Hailing a Death Cab in Queen’s English

What can you never get away with that you wish you could?
NH: Shaving my hair into a huge liberty spike Mohawk, wearing pegged black pants and lots of spikes. Maybe wearing head-to-toe Goth garb and makeup, like Marilyn Manson or something.


Six months have passed since Death Cab For Cutie’s exquisite fifth album, Transatlanticism (Barsuk), entered the world, but there are no signs that anything’s going to slow down for the band. The record continues to soar off the shelves, the band’s obsessed over by one of the main characters on the hit teenage drama The O.C., and they’re getting ready to make the rounds with Ben Kweller and Pedro the Lion over the next couple of months. While traipsing through the old country, Death Cab was as elusively uncatchable as a greased pig (a recreational practice still commonly enjoyed in the old country, no doubt), but when they were cornered, they weighed in on, among other things, fans truncating their name and board games.

Since you’re currently hopping between Sweden and Norway, is there anything Death Cab For Cutie can get away with there that you can’t get away with in the U.S.?

Nick Harmer [bass]: Ummmmm, not really…I guess we can get away with not talking in between songs if we aren’t feeling like it. You know, the language barrier and all, but even then, most people in Scandinavia speak English just as good as their native languages. Sadly, we are the same band wherever we go. Or, wait: maybe being genuine is a good thing.

What can you never get away with that you wish you could?
NH: Shaving my hair into a huge liberty spike Mohawk, wearing pegged black pants and lots of spikes. Maybe wearing head-to-toe Goth garb and makeup, like Marilyn Manson or something. I also wish I could get away with drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels in one night without any effects in the morning…ouch.

Do you miss being home?
NH: When I am at home, I miss touring every second of every day, yet when I am on the road, I miss home every second of every day. Some shrink is going to have a field day with me in 10 years.

Can you explain the passion people have for your band? What’s the most outward passion anyone’s had for your band?
NH: I could not even begin to explain people’s passion for our band. In fact, and I am being really honest here, every time we play a show, I am convinced that nobody will show up—that somehow, collectively, everyone who once liked our band decided that they are over us and they are moving on. I guess it is my way of keeping my head screwed on straight, being humble and always remembering that everything has to end someday. Hopefully we will be like 50 before we stop making records, but who knows. Anyways, I think that only really normal people like our band because we haven’t had too many “outward displays of passion” that have weirded us out to the point of making a lasting memory. People say nice things. They sometimes give us gifts and, for the most part, don’t ask us to be anything we’re not.

Do you have any production gigs lined up?
Chris Walla [guitar]: The Thermals record is, in fact, truly great. I’ll be interested to see if they have to deal with the U.S. Patriot Act at any point during the promotion of the album. There’s a pointy song called “God and Country” that’s more inflammatory and true than any I’ve heard in years. This summer, I’m recording a new record for the Velvet Teen and hopefully a record with The Decemberists, if the schedule works out.

NH: Chris just finished working on the new Thermals record, which, he swears, is the greatest single achievement in rock history. And he is in the middle of working on the new Nada Surf record as well, which he says, will be the next single greatest achievement in rock history. I have no doubt whatsoever that he is correct about his predictions.

What are you currently reading and listening to?
CW: I bought a little Sony shortwave/multi-band radio at Gatwick last week, so I’ve been listening to the BBC World Service as we drive through the Pyrenees and whatnot. It’s nice to hear some Queen’s English in Catalan country. On Top of the Pops, they played the new Keane single and I thought that was really good. Our driver, Martin, played Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust in the van last week and I fell in love with that all over again. No Doubt’s cover of “It’s My Life” rules and it’s been on the radio here. The last book I read was Song Stories, which details out every song in the XTC catalog in the words of the band. I’m a fanatic, so it’s fun.

I read somewhere that your favorite board game is Scrabble; similarly, I also read recently that Fountains of Wayne played a skewed version of Scrabble called Vodka Scrabble. Do you guys play any alternative versions of established and known games?
CW: Vodka Scrabble sounds brilliant. I think if you were to order a vodka Scrabble in a Swiss bar, you’d probably end up with a pretty good drink. Sadly, we’re boring traditionalists who deviate little from the known quantities…like game rules. Nick does, however, enjoy some poker every now and again.

Does anyone in the band talk in their sleep? What do they say?
CW: Nick and I are the worst offenders. Nick tends to get all fidgety and agitated in his sleep, so we only get little snippets of whatever happens between the important parts of the plot. I’ll tell whole stories about old girlfriends and drunken nights out; thankfully, no one has taped any yet.

If you’ve seen Lost in Translation, do you know what Bill Murray says to Scarlett Johanssan at the end? Please help.
CW: I haven’t seen it, so I can’t help you out. I’m sorry.

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