probably be in the context of making an album. It would be much more interesting to hand over the tracks of an album to somebody who has no idea what they’re supposed to sound like and actually just make the record rather than reinvent something that already exists on a album. I really like how it turned out, but I don’t want to make a point of every album having a remix.

Chris mentioned to me that you had some left over tracks from the recording sessions of Codes and Keys, have you got any sort of plans for them in the mix yet?
We’re just going to try and find the right homes for them. Whenever we end up with extras from records, which is not that often, we tend to hold them back until we find a good place for them because the label always wants them for B-sides and then they get kind of scattered about in obscure place. For the songs that we have left over from the record, I don’t want them to suffer that fate.

That’s kind of how we ended up with The Open Door EP a couple of years ago, these were all songs we recorded for the record and the people at label said ‘we need b-sides, we need b-sides!’ and we were like “we don’t have anything, we don’t have any b-sides’ because we knew we wanted to do something else with them, and thankfully they didn’t get farmed out to German 7 inches or Japanese extended records. I think some of the joy of collecting that stuff has gone in the internet age, which for a collector or a fan is great because you don’t have to spend exuberant amounts of money on Japanese imports so you can get this song that may or may not be good. We try to package them in a way where people can easily get them

I understand you guys sent some tracks to The Flaming Lips in hopes of a collaboration, is there any developments on that ground?
Just waiting on Wayne [smiles]. Just waiting on Wayne and the boys to kind of do some work on the stuff. I’ve known Wayne for some time and he’s the kind of man who juggles a lot of things at the same time. He’s got a lot of balls in the air. We’ve sent them our tracks and if they find them inspiring and want to work on them, that’s great, if not, then there will be no love lost of course.

It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard anything about The Postal Service, is there anything more happening with it, or is that project officially lost in the post?
There’s nothing official as far as an ending of it. I think what people sometimes fail to recognise about that project is that by definition it is a project. It was never meant to be a living, breathing organism. I hate to be so cagey, but I kind of have to be, it’s kind of like ‘there maybe something at some point, there may not be’.

It’s not like a band where if you decide not to do anything for a while you have to make a statement, there was barely even a live band when the record was out. I would like to find some time to do something at a later point, but at this time we’re moving at almost ten years, which is crazy to say, but I think people should ask themselves how satisfied would they be with a new Postal Service record in 2015 or whatever? [Laughs] How good is it going to have to be to make the wait worth it? In some ways it’s probably better that there isn’t a second record, but that’s not to say there won’t be… I don’t know.

You guys got together with street artist Shepard Fairey for the Home Is A Fire video, how did a collaboration like that come about?
We’ve kind of known Shepard peripherally for some time, and our manager is really good friends with him. We kind of see him out of shows or when he has an opening, and we’re in town, we’ll go see his work, we’re fans of his stuff. He’s the kind of guy who lives for projects like that, and there were some really great moments when we were doing it too. We were going around and he was putting up these pieces, and we were in downtown LA, and there was this giant wall with nothing on it… and Shepard’s not like a punk kid anymore, he’s really famous. He just doesn’t go around tagging things, he’s really careful about where he puts things up, but anyways…

We were debating ‘maybe we’ll put this thing up and we’ll just take it right down, just so we can get the footage because it’s a really good place to do it’. It was right around the corner from this giant mural of Obama he had done, and the guy comes out of the building as Shepard is putting up this thing and he’s like ‘god damn it! I’ve been stopping kids from defacing your Obama mural for the last couple of years, and now you’re putting a piece on my wall, what the fuck!?’ [Laughs]. It was quickly defused when Shepard explained it was coming right down, but you could see how bummed this guy was that he had been stopping kids from defacing that wall, and now Shepard was there putting his piece up. There’s an element of ‘not in my backyard’ to street art, people want to have it in their life, but they don’t want it to effect their life.

Tell me a little bit about the experience of recording the video for You Are A Tourist.
For the most part, we had a couple of rehearsals where we boned it, and we were getting nervous the closer it got to shoot time, but it was a really fun experience. It was such an interesting organism to be a part of, and by the time we were finished I had a similar appreciation to it as I do the human body, like there are so many things that can go wrong, and strangely most of the time they don’t. There are a thousand things that could of went wrong when we shot this video and none of them did, and that’s just astounding to me.

During the span of your career you’ve made multiple appearances in pop culture including Gossip Girl, Twilight, and last but not least, The O.C. I discovered Death Cab through The O.C when I was a kid, and I’m glad I did because I might never of discovered your band otherwise. What do you think about the stigma that surrounds bands being involved in mainstream culture?
I don’t really have any ill feelings about it, for the exact same reason you just stated. In the States we were a fairly successful indie rock band, in the sense that we would play shows in the larger cities and maybe draw a thousand people, but for the most part we were playing small clubs everywhere, and completely content to do so. As we would tour through the States there would be these massive gaps when we would leave a city. We would play in Chicago and on the way to New York we would play three or four shows and there wouldn’t be a lot of people at those shows because there wasn’t a media outlet for them to even know about our band. I’m talking like 2000-2001, where the Internet is there, but it’s not the force it is today. It wasn’t that we were disappointed but it certainly meant that at these shows, there would be 50 people, 30 people, sometimes 20 people, and the next night we’d play in Boston and it’d be 800 people, and it’s because these people had no access to our band.

