by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
Once upon a time there was a band from Bellingham that migrated to Seattle. Long story short, they became famous around the world, debuted three consecutive recordings in the Top Ten on Billboard's album chart, earned multiple Grammy nominations, and expanded their live performances from small clubs to sports arenas. This glass slipper belongs to Death Cab for Cutie. The group - Ben Gibbard (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Walla (guitar), Nick Harmer (bass), and Jason McGerr (drums) - started out as an indie rock unit and gradually bulked up its fan base, while maturing their sound with each album, to become a convincingly successful mainstream act.
Today, they're big. Really big. Death Cab for Cutie, who have a considerable number of Gay followers, just launched another North American tour that will quickly be followed by a brief, seven-city European itinerary. They'll perform to a hometown crowd at Key Arena tomorrow, October 22 (visit www.stgpresents.org for tickets). For the second time, I managed to catch these guys in the middle of a hectic schedule - Walla and Harmer interviewed collaboratively with SGN several years back. This time, it was McGerr who phoned in during a short break before the band hit the road. From his nearby home, here's what Jason McGerr of Death Cab for Cutie got off his chest when he stepped into 'The Music Lounge.'
Albert Rodriguez: Where are you guys?
Jason McGerr: We're all in our hometowns right now. I'm in Bellingham, not too far from you.
Rodriguez: That's not where you live, is it?
McGerr: [laughs slightly] It is, actually.
Rodriguez: I was thinking you were in Seattle.
McGerr: I was. We were in Seattle for about 12, 13 years and my wife and I had a couple of kids, and we decided to move a little closer to the grandparents. The days of rehearsing Monday through Friday, getting together, drinking beer, and talking about how fun it would be to go on tour are over. Now we just go on tour. So it doesn't really matter that we live in the same town anymore. Nick and Chris are in Seattle, Ben is in L.A., and I moved back up north again. This is where I grew up, this where the band started, and I still have a love affair with Bellingham.
Rodriguez: Do you miss Seattle?
McGerr: I do. [laughs slightly] After all that. We do miss Seattle a ton. There's always something better in Seattle. There certainly isn't a single restaurant in Bellingham that's better than the food available in Seattle. It's just such a great culture down there. I'm sure we'll wind up down there, again, at some point in time. The one thing about not living in Seattle is when you go there for a baseball game or a show, at the Paramount or wherever, it's much more of an event. We'll book a night at a hotel in Seattle and that'll be a larger event than if we were living there. Sometimes you take it for granted when it's right in front of your face.
Rodriguez: Did you and your wife ever do a Gay pub crawl in Seattle?
McGerr: Nope, never did. Sounds like fun.
Rodriguez: Do you think Gay marriage will ever be legal in Washington state?
McGerr: Of course. I hope so. It's funny not to be legal anywhere, so I wouldn't doubt it.
Rodriguez: Do you think your latest album, Codes and Keys, is the best you guys have put out?
McGerr: I think so. There was more material going into it than anything we've ever done. I think, given everything we've been through as individuals and as a band, this is a better culmination of stories and time well-spent than anything we've ever done. This just felt like a really well-focused and realized chapter of our lives that got captured.
Rodriguez: I was backstage with you guys the night you got your first Grammy nomination for Plans, like six years ago or something. You guys were playing The Showbox Market for the 'Deck the Hall Ball.' It was great being part of that celebration because those things don't happen a lot.
McGerr: Not when you're a little ol' indie rock band from Seattle! I mean, was it not a shock when Arcade Fire won [the Grammy Award] last year for Album of the Year? It was one of those strange upsets. You could see the looks on all these major entertainers, like 'What?!,' especially when they came out with their live performance afterwards and had BMX bikes doing tricks with strobe lights. This was one of those redirecting of the mainstream moments. So it's cool to know you were back there. I will never forget where I was the moment in time when Plans debuted at No. 4, or something like that, on the Billboard charts and we were bookended by all these major hip-hop artists. We're like, 'How is that possible'? We've never really targeted a Grammy nomination or the biggest radio hit we've ever had. We just go into a studio, shut the doors, and record our music. Little moments like that are fun when they're unexpected.
Rodriguez: Will you guys be plucking songs from all your albums for this tour?
McGerr: As always, yes. Especially in Seattle for our hometown show because people have catalogs [here] more than overseas, where a lot of people only have access to records from Transatlanticism on. We do anywhere from 24 to 26 songs a night, and hopefully that works for people that are waiting to hear that song written 10 or 12 years ago.
Rodriguez: It'd be great if you guys someday did Plans unplugged in its entirety.
McGerr: That's a good idea. Some records would work unplugged, some wouldn't, and I feel Plans would work very well given the nature of how that record went down with the amount of piano, guitars, acoustics, and stuff. Someday we may get to that point, where we do a tour with two sets - the first set is an album, and the second set is just hits. Shit, we've been a band for 13 years, something like that, and it's worth continuing to see how long we can stick around [laughs], so I'd love to do that. If there's wind of a Plans acoustic tour, we'll talk again. And we can say, 'We pretty much owe it to Albert for this idea.'
Rodriguez: Are there any newer artists who have the potential to be the next big thing, or that you personally really like listening to?
McGerr: I see a lot of potential in this band called The Soft Pack from San Diego, that I'm a really big fan of. And, a band from Seattle called Telekinesis, who are actually opening shows on our next tour. The band I keep waiting for global domination to happen to is Tegan and Sara. They're not a new band by any means, but I just feel like they have so much potential and they've done so well. The only reason they haven't done greater is they haven't had the right opportunity, or marketing, or label to fuel a rocket ship to the moon. But every time I hang out with them, or record music with them, talk with them, and see what they're doing, I feel like & their commercial potential, their vibe, and their whole package could make them as successful as Arcade Fire, Radiohead, or Coldplay.
Rodriguez: Good timing is key, too.
McGerr: It totally is. What sucks is that you could be making the best record of your life, it's just at the wrong time. I feel there have been albums in history that don't get recognized [until] 15 or 20 years later because it wasn't the right time, but if it was it would've made their careers entirely different.
Rodriguez: Totally agreed. I've been jamming to Hall and Oates lately.
McGerr: Dude, so good, right? They timed it right. I didn't even realize how much Hall and Oates built me, in terms of the way I hear and play and phrase and record music. It was the thing that was on the radio all the time when I was a kid because it was the only radio station in town that played anything with a good beat. And my mom would have the radio on, and I was just a little kid hearing Hall and Oates. It wasn't until like 20 years later that I was playing the drums and someone said, 'That sounds like a Hall and Oates song.' I was like, 'Really?' I didn't dedicate study time to learning that thing, that '80s pop thing like David Bowie's 'Let's Dance.' Those records are so good, and as soon as we got into a new decade people just dismissed them. It isn't until things come full circle and you realize where you're coming from, that you have the admiration for a band like Hall and Oates.
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