Photo: Jimmy Fontaine
Death Cab For Cutie On New Album 'Asphalt Meadows,' Shaking Off The Past And Embracing Extremity: "We Had Nothing To Prove"
Across 25 years, Death Cab for Cutie have weathered insecurities, shifting dynamics and seismic changes, including the loss of a key member. How did they get to the freewheeling psychological state that produced the jagged, fearless 'Asphalt Meadows'?
When guitarist Dave Depper and keyboardist Zac Rae joined the indie-rock institution for their first Walla-less album, 2018's Thank You For Today, there was a degree of insecurity and tentativeness. Much of it was from Depper, as he was to fill the vacated role of second guitarist alongside singer, songwriter and bandleader Ben Gibbard, who'd played alongside Walla since the band's formation in 1997 in Bellingham, Washington.
"When I initially got approached about it, I didn't hesitate to say yes, but I had several months of being very nervous about preparing to do it," Depper told Tidal Magazine back in 2019. Luckily, there was a long on-ramp; he and Rae spent something like a year and a half touring on Kintsugi, Death Cab's final album with Walla.
But even given that lead-up time, making Thank You For Today with two new members meant a complete recalibration of the band dynamic. "All of a sudden, we had to figure out how this new lineup worked in the studio," Depper added. "What communication was like, what rules there were and weren't when it came to commenting on arrangements or songwriting, or suggesting parts."
The reconstituted Death Cab for Cutie brought Thank You For Today to the finish line, to largely positive critical reception. This was despite, in Depper's words, "a lot of being very polite, being very respectful and maybe not being as bold as any of us wanted to be."
In 2019, a psychological weight was lifted by way of the livewire Blue EP, where the pressure was largely off: all five members felt emboldened to bat around ideas, come what may. And Asphalt Meadows, their new album, which dropped Sept. 16, represents the culmination of this tremendous shift.
While Thank You For Today was made meticulously, almost surgically, straddling a fresh sound with classically Death Cab signifiers, Asphalt Meadows tracks like "Rand McNally," "Here to Forever" and "Fragments from the Decade" are the product of freshly-minted, holistic cooperation — even with Gibbard ultimately, and naturally, driving the ship.
Even more thrillingly, it features an audacity and willingness to swerve into left field — perhaps more than on any Death Cab album since 2008's potent, morose Narrow Stairs.
"I think The Blue EP was a really encouraging sign that people were just going to follow us down any weird path we were willing to go on," Depper — hours before seeing one of his favorite bands, avant-pop tinkerers Stereolab — tells GRAMMY.com. "We had nothing to prove. We just wanted to make a record that was interesting to ourselves, and we felt confident going into it. We just wanted to shake things up a bit."
Drummer Jason McGerr, who's been with Death Cab for Cutie since their watershed 2003 album Transatlanticism, says his experience recording Asphalt Meadows was diametrically opposed to that of its predecessor LP.
"The Thank You For Today sessions were a lot more microscopic," he tells GRAMMY.com from a parallel Zoom window. "People could probably find stories about me being somewhat isolated from the rest of the band, in a small room, not really being able to make eye contact. It was a much more surgical process."
In contrast, the band went into the Asphalt Meadows sessions with a plug-in-and-play, devil-may-care attitude that sharing stages for so many combined hours brings. "It was right off the heels of a tour, and we were all used to playing together a lot," McGerr says. "You know, a no-headphones kind of vibe."
To further explain the newfound, live-in-the-room energy, Depper evokes the elephant in the room. "I think everyone wanted to get louder and rock out a bit on this record after two years of sitting at home and not being able to make much noise," he says.
And to translate this restlessness and eagerness into an offering that would challenge the listener while remaining recognizably Death Cab, the band had a totally sympathetic producer on their team: John Congleton, a GRAMMY winner who's made individualistic, outside-the-box records with Angel Olsen, St. Vincent, and Xiu Xiu, and many other indie-adjacent mavericks.
"Congleton is a bit of an agent provocateur," Depper says. "He has no interest in people repeating what they've done before; he has no interest in making the listener comfortable."
This MO is interesting, given that a substantial portion of Death Cab's popularity is predicated on nostalgic comfort — how many listeners associate them with college nostalgia, or "The O.C."? But to hear Depper and McGerr tell it, Congleton's approach wasn't simply to drag them into the avant-garde wilderness, but present a path to extremity and see what they'd push back against.
"Some of the things he wanted us to do, we didn't go all the way," Depper says. "[But] where we got to was far more out there than where we would have gone on our own."
