Death Cab For Cutie
Death Cab For Cutie, the little indie band that could, are returning to our shores in February in support of their brilliant seventh studio album, Codes and Keys. The Bellingham natives are one of the most consistent acts in the music industry and their lachrymose sound has been winning critical acclaim for over a decade, maintaining their ‘indie cred’ despite notable affiliations with Seth Cohen and The Twilight Saga.
Ahead of their Australian tour guitarist/Producer Chris Walla to FL about Codes and Keys, the EP of remixes that followed, and keeping it fresh after all these years.
Codes and Keys is your seventh album, and still you guys are turning out such brilliant consistency. The new record sounds unlike anything you’ve done before. How do you keep it fresh and stay inspired but still maintain that essence that people have loved about you since the beginning?
Well first, thank you, that’s nice of you to say, second, I don’t know. I mean any band that maintains the same chemistry from record to record is going to maintain some sort of stylistic centre to what they’re doing, particularly when you have the same voice singing from record to record. Obviously Codes and Keys is no different in that regard. I just feel from album to album we try and change up the process to some degree or another.
The previous record Narrow Stairs was very much an ‘everybody on the floor, everything going down live all at once, straight to tape kind of record’, and this record was very pieced together. It was very much a patchwork quilt of an album, and it makes for a very different listening experience.
You stepped back from mixing Codes and Keys, with Alan Moulder coming in for the most part, but you were a lot more involved in the writing process. How was it for you birthing and introducing demos to the band as opposed to Ben [Gibbard]?
Well you know it was just those couple of songs, but it was a pretty natural extension of what we’ve been doing all along. There’s never been any hard and fast rules about who does what or who presents what. It just happens that for a long time Ben has been the initial genesis of the songs. Throwing instrumental tracks at him was really fun, and I feel like both those songs turned out really well. I think it’s something we’ll probably end up doing more of.
What songs did you do?
Home is a Fire and Underneath The Sycamore, and then I also kind of really dismantled and reassembled Unobstructed Views. That was the other one I sort of got really ‘70s synth obsessed with.
In an interview earlier in the year you stated that We Have The Facts is your favourite album, but you thought that the new record might actually take its place. So what’s the verdict?
You know I still think it’s We Have The Facts, and I went back and listened to it again because we just started playing Scientist Studies again, and I think so much of my love for that record is an attachment to a time and a place and a particular kind of… I don’t know, that album has a really specific kind of purpose about it. We were after a really specific, hyper-careful kind of perfection. The record’s far from perfect obviously, but we were careful in ways that we had never been careful before, and don’t think we have been careful since. Sometimes that kind of care and being precious about something, can lead to that something feeling really weak, or paranoid, or really precious and I just feel like something lined up with that record and all of that attention to detail just turned into something that represents a really specific time and place in our lives. I think it’s just a bizarre kind of unusual document. I think I’ll always have a really soft spot for it.
Which has been the most challenging album or specific track for you to produce?
I think Home is a Fire was a real rat to whip into shape just because of the way it started. It was sort of like trying to build a huge castle on top of a mountain of toothpicks. It was really kind of difficult and we approached it backwards, but I really like how it came out. Man, getting there was not the easiest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve probably taken some weeks off my life whipping it into shape [laughs].
Not many people would ever associate Death Cab with dance remixes, but there we have it, the Keys and Codes Remix EP. Tell me a little as to how and why something like this comes about?
Well this is the first record where it really felt like it made sense. We had talked about doing something like that as early on as Transatlanticism, but the thing about Transatlanticism, and Plans, and Narrow Stairs is that none of the songs felt modular. They all felt very much like linear performances and linear expressions, and they didn’t really feel like the sort of thing… obviously they are the sort of thing that somebody could pull apart and re-imagine, but they weren’t the sorts of things that we really wanted anyone to pull apart or re-imagine.
As a point of stubborn pride we were always really excited about the idea that there were no bonuses or outtakes for Transatlanticism. That record is those 11 songs and nothing else came of those sessions, and there were no remixes or anything else. That’s the whole record and that was always a sort of point of pride in a way. The thing with this record was that it was built rather than grown. It felt like having somebody un-build it and build something else out of those Legos, out of those representative pieces, just made a lot of sense. And so it seemed like a really good opportunity to try something like that out, and that’s what we did. I’m really happy with the results; I think it came out super well.
With other artists being the creators of the Remix EP, can we expect another EP of Codes and Keys based work from the band?
I don’t think so, I mean there are a couple of tracks that didn’t make the record, but we have yet to figure out exactly what’s going to happen with those, but I really don’t think it’s going to be an EP. I mean they’ll see the light of day, they’re pretty cool, one of them especially I think is a home run. It was just kind of a little bit too far into 70’s synthesis territory to actually make sense on the record.