March 30, 2004
Ben Kweller and Radish. Not pictured: Radish.
Kid savant returns
By Laurence J. Freedanu
Daily Arts Writer
By Joel Hoard
Daily Arts Writer
CONCE RTP R EVI EW
It's one thing for a band to claim that it's going
to remain faithful to its roots, and another thing
entirely to actually follow through with it. But
throughout their seven years and four critically
acclaimed records, Seattle-
based indie-pop outfit Death
Cab for Cutie have done just Death Cab
that, even in the face of major for Cutie
label contract offers, growing Tonight at 7 p.m.
fame and numerous side proj- At Royal Oak
ects. As Death Cab bassist Music Theater
Nick Harmer explained, "Our
mantra has been that we just stay true to our own
urges and our own impulses and really be honest
with ourselves as far as what we want to accom-
It's that mentality that allows Death Cab to
turn down major labels in favor of indie label
Barsuk Records without a second thought.
"(Major labels) don't really seem to believe in
what we believe in, which is artist development
... I just don't really see that that's the way that
you can nurture a band for a lifelong career,"
Harmer said. "There's really no point in moving
from a situation that we're already in, which is
we have absolute control over what we're doing
and how we're presented and where we play and
who we play with."
Despite the limited resources at their disposal
over the last seven years, Death Cab have grown
from an underground upstart in Seattle to an
internationally known act playing shows in
Europe, Australia and Japan. "The spread of our
band has been a nice crescendo. Each tour we've
done has gathered a little bit more people. Each
record we've made has sold a few more copies
than the last. It seems to be a nice natural pro-
gression," Harmer explained. The group even
found a famous fan in "O.C." character Seth
Cohen and recently made an appearance on Craig
Kilborn's "The Late Late Show."
Due in part to their newfound fame, Death
Cab's latest record, Transatlanticism, is their most
polished and professional to date. While the
group maintains their signature sound of guitar
hooks and frontman Ben Gibbard's lilting vocals,
the overall sound is crisper and cleaner. "Our
access to gear and to studios has increased with
better touring and as our records sell more, then
we get a little more income that we can play
around with. Buy a better microphone here or
Death Cab for
not in it for the
Courtesy of Barsuk
spend more money on tape or time in a studio
here," Harmer said. He also attributes much of
the band's more refined sound to guitarist and
producer Chris Walla, who has worked with acts
such as Hot Hot Heat, The Long Winters and the
Stratford 4: "Chris is definitely becoming a better
producer as time goes on. The more bands he
records, the more records he makes, he learns
more about his craft ... He's really honed his craft
as a producer and is really getting confident
behind the mixing board."
Even with several extracurriculars, including
Walla's production work and Gibbard's
indie/electronica side project The Postal Service,
Death Cab remain a tight-knit group. In fact,
Harmer believes that side projects are actually a
key to the band's success. "That's really been a
lot of the secret to our health and our longevity
as a band is our ability to take time away from
Death Cab," he said.
And for a band that would rather avoid the trap-
pings of big-money contracts, health and longevi-
ty are at the forefront. As Harmer explained,
"We'd like to try to be musicians for a long time if
possible ... and be Death Cab for Cutie for as long
as we possibly can. Being a band and making
music has never really been a way for us to drive
sports cars and get on 'Cribs."'
Ben Kweller is 22 years old, hip,
opening for Death Cab for Cutie and an
accomplished rock singer-songwriter,
but he isn't mysterious. A hint of mys-
tique is often a rocker's appeal, but
there's a sense of
innocence and "
unbridled honesty Ben Kweller
that comes across in Tonight at 7 p.m.
Kweller's music and At Royal Oak
demeanor. He's Music Theater
cooler than you, but
only because he writes and plays awe-
some songs on numerous instruments.
Kweller first appeared in 1996 when
he was merely 15 years old and the front
man for the Texas post-grunge band
Radish. When the group disbanded in
1999, Kweller moved to New York City
to forge a solo career, and his reputation
as an exceptional songwriter preceded
him. "I didn't know anybody when I
moved there," Kweller explained, but
then he started getting some phone calls.
"I made some friends like Evan Dando,
Jeff Tweedy and The Moldy Peaches. All
these people started calling me and all
this amazing stuff started happening. It
was a real exciting time."
In particular, Kweller finished writing
and released his full-length solo debut,
the remarkably enjoyable and dynamic
record, Sha Sha, in 2002. Oozing with
youthful exuberance and whimsical lyri-
cal imagery, Sha Sha sounded like
Weezer one moment and like Elton John
the next. Despite switching styles almost
every song, Sha Sha was still incredibly
coherent from start to finish, the kind of
album your friends will ask you about if
it's playing in the background.
Kweller thankfully returns on April 6
with On My Way, his second LP. Seeking
to present himself and his band in the
rawest way possible, Kweller decided to
have Ethan Johns produce the album.
Ethan's father, Glyn Johns, manned the
boards during The Rolling Stones' most
famous sessions and heavily influences
Ethan's production style. Kweller
recalled in his best British accent (which
actually sounds more Australian) the
first day of work on the album when
Johns proclaimed that "He was going to
set us up just like his father set up the
Rolling Stones." Dropping back into his
own laid-back tone, Kweller explained
that they just used "One microphone in
the center of the room with each of us
facing one another. We just fucking
played the songs. Things didn't get old.
It was a continuously fresh process."
The result is an organic pop record
heavily influenced by his life in New
York City. Like that city, "This record is
gritty, but there's a lot of love," Kweller
said. Not just "boy/girl love, but love for
everyday experience and camaraderie."
The jangly pop of"My Apartment" sug-
gests Kweller's love affair with his
familiar pad and neighborhood, while
the reflective acoustic title track wistful-
ly describes an old friend.
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