In a lot of ways, “I Will Possess Your Heart” is much more than the first single from Death Cab For Cutie’s much-discussed new album, Narrow Stairs. It’s also the perfect sonic example of everything the bandmembers have said they were striving to do on the album — hissy, warts-and-all, “oops the microphone fell down, but let’s keep rolling” one-take indie rock that bundles up everything they’ve done in the past and tosses it into Lake Washington.
Oh yeah, and the song is eight-and-a-half minutes long. (Watch the video, which premiered on Friday, April 11, here.) Clearly, the band Seth Cohen fawned over all those years ago on “The O.C.” is ancient history.
“There’s a lot of moments on the record … where something is, like, never the thing you would choose,” said Death Cab guitarist/producer Chris Walla. “But now that it’s there, it’s the thing that you would miss completely if it was gone.
“The most perfect example of that is in ‘I Will Possess Your Heart,’ ” added frontman Ben Gibbard. “In the beginning, there seems to be this sense of everybody searching a little bit to find where the song is. There’s some notes that kind of float through that, if we were trying to [record] this track-by-track and make it all perfect, would’ve never made the recording. But as soon as they all kind of fit together, it made perfect sense. That’s the reason the song is allowed to be as long as it is. It’s kind of slowly pulling the focus in on the tune, and by the time it’s finally moving, the vocal kicks in and the narrative starts and …”
“It takes us five minutes to get to the point where we’re playing the same song, basically,” Walla finished.
And that meandering spirit is alive and well throughout both Stairs (slated for release on May 13) and the video for “Heart,” which features the red-headed object of Gibbard’s affections wandering the globe — in London, Paris and Tokyo, among other places — for no apparent reason in particular. Meanwhile, Death Cab perform in what appears to be a meat locker.
It’s a little arty and a little over-the-top and, yes, it’s nearly nine minutes long, although both the band and its label, Atlantic Records, say that a shorter version of the song and the clip will premiere soon. And that’s just the way DCFC intended it to be.
“By the time we came back together to start working on this album, there wasn’t the sense that, ‘We are going to make a conscious decision to throw a curveball to everyone who liked Plans.‘ ” Gibbard said. “It was just that these were the songs we felt the most inspired by that I had written. At the time it just made sense that ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ should be, like, 10 minutes long.
“That said, if the first single off our record is going to be that long, clearly there’s going to be a radio edit because we’re playing the game,” he continued. “We want people to hear the song, and if it takes people hearing the three-minute version to get to the eight-and-a-half-minute version, that’s fine.”
So far, fan reaction to “Heart” is overwhelmingly positive, though some are focusing on Gibbard’s lyrics, which, to be fair, explore a far creepier territory than his previous work. Again, that’s just part of the plan.
“Writing songs of unrequited love and ‘stalker-type tunes’ isn’t exactly breaking new ground or anything like that, but with ‘Heart’ I feel like it’s the sentiments that make it so creepy,” Gibbard said. “And this is a work of fiction — it’s not something I’m guilty of, hopefully — but to me the narrator in the song doesn’t see anything wrong with what he or she is doing. It’s more, ‘I just happen to walk by your house all the time, and I think how great it would be if I were inside your house looking out at the world.’
“What makes it so unsettling is that one party doesn’t understand that what’s happening is not appropriate. And they may have pure intentions, but the way it comes off is not the case at all.”