December 16, 2005
Volume 33
Issue 50

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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014



Best of Music 2005:
Interview with Death Cab for Cutie's Nick Harmer and Chris Walla
They choose their favorite music of 2005, tell us where they hang out at in Seattle, describe going on "Gaycation", discuss Gay fans and Madonna's new CD, and share their personal holiday plans and greetings with you

By Albert Rodriguez - SGN A & E Writer

Joining our year-end music celebration are bassist Nick Harmer and guitarist/producer Chris Walla of the Grammy-nominated band Death Cab for Cutie. The Seattle-based quartet had an amazing 2005, releasing their first album on a major label, Plans. Nick and Chris called into the Seattle Gay News separately on the Saturday afternoon before our "Best of" lists were finalized. They had no idea Plans and the CD's hit single "Soul Meets Body" would land in our top ten lists. I had the pleasure of meeting Nick and Chris in person and I was blown away at how sweet and considerate they were, and how much they appreciated the SGN's support this year.

Imagine a giant box with a bright, shiny bow on top. This is our holiday gift to you, our SGN music listeners and fans. Besides our picks of the year's best music of 2005, Death Cab for Cutie did this interview especially for you. Enjoy.

(Nick calls in first with a pleasant, energetic voice. He's in Los Angeles. The band is there to perform on a Comedy Central program.)

Albert Rodriguez: Are you spending the holidays in Seattle?

Nick Harmer: Yes, definitely.

Rodriguez: What are your plans?

Harmer: I'm just so excited to be home and to do some of the humdrum stuff people take for granted in Seattle, like going out and having drinks. I miss having pho (noodles) on Broadway. So I'll go get plenty of soup. I grew up in Puyallup and when I was young my mom would bring me to Seattle to walk around downtown and see all the lights. I have this fond memory every year around the holiday season, so I like walking around downtown.

Rodriguez: Where do you live in Seattle?

Harmer: I live just north of the city, off of Sand Point Way. Kind of north of the U-District, passed University Village. Kind of towards Matthews Beach and between the arboretum, or whatever it's called, the naval base there.

Rodriguez: Do you have a view of the water from your place?

Harmer: Barely. If you stand on your tippy-toes you might see the lake.

Rodriguez: Where are some of your favorite places to hang out at in Seattle, besides Thanh Brothers on Broadway for pho?

Harmer: I spend a considerable amount of time at Sonic Boom Records. That's a good place to go and buy new music. There are a lot of coffee shops and restaurants I like in the Capitol Hill area because I used to live up there for about three years in an apartment. There are a lot of places on 15th (Ave.) that I totally used to haunt, all up and down the street. I don't know if I have anything regular, like a routine. I don't have any secret hideouts.

Rodriguez: Have you ever stepped into the Gay bars on Capitol Hill to get drunk?

Harmer: I haven't done that yet.

Rodriguez: Some of them serve the stiffest drinks in town.

Harmer: Which ones?

Rodriguez: There's Manray, The Cuff and a new one called Purr. But probably the one that has the strongest drinks is CC's, on Madison. Those drinks can pretty much fuel your car if you ran out of gas.

Harmer: (hearty laugh) That's some serious insider knowledge.

Rodriguez: Most artists, like Franz Ferdinand, have favorite Gay bars in their hometowns because it's where the best drinks and the most fun can be had.

Harmer: In New York City, we know some people who've been close friends of ours for years and they have the Gay bar circuit down pat. They always take us out when we're there. We call it "Gaycation". It's always a hilarious, fun time. This couple's been dating for years and years. They're like the mayors of New York. They're lovely people and we enjoy hanging out with them.

Rodriguez: What were some of your favorite CDs or songs of 2005?

Harmer: One of my favorite records of the year, that had one of my favorite singles of the year, was Spoon's Gimme Fiction, and there's a song called "I Turn My Camera On" that I think is just stellar. I love it. Every time I put it on I can't help but tap my foot to it. I'd also say The Decemberists' Picaresque, Feist's Let It Die and there's this band I've been listening to lately that a friend played for me. The band's name is Eluvium. It's really ambient, like Brian Eno's music for films, like Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works, really peaceful music. It's been somehow fitting my mood recently, especially driving around Seattle. The album by Eluvium is called Talk Amongst the Trees and it's been this kind of soundtrack for the more mellow moments of my day.

Rodriguez: You mentioned driving around Seattle. What do you drive?

Harmer: I drive a Volkswagon Jetta wagon.

Rodriguez: One of the new ones?

Harmer: Yeah, like the 2003 or 2004.

Rodriguez: As the year comes to a close, what are you going to remember most about it?

