Death Cab for Cutie is an indie rock/pop band that came together in Washington state in 1997. The group grew out of a solo recording project by singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist Ben Gibbard. The band's first release as Death Cab For Cutie (A name taken from a song by the rock/comedy group The Bonzo Dog Doo- Dah Band) was 1998's Something About Airplanes. They released their early records through the indie label Barsuk, but were then picked up by Atlantic Records and were an early example of an alternative band entering the mainstream very successfully. They have paved the way for more recent indie bands like Real Estate to take a similar path. The current band line-up is Ben Gibbard, Nick Harmer and Jason McGerr. Here are 10 of Death Cab For Cutie's best known and best loved songs.
10."Your Heart Is An Empty Room" - Chiming guitars and softly seductive vocals here. This is a song that encourages the lonely hearted to get out and embrace life's possibilities. It is a track from the 2005 album Plans.
9."Little Wanderer" - This is a tune from the group's 2015 album Kintsugi. An infectious and haunting guitar weave runs through the verses and creates a compelling vibe. This track could be thought of as a natural successor to classics by 1960s singer/songwriters like Del Shannon ("Runaway," "Keep Searchin"), updated for this current generation.
8."No Sunlight" - From the band's 2008 album Narrow Stairs, this isa bouncy little pop/rock tune that starts out in a lyrical place as bright and breezy as the song's groove and melody. Then, as is typical of Death Cab's tendencies, the mood turns darker and heavier. The band makes it work quite effectively.
7."Grapevine Fires" - This is a band that could never be accused of writing fluffy 'moon and June' type lyrics. As is often the case, they create very infectious pop/rock that goes in its own unique direction with its story line here. Classic DCFC.
6."Black Sun" - As the title would indicate, this is a very dark themed song. The arrangement builds from a mid-tempo sparse backing to a full-on bombastic crescendo.The lyrics, as as often the case with Death Cab For Cutie, are well crafted and convey a haunting narrative and the music completes that vibe.
5."Meet Me On The Equinox" - This is a very atmospheric, percussion driven tune. It was written for and released as the first single from the soundtrack to the 2009 film "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." The video for this release was directed by the Walter Robot team and it premiered that October 2009.
4."The Ghosts of Beverly Drive" - A killer hook propels this tune that is a bit rockier than usual for the band. The chorus is infectious to the max. It is the second single from their 2015 album Kintsugi. Death Cab has evolved but retains their own particular formula of semi-quirky but still very accessible pop/rock.
3."Soul Meets Body" - This was the first single from the band's fifth album, Plans, from 2005. It is like the quintessential indie rock/pop song sonically and in its overall feel. It does have a very signature Death Cab lyrical thing happening as well, both abstract and vivid word pictures abound.
2."You Are A Tourist" - From the 2011 album Codes and Keys, it was the first single release from that collection. This is a very rhythmic tune with a catchy pop hook. The video for the tune, which is quite a production, was actually shot in one take.
1."I Will Possess Your Heart" - This is one of the band's most well known and successful tracks, and in fact was nominated for the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song, An extended instrumental introduction that features distortion guitar and keyboards sets the moody vibe in motion before the vocals come in. As the title would indicate, the song is about about obsessive love. DCFC creates something haunting and unique here.
Death Cab For Cutie is a band that had a huge part in introducing alternative music to the mainstream. Their catalog holds up as unique high quality pop/rock. Keep up with all the latest new information on Death Cab For Cutie here.
Over the span of his nearly two-decade career, Death Cab for Cutie‘s Ben Gibbard has been a guiding light to a massive slew of twenty somethings who turned to his songs for comfort and understanding at the toughest points of adolescence in the online age. On Kintsugi, the band’s 8th studio album, Gibbard takes on more mature themes, pulling back from his oft highly-detailed songwriting on past albums to produce broader, more inclusive songs that still bear the same melancholic weight found on fan favorites like We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes and Transatlanticism. We chat with the songwriter about The Cure, his Seattle studio and why “There She Goes” is the best song ever.
Did you have any audience in mind when writing Kintsugi?
