Hooking up on the phone Tuesday afternoon, Nick Harmer is happy to report that life as the bassist for Death Cab For Cutie remains "a gravy train with biscuit wheels". Harmer is an animated conversationalist, and rattles off his rationale without pause. "We're still getting along, we're making music we are proud of, and we are making music that people are still interested in listening to," he declares. Hard to shoot holes in that logic, right?
It's been three years since the release of Codes and Keys, the last new DCFC music. Good news though: the band has just wrapped up recording its next release. In between a handful of festival shows on weekends, including this Friday's appearance headlining KXT's Summer Cut at Gexa Energy Pavilion -- the band is engaged in the mixing phase. And it's just about wrapped.
Then a small bomb drops as Harmer reveals that for the first time in the band's 17 years, an outsider has been recruited as producer, a role filled on all past releases by guitarist Chris Walla. You have to wonder how that came to be...
Pressed for a name, Harmer professed, "I'm sworn to secrecy about the details. We are going to be announcing all that in one big bundle". But clearly, this represents a new direction for the band; "definitely invigorating" is how Harmer describes the impact. With an objective outsider, the band was able to dig through what Harmer described as "layers and layers of friendship and history and time to find a sweet spot" of musicality they suspected was there but couldn't have reached on their own.
Wednesday morning, those missing "details" were revealed. Most importantly, Walla is leaving the band at the end of this festival tour. Rich Costey, an associate of Jon Brion and the man that has been behind the dials for acts as diverse a Sigur Ros to Mastadon, helmed the new record.
What was going to be a chance to see DCFC in a relatively rare show at Summer Cut this Friday has now become the last opportunity to see the original band play together in Dallas.
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How all this translates into a new sound remains to be seen. DCFC has always had a certain emotional gravitas courtesy of singer/lyricist Ben Gibbard and his distinctive voice. Gibbard's marriage to alt-heroine Zooey Deschanel may be a fading memory, but no doubt fodder for some snarky lyrical treatment, a talent Gibbard has ably displayed in the past. Indeed, according to Hamner, "Ben is in a really rich place as a songwriter right now, with a lot of material and emotion to draw from."
Great source material from Gibbard. The uncertainty and desire to impress that comes from working with an outside producer. A key member leaving the band. No wonder Harmer feels like musically the band is rejuvenated.
And while some draw parallels between being in a band and marriage, Harmer feels like at this point DCFC is more like family. Walla might be thinking marriage is the better analogy. Either way, Harmer is definitely expecting the gravy train to keep chugging.
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE headline KXT's Summercut Festival with Iron & Wine, Hold Steady and more, 4:30 p.m., Friday, August 15, at Gexa Energy Pavilion, 1818 1st Ave., 214-421-1111 or gexaenergypavilion.net, $40