There are very few opportunities -- unless you are showering with them -- to hear a bassist singing. But Nick Harmer, of Death Cab for Cutie, is a giver, and Street doesn't like to waste opportunities. As he explains the reason for making "The New Year" -- the first track on the band's most recent album, Transatlanticism -- he gives Street his own rendition of the song. "The other records we made started out with this slow atmospheric stuff," he says, "and we wanted something really bombastic and big for this record, just for a break in tradition more than anything. It's like [sings] 'so this is a new record.'" A sense of humor is not lacking with a band that is known for its melancholy songs.
Death Cab for Cutie started out as lead singer Benjamin Gibbard's solo project, but with live show requests pouring in he opted for starting a band instead. In his small town in Washington, Harmer says getting a band together "was pretty seamless. There was a pretty small music community, so it wasn't like you had to have weeks of auditions to find the right person." His connection to Gibbard leads back to years of friendship and living together. The rest has been pretty seamless for the band as well, as critics and fans alike have shared in their love of the band.
The lyrics remain all Gibbard's, who has recently spent time as part of critically-acclaimed duo The Postal Service. But perfecting the songs is a shared responsibility. Transatlanticism maintains the band's sound; simplistic, almost child-like at times, as Harmer explains, "We've always been very concerned about [the fact that] some of the most beautiful artistic expressions are some of the simplest," but still with an underlying maturity that fans will recognize as powerfully deliberate. "We make sure that every part of every song is a necessary component of that song," Harmer says.
Despite Death Cab's simplistic sound, its live shows are not stale. Though Harmer describes touring as both a blessing and a curse, the band has gotten to a point in touring that Harmer describes as the group's best yet: "We know what to do, and we know ourselves, and we know how our bodies and minds react. So there are not a lot of surprises on that level anymore. It's far more healthy now than it ever has been." On Death Cab's latest tour, the band is rocking out, regardless of what its album sounds like. "I think that our live show, more than our record would suggest, typically tends to be a little more rock and roll and a little less subdued, then the record experience. It's not like we're doing split-kicks or anything, but we definitely like to tap our feet and bob our heads," Harmer says, laughing.
With a long tour ahead, and a place that Harmer seems happy to be in, Death Cab for Cutie is anxious to keep the momentum. Though it looks like the band could go anywhere, Harmer says, "For the first time ever, we're actually hitting our stride as a band. We're making the records we want to make, we're playing the venues we want to play and I'm not too eager to change the formula right now, just because I fear the backfire." Major label or not, change in band or not, Death Cab for Cutie has already made its mark, and Harmer says you can expect a new album as early as Fall of 2005, when fans will still be singing about the new year.
Catch Death Cab for Cutie with Ben Kweller, April 12 and 13 at The Troc (1003 Arch St.). 7 p.m. $18.