Ben Gibbard on Death Cab’s 10th Anniversary
Exclusive: The brainy bard tells SPIN.com about the quartet's 1998 debut album and its cathartic track "Champagne in a Paper Cup."
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 10 years since the release of Death Cab for Cutie’s debut record, Something About Airplanes. To honor the anniversary, Barsuk reissues the album this week with an additional disc of live performances, recorded at Seattle’s now-defunct Crocodile Café in 1998 when frontman Ben Gibbard was just a blossoming moper.
To get the story behind the album and its standout track “Champagne in a Paper Cup,” we jumped on the phone with Gibs for a chat.
Listen: Death Cab for Cutie, “Champagne in a Paper Cup”
“I think it’s a ‘one night in a life’ kind of song about the disillusionment of being at a party in your late teens/ early twenties,” Gibbard says of the track. “I’ve always been fond of the lyric, ‘Drinking champagne out of a paper cup / It’s never quite the same.’ You’re drinking something that’s supposed to be elegant, for special occasions, but you’re drinking it out of a paper cup. It’s kind of very indicative of the situation.”
The situation: college life. Something About Airplanes was written and recorded while Gibbard was attending Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. “I was 20, and at the time I was living with [guitarist] Chris Walla and our friend Brian,” he says.
“To be perfectly honest, there was a song by a friend of ours that was kind of linked to a heavy tremolo, a slow-core kind of thing,” Gibbard says. “I started playing guitar with this really heavy tremolo — I liked the way it sounded.I cranked it up and we got it recorded on cassette — that’s ‘Champagne in a Paper Cup”s sound.”
“Sometimes hearing old songs can be like seeing an old high school yearbook about yourself,” he says of revisiting Something About Airplanes. “You thought you looked cool in that stripy T-shirt and your hair parted in that particular way, and maybe in the context of the time, you’d fit. When you look back on something years later, you’re looking at it with very different eyes and with a different kind of contemporary context. I think the same can be said about songwriting.”
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