Nerd Rock Nirvana

Death Cab for Cutie could become the biggest Seattle band since the grunge nineties

September 22, 2005 12:00 AM ET

Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 983 from September 22, 2005. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.


As a teenager living in bremerton, Washington, in the early Nineties, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard would take an hour's ferry ride across Puget Sound to Seattle to catch shows at one of the only all-ages venues in town, the OK Hotel. Gibbard was a high school math and science whiz who says he was "brought up with strictly mainstream rock." The OK Hotel was where all that changed: a tiny, now-defunct club where artists such as Mudhoney and Built to Spill and Beat Happening and Nirvana played. Gibbard, who in addition to being a good student also swam competitively, was not the kind of kid to break curfew. The last boat of the night usually cast off at 11:30, and, often, Gibbard was able t catch only a few songs by the headliner before sprinting a quarter mile on the waterfront to the ferry terminal. "If he missed that last ferry, he was screwed," says his father, Alan.

"The OK Hotel could hold may be 200 people," says Gibbard, "but to me, any bands that were playing there were already rock stars. I'd go see shows and be like, "These guys are amazing, and you can talk to them after the show?' I remember thinking, 'Wow, it would be so great to someday do what [Built to Spill singer] Doug Martsch does.' "

Now approaching thirty, Gibbard and his bandmates — bassist Nick Harmer, guitarist Chris Walla and drummer Jason McGerr — have surpassed most of their heroes by a mile to become the reigning kings of twenty-first-century indie rock. Driven by organic yet synthy rhythms, layered with dreamy guitar and keyboard melodies, Death Cab's songs convey a sense of longing and detachment, like bittersweet love poems penned by guys who are too brainy and self-conscious to put their hearts on their sleeves. Gibbard's lyrics obsess over the details that speak volumes, like a peeling sunburn that marks the end of a summer romance.

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