Spencer Plan is a guest contributor to BBALLJONES.com on the topics of Music & EPL. You can follow him on Twitter @barsandkaps.
One has to drive an hour and a half north from Seattle to reach Bellingham, Washington. Bellingham, like many small towns, employs itself. A hospital, a school district and a university employ thousands. The university that resides in Bellingham is Western Washington University. It’s likely that you’ve never heard of Western Washington, as it’s one of those schools where the in-state students make up over 90% of the enrollment. But Bellingham and Western Washington University fascinate me. Because from this small town and never-heard-of school came Death Cab For Cutie (DCFC).
Sportscasters frequently mention how Clayton Kershaw (Pitcher – LA Dodgers) and Matthew Stafford (Quarterback – Detroit Lions) grew up together and were on the same youth sports teams. They mention this as if it’s some great coincidence – that skilled youth athletes end up on the same team. Structurally and communistically, this is how sports are supposed to work. Get the good players on the same team to play teams that are just as good or better so that everyone improves. I’d be more surprised if Kershaw and Stafford weren’t on the same teams. They are obviously both great athletes who got noticed and joined teams with the best coaches and most motivated parents. The system worked.
But how does it work with musicians in a band? How do the talented musicians find each other? Representatively, how did Benjamin Gibbard (Vocals – DCFC) and Chris Walla (Guitar – DCFC) find each other in a small, college-town in Washington. Now, not everyone will agree that these guys are talented or that their finding each other was a good thing. But let’s put that aside and acknowledge that DCFC is a commercial success and are known far beyond Bellingham.
DCFC started as a solo project by Gibbard. The first cassette, You Can Play These Songs with Chords, was all him. Gibbard could’ve kept going it alone, but he determined it best to add some bandmates. Enter Walla, Nick Harmer (Bass – DCFC) and a drummer who would ultimately be replaced. While Gibbard is the face and would likely have had success as a solo artist, his good fortune of Walla being at his college of 12,000 probably turns DCFC from hobby into career.
Walla’s value to DCFC goes beyond standard guitar player, he has produced most of their albums. While that inside-job might not seem impressive, take a look at this wiki page. He’s also produced for The Thermals, Nada Surf and Telekinesis; other artists appreciate his talents. And this guy just happened to be at the same small college as Gibbard.
I’m excited for the new DCFC album, but I’m concerned for their future. Walla retired from the band last year. Though he plays on the new album, he didn’t produce it and he won’t be touring with them. See them now, the writing may be on the walla.