Much like the band themselves, Congleton opted to lead with emotion, vaunting takes that struck a psychological chord over endless debates over pedals or compressors. "Sometimes, he'd be like, 'Cool, try it,'" McGerr remembers, referring to experimentation with gear. "Other times, he'd be like, 'Let's not worry about the details. Did you guys crush it, or not? Is that the take, or not?"
That immediacy was par for the course with the writing and demoing process — which far less resembled Gibbard showing completed songs to accompanists than a strict, R.E.M.-style democracy. While some songs hewed closely to their embryonic demo versions with slight tweaks, most of them went through something of an assembly line.
"Five days a week, we each had full editorial control over a piece of music," McGerr says. "On a Monday, somebody would start a seed of music — maybe it was just a drum part, or a guitar part, or I play keyboards."
From there, another member would change the tempo, or cut out beats, or alter the time signature. Eventually, the material bore all five men's fingerprints, ones they applied as per their own whims, interests and wild hairs.
"[It's] that process of letting go, trusting your bandmates, and being able to fully realize your ideas," McGerr says. "How many times have you found yourself in a situation where you know what you want to do, but the influence of people around you doesn't really allow you to fully realize those ideas?"
All these intertwined aspects of the making of Asphalt Meadows made for a record with plenty of jagged edges and surprises — like the instrumental detonation in opener "I Don't Know How I Survive," the violently boiling-over pop of "Roman Candles" and the evocative spoken-word sections in "Foxglove Through the Clearcut."
But after 25 years, the beating heart of Death Cab remains Gibbard's probing lyricism and the emotional clarity of his delivery — wedded to melodies worthy of McCartney at his finest.
"I appreciate how he is both humble and deeply interested in life and relationships," McGerr says, from the perspective of being friends and bandmates with Gibbard for decades. "People that he's known his whole life, he continues to stay in touch with them."
"For some people, a relationship will begin and end, and that's it," he continues. "But Ben is somebody that's forged deep relationships that he continues to maintain, and those people's lives and their stories fold into his writing."
On that topic, Depper praises Gibbard's borderline frightening work ethic: "He takes songwriting so seriously these days. He writes and discards so many songs for each record," he says. "He'll spend so much time on a song, and if it's not working, he has almost no ego about letting it go. He really trusts us to help him identify which songs are standing out, and nobody is harder on Ben than Ben is."
"He's interested in hearing what [people in his life] have to say, just like he's interested in following and keeping up with music," McGerr continues. And appropriately for a band who just helped make one of the most eclectic albums in their 25-year history, Death Cab's music tastes are all over the place.
Lately, Gibbard's checking out jazz and avant-garde music of all stripes; McGerr has been jamming Makaya McCraven, Kendrick Lamar, Marcus Mumford and LongGone — the 2022 collaborative album between saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. For his part, Depper is communing with the new Beths and Bitchin' Bajas — and, of course, his beloved Stereolab.
In all regards, Death Cab's members feel free to roam around — unbound and unburdened by fan expectations, or looming notions of what their now-veteran band is or isn't. "We thought it was going to come out a year ago," McGerr says, citing endless pushbacks. "And there were times when we were like, 'Is this ever going to happen?'"
"But now there are some reviews, and we're starting to play the songs live and see the reaction of people," he continues, seeming palpably relieved. "All the clouds that have been hanging over me over the past year are clearing away."
The band now stands at an enviable position; they survived the mid-2000s indie asteroid, weathered the exit of a key member, and now have free reign to hurtle in any direction they desire.
To paraphrase the opening song, Death Cab for Cutie may not know how they survived. But there are so many reasons they've thrived.
Kanye West Tops 54th GRAMMY Nominations
14-time GRAMMY winner Kanye West earns seven nods; Adele, Foo Fighters and Bruno Mars each garner six nods; Lil Wayne and Skrillex each receive five nods
(For a complete list of 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards nominees, please click here.)
Nominations for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected an eclectic mix of the best and brightest in music over the past year, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. For the fourth year, nominations for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour special broadcast live on CBS from Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live.
Kanye West tops the nominations with seven; Adele, Foo Fighters and Bruno Mars each garner six nods; and Lil Wayne and Skrillex each are up for five awards. Drake; producers/songwriters Paul Epworth, Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine; Nicki Minaj; Mumford & Sons; Radiohead; Rihanna; and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) each receive four nominations.
"Once again, it is most gratifying to see the GRAMMY Awards process produce a broad cross section of diverse and impressive nominees across multiple genres," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "This year's nominations truly reflect an exceptional and talented creative community that embodies some of the highest levels of excellence and artistry in their respective fields. Coupled with the fourth year of our primetime nominations special, the road to Music's Biggest Night, the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards in February, is off to an exciting and appropriate start."
