On more than one occasion, Death Cab For Cutie has come within touching distance of a Grammy award, only to lose out to another band. The US alternative rock group – frontman Ben Gibbard, bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr – celebrated a fourth nomination for eighth studio album Kintsugi, but saw it lose out to Muse’s Drones in the Best Rock Album category.
“It does not make or break our willpower,” McGerr tells Young Post ahead of their March 1 show in Hong Kong. “We continue to do things the way we always have.”
This year, they were tipped in the rock category, instead of “alternative”, which meant they were up against much heavier acts, like Muse and Slipknot.
But the band is used to being nominated next to very different acts: in 2007, their acoustic ballad I Will Follow You Into the Dark was in the same category as Black Eyed Peas’ hip hop song My Humps.
“It doesn’t always add up,” says McGerr. “I think it has more to do with the songs played on the radio the time the bands are nominated. At the time The Ghosts of Beverly Drive was the song getting most airplay, and that’s the most rock song on Kintsugi. And just before that it was Black Sun, which is kind of a rock song.”
Award or no, McGerr is enthusiastic about the band's recent changes. Chris Walla, Death Cab's guitarist and songwriter for 17 years, who was often called the band's "secret weapon", quit to pursue his own creative interests. Guitarist Dave Depper and keyboard player Zac Rae joined as touring members.
"Having five people on stage instead of four makes everything sound really huge and really good. With these guys we're in fantastic shape."
“In a way I wish Hong Kong had seen the old Death Cab so they can appreciate what I appreciate with this,” says McGerr.
McGerr still remembers when he joined the band 13 years ago. He was 28 years old and was seriously thinking of giving up his dream of being a touring the world playing music. “I was feeling that I wasn’t in a successful band yet, and maybe I should think about doing something else, maybe just stick with teaching drums,” he says.
Music had been his focus since the age of 10, when he started playing the snare drum. He got his first drum set when he was 14, and just one year later a singer songwriter invited him to play with him at open mic sessions.
“I was too young and I wasn’t supposed to be in a bar, but I was a good enough drummer that they let me do this job,” McGerr recalls. “I would come to school the next day all tired and sleepy and people would be like, what did you do last night?”
Soon the singer-songwriter began getting gigs around town, and McGerr toured with him. By the time he was 19, he was touring up and down the US West Coast. He also began teaching and working in music shops to pay bills. It was during this time he met his future Death Cab bandmates.
“They had asked me on two different occasions to join them but I was playing on other projects and other bands. It just wasn’t the right time of my life,” he says.
While he was playing with bassist Nick Harmer for another band, Harmer mentioned that Death Cab was about to make their next record. “And I said ‘you need to use me for the next record’,” says McGerr. “I knew they had a drummer, it was a bold statement but I felt like I could do a lot for the band.”
He met the other members, who decided to give him a shot. McGerr replaced previous drummer Michael Schorr and Transatlanticism was released soon after in October 2003. The album won the band mainstream success, with singles such as The Sound of Setting and Title and Registration appearing on the soundtracks of TV dramas.
“Sometimes you just need to take a good chance and go after something that you feel like you could do well,” McGerr concludes.
2015 was a busy year for the band. They were touring for about seven months up until December 18, so preparations for their current tour mostly consisted of resting, says McGerr. “I don’t have anything I’m passionate about like Ben and his marathon running. I tend to be more of a homebody. I play Lego, hike, fish – anything active – with my two kids,” he says.
“I also engineer music in my home studio for other people’s albums. Of course, I need to drum about an hour or two a day to stay in shape – so I don’t fall apart on tour!”
Death Cab for Cutie will perform at the MacPherson Stadium on Tuesday.