It’s one thing for a band to claim that it’s going
to remain faithful to its roots, and another thing entirely to
actually follow through with it. But throughout their seven years
and four critically acclaimed records, Seattle-based indie-pop
outfit Death Cab for Cutie have done just that, even in the face of
major label contract offers, growing fame and numerous side
projects. As Death Cab bassist Nick Harmer explained, “Our
mantra has been that we just stay true to our own urges and our own
impulses and really be honest with ourselves as far as what we want
to accomplish musically.”

Music Reviews
Death Cab for Cutie: Obviously not in it for the chicks. (Courtesy of Barsuk)

It’s that mentality that allows Death Cab to turn down
major labels in favor of indie label Barsuk Records without a
second thought. “(Major labels) don’t really seem to
believe in what we believe in, which is artist development …
I just don’t really see that that’s the way that you
can nurture a band for a lifelong career,” Harmer said.
“There’s really no point in moving from a situation
that we’re already in, which is we have absolute control over
what we’re doing and how we’re presented and where we
play and who we play with.”

Despite the limited resources at their disposal over the last
seven years, Death Cab have grown from an underground upstart in
Seattle to an internationally known act playing shows in Europe,
Australia and Japan. “The spread of our band has been a nice
crescendo. Each tour we’ve done has gathered a little bit
more people. Each record we’ve made has sold a few more
copies than the last. It seems to be a nice natural
progression,” Harmer explained. The group even found a famous
fan in “O.C.” character Seth Cohen and recently made an
appearance on Craig Kilborn’s “The Late Late
Show.”

Due in part to their newfound fame, Death Cab’s latest
record, Transatlanticism, is their most polished and
professional to date. While the group maintains their signature
sound of guitar hooks and frontman Ben Gibbard’s lilting
vocals, the overall sound is crisper and cleaner. “Our access
to gear and to studios has increased with better touring and as our
records sell more, then we get a little more income that we can
play around with. Buy a better microphone here or spend more money
on tape or time in a studio here,” Harmer said. He also
attributes much of the band’s more refined sound to guitarist
and producer Chris Walla, who has worked with acts such as Hot Hot
Heat, The Long Winters and the Stratford 4: “Chris is
definitely becoming a better producer as time goes on. The more
bands he records, the more records he makes, he learns more about
his craft … He’s really honed his craft as a producer
and is really getting confident behind the mixing board.”

Even with several extracurriculars, including Walla’s
production work and Gibbard’s indie/electronica side project
The Postal Service, Death Cab remain a tight-knit group. In fact,
Harmer believes that side projects are actually a key to the
band’s success. “That’s really been a lot of the
secret to our health and our longevity as a band is our ability to
take time away from Death Cab,” he said.

And for a band that would rather avoid the trappings of
big-money contracts, health and longevity are at the forefront. As
Harmer explained, “We’d like to try to be musicians for
a long time if possible … and be Death Cab for Cutie for as
long as we possibly can. Being a band and making music has never
really been a way for us to drive sports cars and get on
‘Cribs.’ ”

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