Chances are, most tweens watching the video for Death Cab for Cutie’s “Meet Me on the Equinox,” the first single from the “New Moon” soundtrack, will fast forward right past the band to get to the scene of Robert Pattison sans shirt. But it’s their loss, because they’ll be missing out on one of the band’s practically patented heartbroken indie rock ballads.
Guitarist Chris Walla and his bandmates (frontman Ben Gibbard, bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr) have had a hell of a trip. Founded in the late ’90s in Bellingham, Wash., Death Cab for Cutie captured a solid indie following before becoming the unofficial soundtrack for sensitive dudes everywhere on “The OC” and signing to Atlantic Records. Stints on “Saturday Night Live” and a chart-topping album, the 2008 “Narrow Stairs,” followed in due course.
Now Death Cab for Cutie is part of one of the most highly anticipated soundtracks in recent history, appearing on “New Moon” alongside the Killers and Thom Yorke ( Read Billboard’s cover story on “New Moon” here). Walla chatted about his love of the campy, vampy novels, as well as his current production work.
Did you write “Meet Me on the Equinox” specifically for the soundtrack, or was it something you had laying around that you thought would work well with the film?
A bit of both. The song was already written, and then it got tweaked a fair bit to make it work for this. When we first started working on this, Ben [Gibbard] sent about 10 demos he thought might work, and while nine of them ended up not feeling quite right, one was eerily perfect.
That said, it definitely needed retooling, and there was a real concern about the timing. Ben just got married, Nick was in the middle of a cross-country move, and Jason has a 1-year-old he’s barely seen because we’ve been on tour so much. We came to the conclusion that we were going to devote three days to this, and if it worked, great. And we figured if it didn’t work, at least we had a great song for the next record. But it has worked out beautifully — it’s really been kind of perfect.
You’ve read some of the books. Why do you think the “Twilight” series has taken off in such a massive way?
I didn’t have a clue how big this was until I told my 18-year-old cousin and she was like [squeals], “OMG! OMG! OMG!” It was amazing. It was nuts. Part of what makes the books great is that they have this teenage-girl-diary quality to them; it’s strangely believable and it works. [Author] Stephenie Meyer really got in touch with her inner 17-year-old to make it happen. I think that’s part of the reason why it works for boys too; it’s a weird instructional manual in a way.
Is this the first movie soundtrack you’ve worked on? You’ve been part of TV soundtracks, but why have you held off on film until now?
Right, we have never done a film. When the “OC” thing happened a while back, we went through a whole host of emotions. When we got the first request for that, they hadn’t even aired the pilot, and we said, “Sure, why not.” It was one of the first licensing things we did and we didn’t think it would be a big deal. For a while after it got huge, we thought, “God, we’re the ‘OC’ band forever, stuck in this box.” But we realized it was only a chapter in the band’s history, and we had albums and a fan base and it wouldn’t be the only thing we ever did.
In terms of “New Moon,” part of it was the fact that Nick [Harmer] and I were clued in to this, and I really love the series, and there’s some real enjoyment to be had from being part of something that is such a part of the cultural zeitgeist. But I’ll also say I’m a little weirded out about being a 33-year-old man heading into this teeny, tweeny promo campaign.
Are you going to have to hang out at Hot Topic for five hours while teenage girls rip your hair out?
Well, we’re not starring in the film, so I feel a little safer, but I guess there is a level of guilt by association. We will be doing some promo, I’m sure. Part of me is excited because being in a big band, I’ve been able to do some really awesome stuff, but I want to make sure we’re not signing up for anything too bizarre. We’ve gotten some requests that sound excellent, and some of them are like, “Oh, God, no, we’re never doing that.”
Like what? Are you going to be on a lunch box?
There is a lot of product placement and retail tie-ins, although I don’t think we’re going to be on a lunch box. [laughs] I think the thing that’s most exciting for me is the fact that being part of this, I’m able to feel like I’m 15 again and think back to some of the soundtracks that were really big for me.
The way they are building this whole franchise is really one of those modern, 360-degree cultural assaults. So if “Meet Me on the Equinox” winds up in the credits, or as part of a very pivotal scene, it will remind whoever loves the movie of that moment every time they hear it. That’s great for us and it’s good for the movie.
Is there a full Death Cab album coming soon?
It’s downtime right now, but at some point early next year I think we’re going to dive in and start working on stuff. We’re going to be more laid-back about it; while all our other albums have been recorded on a strict schedule, for the next one, we’ll get together for a week-and-a-half or two weeks and we’ll be in the studio and kind of see what happens. We’ve never done it before, but we feel like we finally have the luxury to do that.
You also did production on the new Tegan & Sara album, and you’ve released solo projects in the past. Are you working on any other personal projects?
It’s all record-making, all the time right now. I’m working with lots of bands who are kind of just starting out, or have made one record, or haven’t even made a full-length [album]. I’m really loving it, because I remember what it’s like to be starting out, and it’s really cool to be around that kind of energy. I’m going to do a record with this band called the Lonely Forest, from Seattle. They’re an awesome, really blue-collar rock band with a Superchunk vibe and great energy onstage.