SEATTLE - Seattle Theatre Group (STG) & AEG Live present Death Cab for Cutie on Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 7:00pm at KeyArena.
By their seventh studio album, many bands are running out of creative steam and original ideas. But in the case of Death Cab for Cutie, nothing could be further from the truth. Codes and Keys is singular in the quartet's catalog when it comes to sonic exploration and lyrical ambition. If anything, the band has never sounded more excited to experiment with textures, words, sounds and even the process of recording itself.
Death Cab created Codes and Keys in studios up and down the West Coast, in short bursts over a period of seven months. These studios included Sound City in Van Nuys, California (where the band recorded The Twilight Saga: New Moon single "Meet Me on the Equinox"), The Warehouse in Vancouver, drummer Jason McGerr's own Two Sticks Audio and Tiny Telephone in San Francisco. In between these ten-day or two-week recording sessions, they would put the songs aside and let them "gestate," bassist Nick Harmer says.
While Death Cab for Cutie has always produced their best work by recording in a piecemeal fashion like this, Harmer says that the process of making Codes and Keys was "most fragmented that we've done in terms of time-on-time-off." But McGerr found a real benefit to having some distance from the music: "There was this constant renewal of fresh inspiration that came from moving from studio to studio."
But unlike the studio process for 2008's Grammy-nominated Narrow Stairs - an album the band recorded to tape in real time, with minimal overdubs and studio trickery - Codes and Keys turned into what guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Chris Walla has taken to calling a "construction project."
The band focused on capturing the best take of their parts - at times separately, at other times in pairs - and built songs by layering these performances (and other musical ideas) on top of each other. "We've deconstructed little pieces of songs before like this," Walla says. "But we've never pulled the thread out of the whole sweater and then made a new sweater out of it. Not like this."
Despite the nomadic recording process - and the expanded sonic palette -- it's a testament to the band's talent and chemistry that Codes and Keys is a cohesive statement, a collection of songs that hangs together as a well-sequenced album. Walla says that cohesion is something he discussed with Codes and Keys' mixer, Alan Moulder. "I was really interested in making a record rather than a recording," Walla says. "And particularly when it came to vocal treatments and drawing big, heavy dark lines between verses and choruses and doing that sort of thing, I asked him to be pretty brave and pretty bold with all of that stuff."
Indeed, Moulder's deft mixing touches helped Codes and Keys' nuanced details stand out. "Every song is its own little sonic journey, which is a cheesy way of putting it," Gibbard says. "He found a place on the shelf for every little sound."
"I didn't necessarily know it at the time, but I was writing Narrow Stairs in a very dark period of my life," Gibbard says. "I had lost control over a lot of things that I should have had control over, and I needed to make a lot of changes in my life. The record is a very dark album in a lot of ways. And after we finished making that record and I was listening back to it, I had this realization that I don't want to write this record ever again. I don't want this to be the thing that I write all the time."
Change is certainly something that the members of Death Cab for Cutie experienced in the years between recording Narrow Stairs and Codes and Keys. McGerr now has two children, Walla ended a long relationship and moved away from Portland and Harmer got married. Gibbard's own life changes, in fact, inspired one of the recurring themes of Codes and Keys - musings about the search for (and idea of) home.
In conversation, it's obvious that the members of Death Cab for Cutie are still each other's biggest fans. More important, they genuinely enjoy making music with each other and being in a band together. Their only motivation is to create music they like - and to impress and satisfy each other. Theirs might not be a controversial rock & roll story - but it is one rooted in stable, supportive brotherhood.
"We left college and spent years in a van together, and we've spent all of this time learning from one another and growing emotionally and otherwise over the years," Harmer says. "The fabric of our relationships is very complex and certainly something that is very important to me, and probably to everyone in the band. We are a support network for each other; we are so much more than four guys who get together and play music."
Tickets: $42.50 & $35.00, not including applicable fees. Tickets are on sale Saturday, June 11th at 10am at the Key Arena Box Office, Ticketmaster outlets, Ticketmaster.com, or charge by phone toll free at (800) 745-3000. For more information, please visit STGPresents.org.
Seattle Theatre Group is the 501 (c)(3) non-profit arts organization that operates the historic Paramount and Moore Theatres in Seattle, Washington. Our mission is to make diverse performing arts and education an integral part of our region's cultural identity while keeping these two landmark venues alive and vibrant. STG presents a range of performances from Broadway, off-Broadway, dance and jazz to comedy, concerts of all genres, speakers and family shows - at both historic theatres in Seattle and venues throughout the Puget Sound and Portland, Oregon.