“Oh God, I’m such an old man,” Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla lamented. The band’s 29-year-old guitarist is suffering from a lingering cold. But his poor health isn’t the only reason he feels like he’s not getting any younger. Plans, the band’s latest album, is “a little bit more of an oblique record,” Walla said, in contrast with their last album, Transatlanticism. “We’re near 30 – You just sort of end up asking more questions.”
Plans is indeed full of plaintive inquiries – as well as Catholic nuns, marching bands, piss and Formula 409. Fans of Washington’s indie sweethearts will notice a smoother, quieter feel on Plans.
“It’s a little bit more of a sleeper,” Walla said. “It’s not quite as obvious as the last record was.” Transatlanticism, the band’s masterful 2003 soundtrack-to-a-breakup, has sold over one million copies since its release on the small Seattle label Barsuk. It’s a tough act to follow.
But Plans still tempers lyrical punch with musical beauty in a way that is different from Transatlanticism, but no less characteristic of Death Cab’s sound. “Clearly, it’s a less rocking record,” Walla admitted. “There are fewer guitars.”
That’s not the only change: Plans was released on Atlantic Records, and this jump to a larger label from a smaller, independent one had many fans worried. But Walla said reassuringly that their deal with Atlantic is “working out really, really well.”
Even in the face if such success, the motif of loss is certainly prevalent on Plans. In “What Sarah Said,” lead singer Ben Gibbard slowly traipses toward the haunting lyric, “Love is watching someone die.” The simple acoustic gem of the album, “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” promises, “If there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks / Then I’ll follow you into the dark.”
These intimations of endings don’t refer to specific people or places for the band, but are personal in a broader sense. “You know, there’s always that feeling of like, ‘who am I going to be when I grow up? What am I going to do for a living?’ ” Walla admitted. “Then there’s a feeling of, ‘Oh, this is who I am and this is what I do.’ ” Elaborating on this, he said, “That inevitably leads to ‘Well how do I, you know, deal with that? What’s after this stage of my life?’ It’s the (feeling of) people around you going away. I think Ben did a pretty great job of dealing with that in a couple of cases on the record.”
Death, of course, is also a part of the band’s name. Even some devoted fans are still ignorant as to the meaning of their conspicuous moniker.
“There’s a scene in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (where) John and Paul are sitting in a black tent,” Walla explained, “and there’s a band playing a song called ‘Death Cab for Cutie.’ That band is – sort of a British old-school institution, and it’s kind of obscure,” the guitarist added with a laugh.
After ten years and a half dozen albums together, Death Cab thankfully has no plans of slowing their pace. What will the band be doing in five years? Chuckling, Walla predicted, “Let’s see… (in) five years – probably doing another tour like we’re doing right about now.”
As for the band’s immediate future Death Cab is playing a show tonight at the Michigan Theater. Finding a comfortable, accommodating place to play has been somewhat of a trial for the band in the Metro-Detroit area. “When we played the Majestic in Detroit it was kind of rotten and it kind of didn’t work out the way any of us kind of thought it was gonna work out,” Walla admitted. “We’ve been bouncing around the towns around Detroit.”
Walla brightened, intimating that the band is revved up for the performance at the Michigan Theater. “I’m really excited about it. Ben’s whole family is from Ann Arbor,” adding emphatically, “He’s got the whole family flying out.”