When you think of "political" artists, folk troubadours like Steve Earle or sloganeering punk rockers like Anti-Flag most often come to mind.
Indie-rock icons Death Cab for Cutie don't fit either of those molds, but, over the past decade, the group has become increasingly politically active. Death Cab toured alongside Pearl Jam and Tim Robbins on 2004's Vote for Change tour. And, more recently, frontman Ben Gibbard and multi-instrumentalist Chris Walla performed at the Democratic National Convention.
Back in 2004, Gibbard says he felt "the world was going to end" when George W. Bush was re-elected. Today he's a little more optimistic, after a summer and fall filled with tireless performances at political rallies: "Even people who voted for Bush four years ago [realized] what a horrible job that administration did for our country."
Death Cab for Cutie
Death Cab for Cutie performs with Snow Patrol, Shiny Toy Guns, Cold War Kids, Carolina Liar and Aranda on Friday, December 5, as night two of KDGE-102.1 FM The Edge's How The Edge Stole Christmas at Nokia Theatre, Grand Prairie.
This election, Walla spent his time at the convention meeting with senators and lobbyists and tirelessly reporting from Denver for RollingStone.com. In Colorado, the band's apocalyptic feelings subsided substantially.
"There was definitely a palpable spirit of optimism," Gibbard says, now a few months removed from the event.
No matter his political beliefs, though, Gibbard doesn't want Death Cab's involvement in Democratic efforts to overshadow the music. He'll speak out about the election in interviews, but he doesn't feel comfortable asserting those same strong feelings in his songwriting (even if, ha-ha, he ended up on the winning side).
"I feel like one needs to have a history of writing a particular kind of song," he says. "I'm best at analyzing and writing about human relations. Even if I were to write a great political song, I don't think it would necessarily sit very well within [Death Cab's] collection at this point."
Political issues aren't the only causes embraced by the band, taking the time to play more than its fair share of shows to support causes like special education and global warming awareness.
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But there are just too many social causes that could use a musician's support—even a minimal commitment to activism eats into a band's downtime.
Even so, for now, Gibbard doesn't seem to mind.
"You can always do more," he says, "but at least we're doing something."
He adds that although Death Cab isn't leading by example "by any stretch of the imagination," being a spokesman for change has its rewards: "In finding something we can do that directly relates to our line of work, I feel good regardless of the outcome."