When you’re able to sidestep radio stations and MTV and all of these media outlets that are, in my opinion, so corrupt, and take our music directly into the houses of these people in areas of the country, that otherwise, would of never been able to hear our music because there’s not a radio station like KEXP in Fayetteville, Arkansas, it’s great. That was, and is still a really powerful thing for our band. We did a live interview, kind of a Q&A, for the New York Times about six years ago, and this kid stands up and says ‘I was into your band when We Have The Facts was out, and now I’m noticing people at your shows that only know you because of Twilight or _The OC_’ or whatever the fuck. The way he was saying it, it sounded like he wanted me to tell him that he was a better fan because of the fact he was into a record that was before this stuff. I let him down lightly, by saying there’s no right way to get into music.

The only wrong way to appreciate music is to say you like something because other people like it, to be insincere in your fandom, because you want to be liked by other people. It doesn’t matter if you went into the record store and got our first 7-inch on the day it came out, or if you are a fan of Twilight and only heard us when we were in the soundtrack for New Moon. If that song or our band and the music we make moves, and continue to move you after this pop culture zeitgeist of TV show or movie goes away, then that’s great. The O.C has been off the air for years, and we’re still here, we’re still putting our records, we’re still playing shows. If that had been a negative thing for our band then we wouldn’t be talking right now.

Everything co-exists now, video games, and movies, and TV shows, and music and literature, everything is all swirling in this melting pot of pop culture. To somehow pull music aside, and say the people who make music should be more selective about how they present their work to the public is naïve and foolish, and isn’t really based in the real world at all.

Comments

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davidswan

davidswan said on the 7th Mar, 2012

no offence dude but if i'd had the opportunity to interview the same band twice within months, the last thing i'd wanna do is repeat questions like that

Braveheart81

Braveheart81 said on the 7th Mar, 2012

He interviewed Chris Walla a few months ago and this interview was with Ben Gibbard.

I wouldn't say it was a case of interviewing the same band twice.

davidswan

davidswan said on the 7th Mar, 2012

he interviewed chris walla a few months ago and this interview was with ben gibbard.

i wouldn't say it was a case of interviewing the same band twice.

huh? yeah i read it. he interviewed the same band, twice. just saying it's pretty pointless to say 'would you do something like the codes and keys remix ep again' to one band member, and then ask the same thing to another band member, when there are probably a million other things you could talk about.

grattan

grattan said on the 7th Mar, 2012

Can't really see any problem with it at all. Different band members aren't necessarily going to have the same answers; they do have their own personalities and opinions. You only need to look as the the answers to the "what will the legacy of the band be in 25 years?" question - they're very different.

And the questions about the remix EP are quite different - one's a before question (how did it come about?);very the other's an after (were you happy with the result?)

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 7th Mar, 2012

so you're criticizing because I asked two different people their perspectives on the same topic, and they both gave very different answers?

just want to make sure that's what you're doing.

davidswan

davidswan said on the 7th Mar, 2012

so you're criticizing because i asked two different people their perspectives on the same topic, and they both gave very different answers?

just want to make sure that's what you're doing.

that's exactly what i'm doing. if i'm a reader i don't particularly want to read two interviews with the same band with one interviewer asking the same questions, when there's so much other ground to cover and things to learn, etc.

also, what's the difference between

"i know that the keys and codes remix ep is something that you’ve wanted to do since as early as transatlanticism, now that you’ve done it, is it something you want to do again?"

and

"with other artists being the creators of the remix ep, can we expect another ep of codes and keys based work from the band?"

they're the same question. i totally get that the two band members provided different responses to the questions you repeated, all i'm saying is my feedback would be as a fan/reader, if a journalist only gets 10-15 min with a band, i'd much rather them cover diverse topics and points of discussion, rather than retreading similar things asked to another band member. for the record, the answers were quite similar to the remix ep question... i.e. 'not really, no'.

MorningAfterboy

MorningAfterboy said on the 7th Mar, 2012

Pretty round-about way of being jealous you didn't get the feature, tbh.

davidswan

davidswan said on the 7th Mar, 2012


not jelly. just see a missed opportunity

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 7th Mar, 2012

really? because you seem to be focusing on 45 seconds of a 25 minute interview.

davidswan

davidswan said on the 7th Mar, 2012


the interview itself broadly was fine... i was just giving feedback on something specific. anyway i meant no hard feelings, but forums are for feedback, so i thought i'd give mine.

