Jason McGerr doesn't care that there's a band practicing in the next room. He's ready with his weapon of choice: his drums. "I'm sittin' behind them right now, if you wanna compete," he says. "Put me on speakerphone and we'll see who's louder."
McGerr is on the line from his Seattle studio, Two Sticks, where he'll be putting in some afternoon practice time after he hangs up. His band, Death Cab for Cutie, has been on a bit of a break in between tours for its latest LP, Narrow Stairs, but is gearing up to head back out across North America with Ra Ra Riot and Cold War Kids. Before the trek kicks off in Toronto on April 5, Death Cab will stop in Halifax on Friday to play the McInnis Room, a prize won by Dalhousie University students in a national texting competition. (Tickets are not available to the public, though some are up for grabs for hundreds of dollars online.)
The quartet also has a new release this week, the EP Open Door, a ukulele-driven demo of "Talking Bird" and four songs from the Narrow Stairs sessions that don't appear on that album.
"These were the songs that were left over. There was just as much effort that went into it," says McGerr. "It doesn't mean that they were b-sides, but contextually they didn't fit. But they fit well together. So we decided this past fall that we would do an EP...I'm just glad that these songs are seeing the light of day all at once and not pawned off at one at a time as b-sides or for films or whatever. In some ways it feels like another Death Cab record."
In some ways there always is another Death Cab record---in between studio efforts like The Photo Album (2001), the breakthrough Transatlanticism (2003) and Plans (2005), there is often a mini-project to be had, like The John Bird EP, with seven live songs; or Directions, a video collection for the whole of Plans; the DVD documentary Drive Well, Sleep Carefully or appearances on compilations like Maybe This Christmas and Stubbs the Zombie.
"I'm a big jazz guy. In the bebop era of the '50s and '60s," says McGerr, "you look at the short careers at that time---John Coltrane put out something like 45 records and that just doesn't happen anymore. If a band is lucky enough to be a band for 10 years, it's more than likely they're only going to put out half a dozen records in those 10 years. If you have people that like your music, why wouldn't you want to present the other things you have poking around?"
Late last year, Barsuk Records---Death Cab's original home before going major on Atlantic for Plans---released a 10th-anniversary edition of Something About Airplanes, the band's first LP, packaged with a recording of its first-ever Seattle show in February of 1998. McGerr didn't join until 2003, but he grew up in the band's hometown of Bellingham, Washington.
"When the band started, I was there, I was a fan, I was in the same town," he says. "Whenever I play songs from Songs About Airplanes I close my eyes and picture being a kid in the audience singing along, getting sweaty, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in someone's basement. It's exciting when you get to play songs that you loved as a kid. I try to come at it like I'm 22 years old and slugging stuff out for the very first time."
All of Death Cab is working constantly, even when Death Cab is not working---producer-guitarist Chris Walla is a sought-after indie-rock producer, helming acclaimed records by The Decemberists, Tegan and Sara and Nada Surf; singer Ben Gibbard toured solo last year and appeared in John Krasinski's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and McGerr is mentoring pop sibling duo Smoosh as well as putting in drum time with Propellerhead and Pretty Girls Make Graves.
"We all have other projects and we need them," he says. "We work so much as a band that when we come home, if we didn't have something to do, we'd lose our minds."
Death Cab for Cutie, Friday, April 3 at the McInnis Room, Dalhousie SUB. Tickets not available to the general public. Sorry. We only report the music news.