Following are the nominations in the General Field categories:
Record Of The Year:
"Rolling In The Deep" — Adele
"Holocene" — Bon Iver
"Grenade" — Bruno Mars
"The Cave" — Mumford & Sons
"Firework" — Katy Perry
Album Of The Year:
21 — Adele
Wasting Light — Foo Fighters
Born This Way — Lady Gaga
Doo-Wops & Hooligans — Bruno Mars
Loud — Rihanna
Song Of The Year:
"All Of The Lights" — Jeff Bhasker, Malik Jones, Warren Trotter & Kanye West, songwriters (Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi & Fergie)
"The Cave" — Ted Dwane, Ben Lovett, Marcus Mumford & Country Winston, songwriters (Mumford & Sons)
"Grenade" — Brody Brown, Claude Kelly, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine, Bruno Mars & Andrew Wyatt, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
"Holocene" — Justin Vernon, songwriter (Bon Iver)
"Rolling In The Deep" — Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth, songwriters (Adele)
Best New Artist:
The Band Perry
Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:
For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Someone Like You" by Adele; "Yoü And I" by Lady Gaga; "Grenade" by Bruno Mars; "Firework" by Katy Perry; and "F*in' Perfect" by Pink.
The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Body And Soul" by Tony Bennett & Amy Winehouse; "Dearest" by the Black Keys; "Paradise" by Coldplay; "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster The People; and "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera.
For Best Dance Recording the nominees are "Raise Your Weapon" by Deadmau5 & Greta Svabo Bech; "Barbra Streisand" by Duck Sauce; "Sunshine" by David Guetta & Avicii; "Call Your Girlfriend" by Robyn; "Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites" by Skrillex; and "Save The World" by Swedish House Mafia.
For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are Bon Iver by Bon Iver; Codes And Keys by Death Cab For Cutie; Torches by Foster The People; Circuital by My Morning Jacket; and The King Of Limbs by Radiohead.
The nominees for Best R&B Album are F.A.M.E. by Chris Brown; Second Chance by El DeBarge; Love Letter by R. Kelly; Pieces Of Me by Ledisi; and Kelly by Kelly Price.
For Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, the nominees are "Party" by Beyoncé & André 3000; "I'm On One" by DJ Khaled, Drake, Rick Ross & Lil Wayne; "I Need A Doctor" by Dr. Dre, Eminem & Skylar Grey; "What's My Name?" by Rihanna & Drake; "Motivation" by Kelly Rowland & Lil Wayne; and "All Of The Lights" by Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi & Fergie.
For Best Country Solo Performance, the nominees are "Dirt Road Anthem" by Jason Aldean; "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" by Martina McBride; "Honey Bee" by Blake Shelton; "Mean" by Taylor Swift; and "Mama's Song" by Carrie Underwood.
The nominees for Best Americana Album are Emotional Jukebox by Linda Chorney; Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down by Ry Cooder; Hard Bargain by Emmylou Harris; Ramble At The Ryman by Levon Helm; and Blessed by Lucinda Williams.
The nominees for Best Folk Album are Barton Hollow by the Civil Wars; I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive by Steve Earle; Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes; Ukulele Songs by Eddie Vedder; and The Harrow & The Harvest by Gillian Welch.
The Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominees are Danger Mouse, Paul Epworth, the Smeezingtons (Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine, Bruno Mars), Ryan Tedder, and Butch Vig.
This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 17,500 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2010 – Sept. 30, 2011). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 14 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm Deloitte by Jan. 11, 2012, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 54th GRAMMY telecast.
The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held on Feb. 12, 2012, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures and John Cossette Productions for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, and Louis J. Horvitz is director.
Photo: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage via Getty Images
Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard To Livestream Songs Every Day During Coronavirus Quarantine
Beginning today, March 17, fans can catch the livestream on YouTube and Facebook at 4 p.m. PT
Beginning today, March 17, fans can catch the live stream on YouTube and Facebook at 4 p.m. PT, the frontman announced Monday night. In his announcement, Gibbard included his own feelings about the uncertain times and how they've made him think of his fans.
"I know you are all really freaked out right now. I am, too. And while I’m proud that we’re all doing the necessary things at the moment to help flatten the curve, I know it has left us all incredibly isolated," he said in a statement. "But because we’re all going through this nightmare together we are quite literally NOT alone. Our lives and stories are all linked, maybe more now than they have ever been."
He continued: "Be it with DCFC, Postal Service, or solo I have always been grateful for the honor you have bestowed upon us by choosing to congregate en masse around our music. Some of you have traveled great distances and/or shelled out large sums of money to see us play and that has never been lost on me. So in this crazy and unprecedented time, I’d like to return the favor by coming to YOU."
