Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie on Codes & Keys and losing gear in Ottawa stage collapse
Just over a month ago, Death Cab for Cutie (due tomorrow night at Red Rocks with Frightened Rabbit) was slated to close out the Ottawa Bluesfest when a freak storm hit and sent the stage crashing to the ground, destroying a lot of the band's equipment, which was stored under the stage. While the band has pretty much dialed in its equipment situation since then, there were a few pieces of gear that were one-of-a-kind. We spoke with guitarist Chris Walla about losing the gear, making Codes and Keys, the band's latest effort, and how it differs from 2008's Narrow Stairs.
Westword: How's the tour going, besides the stage collapsing in Ottawa and damaging a lot of your equipment?
Chris Walla: The tour has gone really well. The hangover from that was not insubstantial, but I'm reminded again after Indiana how much worse it could have been. It's kind of no small miracle that nobody was killed or seriously hurt. It kind of puts a lot of stuff into perspective. It's kind of nice to be alive and playing music and contemplating easy things like what I should have for dinner.
Have you guys got your equipment dialed in again since then?
More or less. There's even still a few things that are a little weird that we're sorting out. A lot of it was just completely destroyed. With a lot of it, it's stuff you can just buy off the shelf at Guitar Center, and it's fine. There are a few Unicorns that we are not going to be able to replace, which is kind of sad. There's one guitar that I had that was kind of a one-of-a-kind that is essentially irreplaceable, which super bums me out. But what do you do!
It could have been worse.
Why did you guys decide to record Codes and Keys in four different studios?
I really subscribe to the idea that -- and I might be delusional -- that every studio is more or less its own tool and has its own set of strengths and weaknesses and skills and, you know, whatever. Just like it takes a box full of tools to build a house, I started to feel like when you have the opportunity of having a whole host of studios, it kind of makes a more well-rounded record, I think. It's like you can use a pair of pliers when really you need a crescent wrench, but if you find a crescent wrench, usually it will go a little more smoothly. It's sort of like that.
Sound City in Van Nuys, where we recorded the first leg of the record, is a dark, window-less kind of sleazy '70s place with carpeted walls. I mean, there was nothing to do in there except either do drugs or make a record. And since we don't do any drugs, we sort of figured making a record would be the good thing to do. It's like so far out that there's nothing to walk to. It's not a day spa. There's nowhere to entertain yourself, so it really lends itself to sort of heavy construction projects -- stuff that requires a lot of focus and concentration and really getting a couple of days deep into a project or a sub-project or whatever.
On the second leg of the record we went to Vancouver, to a place called the Warehouse. And the Warehouse is a literal warehouse, and the second floor has a wall of windows that look at downtown Vancouver. The light is beautiful and it's sort of open. It just inspires a whole different kind of thinking about music. Where you're really in a cave and where you're really sort of inside your own head at Sound City, you can really sort of think of the context of your work over the course of a day and a night when you're working at the Warehouse. It's just a completely different vibe. It gives you a different perspective on what you're doing.
I would imagine that each studio has its own personality, and that would seep into the music.
Just like anything in your life, like every pair of pants you own qualifies as a pair of pants. Like, they keep you warm and they cover you up and that sort of thing, but they all feel different. And you have your favorite pair of pants and your second favorite pair of pants and your dress pants.
Interview continues on the next page.