Death Cab For Cutie brings new ‘Asphalt Meadows’ music to Southern California

Not long after Death Cab For Cutie released its new album “Asphalt Meadows” in mid-September, guitarist and keyboard player Dave Depper says he and the rest of the band shared a backstage epiphany before a show that night.

“There was some point last week where we were all sitting around in the dressing room before the show,” Depper says by phone before a recent show near St. Louis. “And one of us said something like, ‘You know, feels crazy to say, but I think this is the best tour we’ve ever done.’

“And everyone else kind of nodded their heads and said, ‘Yeah, I think you’re right.’”

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie performs at House of Blues Anaheim in March 2017. (Photo by Kelly A. Swift, Orange County Register contributing photographer)

Dave Depper joined Death Cab For Cutie in 2015 after the departure of founding guitarist Chris Walla. (Photo by Jimmy Fontaine)

Death Cab for Cutie performs at House of Blues Anaheim in March 2017. (Photo by Kelly A. Swift, Orange County Register contributing photographer)

Death Cab for Cutie performs at House of Blues in Anaheim in March 2017. (Photo by Kelly A. Swift, Orange County Register contributing photographer)

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie performs during KROQ’s Weenie Roast y Fiesta at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in May 2015. (Photo by Kelly A. Swift, Orange County Register contributing photographer).

Death Cab For Cutie returns to Southern California for a pair of shows in Anaheim on Tuesday, Oct. 18 and Los Angeles on Friday, Oct. 21. on its tour behind the band’s 10th studio album “Asphalt Meadows.” (Photo by Jimmy Fontaine)



Death Cab For Cutie, which plays the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Friday, Oct. 21, a few days after playing the House of Blues in Anaheim on Tuesday, Oct. 18, has good reason to be enjoying this current run of shows behind the band’s 10th studio album.

“I think it’s a combination of being so happy to be back playing shows after such a prolonged absence because of the pandemic,” Depper says. “I think the wind is at our backs because of the reception that this album has had.

“I think there is a newfound trust musically and emotionally with each other, as well as kind of a real strong sense of collective ownership of the materials since it was such a closely collaboratively made record,” he says.

In an interview edited for length and clarity, Depper talked about making the new album, how it is and isn’t a pandemic record, the particular genius of frontman and songwriter Ben Gibbard, and why he thinks fans continue to connect so strongly to the music Death Cab makes.

Q: My understanding is that ‘Asphalt Meadows’ was at least started during the pandemic through file sharing and sending things back and forth. What was it like to make a record under this unusual set of rules?

A: Yeah, we did write basically the whole record during that phase, and then we were able to record it in person at the end. From my point of view, it was very fun and very liberating to do it that way.

I mean, the circumstances that led to it weren’t fun or liberating at all, but the process of doing it was so different than my studio experiences with Death Cab or anyone else really, where, you know, a lot of money is being spent on studio time and you go in and the pressure is high to come up with parts on the spot.

And this process allowed everyone a lot of solitude and creative control, kind of on their own terms for the like 24 hours that they had possession of the song. I think it let everyone just feel very comfortable, be in their own element at home and feel really good about what they were contributing before sending it off to the next member to add something to.

Q: Can you give an example of how one of the tracks on the album came together that way?

A: I think a good example would be the song ‘Rand McNally.’ Zac (Roe) and I sort of play similar roles. We’re both multi-instrumentalists that play guitar and keyboards, but he happens to be an incredible piano player. And so normally in a studio situation, if a song was brought in, and it seemed like a keyboard part was needed, unless I had an extremely clear idea of what I wanted to do, I would obviously defer to Zac to do that, and I would probably play guitar.

But in the case of ‘Rand McNally,’ it got to me and I just had the sense that I wanted to play piano on it. And I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do, but given the fact that I had the whole day to work on it I felt comfortable sitting down and coming up with something I could really stand behind when I sent it off.

“Normally, I probably wouldn’t have done that I would just come up with a little guitar part and defer to Zac, but in the end, I ended up playing the piano on that song and it got to him and he played a really wonderful guitar part that he might not have thought of if I hadn’t played the piano first.

Q: Some of the new songs you could interpret very much as being of the pandemic. The lyrics are speaking of pandemic things, but what’s really great is that they work on multiple levels, right?

A: I think Ben was very cognizant of the fact that art was going to be very pandemic-centric during this time, and that he did not necessarily want to have this work be dated to that period. That by the time this album comes out people probably don’t want to just be listening to a bunch of songs about how bad life was, like eight months ago.

That said, you know, it’s his job to honestly reflect his emotional state and the times he’s living in and, of course, COVID is inextricable from his experience. But it is of a piece with his work dating back to songs like ‘Title and Registration,’ which starts being a song about like how strange it is that glove compartments are named the way they are, but it then zooms out to be this kind of universal human experience.

And I think that’s one of the strongest things about his writing is that he’ll really surprise you with like zooming in on minutiae that you can’t really see how this is going to relate to a song that is going to touch you emotionally. But all of a sudden, he kind of pulls the rug out from under you and says, ‘Well, you were focusing on this one thing, but I was actually painting a picture around the rest of it.’

There’s threads you can pull on and be like, ‘Okay, since I know when this was made obviously this is a reference to that.’ But if you were listening 15 years in the future without any context, you wouldn’t necessarily be like, ‘Ah, yes, this was obviously written during 2020 and 2021.’

Q: The record has received very positive reviews, which is wonderful, though when they say it’s ‘a return to form’ is that sort of double-edged? As if things weren’t in good form before?

A:  I don’t think that it’s insulting or hurting our feelings with regard to the material that was released in like the last 10 years or anything like that. I think it has a nice sense of validation.

Chris Walla left in 2014 and there was a real sense amongst fans and within the band, like, you know, are we in the same band without this guy? ‘Thank You For Today’ is a record that I love and I think it’s great, but I think that it is in some ways a tentative record, a record in which we were trying to figure out our creative relationships to each other.

That kind of allowed us to make ‘Asphalt Meadows.’ So I don’t think anyone is embarrassed about the work we’ve done in the last 10 years. I think there’s some super bright spots in all of it and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But it’s very gratifying to hear reflected in critics and fans what we were kind of just feeling internally too with this album. We knew we’d made something special. We knew that there was something different about this.

Q: How do you understand what creates the depth of connection that Death Cab has made with its fans over 25 years? Why has this band remained such a strong presence in people’s lives?

A: God, you know, it’s so hard to answer that objectively from the inside. But I do think Ben’s songwriting has such a universal emotional pull to it that is so honest. He’s not one of those songwriters that sits down to write like a story about two fictional characters because it’s a fun intellectual exercise. I mean, he does that sometimes, but the songs don’t make the record.

The songs that the band is beloved for are such obvious windows into a generous, curious and intellectual spirit that I think a lot of people can see themselves inhabiting. And then, coupled with that is the undeniable passion and energy that he brings to the stage.

Like when I joined this band, I absolutely could not believe what Ben put into these performances. I’d never been on stage with a frontman like that who just absolutely burns 3,000 calories per show, singing his heart out, running around the stage with 100% commitment to it.

And I think it’s that spirit that causes everyone else in the band to really rise to the occasion and support him and I think that that energy is probably palpable to the people watching the band too. That all five people on stage are really feeling this alongside them.

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