Matson on Music
Q&A | Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, still a Seattle band
Posted by Andrew Matson
Above: Ben Gibbard talks about the Northwest and Death Cab for Cutie covers the great Tacoma garage band The Sonics; related: "You Are a Tourist"
You might think indie/mainstream quartet Death Cab for Cutie isn't a Seattle band anymore — that it's a Portland band, or a Los Angeles band, because members have have resided in those cities and sometimes still stay there. But on the phone from a hotel room in Memphis, Tenn., singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard confirmed his abiding Seattle connection, and had plenty to say about the Mariners, Capitol Hill rapper Macklemore and what advice he gives to young, local bands. An edited transcription of our conversation is below. Death Cab's current blockbuster US/UK tour comes to KeyArena Saturday, supporting recent album "Codes and Keys" — with Ballard neo-folk band The Head and the Heart opening the show.
How much of Death Cab for Cutie still lives around here?
[Drummer] Jason [McGerr] lives near Bellingham, and everyone else lives in Seattle. I still have a place in Seattle, and am back and forth [to L.A.]. All of my family is up there, and so many friends. You don't cut and run from a city like Seattle.
You are an outspoken Mariners fan on Twitter (@gibbstack). In your estimation, how did the Mariners do this year, and how are things looking for the year ahead?
We did terribly. They had a flash — they played above their own heads for a month in June. And then went on an, I believe, 18 game losing streak, which was a new club record for consecutive losses. There's not going to be much difference next year. But we have purged a lot of bad choices made by the last general manager and his administration, and now are starting to see a couple beams of light breaking through.
I know you're a big fan of Capitol Hill rapper Macklemore's tribute to passed-away Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus, "My Oh My." Are you generally into Seattle hip-hop, or did Macklemore find you with that specific song?
The fact that Seattle hip-hop is getting more national recognition is amazing for the city and the artists, but it's never really been my thing. But I've been aware of Macklemore for a while, because he's blowing up. And when that song came out — every once in a while a song comes out and you go, "Oh, now I understand what people like about this, because this person wrote something that appeals to me." The second half of that tune is just.... The first part is very polite. And then it takes this turn, and it's like, "Oh my god, this song gets so [expletive] good." It justifies the tone of the first half. The construction of it, musically, is really interesting to me.
Do you have a mentor relationship with these young Seattle indie rock bands you take on arena tours, like Telekinesis, and at KeyArena, The Head and the Heart?
I give advice about, not so much the music business, but I've always been fascinated with how people relate to their own creativity. And where they feel they can access it, and where they feel they can't. If their live changes, how they continue being creative. Because, you made this record in a hovel in Ballard when you were washing dishes, and the next record you make, you may own a house, or may not have to worry about money. You're a professional musician. How does that work? I've been through every stage of that. I've been scraping by, when we first moved to Seattle, trying to figure out how I was going to write songs living in a one-bedroom apartment, with a girlfriend who was always there. And you move through that phase, and you look back on it, like, "Why can't I get back there? That's where I was doing good stuff." But that's not the way it works. Your creativity is within who you are. It's not something that can be separated and exists in a certain period of your life, be it a time of joy or strife, of prosperity or poverty. It's what drives artists to make art. It's esoteric and part of who they are. If I were to give anybody advice — and this goes beyond The Head and the Heart or Telekinesis or any Seattle band — it's to recognize that.
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