Harmer: This last tour was one of the best we've ever done. Seeing Stars (opening act) every night was awesome. I'm really happy with everything the band accomplished this year and the new record. I'm really proud of it and excited to be out playing the new songs. Personally, it's little things that stick out. I'll always remember this year being the year of New Orleans and (Hurricane) Katrina, and being extraordinarily frustrated at our government, yet again. I think it's pretty amazing that after it all passed it seems like Bush's whole presidency and the people around him are starting to crumble.

Rodriguez: Do you keep up on Gay culture, like the Gay marriage battle or the fact that Madonna has a new album?

Harmer: (laughing) How is Madonna's new album by the way?

Rodriguez: Actually, it's pretty fucking good. If you want a party record this holiday season, this is it. But Gay culture-wise, do you keep up with things?

Harmer: Obviously, the things that make headlines you pay attention to. Especially this year, it seemed there was a lot of back and forth about that (Gay issues). I'm curious to see what happens, with the Bush administration's power and sway starting to erode, if things begin to change. Hopefully, some of these issues will have a new life and be able to stick and people won't be afraid to talk about them and do something about them.

Rodriguez: I know every fan is important to Death Cab for Cutie, but how do you feel about a Gay fan base? My friends and I were listening and talking about you guys before Transatlanticism was even released.

Harmer: I love it. I want everyone who likes our music to be able to connect with it and find a community of people they can share it with. I think it's great that you were talking about us with your friends before we were established. That's how you find out about new music. You find something and you share it with someone else. I don't make different categories of fans in my mind. I think at home it matters the most. Being in Seattle and having people support us at home, these are the people you connect with the most and it's great to have them behind you.

Rodriguez: It must be a good feeling to be out on the road and have such amazing support from back home. Everyone from the Seattle P-I to Sonic Boom Records to the Seattle Gay News is rallying for Death Cab for Cutie here in town.

Harmer: Knowing this support is there gives us an extra boost of confidence. This lifestyle, the stuff we're doing now, is weird and a bit surreal. We never thought as a band that we'd be doing the things we're doing now. It's exciting and great, but at the same time you have to pinch yourself every once in a while. It's nice to know there are large amounts of people at home supporting you because you guys are the ones we have to go back to, to answer to. If we do something stupid, we expect you'll call us out or challenge us. That's important to have.

Rodriguez: When midnight on December 31st comes around, where do you plan to be or where do you want to be?

Harmer: I don't know if I can say yet. I don't know if it's appropriate. Oh, I'll just tell you. We're playing a New Year's show in Los Angeles, but I'm not sure if it's been announced yet. But it's December already, so screw it. Now you know.

Rodriguez: Cool. Do you have an annual New Year's tradition, like getting drunk or kissing someone at the stroke of midnight?

Harmer: I don't have a traditional sort of thing. It's going to be an interesting New Year's this year to see what kind of interesting debauchery goes down. Playing a show in Los Angeles should be an interesting change. I'm sure we'll be partying as much as possible.

Rodriguez: Please give the Seattle Gay News readers a New Year's greeting.

Harmer: Okay, New Year's greeting: Thank you very much for listening so far. We will continue to steal your ears in the New Year!

(I end the call with Nick because Chris is calling in on the other line. He flew in late to Los Angeles last night, so he and Nick haven't even seen each other yet. Chris has a cheery, boy-like voice and attitude.)

Albert Rodriguez: Hey Chris. Nick told me you guys are in LA.

Chris Walla: We're in LA. Yes, that's true.

Rodriguez: You get to experience nice weather.

Walla: Not yet. I just flew in last night. And last night was sort of ridiculous because somebody pulled the fire alarm on the floor I was on.

Rodriguez: I hate it when that happens.

Walla: I think it was some drunk or yahoo trying to empty out the floor, and they unloaded this extinguisher in the hallway. It was a big deal. I was asleep. They dragged us all out into the parking lot. It wasn't warm and sunny in the parking lot at that point and time.

Rodriguez: Did they give you enough time to put on a robe, or something?

Walla: No. It was a full-on fire alarm. People pounded on the doors. It was pretty intense.

Rodriguez: Did you fly out of Seattle last night to Los Angeles?

Walla: I flew out of Portland. I actually bought a house in Portland and am in the process of moving down there.

Rodriguez: What area of Portland?

Walla: I'm in the Northeast part. (He gives me the cross streets, but I'll keep it private.)

Rodriguez: Were you living in Seattle right before then?

Walla: Yeah, except for the three years I lived in Bellingham I've lived in Seattle all my life.

Rodriguez: Why the move to Portland?

Walla: So much of it has to do with traffic. The monorail thing going down is the same way the viaduct is going to go down. I love Seattle. I love it with all my heart. But I was so frustrated, so sick of how taxpayers money was being spent, like something that actually needs to happen as opposed to a new stadium or something else like that. I just couldn't hang anymore. I hope to be able to move back to Seattle at some point. It was that and I was actually able to afford to buy a new house in Portland. I can't do that in Seattle.

