If Death Cab For Cutie’s NICK HARMER can’t write the soundtrack for Twin Peaks, another series set in the Pacific Northwest will do, ANDY HAZEL discovers.
Even the most broad-minded Death Cab fan must have been surprised to hear of the unholy marriage of their beloved band’s signature widescreen introspection and a teen franchise behemoth. Causing marked divisions on message boards the world over, the band’s latest single Meet Me On The Equinox is heading the soundtrack for the forthcoming sequel to teen-vampire-romance saga Twilight, The Twilight Saga: New Moon. While many indie bands have slipped songs onto big-budget soundtracks in recent years, few have been given the ‘lead single’ prestige and be asked to launch said single at the ‘Oscars for the new generation’, the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs). Surely, this would imply that said band has broken into the national consciousness in a major way.
“It wasn’t that big a step really,” laughs Death Cab’s bassist Nick Harmer. “Because our label, Atlantic, is partnering with music supervisor Alex Patsavas, we’re on the same label. She asked us if we wanted to be part of the soundtrack and submit a song into a pool of applicants. We already had a song that was partly finished that we completed and turned it in for consideration. Several weeks later we were told, much to our surprise, that it had been chosen as the first single from the soundtrack.”
Meet Me On The Equinox doesn’t seem such a thematically huge step for the band either; in fact, it sounds more as if Twilight has bent to the pen of Death Cab than the other way around. “[Death Cab frontman] Ben [Gibbard], as a songwriter, writes about love and relationships beginning and ending all the time. And when you take the Twilight story and strike out the vampires and werewolves, it’s essentially a love story and a romance novel. Ben writes about those feelings and sentiments pretty easily so thematically, writing wasn’t an issue. What appealed to us more about the prospect was the tone of the books. They’re set in the Pacific Northwest, they have the mood and rainy wet weather, and we have the sound we have because of our environment, so there is a connection, lyrically it’s more obvious than everything.”
Death Cab’s hometown of Bellingham, Washington is about as far northwest as you can get in the contiguous United States. It’s an area that has played setting to such cinematic marvels as The Deer Hunter, Harry And The Hendersons and Twin Peaks. Harmer sees Death Cab’s panoramic music and reflective lyrics as fitting a local aesthetic.
“The northwest, by its design, is an introspective place to live. It’s the darkness, the rain and the miserability of four months of every year that drives people into their homes. During fall and winter people stay inside and being housebound fuels a different reflection and expression of your creativity, rather than sunny sky and beaches,” he muses. “A lot of the time it’s kind of raining but it’s kind of not; our expression as musicians is steeped in that. Then there is mythology of the northwest, there is some spooky stuff up there at times, the quirky factor of it…Twin Peaks nailed that pretty good. I’m a huge fan of the show. I haven’t been to the [annual] Twin Peaks Festival but I’ve been to the T-Mart Café – the RR Diner – and yeah, it’s got good pie!”
The process of creating songs that millions of mostly adolescent and twenty-somethings, bond so strongly with (88 million plays on last.fm and counting) while evoking drama via self-analytical poetry is something that happens quite naturally at Death Cab HQ even for a project this unexpected.
“The process of writing Meet Me On The Equinox was similar to our other songs,” Harmer elucidates. “Ben had a demo of a lyric and melody that we fleshed out, it was up to the rest of us to put our ownership on it.” What? Without even so much as flipping through a copy of Twilight? “I’m not familiar with all of the books but I’ve read the first one and I’m getting acquainted with the second,” he breezily offers. “And, uh…I’ve seen the first film. I’m not a fan or anything, they’re not aimed at me or directed toward my age group, but I find them as entertaining as Harry Potter; a fun read. I always find books more engrossing than their film versions. I’m also a comic book nerd so if there’s a werewolf or zombie or a vampire I’ll love it,” he says with gentle enthusiasm.
“We hustled really fast for that submission,” Harmer continues quickly. “We had a video for Equinox for the VMAs, and thought we were going to play the song, or at least screen the filmclip there but they scrapped it at the last minute, we’re still not sure why. Our contribution went as far as ‘here’s the song, we’re happy to shoot a video’. Their marketing schedule happens as they see fit. We weren’t disappointed,” he pauses, “it’s all above and beyond the scope of what we do in this band, how they want to do it is up to them. We stand by the song and we’re proud to be a part of the soundtrack which has some other excellent bands and songs on it.”
That it does. From Thom Yorke to Grizzly Bear with Beach House’s Victoria Legrand, Band of Skulls, Editors, Eskimo Joe, a duet from Bon Iver and St Vincent, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Lykke Li it’s an interesting mix. The soundtrack also smacks of the taste of revolutionary music supervisor Alex Patsavas, the woman who brought innumerable indie bands to a broader audience through her work on The O.C, Grey’s Anatomy and Gossip Girl series.
Though Death Cab spend much of the year on the road, visiting Bellingham is still important at plugging them back into that inspirational environment from which they sprung, though the band reside in slightly more cosmopolitan surrounds. “We live in Seattle now,” Harmer continues. “It’s harder to go back there recreationally now because we’re so busy. I can still go back today and people just know me as Nick, not as a…rock star,” he laughs at the term. “I’m just the bassist, I keep a low profile. Sometimes when I’m walking around with Ben, people will run up to him and say ‘OMG you’re in my favourite band,’ and give me their camera to take a picture of him with them. It’s happened so often now that it’s a running joke,” he concludes with an infectious laugh. “I actually love the anonymity, and my ego is definitely not bruised.”