Drummer Tells All

Death Cab for Cutie’s Jason McGerr opens up about their new album and Vegas stop

Death Cab for Cutie is famous for a sound so purposefully raw (both sonically and emotionally) that it makes you feel like you’re listening to them practice. After five albums, they deviated from the proven formula in 2008, with Narrow Stairs’ gospel-like piano tunes and beachy guitar riffs. Recently, the foursome returned to their classic sound with Codes and Keys, an album with lyrical ambition and dense sheets of texture that magnifies their mellow and upbeat feel. Beneath the layers of echoing vocals are hypnotizing beats that sound like staticky percussion chattering in the distance. Those beats belong to drummer Jason McGerr, who spoke with Vegas Seven about Death Cab’s summer tour (which includes a poolside concert at the Cosmopolitan), the inspiration behind Codes and Keys and what’s next for the band.

What was the biggest inspiration behind the new album Codes and Keys?

We had a lot of time off, so we were really hungry and thirsty to write records again. I guess if there’s one big inspiration, it was just all of us coming from a positive place. Hence, we were able to really take our time and record an album over the course of 10 months, which is unheard of for anything we’ve done.

You’ve now made seven studio albums. How would you describe the writing process?

Narrow Stairs was pretty much a live-recorded tape, and we didn’t use computers at all. Codes and Keys, we used computers and took our time, put clippings together and layered tracks. Every record we make is a reaction to the last one. So we just wanted this to be a different process.

After spending nearly 15 years together, how do you guys keep things fresh?

What we’ve learned after all these years of being a band is that when inspiration strikes, you’ve got to be ready to commit. And when you feel the things that aren’t working out, sometimes you’ve got to put them away. We’ve learned to just be aware. It’s like street smarts, but it’s studio smarts.

Your song “Little Bribes” is both a romantic and critical description of Las Vegas. What led you guys to write the song? What does Vegas mean to you?

I thought the lyrics were really clever. I can’t completely answer that because I didn’t write the song, I just played drums to it. The best thing about Ben Gibbard [the song’s author] is that he is an honest songwriter, and what he says is how he’s feeling at that moment in time. He commits to it, he documents it and he moves forward. As for Vegas, I think it’s great but I don’t think any of us could be there for more than three or four days, because we usually need a little rain and gloom and doom every now and then.

What are you looking forward to the most about coming back to play in Vegas?

We’re playing on a rooftop at a pool, right? That sounded really exciting. We try very hard to vary where we play, regionally as well as venue-wise. The Cosmopolitan sounded like an exciting opportunity. We’ve been to Vegas a lot, played some special shows there and had some special recordings there. We are really looking forward to it. It should be fun.

What’s going to make your upcoming tour unique and different from past tours?

We have a different production, a different light show, and things will be bigger and better. And we’re playing like six or seven songs from the new record, which we don’t usually do. We’ll try to spread the love between seven albums. The biggest thing is that you’re going to hear songs that you’ve never seen live before.

What’s next for Death Cab after the tour?

One of the duties of being a band our size is that you get to see the whole world if you want to, so we will probably spend more time overseas. Hopefully we will be able to come play a tour back through the U.S. next year. There will be more videos and more things, like special releases. There will be no shortage of opportunity to see, hear or watch Death Cab.