It’s not something I ever think about. I never write with an audience in mind. My goal is to write the most honest and earnest songs I can and try to write to the best of my ability in whatever situation I find myself in. I let the cards fall as they will. I like to think the subject matter on this record spans the last couple years of my life, some joyful moments and some far from joyful times. I like to hope that when people hear this record they can at least find a couple moments in it that they can truly like.
How long have you been writing songs?
I’ve been writing songs since I was 13. Instead of giving me what I wanted, my parents would make me do something I didn’t want to do first as some kind of pay-it-forward on my commitment to the thing I actually wanted to do. So if I wanted to play guitar, they were like, “Well, you have to take piano lessons first.” When I was little kid I wanted to take karate and they said I had to take ballet first. A lot of times the first thing they would make me do would discourage me from doing the second thing. Like I went to one ballet class when I was 7-years-old and I was like, “I don’t like this, it’s not for me,” so I never got to take karate lessons. With guitar, I took piano lessons from age 9 or 10 until I was 13, and when I was 13 I got my first electric guitar. I liked punk rock bands like Dead Milkman and was writing the songs a 13-year-old would write.
Do you remember any of those first songs in particular?
Looking back, there are a few songs I wrote when I was 15 or 16 in my first band in high school. I was so proud of the name – we were called Oddfellows Local, named after the REM song “Oddfellows Local 151,” and I wrote a song called “The Bread of Peasants,” which was a political tune because I was into political stuff at the time. Now, looking back, it was a terrible song, as are most songs written by any 16 year old, but I was learning. You’re kind of trying things on, trying to figure out how songs fit together. I still have those tapes. I put them on and they’re pretty funny.
How do you go about writing songs?
This record is not much different than most of the other albums I’ve written songs for. I let a drum machine drone in my little workplace studio and I just play guitar and piano, or I’ll pull a sample off a record, whether it’s a guitar sample or a drum sample or just something I find interesting. I always write the music first, or I start out writing chord changes, melodies, riffs or whatever else first. Then, hopefully the song will reveal itself to me and I can write a couple lines and see the song in my mind and see the characters and the maze through which the song takes me. The moment when that fails is when I just can’t see it. I have to see it like it is a movie in my mind and be able to visualize the people in the song and really see what they’re going through. Sometimes that doesn’t work and sometimes it works well because I can see it really quickly.
Do you find that you write a lot from the point of view of characters or do you mostly write about your own life?
I write a lot of songs in first person. I like that perspective. To me, whether or not you’re writing about yourself or from the perspective of a character, it gives the song a particular sense of authenticity, which writing in third person doesn’t quite accomplish. For me, that’s one of the reasons why I think people believe everything I write is biographical, because I write in first person so often. There is obviously a part of myself in every song that I write, and it varies in degree from song to song, but I think it’s an odd predicament songwriters find themselves in, unlike people who write screenplays or novels or anything else. There’s always a sense that if you’re writing a song in first person, you’re speaking about yourself. That doesn’t tend to be true all the time with me. I guess there’s also the notion that if you’re writing by yourself you’re writing about a character. You’re creating a character of yourself that’s not an accurate reflection of reality. I don’t mean to sidestep the question, but it tends to happen more often times than not that you’re bending reality to write the song instead of writing an accurate depiction of a series of events.
Are there any songs that you’ve released that you could go back and change now? Like a line you could rewrite or a guitar riff you could redo.
There are a few songs I’ve written that I don’t think are necessarily overtly bad songs, but when I wrote them, I didn’t believe in them. I was writing from a perspective that I didn’t have and I was kind of forcing myself to finish the tune. One of them is called “For What Reason,” which is off the album We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes, and the other song is “Someday You Will Be Loved” on Plans. I think the songs are fine. I don’t think they’re objectively bad songs. But I remember writing them and not going through the motions lyrically, and thinking that those songs were like versions of songs I’ve already written, and I didn’t feel like I was finding any insight in them, but I finished them and they ended up on those albums. Thankfully they’re not the songs people are yelling for at live shows normally, but I’m not embarrassed of them.
