Our Death Cab for Cutie takeover continues with their guitarist/producer Chris Walla's "Ten Things To Not Expect Your Record Producer (me) To Have A Cogent or Completely Satisfactory Answer For". Chris has produced all seven Death Cab for Cutie full length albums and also albums by many artists over the years including the Decemberists, Hot Hot Heat, Tegan & Sara and The Thermals..
‘It sounds cool, but how will we do it on stage?’ Let’s unpack the first bit first: if it’s cool, and everyone agrees it’s cool, why the discussion? We’re making a record. Unless, of course, we’re making a live record. Which I did not sign on for. Check, please!
‘I dunno, it just sounds… weird.’ Potentially true. But a shred — really, any shred — of empirical or experiential knowledge would be supremely helpful.
‘I think I ate too much, I probably shouldn’t [sing / drum] for a while.’ Perfectly fine, as long as there’s something else to do. If not, your bandmates and I will all watch you digest. I won’t judge you, because it’s not my money and I often overeat, but your bandmates may feel differently.
‘I mean, we could just [jam on it for a while / fade it out].’ This I have fallen for, and occasionally ( roughly 20% of the time) it works. You could also write a song / orchestrate an ending, which works 100% of the time.
‘Can you fix that? It was just a little thing. Right… THERE. After the [duh nuh nuh nuh / crash / downbeat]. Wait, you don’t hear it? It’s right… THERE.’ I have plenty of experience with performances that feel physically weird, but sound fine, and I’m not without sympathy here. But please rewind, and ask yourself again: if I can’t hear it and I have no idea what you’re talking about, do you really trust me to, uh, ‘fix’ it? Especially if we’re on tape?
‘I’m kind of thinking, like, a Radiohead thing.’ Dude: So am I and so is everyone else everywhere in every studio always, for like 20 years now, because Radiohead is pretty great. But please, seriously, just fucking stop it. None of us know how to do it, and if we did, then we’d be making that shitty Radiohead knockoff record you make fun of because it suggests Radiohead, but badly.
‘Can you talk with the [drummer / guitar player / bass player]? He’s kind of [too busy / walking on my part / walking on my vocal].’ If you are objective and correct, then yes, I’ll absolutely help sort this out. But often, the case is that you and the offending player never actually articulate your musical priorities and goals to each other. This means makeshift studio therapy: often effective, and I’m happy to facilitate, but it’s a horribly inefficient way to finish your record.
‘Can we stay at your house?’ I want to say yes. I also want a pony, and I like to make coffee and listen to NPR and read the wonkiest political blogs imaginable, and your day will go poorly if these things fail to fall into perfect, regimented sequence, especially if by your hand.
‘Wait, does it sound out of tune?’ Yes, it does. It’s not because I didn’t do everything I knew how to do. That shit drives me crazy, but we live in a physical world.
‘I’m kind of thinking, like, an electronic thing.’ Just be aware, as you say this, that ‘electronic’ is shorthand for Radiohead. Also: you have never touched ‘electronics’.
Lots more of our Death Cab for Cutie takeover can be found compiled here. Their new album Codes & Keys is released on May 30th in the UK and May 31st in the USA.