The band Death Cab for Cutie got its start in Bellingham, Washington in the late 1990s, but their new album, "Kintsugi," reflects all of the time they spent in Southern California.
Singer Ben Gibbard recently sat down with Alex Cohen at KPCC's studios to talk about the new album. Below is an edited version of their conversation.
To begin by talking about the name of this album, "Kintsugi," which refers to a Japanese art form, can you explain it to us? What is it?
"It's a Japanese technique of repairing broken ceramics... Normally when we repair things in the West we want them to look exactly like they did before they were broken, but in this technique actual gold is infused into the enamel and then used to kind of fill all of the cracks and fix the item... The damage is visible, but it's also very beautiful."
How did you find out about this particular art form?
"It was something that Nick Harmer, our bass player, brought to our attention and immediately we all really related to it and thought it was a really beautiful thing... A lot of people have assumed that the title's meant to refer to our guitar player Chris Walla leaving the band, which is not the case at all...
The term really connected with me because I feel in some ways that's what I've been trying to do as a songwriter all these years, is to take the... broken pieces of the situation or relationship or friendship or whatever and kind of reconstruct them in a way that is... not in keeping with their true form, but hopefully make something beautiful out of it."
What for you artistically speaks out about embracing the fractures and the breaks, I guess, and you could say making a show of them so to speak?
"I think just aesthetically, when it comes to music it is very easy now to make everything sound perfect. You know, the drummer can play the drums. One pass through the song and you can ostensibly construct a perfect take. You know, I think what pop music has kind of turned into, at least in some ways, is it's somewhat human and recognizable, but it also has very little soul to it. And I think that it's one of the many appeals of someone like Jack White and all of the work that he's been doing over the last 15 years."
Even if "Kintsugi" isn't about your relationship with former band member Chris Walla, he was with the band for 17 years or so, I would imagine there's got to be some thought about identity and reforming. Where are you at on that front?
"The band will never be the same without Chris in it. And whether or not that... will be a death knell or will be a rebirth is to be determined in the music that we make from this point out... And these kind of founding member leaving a band situations always have one of two outcomes. There's outcome one, where founding member leaves, the band is never the same, they're terrible, they break up a year later.
And then there's a band like Wilco.
There are bands that... already have a fairly kind of wide skill set, but when they bring in new players and new ideas... the music kind of goes to another level and becomes something that is still very much of the band, but is something new and exciting. And that's what we're going for. That's the idea, of course."
What did you think of L.A. when you first came here?
"I really didn't like it... I think the vastness of the sprawl and the grid, it makes me very nervous. This just isn't my home... Whether it's this song that I wrote when I was 24 about how much I hated Los Angeles [ED NOTE: "Why You'd Want to Live Here" ] or some of the songs on the new record... that Los Angeles is very much a character in, I'm older now to kind of recognize the grey area between good and bad...
But I mean, I have to say, California continues to be an incredibly inspiring place and it's interesting to me for so many reasons. I mean, certainly in Los Angeles, there are very few other places in this country that have such immense wealth and such destitute poverty living right next to each other. There is so much success and so much failure. And I think that's what keeps me coming back to it as a character for a subject for song, because there's so much beautiful contradiction... And I think that's why so many people write about it and so many people come live here and immerse themselves in it because it's an unknowable place."