Once upon a time, in a college town in the Pacific Northwest, four young men formed a band. They chose a name (the title of a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band song that appeared in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour), made a few records, developed a local and regional presence, and unglamorously toured the country in that grueling, indie, young twenty-something kind of way. They worked hard and remained modest, cultivating a following and garnering critical acclaim. All was calm in the land of Death Cab for Cutie when a surprise-hit television show dropped down from the sky. The band would be name-dropped in the script, and one of their songs would be broadcast on-air in millions of households. Since that fateful day, Death Cab have been pretty much everywhere doing pretty much everything, including the recent political ventures such as Vote For Change concert tour with Pearl Jam and the Future Soundtrack for America compilation.
Death Cab for Cutie are Ben Gibbard (guitar, vocals), Chris Walla (guitar), Nick Harmer (bass) and Jason McGerr (drums). They are currently on their fall tour, stopping in New York tomorrow night. Gothamist has attended an embarrassing number of their many New York shows in the last 12 months, but only because they've played so ridiculously many. So many, in fact, we suspect they might know a few things about New York that we do not. Nick Harmer lets us in on some of his insights, below.
Your New York State of Mind:
What is your first memory of New York? Do you have a favorite or least favorite?
My first memory of New York comes from a trip I took with some classmates in sixth grade. I bought a button that I still have to this day that said "Greetings from New York" and had a bunch of super-punked-up punks standing around looking nasty. And for some reason I remember the ferry trip out to see the Statue of Liberty because I started a game with one of my friends counting all the floating pieces of garbage we saw. But the best memory, and it is really just an impact really, that NYC gave me concerns my wallet. Our tour guide said that when we were walking around to be careful of pick-pockets stealing wallets and purses. We were told to keep a close eye and to always check our pockets to be sure that our things were still with us at all times. I got extremely paranoid that some deft pickpocket had my number and it was only a matter of time before my wallet was boosted so I began carrying my wallet in my left front pocket instead of a rear one. I figured that if a thief was going to stick his or her hand into my pocket that I would no doubt feel their presence in that region of my body rather than my backside and thereby thwart any potential robbery. To this very day I still carry my wallet in my left front pocket to avoid the faceless fear of pickpockets, all because of NYC.
Any favorite places to go for a drink when you're in the city?
We hit HI-FI, which used to be Brownies. The jukebox there rules. The drinks rule. The pool rules. And [owner] Mike Stuto is a king among men.
[INTERVIEW CONTINUES INSIDE]
What is your take on playing shows in New York? Do you notice a difference between in shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn?
Sadly, we have yet to play in Brooklyn, so I really can't compare them... but I imagine that the Brooklyn shows would have a better dressed and more pop culturally knowledgeable crowd. Whereas the Manhattan folks are just great drinkers.
How does the music scene in New York compare or contrast to Seattle?
Is there a scene in New York? Ha, just kidding. I think it would be about the same as Seattle, really: you have a few bands that are doing well, making names for themselves, a few new up-and-comers, no real unifying aesthetic between anyone, and then a few local metal bar bands still trying to out do Motley Crue.
Do you have a New York connection that is revealed in your music? If so, how?
Other than a long list of influential New York bands that continue to inform and inspire us, nothing really overt I guess... we do have a song called "No Joy In Mudville" that is about New York, though. But as we spend more time in NYC don't be surprised if more of your city shows up at moments in our music, we are very influenced by our environments and NYC has recently become a place where we have all spent a ton of time.
Now its time for some fill-in-the-blank action:
"You know you've made it when..."
...when Weird Al spoofs one of your songs.
"It'll be time to pack up the gear for good when
...when I am incontinent and immobile.
"I'll never forget the first time I..."
...I met Bruce Springsteen.
Now for some quick word association:
Is it possible to have millionaire baseball stars and still be considered blue collar?
How can she be married? She hasn't even met me yet...
Bridge & Tunnel
"...you can stand on the arms of the Williamsburg Bridge, crying: Hey man, well this is Babylon" and Dark Days.
I miss the seedy dark side. And the Naked Cowboy doesn't count.
Bloomberg/Smoking Ban/Noise Laws
Trying to control the very things about New York that give it character.
And a few last questions on the music tip:
Who would be in your ultimate music supergroup?
John Entwhistle, Eric Avery, Kim Deal, Ben Sheppard, Jeff Ament, Mingus, and Eric Judy. It would be a bass orchestra of epic proportions.
What were the first & last albums you bought on the day they were released?
First: Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. Last: Andrew WK's The Wolf.
- The Future Soundtrack for America compliation and the entire discography are available from Barsuk Records.
- Several MP3s, spanning Death Cab's 4-album career (so far) have been made available online.
- Gothamist caught up with a different member of Death Cab at this summer's Siren Festival.