After being together for almost fifteen years, indie rockers Death Cab For Cutie have seen their fair share of shows, festivals and venues. But until last night, frontman Ben Gibbard never felt it “appropriate” to talk about their songs’ inspiration, or more specifically, his intricate writing process. “I’m still figuring it out for myself,” admitted the lead singer, figuratively scratching his head as he explained the varied characters and scenarios that have occupied Death Cab’s lyrics over the years. However, in front of our VH1 Storytellers production crew and a slew of psyched-up fans in a Los Angeles studio last night, Ben opened up and finally shared the band’s story in his own way, painting pictures with words, allowing us all to be transported back in time to shake hands with his vision.
Hailing from Bellingham, Washington, we learned that Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben, Nick, Chris and (then-drummer) Nathan moved to Seattle early in their career, and were initially frustrated by the hungry artist lifestyle. According to the stories he shared with us, eating humble pie was a ongoing fixture in Ben’s creative process: Being laughed at by a car full of girls on the highway for driving his 1992 “couch on wheels” Buick Regal was part of Gibbard’s impetus for writing “Title and Registration,” and the modesty the band faced in the Seattle transition — what they then considered to be “the big city” — he found to be specifically trying. “There are few things more demoralizing than groveling for a job that you don’t even want,” Ben stated plainly when articulating the origins for “The Employment Pages,” a track off their second LP, We Have The Facts and We’re Voting Yes.
Cutting to more elevated, contemporary times (which came with a few personnel changes to the band), Gibbard began throwing literary references around like a quarterback tosses a football, citing Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his author wife Zelda as inspiration for the band’s new album’s title track, “Codes and Keys.” The idea of “two artists living together” spoke to him, just like the force that enabled him to not necessarily “write” fan-favorite “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” but rather have it “channeled” through him in his Seattle studio in only fifteen minutes. Even the band’s set list was orchestrated with a writer’s cerebral signature, touching upon each album in Death Cab’s discography — plus an EP! — all while still encouraging fans to find their own unique interpretations.
One set of details that are not open to interpretation, however, are the bar stools mentioned on the group’s third album lead single, “A Movie Script Ending.” Gibbard nostalgically recalled a “short-lived boycott” of The Beaver, their early days’ neighborhood bar in Bellingham. After raising the price of pitchers from $3 to $3.50, the band was outraged and vowed to never return. But approximately 48-hours later, the guys were back in their spots, happily drinking and surrendering to the higher fee. Although Ben estimates that pitchers nowadays run $5 each, we called The Beaver this afternoon and have some good and bad news: micro pitchers run $11, domestics are $8 and High Life is $6.50. That said, we’re fairly confident that if the Death Cab guys decide to swing by their old haunt the next time they stop home, the bartenders will probably give the local heroes a pitcher or two on the house this time around.
Death Cab For Cutie’s VH1 Storytellers airs Friday, May 27th.
SETLIST: The New Year / Cath / Title and Registration / Photobooth / Grapevine Fires / You Are A Tourist / I Will Follow You Into The Dark / Bend To Squares / Codes and Keys / Stay Young, Go Dancing / The Employment Pages / A Movie Script Ending / Crooked Teeth
[Photo Credit: Lacey Seidman]