Asphalt Meadows Death Cab for Cutie
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- 1I Don’t Know How I Survive03:40
- 2Roman Candles02:10
- 3Asphalt Meadows04:05
- 4Rand McNally04:06
- 5Here to Forever03:46
- 6Foxglove Through The Clearcut05:15
- 8I Miss Strangers04:24
- 9Wheat Like Waves03:38
- 10Fragments From the Decade04:38
- 11I’ll Never Give Up On You03:31
Info for Asphalt Meadows
When the writing of Asphalt Meadows began in the early part of the pandemic, Death Cab for Cutie wasn't sure how to make a record. Singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard, bassist Nick Harmer, drummer Jason McGerr, guitarist/keyboardist Dave Depper, and keyboardist/guitarist Zac Rae lived in four different cities. Being in the studio together wasn't an option. Though Gibbard started writing songs at the end of their last tour, he felt like he was hitting a wall after being trapped in his home studio for months. So he hatched a plan to shake things up.
"A work week is Monday through Friday and there are five members of the band," Gibbard explains. "So on Monday, someone put together a piece of music and shared it. And then the next person took it, with the order decided randomly. On your day, you had complete editorial control."
At the end of each week, they finished a rough song mix. Sometimes, songs were transformed entirely, with a key change or altogether different tempo. "After we started, we had a lot of success," Gibbard says.
While not all of the songs on Asphalt Meadows came from these sessions, over half of them did. Songs Gibbard presented as demos also went through the process, allowing everyone to figure their parts out before going into the studio with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Angel Olsen, Explosions in the Sky).
Harmer calls the experience of writing this way incredibly inspiring. "Having exactly one day to work on each track allowed me to not overthink things," he says. "I had to come up with something compelling and get it completed or the whole process would break down."
"I believe everybody started finding ideas and performances that might not have happened if we'd been in the same room writing," McGerr adds.
The first track released off the album, "Roman Candles," was inspired by a drum part from the '70s Krautrock act Faust and Gibbard's desire to write something for the record that was short, loud, and thrashy. "The lyrics were cobbled from a couple of different songs dealing with my general sense of existential dread and anxiety, the feeling that the fabric that weaves a functioning society together was crumbling during the pandemic," he says.
"Here to Forever" was built on the idea of looking at the past without idealized nostalgia and evolves into a soul-searching song about wanting spiritual clarity. "Foxglove Through the Clearcut" finds Gibbard delivering spoken word verses and an ever-growing drum bridge by McGerr that pushes the music forward into a chorus of beautiful harmonies.
Friendship is the inspiration for "Wheat Like Waves." Spending time with Torquil Campbell of Stars at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada while listening to Prefab Sprout prompted Gibbard to write about an adult male friendship that has spanned years.
Rae recalls working collaboratively with McGerr on "Fragments From the Decade." "We had gone into a studio and played drums and keys duets for a few hours," Rae says. After editing and sharing, what came back from Gibbard in the next 24 hours was very nearly the final song. "Not everything was that fast or easy, but a lot of what made it on the record certainly was."
"Rand McNally" is a poignant track about building a legacy. "This is my life's work," Gibbard says. "When members leave bands, they're often seminal members. That fans continue to support them is a testament to how important the music is to them. I wanted to write something to and for everyone who has been in this band, who helped make it what it is, to say I'm not going to let the light fade." Depper was the second person to pick the track up and immediately knew it was special. "I felt drawn to playing acoustic piano on this track, something I'd normally never do because Zac is 4000X the piano player that I am. But given the space and solitude that this process allowed, I confidently contributed a piano track and melodic line that I'm really proud of." Depper felt “don’t let the light fade” had a hymnal quality and decided to use it as a reprise. “I didn't want the song to end yet,” Depper says. “So I was inspired to create a coda to the song based on that line, with layers of harmonies joining in with each refrain.”
The final track, "I'll Never Give Up on You," stands out in its round-robin writing style for Rae. "The song came to me as a groovy, single chord idea, and I added some fairly strange, almost jazzy piano voicings over it. I don't know that we would have settled on that if we had been all together in the room."
So it was that after nearly 25 years as a band, this unconventional recording process managed to push the veteran rockers in entirely new and unexpected directions creatively. And ironically, the isolated circumstances in which it began led to the creation of Death Cab for Cutie’s most collaborative album to date.
