Death Cab For Cutie returns to Red Rocks with two new members

Nick Harmer, Ben Gibbard and Jason McGeer are the three remaining original members of Death Cab For Cutie. (Atlantic Records / Courtesy photo)
Nick Harmer, Ben Gibbard and Jason McGeer are the three remaining original members of Death Cab For Cutie. (Atlantic Records / Courtesy photo)

By Matt Miller

When Death Cab For Cutie entered the studio to record its eighth album, the members weren’t certain that the end product “would still sound like the band that we know us to be,” said bassist Nick Harmer.

In late 2014, the band announced that after 17 years, guitarist and founding member Chris Walla would be leaving the band. Though he performed on the latest release, Kintsugi, he wouldn’t be acting as the record’s producer, as he had for every other Death Cab album.

“Going into it we were all kind of anxious about it because we had never recorded with an outside producer as a band,” Harmer said. “There was some question of whether or not we could do it.”

Only a week later, after recording its first song with new producer Rich Costey, “we all felt pretty quickly that we were all in the right place,” Harmer said.

On Kintsugi, Costey remains true to the Death Cab spirit — adding small shiny flourishes here and there while allowing the mix to stay focused on Ben Gibbard’s iconic, vibrato-less vocals.

While the personnel change hasn’t yet resulted in a drastic stylistic change on the recorded product, it will have a clear impact on the band’s live performances and symbolically for Death Cab For Cutie.

When Death Cab For Cutie takes the stage at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on July 15, they’ll look different than the band ever has before. Walla has been replaced with two members: Dave Depper and Zach Rae both on guitar and keyboards. Besides a tour with Magik*Magik Orchestra in 2012, Death Cab has always hit the road as its original four-piece — something the band has long been respected for as acts tend to add members when the production and albums get more complicated with time.

It’ll make for a Death Cab For Cutie as fans have never heard live. Touring as a four-piece, the group was forced to make tough choices in the live performances: “When (Walla) was in the band we would have to say, ‘That guitar part is more important for you to play than that keyboard part.’ ”

For nearly two decades DCFC live performances were a stripped-down contrast to the recorded product. But with another member filling out the lineup, it’s not the case.

“I think it was really eye-opening for us to go back through the material and realize that there’s a ton of musical information that a fifth person can handle that would make these songs sound a little bit more closer to how they sound on the albums and also fill out the sonic space in a way that’s much more full and add more depth,” Harmer said.

As Harmer puts it, transition can go two ways: It can be the end of something or the beginning of something new. And though it won’t be clear until the band heads back into the studio just how much Walla contributed to the fabric of Death Cab For Cutie, Harmer is excited for moving on to something new.

“I’m extraordinarily confident. I actually know some new material that we’ve been working on, so I’m excited about what comes next, but a lot of that remains to be seen,” Harmer said. “One of the things I’ve always loved about our band is we never try too hard to look too far into the future.”

It marks a new chapter for Death Cab For Cutie — one that the band is still in the process of transitioning into, buoyed by the therapeutic process of making music.

The album title Kintsugi comes from the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery. While Harmer said they didn’t choose the name specifically to reflect the fact that Walla was leaving the band, it is a “very appropriate title.”

“At its core, the philosophy of kintsugi is that by highlighting the breaks and scars in an object you somehow make it more beautiful and more complete.” is The Denver Post’s music blog.

If you go

What: Death Cab For Cutie. Opening act is tUnE-yArDs

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 15

Where: Red Rocks Amphitheatre,18300 W. Alameda Parkway, Morrison

Tickets: $38.50-$48.50


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