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 7th Mar, 2012

I don't have issue with feedback, in fact I always encourage it, but i sincerely, flat out disagree with your criticism, and to label the interview as a missed opportunity is really over the top and unnecessary. But if you meant no hard feelings then it's fine.

gumbuoy

gumbuoy said on the 8th Mar, 2012

ive interviewed different members from bands a few times, and i have no problem asking the same question. different people = different answers. What if Ben had said, "No we're not doing that again, but here's a top secret remix project I haven't told anyone else about yet." You never know what answer you're gonna get until you ask the question.

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 8th Mar, 2012

like grattan said the 25 years question is pretty much the nail in the coffin to this squabble, Chris gave me absolutely nothing in the first interview, and look what Ben came out with for his answer, it's great stuff. I had tons of other back up questions but I chose the ones I did because i instantly realised Ben and Chris are very, very different. Chris blatantly gave very rehearsed and methodical answers, and was kind of like drawing blood from a stone. Whereas Ben was just this honest, heart on his sleeve kind of guy. I wasn't satisfied with what Chris gave me initially, so I asked Ben, and in my opinion it payed dividends. This is my favourite interview to date, not just because of who it was with, but I genuinely found the answers all very intriguing and everything I wanted from the interview and then some.

gumbuoy

gumbuoy said on the 8th Mar, 2012



I hate when theyre like that, one word answers, no explanations. grr...

Braveheart81

Braveheart81 said on the 8th Mar, 2012

You should have asked Ben if he gets weirded out by Chris' awkwardness on stage.

You should have asked Chris is it takes practice to be that awkward on stage.

berlinchair101

berlinchair101 said on the 8th Mar, 2012

You should have asked them who Cutie was.

therat

therat said on the 8th Mar, 2012

Should have asked if that davidswan guy is still stealing underwear from his clothesline.

davidswan

davidswan said on the 8th Mar, 2012



it was zooey deschanel's underwear... as if you wouldn't!

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 8th Mar, 2012

wait, what? who got zooeys underwear?

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 8th Mar, 2012



who is the bearded dwarf in a beanie!? you better mean gareth!

Braveheart81

Braveheart81 said on the 8th Mar, 2012



Of course I meant Gareth.

I love the fact that you considered that it could be you though.

snehahaha

snehahaha said on the 8th Mar, 2012

waaah... k this is a pretty in depth interview i guess. as a lukewarm fan if anything it was a bit much for me, what with the jack kerouac and all.
i think when you reference past work it might be nice to talk about it a bit more..? you know? sure it's a stan's wet dream but i didn't really understand where you were coming from.
maybe it could have worked better as a narrative as opposed to straight q & a?
for me at least. and my death cab play count is sitting on a meagre 5.

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 8th Mar, 2012

yeah, fair play. I did consider writing this as a feature, but I didn't want to cut the content, you'd have been reading forever, but I totally understand. I'm not going to lie, this interview was written by me - for me, and people of the same fan ilk as me. So yeah selective journalism on my behalf.

it's not often you get to sit in a room with your favourite musician, wasn't prepared to scale back my questions for the sake of lukewarm fans, with all respect of course.

I'll honestly keep that in mind for next time though. cheers.

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 8th Mar, 2012

and what is a stan's wet dream!?

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 8th Mar, 2012

you're only FL friend is davidswan... convenient.

TheOriginalSlipdog

TheOriginalSlipdog said on the 8th Mar, 2012

did you get to drive the death cab?

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 9th Mar, 2012

that's exactly what i'm doing. if i'm a reader i don't particularly want to read two interviews with the same band with one interviewer asking the same questions, when there's so much other ground to cover and things to learn, etc.

also, what's the difference between

"i know that the keys and codes remix ep is something that you’ve wanted to do since as early as transatlanticism, now that you’ve done it, is it something you want to do again?"

and

"with other artists being the creators of the remix ep, can we expect another ep of codes and keys based work from the band?"

they're the same question. i totally get that the two band members provided different responses to the questions you repeated, all i'm saying is my feedback would be as a fan/reader, if a journalist only gets 10-15 min with a band, i'd much rather them cover diverse topics and points of discussion, rather than retreading similar things asked to another band member. for the record, the answers were quite similar to the remix ep question... i.e. 'not really, no'.

just to completely flog a dead horse here, I didn't really read this when you posted this, just read it properly now, these example questions aren't even remotely related.

one is asking if they are going to make another EP that isn't a remix from material left over from codes and keys.

the other is whether they were going to consider remix EPs in the future.

/thread

berlinchair101

berlinchair101 said on the 9th Mar, 2012

Alright but seriously Gregg, how many time did you ask to give him head before you were forcefully removed (from his pants)?

oldgregg

oldgregg said on the 9th Mar, 2012

that was asked multiple times, will openly admit that. erective journalism.

lineofbestfit

lineofbestfit said on the 11th Mar, 2012

the rat trying to bring back gareth hate, sorry m8 i'm m8's with most of my former internet rivals and that was pretty sad buddy. Better luck next time m8.