Death Cab for Cutie are one of those amazing bands who, despite having a musical career span over three decades, released over twelve records and completely sold out in every city on their last Australian tour in 2009, still appear to have a completely humble view of themselves. With Death Cab having released their latest album Codes and Keys as well as a remix EP and announcing a February Australian tour, bassist Nick Harmer and I had a lot to catch up on.
Hey Nick. How are you?
Hi! I’m well, how are you Tom?
I’m great, thank you. It’s always exciting to talk to a bassist.
[laughs] Thank you. We’re usually a lot of fun!
Last time you were in Australia back in 2009 your band had all shows completely sold out. Are you excited to come back?
Yeah, we’ve always loved being in Australia. We go down there when it’s the middle of winter at home so it’s always refreshing to have nice warm sun and get away from the dreary north-west winters in Seattle. We’ve also had really good support every time we’ve played which has led to some really memorable shows. I can’t wait for February already.
Everyone’s been really enthusiastic and fun whenever we play there which really brings out the best in us as a band because people just really want to see us play. You can really feel that exchange. It’s very exciting.
You guys recently released remix EP for Codes and Key. Can you tell me a bit about it?
It’s been an idea we’ve been kicking around for a while between us four. We’ve always been admirers of a lot of remix artists so it gave us the opportunity to watch some of our favourites re-interpret our songs. Over the years we’ve had a lot of great remixes and mash-ups of our songs sent to us from remix artists all over the world and we haven’t really done much about it so we felt that given the material we had on Codes and Keys there could be room for some really fun interpretations. We’re very happy with how it all turned out.
It sounds like you wouldn’t have had to provide a lot of input in the creation.
Yeah, you’re right. All we really did was write down a list of remix artists that we liked and went to them asking if they were interested in remixing anything from our new album and, if so, which song they wanted to do. We weren’t involved in any of the remixes themselves, we just told them to do what they do and waited until we got some results. It was actually really interesting to see how they interpreted our songs.
Codes and Keys would have been really well-suited to being remixed: you guys have said in many other interviews, it’s an album that’s very much focused on studio sounds rather than live instruments. Were there any disagreements within the band regarding focusing more on a studio style compared to a live style?
Oh, not really. There’s always some push and pull between us that happens along the way but we were all on board pretty early on with the kind of album that Chris wanted to produce for us. We really embraced his process and let him run with it.
It’s a very liberating thing to record into a computer-based recording program because you can control pretty much any idea that you have without having to worry about wasting massive amounts of time on re-recording.
Was your core creation process for this album the same method that you guys have always used – despite a change in direction?
Yeah. Our real method for writing our songs as a band has almost always been the same process. A lot of our songs have usually started from a simple melody or lyric that Ben makes up and creates a small demo from. After that we expand on it and add our own individual instruments.
That’s how real group music should be created – with a piece from every member.
Yeah, it just seems to work for us. I’ve been in bands in the past where there’s no major songwriter – we all just sit in a room and start jamming. I really didn’t enjoy that because it always took us about a week to write a song because we really didn’t know what should come next. It’s good that we have Ben supplying us with a direction because it makes it a lot easier to work towards making a finished piece.
Your career with Death Cab has spanned over three decades. Did you guys expect to have such a long and successful career?
Not at all. Since I started playing guitar and bass when I was a kid, I just wanted to play music. I wouldn’t have expected to actually have a career in it! We’ve always felt very lucky that we’ve been able to stay together for as long as we have. Our relationship as musicians in a band has grown and we’re essentially a family. I really can’t imagine my life without any of them.
You guys are very lucky. Lastly, who do you think you’ll bring over for your Australian tour?
We have absolutely no idea – we’re just discussing that right now. I don’t know if we’ll even bring anyone over at all. There might be an Australian band that we meet and connect with.
Keys And Codes Remix EP is out now through Warner and Death Cab For Cutie return to Australia in 2012 for an appearance at the Perth International Arts Festival. Their own headline shows are scheduled for Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.