Death Cab For Cutie’s Guide To Seattle: Humble Beginnings

To celebrate the release of Codes and Keys, we unveil our week-long Death Cab for Cutie: Seattle Sonics series.

SEATTLE — When Ben Gibbard first moved to Seattle, he spent most of his time wishing he could just go back to Bellingham, Washington. That was where he had gone to school (Western Washington University) and where, sometime around 1997, he had formed [artist id="710356"]Death Cab For Cutie[/artist] (whose new album, Codes and Keys, is out Tuesday, May 31). And it was with his bandmates that he had packed up and moved 90 miles south, to the Emerald City, in the hopes of making it as an honest-to-goodness professional rock-and-roll band.

Only, things didn’t really work out that way, not at first, anyway. For the first time in their career, the guys in Death Cab were scattered — back in Bellingham, they lived together in a shabby rental on Ellis Street — and the band lost focus because of it. But there was also another factor at play: the cloying advance of early adulthood, which meant making music took a back seat to rather soul-crushing endeavors like working low-paying jobs. Or, in Gibbard’s case, the eternal search for said gigs.

So, when he first took up residence in Seattle, in an apartment building on Corliss Avenue North in the Wallingford neighborhood, times weren’t exactly great. He poured over help-wanted ads (the inspiration for the DCFC tune “The Employment Pages”), got turned down for a job at a local hardware store and fretted about the status of the band. But mostly, he just missed the easy life back in Bellingham.

“I was literally just going and applying for jobs, and I couldn’t get a job, and I was getting more and more broke, and you find yourself groveling for jobs you don’t even want,” Gibbard said. “So I wrote a lot of songs [here] about Bellingham and how much I missed [it], because I wanted to go back to the life we had up there, because it was so much more simple than this.”

And those themes were reflected in the songs he wrote in the Corliss apartment — songs that would eventually become the band’s second and third albums, 2000′s We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes and 2001′s The Photo Album. At the time, Death Cab were in a state of flux, struggling to make the leap from local band to touring act, and they had moved to Seattle to help facilitate that transition. But living in the city (and lacking a steady drummer) was actually making that dream hard to achieve.

“When we moved to Seattle, everybody kind of disappeared into different corners of the city and it was a very difficult time for the band,” Gibbard explained. “It was a time where … there was the possibility we might break up or stop playing music. So, yeah, it was kind of difficult.”

Which is why it’s somewhat fitting that Gibbard and bassist Nick Harmer chose the apartment as the first stop on their guided tour of Seattle, a week-long trek we’ve dubbed “Death Cab for Cutie: Seattle Sonics.” where they struggled with doubt, where Gibbard wrote “some of [his] favorite Death Cab songs” and where they came through the dark times and eventually put it all together, becoming one of the decade’s most acclaimed — and successful — indie acts. Shoot, they even managed to overcome the building’s lack of a buzzer, thanks to some fishing line and bells, as you’ll see in the piece.

For all intents and purposes, Death Cab’s career begins here, in a brick building on Corliss and 45th Street. And it continues with Codes and Keys, which is very much about the search for home, wherever that may be. So, without further ado, we’ll let you watch Gibbard and Harmer take you on a tour of the place … and the very fancy Taco Time just up the block, too.

Death Cab for Cutie: Seattle Sonics continues all week on MTVNews.com. Come back on Wednesday to find out where DCFC like to caffeinate and ship packages in their adopted hometown.