Death Cab For Cutie
Since beginning as Ben Gibbard’s solo project in 1997, Death Cab for Cutie fashioned an instantly distinctive sound. Anchored by the guitarist’s soft-but-sincere voice, the Bellingham, Washington, quartet became exponents for a style of indie rock that paired serene melodies, candid lyrics, layered guitars and bob-and-weave rhythms. Memorable tunes include the shuffling memoir “Grapevine Fires,” the hypnotic, Grammy-nominated “I Will Possess Your Heart” and the acoustic ballad “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” which seems to be among the most performed song at Millennials’ weddings. The group takes its name from a doo-wop parody tune created by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band rendered in the 1967 Beatles film “Magical Mystery Tour.”
“We did a West Coast tour in 1998. There were so many terrible shows on that tour that it’s difficult to pin one down. I remember we were supposed to play outside in Fullerton, California. It was on campus and intended to be on this patio in a coffee shop. When we got to the show, not only did we realize the show was free – so we wouldn’t get paid – it was raining, so we had to play inside the coffeehouse. Chris (Walla) at the time had this little tiny amp. He plugged it in and hit one chord to test it. The kid who was putting on the show ran over and said, ‘What are you doing? That is too loud!’
“It precipitated into an almost-fight. Chris was like, ‘We’re a rock band. This is a rock show.’
“It was a series of negotiations because people were studying. But it was in that era of the band where you had to take whatever you could get. There was no Internet presence to tell everybody there was a band called Death Cab for Cutie and they had a really exciting record out so go see them. There was no Pitchfork culture – which in some ways was better.
“We came up in an interesting time. We were one of the last bands who were able to establish themselves over the course of a few albums before people even knew who we were. That made for some trying times. You were at the mercy of whether there was a college station nearby that was playing the record. Or there was a record store that actually stocked the record. In some ways, it’s much easier now. If somebody is doing brilliant work, they can immediately be discovered. Allowed to sink or swim based on their own merits. But I’m glad we came up at the time we did. If we were the people we were then now, I don’t think we’d survive over two or three records.
“I remember we finished the show but there was nobody there to see it. People were more upset because they were there to study. Mind you, this is also the night after a show where we showed up in Santa Ana, California, and we were berated for not bringing our own microphones. Apparently, people stole the microphones all the time. So we had to make a deal with one of the five hardcore bands that had been put on that bill. Because our name was Death Cab for Cutie, they thought we were a punk band.
“It was a crazy time. We didn’t know any better. We just went along with it.”
— Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie