Death Cab for Cutie originally formed sometime around 1997, in the idyllic college town of Bellingham, Washington (unofficial nickname: “The City of Subdued Excitement”), but it was in a city 90 miles south where they’d really make their mark: Seattle.
Most of the band had grown up in towns surrounding the Emerald City during the height of the so-called “grunge explosion,” and their teenage years progressed somewhat accordingly — Ben Gibbard, who was raised in Bremerton, would take a 55-minute ferry trip across the Puget Sound to watch bands play at the now-defunct OK Hotel in downtown Seattle — so, when they decided to make the move from Bellingham to the proverbial big city to try their hand at becoming a real rock band, well, it was sort of the stuff of dreams. Only, things didn’t quite work out the way they had planned.
DCFC’s early years were a struggle, marked by lousy, low-paying jobs and thinly attended gigs. When Gibbard took up residence in a tiny apartment on Corliss Avenue, working as what could charitably be described as a medical tech (he basically washed testing equipment), there were times when he thought about packing it in and heading back home. It seemed simpler than striking out as a rock frontman.
But he didn’t, and slowly, people began paying attention. Released on Seattle’s Barsuk Records, early efforts like We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes (most of which was written in that apartment on Corliss) and The Photo Album were met with much acclaim, and Death Cab for Cutie were on their way. Only, in a lot of ways, they’ve never really left … Seattle is, was, and probably always will be their spiritual home.
And those sentiments are readily apparent on the band’s May 31 album, Codes And Keys, Codes And Keys, which is about several things, most of which seem to be about the eternal longing for home, no matter how far away from it you may be. So, in celebration of the new album, earlier this month, we asked Death Cab to show us around their adopted hometown of Seattle … the venues they haunted as teens, the places they worked before they made it big, the studio where they recorded parts of the new album. But it’s much more than a guided tour; it’s also a history lesson, both in terms of the band, and the Seattle music scene too.
We’re calling it “Death Cab for Cutie: Seattle Sonics,” and it begins Tuesday on MTVNews.com. But as we head into the long weekend, we figured we’d give you a taste of what’s to come. Click on the teaser clip featuring Gibbard and bassist Nick Harmer recalling the glory of all-ages OK Hotel shows, and the havoc parent-mandated curfews wrecked on those magical nights. Enjoy, and make sure to check back on Tuesday, when the history lesson truly begins.