SEATTLE — Chris Walla is a bit of a multitasker: That much is clear just by his rather prodigious output as a producer, solo musician and full-time member of [artist id=”710356″]Death Cab for Cutie[/artist]. So it should probably come as no surprise that, for MTV News’ second edition of “Seattle Sonics,” Walla decided to take us to one of his favorite spots in Seatown: Sip & Ship, the kind of place that defines multitasking.
See, S&S is the sort of place that seemingly only exists in Seattle: A communal, cozy combination shipping depot/coffee bar that also happens to be a gift shop. Oh, and they make a mean grilled cheese, too.
Located in the city’s Ballard neighborhood — right down the block from a nefarious FedEx Office outpost — Walla first visited the shop six years ago (after a rather terrible experience at said FedEx), and in the time since, Sip & Ship has become the de facto home office for all things Death Cab. Merch, master tapes of albums, musical instruments and the occasional eBay purchase all pass through S&S.
“This place has become a communications and shipping and caffeine and calorie hub without which I don’t think Death Cab for Cutie would actually be able to do any business at all. This is one of the Seattle nerve centers of the band,” Walla explained. “We did a whole series of test-pressings for the new record, and we got four or five shipments of them here. We’d pick ’em up and then go home and listen to records.”
Drummer Jason McGerr also chimed in: “It’s a far safer bet than my doorstep — which I don’t even step on all that often,” he said, laughing.
And while Sip & Ship has been an important cog in the Death Cab machine for six years, there’s another spot nearby that’s been part of their lives for much longer: American Music, a Seattle institution since it first opened its doors in 1973 and the place where local bands (you know, like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains) went to get their gear. It’s not surprising that both Walla — who grew up nearby — and McGerr — who worked there in 1994, when he was 19 years old — chose it as the next place they took our cameras.
“I traded all my paychecks for equipment, and I got to know a whole lot of local drummers,” McGerr said from his old post behind the American counter. “And there were times, 10 minutes before close, Dave Grohl would come in and sit down and just start blowing on drums and the front door would shut and we’d sit there and watch him. … There was always a scene happening within the store. If you played music and you got your supplies in Seattle, it was from American Music.”
And American was also where you’d find Walla hanging out as a slightly awkward teenager, doing “double drummer stuff” with friend (and former Death Cab drummer) Nathan Good. And he did it mostly out of necessity, because back then, there weren’t many places 15-year-old music obsessives could hang out, due mostly to Seattle’s oppressive Teen Dance Ordinance, which made all-ages shows all but impossible to organize. And, really, to Walla, that’s what makes the place much more than a music store. It’s sort of his home away from home.
“I got a lot of stuff here that was cast-off junk, but I still use it,” Walla said. “There are tons of music stores that are just enormous boxes, that are full of guitars and drums and cymbals and whatever, and they might have more stock than a place like American does, but American has the heart and soul of a music store that I want when I walk into a music store.”
Death Cab for Cutie: Seattle Sonics continues all week on MTVNews.com. On Thursday, we’ll head to a vaunted (and now defunct) all-ages venue where DCFC learned how to be a band — and still made it home in time for curfew.