Rodriguez: You can't do that? You're a major rock star!

Walla: (laughs) I'm a minor rock star, if that.

Rodriguez: But you're major to us.

Walla: (laughing, probably blushing) Thank you. I feel like I'm just a guy in a band. But the fact that people are buying our records is great and we sold out two shows at the Paramount (Theatre). Yet, it doesn't change the day to day routine for any of us.

Rodriguez: What were some of your favorites this year in music?

Walla: Musically, there's Laura Viers. She's from Seattle. Her songs are spectacular and she's got this great voice. She's a great writer. That's my total favorite record this year. I also really liked John Vanderslice's record called Pixel Revolt. Those are my two big ones for the year. I think the new record by The New Pornographers is really good too. It's like a big slice of pop heaven. When Neko Case is involved in something, it's great.

Rodriguez: What are your holiday plans?

Walla: I'll be in Seattle the 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th. Four days of family stuff that'll be great. Some of it might be taxing, but it'll be good. For New Year's, we're doing a show in LA with the Flaming Lips. Then, I fly back on New Year's Day and I'll spend three or four days on Vancouver Island.

Rodriguez: I love Vancouver. I always get trashed when I go there. Once when I was there I missed Justin Timberlake by a day. We stayed at the same, little hotel.

Walla: No way! What is up with his new record?!

Rodriguez: I don't know. But have you listened to Madonna's new CD?

Walla: You know, I was in a record store a couple of weeks ago and the girl working there put it on and it was kind of good, until the "I Love New York" song came on. That song is not so good. But the rest of the album is better than I thought it would be.

Rodriguez: Have you done the Gay pub-crawl on Capitol Hill lately?

Walla: I haven't. My three closest Gay friends moved to Minneapolis, so I haven't really gone out on Capitol Hill for a while.

Rodriguez: Sounds like you need new Gay friends. Maybe when you move to Portland and get settled in you can meet some. I think every straight guy should have a good Gay friend.

Walla: That's absolutely true. I absolutely agree.

Rodriguez: I know every fan is important to Death Cab for Cutie. But how do you feel about having a Gay fan base?

Walla: I'm all for it. I feel like our songs are personal and individual. I don't feel there's any cultural wall in our songwriting. I hope there's something everyone can relate to.

Rodriguez: Do you have any midnight rituals on New Year's Eve?

Walla: Not really. I've turned into such an old man. I think I was asleep last year at New Year's. I was in bed by eleven. This year, we'll be in LA and the Flaming Lips will be on stage.

Rodriguez: I hope you won't be sober.

Walla: I very much doubt that.

Rodriguez: What do you miss about Seattle when you're on tour?

Walla: More than anything, I miss the water. I'll miss that in Portland. We've got a river, but it's not the same as in Seattle. I get so claustrophobic when we're inland for weeks and weeks at a time. If I can't see the ocean, or something that might lead to the ocean, I get really freaked out. I lived in West Seattle and the (recording) studio is in Fremont, so I was on the viaduct every day. That view of the city, looking out to the Sound, is really spectacular. I'm really going to miss that. I'm going to miss my coffee shop in West Seattle. There are a few restaurants I'll miss too. I'm a big fan of the Coastal Kitchen. I like that they can make eggs and they're not wet. That's good. And the people there have always been nice.

Rodriguez: Not that you don't like being with the other band members, but do you look forward to having your own time and space?

Walla: I do. I'm really into quietness - no noise, no TV, a book, cup of hot chocolate. I like that sort of thing, and you just can't do that on tour. For me, that's the hardest thing about being on tour, there's no concentrated down time. But we (the group) really like hanging out with each other. I feel like we really take care of each other. I feel like we're tight and we're playing good shows. These guys are my family as much as my own family.

Rodriguez: I'm so glad great things are happening for Death Cab for Cutie right now. I think Plans is phenomenal and it's your best album to date.

Walla: Thank you Albert. It's so good to hear you say that.

Rodriguez: Please give the Seattle Gay News readers a New Year's greeting.

Walla: Oh my god, I'm on the spot&(pause) Okay, can I borrow from Garrison Keillor, because he's my hero?

Rodriguez: Sure. Go for it.

Walla: "Be well, do good work, keep in touch". My favorite phrase ever!

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"Putting on the Ritz
in 2006"

The Center is one of the
beneficiaries of this fabulous
LGBT New Year's Eve Ball
at the Crowne Plaza.

The Beauty of Freedom
works by Barbara Stout

artist's reception
saturday, december 10
6 pm - 9 pm


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