BY TRICIA DESPRES | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
Merely seconds after Death Cab for Cutie’s front man Ben Gibbard found out that the alternative rock band’s current album “Kintsugi” had debuted at No.1 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart, he was already taking it in stride.
“Really? I had no clue,” Gibbard casually offered regarding the chart success of “Kintsugi”, which was inspired by the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with precious metals. “It carries a different sort of elation after eight albums, you know? It’s a new generation for this band, and yes, chart news like that definitely tells us that people are still paying attention and are still invested in our music.”
Indeed, with a long list of successful albums such as 2003’s “Transatlanticism,” 2005’s “Plans” and 2008’s “Narrow Stairs” behind them, Death Cab for Cutie couldn’t be faulted for having a small bit of skepticism and nervousness surrounding the release of “Kintsugi,” which was the band’s first album of new material since the 2011 release of “Codes and Keys.”
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
When: 7:30 p.m., April 30 and May 1
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State
Tickets: $34.50 – $49.50
But it was the departure of founding guitarist Chris Walla, who stepped down as producer of “Kintsugi” ten days into its recording that really threw the band for a loop. Although Walla stuck around long enough to remain a vital part of the recording of the new record, the longtime creative force of the band ended up officially leaving in September 2014.
“I really don’t I feel like an era has ended for this band as much as I feel a new era has begun,” says Gibbard, who now proceeds alongside Death Cab for Cutie band mates Nick Harmer (bass) and Jason McGerr (drums). “I’m very confident in our abilities to make good records — and hopefully great records — in the future.”
The band did stir things up by making the decision to go into the studio to record the remainder of “Kintsugi” with new producer Rich Costey, best known for his work with Foster the People and Muse.
“Being able to work with Rich [Costey] was not only a learning experience, but really cemented us as a band,” recalls Gibbard. “I really think that if we had made this album in the exact way we had made every record before with Chris [Walla] producing, and then Chris had left the band, we would be pretty much terrified about what we were going to do next and how we were going to do it. The experience with Rich broke us all down as players and contributors, but also gave me a newfound confidence in all of our abilities. No longer were we essentially deferring to this other person in the band to make a lot of the tough decisions.”
Flying high off the current success of “Kintsugi”’s leadoff single “Black Sun,” the members of Death Cab for Cutie say they would much rather look forward than backward, and are spending their time currently anticipating some of the iconic venues that they will play on their North American headlining tour, including New York’s Madison Square Garden, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and the Chicago Theatre.
“There was a time when we wanted to play to as many people who would come, and we would pick venues with that in mind,” Gibbard says. “But as of late, we have been focusing on those venues where fans can truly feel like they are coming to an event. Being a part of the lineage of performers that have performed at the Chicago Theatre makes the fact that we are playing there feel even more special.”
And this time around, the stage is bound to feel different.
“Having five people on stage that all want to be there is a fairly new development for this band,” says Gibbard. “I’m not nervous for the future of the band. But I can’t do anything about people’s perceptions. I don’t lay awake at night scared for what is going to happen. If anything, I have never been more excited for what is next for this band.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.