Saturday, April 18, 2009

Interview: Death Cab for Cutie keeps fans post-Atlantic signing

It's a familiar tale in the music biz: Favorite indie band signs deal with major label, fans reject new "mainstream" approach, band gets shuffled to the bottom of the roster, confusion ensues.

Thankfully, even if this scenario was true in the past, Death Cab for Cutie bass player Nick Harmer says, "no longer."

"We're on Atlantic records, so we're on a major label, but we don't really think about it in terms of making music major-label or indie style," Harmer said, chatting on his cell phone on a rare day off. "When I was younger there was a clear divide between major-label and indie-label and what that meant for bands, but as time has moved on and the Internet has become such a big factor, the lines between labels are blurred.

"I think the live show and overall work ethic matters more than the label releasing the music."

Death Cab - which headlines at the Breslin Center on Saturday - certainly understands the importance of a good live show and working hard. They've lived it. Formed in the late '90s in Bellingham, Wash., the band - Harmer, frontman Ben Gibbard, guitarist Chris Walla and drummer Jason McGerr - had little more to go on than a killer stage performance and catchy, indie-flavored rock tunes. Remember, this was a time before the Internet explosion of the mid-'00s. A time before bands went from zero to 1 million MySpace plays from their parents' basements. A time when gradual success was the way bands made it.

"When we first started out, the Internet was a good tool to use for word-of-mouth, like, 'Go down to the record store to buy this record and check out this band,'" Harmer said. "It didn't have an impact in terms of marketing or any of the other things bands use it for today."

"At first, all we needed was a van, some instruments and to go on the road and just tour, tour, tour."

To this day, Death Cab's music reflects that DIY work approach. Pop in the band's 2008 full-length, "Narrow Stairs," and you'll hear an organic-sounding record: four gents playing in a room, not relying on the studio for tricks, bells or whistles, capturing the energy and spirit of Death Cab, as players. Lyrically and musically darker than previous releases, "Stairs" is uncharted for the band - a pilgrimage from light-hearted melancholy to more somber, mysterious compositions - but it still reflects classic alt-rock influences like the Talking Heads, Concrete Blonde and Weezer.

"Our goal on this record was to get back to some recording basics," Harmer said. "We started recording that way, and as time went on, we added more and more to the process, so we finally said, 'Let's get back to basics.'"

And it worked. The album's first single, "I Will Possess Your Heart" - a charming (and perhaps a little stalk-ish) rock ballad about a boy in love with a girl and determined to get her attention - jetted to No. 1 on the alternative rock chart last year.

Last winter, Death Cab came out with another fan goodie: a 10th-anniversary edition of its debut album, "Something About Airplanes." And now, look for the band's just-released EP, "The Open Door," with tracks that didn't quite fit the mood of "Narrow Stairs."

"We recorded a bunch of songs in the studio but didn't want to make the record 18 songs long," Harmer said. "So the songs that make up the EP are there because we didn't want to them to disappear or become obscure. They deserved a proper home and release."

When asked the best part about being in Death Cab, Harmer says it's simply "the friendship."

"The fact I get to make music with three of my best friends and have all kinds of adventures together, and then we get to come home and talk about them for the rest of our lives, that's awesome. We never imagined we would get to do this as long as we have. We're lucky."
By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ/NOISE

No comments:

Post a Comment