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Young Star

Death Cab for Cutie sparkles with 'New Moon'

DEFINITELY MAYBE - Carl Francis M. Ramirez -

If there’s one album this year that surprised me more than any other, it’s the soundtrack to Twilight: New Moon.

I am far from the biggest Twilight fan in the world. In fact, I often poke fun at how much attention it gets from rabid fangirls. I was almost certain I wanted no part of whatever phenomenon this was rapidly becoming.

So when news first broke that Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke was cooking up something for the soundtrack, my first reaction was, “Huh?” Then news came out than Bon Iver was on board. And then Death Cab for Cutie. If I’m a sucker for anything, I’m a sucker for good music. This album immediately had my attention.

I got to talk to Death Cab for Cutie guitarist and producer Chris Walla about his thoughts on the soundtrack, the Twilight books, being famous and coming to the Philippines. Death Cab for Cutie’s Meet Me on the Equinox is the carrier single for the New Moon soundtrack.

PHILIPPINE STAR: How are the challenges of being a producer and a guitarist different? Or similar?

CHRIS WALLA: They’re not mutually exclusive. They are very much related. I can’t imagine being a producer and not being a musician. I also can’t imagine being a musician without being a producer. I think about music in a really analytical, scientific sort of way. Being a musician and being in a band, it’s just nice to get up and crash new rock songs for an audience who’s appreciative and wants to see you play. But the flipside of it is that it’s really nice to sit and concentrate on something and listen to something over and over to try to get it perfect.

What are some of the musical influences of Death Cab For Cutie? (The band’s name, incidentally, is taken from a song by ‘60s British group The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band — Editor.)

We grew up on our parents’ record collections and then we sort of found punk rock when we were teenagers. So I sort of think we’re halfway in between the Sex Pistols and Elton John.

Do you have similar taste in music as your band mates? With Ben Gibbard, for example?

We’ve all got similar tastes. There are a lot of bands we love and admire and enjoy. There are common touchstones.

You’ve worked with bands like The Decemberists, Tegan and Sara and Hot Hot Heat. Can you name your favorite non-Death Cab album that you’ve produced?

There’s a record by a band called Carrisa’s Weird which is not a super well-known record that I worked on. It’s a record I worked on with that band in 2001 and it’s probably my favorite thing that I have worked on that is not related to Death Cab for Cutie.

What’s your favorite album of 2009 so far?

My favorite album of 2009 is by The Wooden Birds.

The Twilight: New Moon soundtrack has an impressive roster of indie musicians. What was the thinking behind that especially since Twilight is an extremely mainstream product?

I wasn’t part of that process at all but as far as I can tell, the logic behind that was Alex the music supervisor was a big fan and she was hoping to bring some of her favorite indie music to a much, much bigger audience. And so far, I think it’s working.

Do you see film soundtracks going in this direction for years to come?

Yeah, I do. But the interesting thing about movie soundtracks is, like all the soundtracks I grew up on, they weren’t full of superstars. Like the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, the Psychedelic Furs weren’t a huge band at that time. At least in the United States they weren’t. And neither was New Order. A lot of those bands were reasonably under the radar. I mean, they weren’t selling millions and millions of records. I sort of feel like this soundtrack is sort of a step back in that direction.

Tell us about your new single Meet Me On The Equinox. When was it written? What was the inspiration? How does it fit into New Moon?

We sort of retooled it a little bit to make it work with the film. But we hadn’t seen the film when we started to work on it. With a little bit of working in the dark, and we didn’t really know if it was actually going to fly, but apparently it did.

Apart from Equinox, what’s a track on the New Moon soundtrack that you especially like?

I’m really into Bon Iver and St. Vincent song (Roslyn). The duet they did together, I think, was really exceptional.

Have you read any of the Twilight books or watched the first movie?

Yes, I’ve watched the first movie and I’ve read the first two books. I’ve yet to get started on the third book.

How do you like them?

Well, I loved the first book. I liked it a lot. I think it’s great.

You are part of one of the most popular indie bands, Death Cab for Cutie. What can you say about playing guitar and being the producer for such an iconic band?

It’s funny, like I hear that we’re an iconic band a fair bit, but I still don’t feel like it. I still feel like we’re four guys who like playing music together, you know? I still feel like we’re in college and playing in our living room together, even though that isn’t what it’s about anymore. We’re very much connected to where we came from and what we’ve always done. We still play music and write music for one another. And the fact that the tons of other people end up coming to that music over and over is really remarkable.

What’s in the future for Death Cab for Cutie?

Well we have this promo stuff that we’re doing and then a little break until the end of the year and then we’ll all going to get back together and start writing and recording again in 2010 for another record.

How about for you as a producer?

I’ve got two records that I need to finish up right now and then there’s kind of a stack of stuff mounting for next year. There are so many bands in the world that need to make records.

Do you have any final words for the Death Cab for Cutie fans here in the Philippines? And there are a lot of them.

This is what I keep hearing. I really hope that we can get to the Philippines some time soon. I’m really sad that in 12 years we haven’t been able to make it there yet.

* * *

For questions, comments or corrections, please e-mail me at carlfrancisramirez@gmail.com.

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