Who are your favorite songwriters?
I feel like that’s a top five list that is constantly changing. As I get older, there are people who I listen to now who I didn’t listen to as a kid. Robert Smith is a writer who made me want to write songs. Listening to The Cure at 13-14 years old, as an open-hearted, emotional teenager resonated with me in a really profound way. I was walking down to my studio today and put on Disintegration. I’ve been listening to Disintegration for 25 years, maybe even more than that, and I still put it on and get taken with it. The lyrics are heavy and very dark and emotional. It’s very much of him, and nobody can do that kind of lyric writing the way he can. So I love Robert Smith. Just a couple weeks ago I saw one of my favorite songwriters in Seattle, another gentleman named Lloyd Cole who made records in the ’80s with a band called Lloyd Cole and the Locomotions. He’s kind of a British indie-rock, intelligent, hyper-literate singer-songwriter who is still making records. He’s in his mid-50s now, and he made a record last year called Standards, and it’s one of those albums I listened to and felt inspired by. I tend to be inspired by writers who are still active and have things to say about their lives, even when they’re too old for rock and roll. That record, Standards, is one of his best albums. It’s his umpteenth album, and the way he’s writing about his life and the stories he’s telling are fantastic. I saw him here in Seattle and I turned to my girlfriend and said, “This is the guy I want to be in 20 years. I want to have a body of work that can entertain a crowd for this long and have an album that is relevant in the context of his own work.” It was a really inspiring performance. On that same note, I’m friends with Mark Kozelek, but Mark has been one of my favorite songwriters for a long time as well. There were periods a handful of years ago where he was doing more of a talking blues sort of thing. The songs were very straightforward, and sometimes they were working, and sometimes they weren’t. Those songs culminated with his most recent record, Benji, which came out last year. He’s in his mid-40’s and he’s been making records for 25 years, and I think it’s arguably his best record. He’s writing about middle age in a way that nobody has written about it before. To my knowledge, somebody like Paul Simon, who is another one of my favorite songwriters, has been able to touch on it in places throughout his career, certainly on Graceland and later ’80s era records. I think Mark is doing it in a way that is pretty profound and very original and inspiring.
What do you think is the most annoying thing about songwriting?
The most annoying thing about it for me is that I lack the ability to just sit down and do it. There are songwriters in the world who can just sit around and write songs all day, even if they’re not overly inspired. They can just sit and work. I try to keep a very regimented schedule of writing. I treat it like a job. I literally have an office in downtown Seattle and with a small pro-tools rig, a couple of small amps and a piano, and I treat going there like I’m going to work and writing music. It’s frustrating that you can’t do it when you want to do it. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s really flowing, and I’m able to write more in a week or a month than I am able to in the previous month, and then it will go dry for awhile. To paraphrase what my friend Britt [Daniel] from Spoon said, “Inspiration likes to find you hard at work. You’ve got to write those 10 bad songs to get to that good one.” I’ve never felt like an artist. I’ve always felt like a craftsman. I’ve felt songwriting is very much like a job where you go in and work. In some ways I’ve been jealous of songwrites and musicians who carry themselves like artists. I’ve never felt that way.
What do you consider to be the perfect song and why?
That’s easy. It’s “There She Goes” By The La’s. The first time I heard it when I was a kid, it felt so familiar, yet so fresh to me. The chord progression, the feel of it… it’s ground that’s been covered before, but if it’s been covered before, why do I feel like it’s the freshest thing I’ve heard in my life? To me, lyrically, I think it’s brilliant too because it’s a song about heroin. On its surface, it’s a light pop song, kind of a ’60s mod-esque pop song, but at its core it’s a song about heroin addiction. The lyrics are so simple that I think people have misinterpreted it as a nice little light song and it’s really not. I have heard that song thousands of times and I never tire of it. If I had to hear a song for the rest of my life it would be that song. That whole record is phenomenal, but that song in particular is perfect. There is nothing wrong with it. The dual meaning of that lyric and what’s hidden inside that song is really kind of amazing.