On tour in 2005 to support Plans, their major-label debut, emo kings Death Cab for Cutie regularly cut loose with guitar-drenched anthems that reminded audiences of the band’s roots in Seattle’s ’90s indie scene. So where were the wistful piano ballads beloved by navel-gazing superfans?
“For better or worse, our live shows have always been drastically different from our records,” says lead singer Ben Gibbard.
“I think people were a little taken aback.”
Their new album, Narrow Stairs, changes that. While Plans did indeed feature some Mr. Paltrow–style piano-driven ditties, the Coldplay comparison is not eagerly embraced. “We created the last record piece by piece, trying to make every component as perfect as possible,” Gibbard says. “But after touring the past few years, we concluded that it’s a fucking boring way to make records.”
As on the band’s five previous releases, guitarist-keyboardist Chris Walla handled production duties. But this time around songwriter Gibbard relied more heavily on his guitar to write the tunes, resulting in a louder, more daring record. The 8 1/2-minute-first single, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” features a stately bass-driven buildup before the vocals kick in at the four-minute mark.
So will their heavier sound, coupled with the fact that Death Cab’s music has soundtracked popular TV shows and movies from The O.C. to Wedding Crashers, cause music snobs to scream, “Sellouts!”? Not according to Gibbard.
“We all want people to hear our songs,” he says. “Now that everyone expects music for
free, soundtracks are a way for artists to get paid for their work that once might have been shunned as selling out. The truth is, the number of bands releasing great records and your ability to listen to them is better than ever. It’s pretty incredible.”