Death Cab for Cutie
Death Cab for Cutie
Death Cab for Cutie's rise from small-time solo project to Grammy-nominated rock band is one of indie rock's greatest success stories. Launched in the bayside college town of Bellingham, Washington, the group was originally a side project for singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard, an engineering student at Western Washington University who split his time between school and music. Taking a break from his local power pop band, Pinwheel, Gibbard began recording an album's worth of solo material during the summer of 1997. Producer Chris Walla lent his help to the sessions, which resulted in an eight-song cassette entitled You Can Play These Songs with Chords. When the tape became a local hit, Gibbard reached into his circle of friends to form a band, hoping to play the new songs live. Bassist Nick Harmer (Gibbard's roommate) and drummer Nathan Good climbed aboard, and Walla enlisted as the band's primary guitarist (he would also go on to produce most of the band's future releases). With a lineup now in place, Gibbard's group rechristened itself Death Cab for Cutie (named after a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) and signed a contract with the Seattle-based Barsuk Records within a year's time.
The quartet made its studio debut with 1998's Something About Airplanes, an album that featured several re-recorded tracks from the You Can Play These Songs with Chords cassette as well as a dreamy, pop-oriented sound reminiscent of Built to Spill. Gibbard and Walla both continued to pursue their own projects (including Gibbard's successful stint with the Postal Service), but that didn't keep Death Cab for Cutie from returning to the studio for a second album, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, which appeared in 2000. Nathan Good left the group just prior to the album's completion, and We Have the Facts introduced Michael Schorr as Death Cab's new drummer. The Forbidden Love EP arrived that same year, while a third full-length effort, The Photo Album, was released in 2001. By this time, a sizable audience had gathered around the band's emotional music, and Barsuk re-released You Can Play These Songs with Chords in 2002 with ten additional songs.
The polished, hook-laden Transatlanticism arrived in 2003 and announced the arrival of drummer Jason McGerr, who had previously played in a band with Nick Harmer before Death Cab's formation. The album also proved to be a very important step in the band's career, gathering positive attention from consumers and industry execs (including television producer Josh Schwartz, who prominently featured the band's music throughout several seasons of The O.C.). With their popularity at an all-time high, the bandmates issued a live disc, The John Byrd E.P., and later signed a worldwide major-label deal with Atlantic Records in November 2004.
Plans was released the following summer and debuted at number four, remaining on the Billboard charts for nearly one year and achieving platinum status on the strength of three singles (including the acoustic ballad "I Will Follow You into the Dark"). Death Cab for Cutie graced the cover of Spin magazine, appeared on an episode of Saturday Night Live, and earned a Grammy nomination for their major-label debut. Work on a follow-up album coincided with the release of Chris Walla's solo effort, Field Manual, and Death Cab returned in May 2008 with Narrow Stairs, a darker effort that debuted at the top of the Billboard 200. The band proceeded to tour throughout the remainder of the year, while a deluxe version of Something About Airplanes (which was packaged with a recording of their very first show in Seattle) was released in November to introduce newer fans to Death Cab's early material.
The band continued touring throughout the first half of 2009, hitting Japan and Australia as well as an additional slew of American venues. The Open Door EP arrived that spring, featuring several scrapped songs from the Narrow Stairs sessions and a demo version of "Talking Bird." The guys incorporated some of those songs into their live sets, all the while preparing to return to the studio after the tour's completion. After a short hiatus, they reconvened for 2011's Codes and Keys, which found the band relying less on the electric guitar and more on moody, Cure-inspired song textures. The single "You Are a Tourist" performed well on the rock and alternative charts, and the album peaked at number three in the U.S. Later in 2011, Death Cab released an EP of remixes of songs from the album titled Keys and Codes Remix EP.
Touring consumed much of 2012, although Gibbard found time to record and release Former Lives, his first official solo album. The band began recording in earnest for their eighth studio album in October 2013; in the summer of the following year, however, Walla announced that it would be his last with the group. Eventually set for release in March 2015, it was named Kintsugi after the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. Recorded for the first time with an outside producer (Rich Costey), it also marked a return to their core guitar-driven sound after the keyboard-led experiments of its predecessor.
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