Published May 29, 2011Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Nick Harmer are seated next to each other, enthusiastically answering questions about their band's new album, Codes and Keys. There's a palpable sense of brotherhood between them, even when Gibbard is asked about the band members' newfound roles as husbands and fathers. "When we were in our early 20s, the band was kind of this 'all for one, one for all' thing," he explains. "As we get older, we've all, in our ways, realized that while the band is still of paramount importance in our lives, there are other things that take precedence over the band being the sole focus of our lives all the time." Yet with the band's focus elsewhere and the pressure off, the Bellingham, WA quartet have created their best record since 2003's Transatlanticism.
On Codes and Keys, Death Cab's in-studio adventurousness and mutual trust have paid off. "Most of the demos were less formed going in," explains lead singer Gibbard. "A lot of it was like 'Hey, I've got this song and there's kind of a riff in it, and there's kind of not.'" Harmer, the band's bassist, agrees: "The making of this album was a little more open-ended as far as submitting different ideas if there were openings or holes for ideas to be submitted, but I think a lot of the experimentation came from the production side more than it did from the writing side."
According to Harmer, it's the band's guitarist and in-band producer Chris Walla to whom much of the credit is due for Codes and Keys' effortless sonics. "A lot of how this album came together came from Chris's mind, as producer, thinking 'These are the textures and sounds that are really inspiring me as a musician right now,' and those happened to be analog keyboards." Gibbard adds that the confidence and trust built up from years of making music together were conducive to success in the studio: "I don't think any of us feel any pressure. I think if anything, what's working for us is that at this point, we have this seven-album back catalogue," he contends. "We're constantly, in the studio, referencing things that we've already done in order to do something different. We're doing that because we want whatever we're making to sound different, to be something new."
Yet even now, Death Cab for Cutie have their eyes on the future: "When the band is done," Gibbard insists, "I would like to hope that through every record we've made, there are, as with the bands that I love, always three or four tunes on every record that would go on a master-mix, where if I was going to see that band live, I'd want them to play those songs. We're music fans, and fans of career artists; that's what I want out of Superchunk and Teenage Fanclub, and that's what people should expect from us."