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The Comedy of Errors

Death Cab For Cutie

27 June 11 words: Paul Klotschkow
"It is possible that as I get older I will write songs that have less appeal to teenagers and people in their 20s, because I would be a different person"
Death Cab For Cutie Interview
Ben Gibbard (Second Left) from Death Cab For Cutie speaks to LeftLion

Death Cab For Cutie have just released their seventh album 'Codes and Keys' and are currently in the middle of a world wide tour that touches down at Rock City on Tuesday 5 July. We were fortunate enough to speak to singer Ben Gibbard on the phone from Chicago where the band were getting ready to play a show...

Hi Ben, I see that you are currently in Chicago?
Hi, yes, the band are playing The Metro tonight. It’s a great small and intimate venue. We’ve played here a few number of times in the early years, so it’s good to go back.

How easy is it to replicate the new songs live?
Some are easier than others. Some of the songs from the new album would be impossible to replicate live, so they might not get played. With a song like Unobstructed Views that is just like a soundscape, so it is a matter of approximation when playing it as we wouldn’t be able do it as it is on the record. For the new songs we are using a lot of samples that I’m triggering with my feet, vocal loops, and delay pedals. It is early days for the new songs and we are still working them out.

Your playing Rock City in July. Do you have any memories of your previous shows in Nottingham?
I’m not just saying this and I don’t say it about every where we play, but we’ve played Nottingham two or three times before, once in the smaller room next to Rock City (Rescue Rooms), and the crowds have always been great. When you travel around in a band you notice that the way a crowd reacts is regionally specific, you get a different feel from them and sense the local colour. Nottingham has always been great and the crowds have always been vibrant. I’m excited to be going back to playing this dirty rock club.

What is going through your mind when you are up on stage?
It varies from show to show. In the recent shows that we are playing we are still working out the kinks, so I’m thinking about stuff like the monitor mix and the transition from song to song, seeing how the new songs fit in to the set. This means that the current shows are a bit more cerebral at the moment. When it’s a good show you are just thinking about the songs and getting taken back to the time the songs were written, trying to find the spark. If it is a bad show my mind tends to drift and I maybe might start thinking about the next show or what I’m going to do after the gig. I think that we’ve got better at, and I know that this isn’t a cool thing to say if you are an indie rock band, but being more professional. So if we aren’t having a good show now people can tell. In the early days if I was having a bad show I would be vocal about it and let the audience know. I’m aware that people are paying a lot of money to see the band and want to hear a good show.

Are you always writing songs or do you just write when you know you’ve got to write and album?
When I’m on tour and have a new album to promote there really isn’t any time to write, and by that time I’m had enough of writing new music. When I’ve finished a record I need time to decompress and just to live my life. I need to have a time for output, I just can’t do it all of the time. I have a little studio in LA where I go to when I’m writing and I treat it like a job, going in every day and trying to write from 9 to 5. I can’t write at home as there are too many distractions, I need to be physically somewhere else.

Do you ever worry about running out of things to write and sing about?
No I don’t. I think that if you are living your life with an open heart you will always find things to write about. It is possible that as I get older I will write songs that have less appeal to teenagers and people in their 20s, because I would be a different person and would be having different experiences. I couldn’t write and album like We Have The Facts... anymore. This is why I’m such a big Paul Simon fan, because he continues to grow and writes about what he is feeling now and isn’t always trying to write a song like Bright Eyes.

When you record an album do you have a clear idea of how you want it to sound?
Not really, it tends to be that when we start recording the record starts to tell us how it should sound. When the band reconvenes we toss around ideas, influences and whatever toys we have been playing with whilst we have been away, and eventually the album starts to show itself. One of the great things about this band is that there is a division of labour and when we have been away we have all been perfecting our own craft, everyone brings something to the table. We are all inspired by things that we love and there are no shortage of ideas. Then we refine the ideas that we all enjoy and agree on.

What are your favourite songs on the new album?
I really enjoy playing Doors Unlocked and Open live, it translates really well live. Some Boys is another good one despite it having less lyrics and more hooks. This time around the songs are a little more refined and less verbose. The songs have more space and instead off adding more we are always trying to take things out.

How long did it take to plan and rehearse the video for You Are A Tourist (The video was recorded live in one take)?
It took two days for us to rehearse it. There were loads of other people involved in the making of the video like the choreographers and the dancers, but because our name is attached to it we get to take all of the glory. It was actually the idea of Aaron Stewart-Ahn, who we collaborated with in the past and the Director, Tim Nackashi, was brilliant. Really, all we had to do was just show up.

Are there any mistakes in it that eagled-eyed views may be able to spot?
Not really, it all went as planned. There may be a couple of things, but they are purely circumstantial and it would just be nit picking.

Are the two runners a reference to We Have The Facts?
Yes they are, that is awesome that you have spotted that. No one has ever told me that before, I’m going to tell the band right after this interview. We decided to put in a couple of inside jokes, references to old Death Cab stuff. There is the boat and the birds too...

You probably get bored of people asking you this, but will there ever be another Postal Service album?
It is a perfectly natural question to ask. The Postal Service isn’t a band, bands break-up, the Postal Service was just a side project. So I’ll never say that there won’t be another album, but it’s more likely that there won’t be. I don’t want to be wish-washy about it all.

Who is your favourite historical figure?
Hmm...let me think about that one. I’m stumped, my mind has gone blank. There are so many to choose from. I’ll have a think and send my response by email.

I often get that when I go in to a record store and can just never think of anything to buy...
Yes, I used to get that too and walk out all of the time, but now I just keep a list of everything that I want to buy. I have a friend who is like my musical guru and has far more knowledge then me, and he always recommends stuff to me. One of the things that I miss when I am on tour is listening to my records, reading and hanging out with my wife.

That’s the end, thanks for your time Ben.
Thank you and I’ll see you in Nottingham.

Death Cab For Cutie play at Rock City on Tuesday 5 July 2011. You can buy tickets here.

Death Cab For Cutie's latest album Codes and Keys is out now on Atlantic Records.

Death Cab For Cutie website

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