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Death Cab Decoded

Death Cab for Cutie’s Jason McGerr on the band’s new record & songs for spring

In support of their seventh studio album, Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie has set out on a North American tour accompanied by members of San Francisco’s celebrated Magik*Magik Orchestra. They are set to perform for a sold-out crowd at Kleinhans Music Hall this Tuesday (April 24). On the guitar-centric album, Death Cab for Cutie experimented with audio textures, lyrics, and even the process of recording itself. The band created Codes and Keys in short bursts over a period of seven months at various recording studios such as Sound City in California, the Warehouse in Vancouver, and drummer Jason McGerr’s own Two Sticks Audio in Washington. Artvoice spoke with McGerr about this unique recording process, the band’s other collaborations, and his musical interests.

AV: What was it like to work with the direction team Walter Robot, who created two Death Cab for Cutie music videos?

McGeer: They came to us about working on the “Grapevine Fires” video, and after we approached them to work on “Under the Sycamore.” Walter Robot brings a fresh approach to music videos. Instead of finding a location in New York City or Los Angeles and using a huge cast of people and wardrobe, it is so much fun to say ‘Go for it, here’s the music and your budget! Do whatever you want to do,” and then you get to see the final product. Those guys have been really generous with their time, their energy, and their efforts.

AV: What was it like to create your newest album Codes and Keys, which was recorded at different studios?

McGeer: Moving around to different studios gives you some perspective about and distance from what you are doing. We found that in three or four weeks, the album is planned out. Also we used some live recordings, which makes you play differently. It is a way different approach to work on songs for about only three hours a day.

AV: Do you think you would use that method again?

McGeer: Maybe, but not two times in a row. It’s like playing a video game—what are the chances you’re going to beat your high score? I have no idea what we’re doing next time. All I know is that whatever I think we’re doing we’ll probably do something different.

AV: Did your collaboration with Magik*Magik Orchestra, who did all the string arrangements on Codes and Keys, add a fresh element to the album?

McGeer: The trust factor was amazing. When you work with someone who is good at what they do you can give them the material and wait for the results. All of the arrangements were prepared and I think they did that in a day or two. One of the first things we did when planning this album was to film for VH1’s Storytellers and four string players joined us. It sounded so good. We always wanted to try an eight-piece orchestra group instead of just a quartet. Had we not reached out to Magik*Magik Orchestra and decided we wanted real strings on the record, this collaboration wouldn’t be happening.

AV: You have collaborated with many other musicians such as Tegan and Sara and Matt Nathanson. What would your dream collaboration be?

McGeer: Genre-wise I’m interested in electronic music. Not when it is made with computers but the whole larger world of underground, under the radar electronic music that is made with instruments. For example, Jojo Mayer’s project Nerve. Great songwriters know that less is more.

AV: What is your favorite music to listen to in the springtime?

McGeer: On the first day of spring I listened to the new Miiike Snow record. During spring the days are short and it’s rainy and cloudy so I listen to a lot of instrumental music, probably because I’m a drummer. I tend to fall in love with rhythmic music, like Jon Hopkins, who is a classical pianist who makes electronic music.

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