Catch a Taxi to the Dark Side
Death Cab for Cutie are willing to try anything, now that they’re ‘insane’
Bellingham, Washington’s indie rock sensation Death Cab for Cutie may sound like the logical conclusion to a night on the town with a boozy starlet, but in reality they are named after the song performed by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in The Beatles’ 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour. Expanding on their previous body of work, which consisted of five noteworthy studio releases including We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes (2000) and Transatlanticism (2005), the Grammy-nominated rock quartet delivered their most ambitious project to date, Narrow Stairs, this past May. Providing a decidedly darker take on DCFC’s bestselling pop-rock odes to teenage heartache, their newest CD stirred waves of dissent amongst fans who had fallen in love with the band’s soundtrack contributions to television shows including Six Feet Under, CSI: Miami, Californication and, most famously, The O.C.. While founding member and bassist Nick Harmer hardly fits the boy-band rebel-without-a-clue formula one might expect of a group that has cashed cheques from The Wedding Crashers soundtrack, he remains pretty much indifferent when it comes to who is enjoying his music.
“I knew we were pushing ourselves,” he says of the new album. “People were saying that we’d gone mad or something. It didn’t border on insane, but we did try to turn things on their head. I think that at the core it’s still recognizable as our sound. We were just stretching into different corners until we felt a massive breakthrough… and now that we’re ‘insane,’ anything is possible. We had to re-approach things in order to avoid running into an audio cul-de-sac. Too many bands go that way and wind up writing themselves into a rut — that will [only] make you successful in the short term.”
Though they’d clearly prefer artistic longevity to quickly gotten gains, DCFC remain somewhat in denial of their status as prom kings of the Billboard charts. Still, there’s no reason they couldn’t strike a balance between popularity and integrity — a balance that current tour-mate Neil Young has struck throughout his career. Like Young, Death Cab clearly have no qualms about taking musical turns that might isolate their audience. Also like Young, Harmer and his bandmates are not afraid to get political at any given opportunity and inspire their generation into action.
“I’m basically screaming from the rooftops for people to please vote for Obama,” Harmer says of the upcoming U.S. election. “Young people especially need to stand up and be counted. I think there’s a huge constituency who don’t show up to vote because they feel disenfranchised, and, like their concerns, are neither heard nor respected. These days, technology and the Internet have equalized a lot of barriers based on age. A 12-year-old blogger can have as much influence as a 40-year-old novelist. People are realizing that they have more individual power and importance than ever before. So often in America it seems like things are geared to looking at the older generation and meeting their needs first. We’re doing what we can to encourage people to make their voices heard.”
Keeping their feet wet on the activist front, the band will soon make its first appearance at Young’s Bridge School Benefit, an annual charity event hosted by the rocker and his wife featuring consistently stellar lineups. It’s all part and parcel of their new regimen of greeting every opportunity with open arms and open eyes.
“We’ve got a new focus when we’re playing, and we want people to know early on to expect the unexpected,” Harmer says.
by Christine Leonard
Originally published October 16, 2008 in FastForward Magazine.