A star is on the rise for Death Cab for Cutie. The Seattle-based indie band’s last record, Transatlanticism (Barsuk), has sold just over 184,000 copies. They’re on the cusp of closing their first major-label deal. They’ve been name-checked on The OC. And they’ve just wrapped up a stint on the Vote for Change tour, opening for Pearl Jam. All four members of Death Cab are devoted to getting Bush out of office on November 2. Chris Walla, the group’s guitarist and producer, took a few minutes to talk to The Nation–about the importance of voting, postelection fallout, the writer and radio personality Sarah Vowell, American flag shopping bags and seeing yourself on TV at Target.
You’ve just finished the Vote for Change tour with Pearl Jam. What made the band decide to get involved with that?
We, like many people in our fair nation, have been grousing about the direction the country has been taking in the last three years, four years. And everybody chooses to get involved or not involved with democracy in different degrees. When this whole thing came together it just seemed like there were a whole bunch of bands who were thinking the same thing, and it became clear that we all wanted to try to do something sort of massive and organized and further-reaching than what we could do on our own.
Each of us had been doing things on our own–Death Cab has had Music for America at all the shows on our last tour registering people to vote–but the Vote for Change tour just seemed like such a unified statement that we couldn’t possibly not do it.
So you were approached to join the tour?
It happened a couple of different ways. It was us relaying to our manager, who’s very politically inclined, “we wish there was something we could do.” And then we were asked by the Pearl Jam camp that if we could do shows in the fall that were designed to try and help people register to vote and had a left-leaning bent, would we be interested, and we said, “yes, of course.” And that was one of the things that kicked off this whole tour, was them asking questions. More than anything, we just made ourselves excited and willing and available. We’re certainly not one of the powerhouse bands on the tour, but it’s just great to be involved.
Did you think two years ago that you would be on tour with Pearl Jam?
It never occurred to us. Nor did anyone think a few years ago that Bright Eyes would be playing shows with Springsteen and R.E.M. It’s pretty wild!
What have the crowds been like at the shows? How politically charged have they been?
The crowds know what’s going on. They’ve been very receptive and very warm. It feels really good. The whole atmosphere at each of the shows has been a lot homier than I would have expected. Really encouraging and really cool.
You recently started writing a column for Under the Radar. In your first column you talk about your own political evolution. I was hoping that you would say more about that. How has this election cycle energized you, and what in the last four years has really pushed you to want to do something?
Most of it for me, and I think everyone in the band, is spawned from the arrogance of the Bush Administration and the way that our President has carried himself in our relationships with the rest of the world. And we, just as a rock band, we want to make sure that the Administration is representing us the way we would represent ourselves. I don’t like feeling like our President is making my life more difficult when I want to travel overseas. I mean, that’s reason 10,000 on the list, but it’s one of the things.