Gibbard added he hoped to have guests join digitally and said he might take song requests.
As the global pandemic has called for several major music events and many concerts to cancel or postpone, musicians, including Alejandro Sanz and Chris Martin, have used technology to have their own live performances. On Monday, John Legend also announced he would have a live streaming concert.
Exploring The Alternative Field Nominees
Go inside the nominations in the Best Alternative Music Album category for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards
(For a complete list of 54th GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)
You've seen the list of nominees, now take a closer look at the artists nominated in the Alternative Field for the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
Some of the most wide-ranging and forward-thinking artists to be recognized by the GRAMMY Awards can be found in the Best Alternative Music Album category. The Black Keys took home the award last year at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards for the stripped-down, roots-riffs of Brothers, and this year competition is tight among a typically eclectic group of nominees.
Best Alternative Music Album
Newcomers Foster The People are nominated for their debut album, Torches. The indie trio made a huge impression in 2011, powered by the infectious Top 5 Billboard Hot 100 hit, "Pumped Up Kicks," which is also up for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Fellow first-time nominees Bon Iver, the project of singer/songwriter Justin Vernon, earned a nod for their self-titled sophomore album. Bon Iver scored nominations in three other categories: Best New Artist and Record and Song Of The Year for the ethereal "Holocene." My Morning Jacket's Circuital, their highest-charting Billboard 200 album to date, earned the band their second nomination in this category. The group was nominated in 2008 for Evil Urges. The fourth time may be the charm for Death Cab For Cutie, who are nominated for Codes And Keys. Death Cab For Cutie have received three nominations in this category previously, including Plans (2005) and Narrow Stairs (2008), the latter of which spawned a nod for Best Rock Song for "I Will Possess Your Heart." Radiohead are nominated for their eighth studio album, The King Of Limbs. The group have won three times in this category, including Kid A (2000) and In Rainbows (2008).
Who will take home the award in the Alternative Field? Tune in to the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 12, taking place at Staples Center in Los Angeles and airing live on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT).
(L to R) Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck of R.E.M.
Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images
R.E.M., Hayley Williams, Tegan And Sara, My Morning Jacket, Phoebe Bridgers And More Contribute Unreleased Recordings To All-Star Compilation Benefiting Voter Rights
The 40-track compilation, available exclusively on Bandcamp for 24 hours only starting Friday (Sept. 4), will benefit voter rights organization Fair Fight
R.E.M., Hayley Williams, Tegan And Sara, My Morning Jacket, Phoebe Bridgers and many others have contributed unreleased recordings to Good Music To Avert The Collapse Of American Democracy, a newly released all-star compilation benefitting Fair Fight, a voter rights organization founded by former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams that "promotes fair elections around the country through voter education, election reform, and combating voter suppression," according to a press release announcing the album.
The 40-track compilation, which features never-before-heard new songs, covers, remixes, live versions and unreleased demos, is available exclusively on Bandcamp for 24 hours only starting Friday (Sept. 4) as part of the online streaming platform's Bandcamp Fridays initiative.
See the full track list and artist roster below.
Highlights from the Good Music compilation include a newly discovered Beverly Glenn-Copeland song from 1977; a cover of U.K. experimental rock band Broadcast by Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams; a demo collaboration in progress between Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard and Tycho; and a cover of The Cure's '80s classic "In Between Days" by The National leader Matt Berninger. Other artists featured on the compilation include Flume with Eprom, Sudan Archives, Helado Negro, Jeff Tweedy, Sharon Van Etten and many others.
Author Dave Eggers, along with artist managers Jordan Kurland, Darius Zelkha, Christian Stavros and Barsuk Records label head Josh Rosenfeld, executive-produced the compilation; Good Music marks the fourth fundraising project around a presidential election from Eggers and Kurland.
Acclaimed street artist and fashion entrepreneur Shepard Fairey created the compilation's cover art. Bandcamp is also selling limited-edition signed screen-prints of the artwork; proceeds from the sale will benefit Color Of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization.
"It's going to come down to bringing out and protecting the vote this fall, so the work Fair Fight does is crucial," Eggers said in the press release. "Jordan and I figured a painless way to raise some money would be to ask musicians to donate unreleased tracks, people pay a few bucks for them, and maybe we can edge toward a functioning democracy again."
"As in our previous election-based projects, Dave and I were looking for a relatively simple platform for artists to get involved in the political process," Kurland added. "Seeing how impactful Bandcamp Fridays have become, we felt this was the perfect way to create urgency by releasing new music from a collection of amazing artists for a very short window of time."