Before Death Cab for Cutie performed Tuesday night at the Thunderdome, the band’s drummer Jason McGerr sat down with the Daily Nexus for an interview.
Daily Nexus: Well, first of all, thank you for coming.
Jason McGerr: Of course.
Nexus: So why did you guys decide to team up with the Ultimate College Bowl for the voter registration contest?
Jason: You know, obviously it’s a really important thing. It’s nice to know the largest student voting body happened to be here. We did a similar thing in Canada at the start of this tour. It was a campus in Colfax, in Nova Scotia, that won that one.
Nexus: Who did you vote for?
Jason: I voted for Obama.
Nexus: And why?
Jason: Because he was a very smart man and he’s the right guy for the job. And he has the energy and he has an amazing wife that is proof that his family, in general, will be a great role model for our nation. … It’s just nice to be here now. I think everyone’s feeling a little more at ease and there’s a noticeable difference in terms of the perception of Americans outside of the U.S.
Nexus: And how did you come up with the name Death Cab for Cutie?
Jason: Death Cab for Cutie is the name of a song by a band from the sixties called the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. It was a sort of a weird art rock band that was loosely affiliated with Monty Python.
Nexus: You guys tend to grow with each album – how do you think your music has evolved from your first album Something About Airplane to your current EP, The Open Door?
Jason: Well, everyone grows up, everybody leaves home, everybody learns how to cook and learns how to clean their own clothes. You meet people and your life in itself is constantly evolving. The music is the same way. And that comes from just every day, the things that we do, like touring and playing 150 shows or more over a year. … The important part is true evolution just comes from time on stage playing live. Your musicianship and your chemistry and your communication as a band will evolve.
Nexus: Do you feel any pressure to stay true to your original indie fan base as your music becomes more mainstream?
Jason: Indie just implies that you involve independent thought and independent practices. I mean most of it just means you’re involved in everything you do. It used to be that it meant a small independent label, independent from the umbrella of any major label, but Modest Mouse was signed by Sony and everyone just still calls them an independent band. But it’s just one of those labels that has stuck with us. I don’t think that we’ve ever made a decision to not be involved in the entire process. We do write, we record, we produce, we decide where and how we’re going to tour, we decide who directs videos, what the content is, what the album artwork looks like, what T-shits look like. So, independent bands also, in my opinion, are in charge of all those things, versus letting some major label appointed marketing team do everything for you.
Nexus: Which artists have influenced the band most?
Jason: Real career bands have always been role models. You know like REM, bands like the Stones. Radiohead I think is a very smart band. For me to see a band that started out as a mainstream band with a song like Creep and for them to sort of retreat back in the hole and to reinvent themselves and come out once again and still have an incredibly groundbreaking career, as far as I am concerned, is amazing. … I am a fan of anyone who’s managed to stick together and put out records for more than ten years.
Nexus: And I personally think your band comes up with some of the most original and poetic lyrics. What is the inspiration behind them?
Jason: Ben has always been into great writers especially from the Beat Generation. Kerouac I think pretty heavily influenced him, where he was coming from, more of the spirit of Kerouac. But Ben has been really talented, always being not just literal, just painting great pictures of scenarios that other people can fit into their lives. So no matter who’s listening to the song, no matter what gender or where you’re at in your life, there seems to be something you can relate to. … It makes me play different and I think it makes the music. It demands that the music be complementary and sparse in places and not too – I mean, I would never want it to play anything that got in the way of what was being said or the breath that Ben takes in a specific line because that’s all part of the delivery and the pitch, so having a real story to be told has made the music where it is and vice versa.
Nexus: Did you always know you wanted to become a musician?
Jason: My mom says I made claims like that as a young kid. But I don’t remember seeing it as a viable way to make a living necessarily. I knew that I always wanted to play drums. I started at a young age, but I didn’t know I would be sitting here talking to you and that there would be half a million people turning out to vote on account of music and politics as a marriage. So, little did I know it was going to be my career, and a really special one at that. I can’t say that I had some dream and put posters of rock stars up on my walls or anything like that. It was very casual in the beginning.