The indie rock legends Death Cab for Cutie have been through it as a band, constantly rebuilding and reimagining their music in order to create relevant rock that still resonates with a core fanbase while also attracting newcomers. In anticipation of Thank You for Coming, the band’s first album to be released without founding member Chris Walla, we have created a definitive timeline of Death Cab for Cutie’s career — including everything from the origin of the name to the countless Grammy nominations.
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band release their debut album Gorilla, featuring a sardonic track called “Death Cab for Cutie” penned by Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall. Innes claims that the track’s title came from an American pulp fiction crime magazine, but the phrase was also seen in Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy (1957), which analyzed popular culture in the U.K.
Frontman Benjamin Gibbard and founding member Chris Walla meet at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Their life-long musical relationship begins in their dorm rooms as they begin writing and recording together.
Although Death Cab for Cutie had yet to officially be created, future members of the band begin playing in local venues with Seattle indie band This Busy Monster — formed by Christopher Possanza, Josh Rosenfeld, Jason Avinger, and Barrett Wilke. This Busy Monster later created the label Barsuk Records in 1994 as a way of releasing their own music, and would soon sign Death Cab.
Seattle-based band The Revolutionary Hydra release their self-titled debut album. The group would go on to become friends of founders Gibbard and Chris Walla. After starting their own small indie label, Elsinor Records, the Hydra crew would go on to help the indie rockers release their debut cassette.
The Bellingham, Washington band Shed is founded by Arman Bohn, Gibbard, and future Death Cab bassist Nick Harmer. Later in the year, Gibbard left the band and was replaced by another future Death Cab member: Jason McGerr. A year later, the band had changed its name to Eureka Farm and Harmer was replaced by Chuck Keller.
The seed is planted for what would become Death Cab for Cutie as founders Chris Walla and Benjamin Gibbard decide to record a demo together, which would later become the debut release You Can Play These Songs With Chords. At the time, Gibbard had been playing guitar in the Bellingham band Pinwheel. The demo was released only on cassette at the time, and led to Gibbard recruiting a full band. They recorded the demo in the studio built by Walla in Seattle, The Hall of Justice. Around the same time, they were signed to Barsuk Records by their friends This Busy Monster.
February 25, 1998
Death Cab for Cutie plays its first ever live show at Seattle’s Crocodile Café alongside Harvey Danger. Almost a decade later, Gibbard would return to play a surprise show at the venue and explain that it was their most memorable show. According to a review of this return by The Stranger, the first gig at the Crocodile “convinced them that they were a real band.”
August 18, 1998
The band releases their studio debut, Something About Airplanes on Barsuk Records. By now, Nathan Good has been added on the bass guitar and Walla was taking on the task of producing. The album includes the track “The Face That Launched 1000 Shits,” which is a cover of the original song by label-founders Revolutionary Hydra.
The indie music scene begins praising Death Cab following their first official album release. The band plays a set at the 1999 iteration of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, alongside artists like Tom Waits, Built To Spill, Spoon, and The Flaming Lips. They are eventually introduced to their longtime manager Jordan Kurland, who had attempted to see them at SXSW after hearing the buzz. Although he did not make it to the show, he later met them while touring with another client. The same year, the band began recording their next album.
March 21, 2000
Death Cab for Cutie’s first-ever concept album, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, is released with no singles. Once again produced by Walla and recorded in The Hall of Justice, the album showed a band playing through growing pains. Good had unexpectedly left the band during the recording process, and Gibbard was filling in on drums. Gibbard plays the drums on all tracks, except for on the Good-featuring “The Employment Pages” and “Company Calls Epilogue.” Despite the difficulties, the album still received positive reviews. About a week after its release, Pitchfork granted the album a score of 7.5.
October 24, 2000
The Forbidden Love EP is released, featuring the newly-joined Michael Schorr on drums. Two of the tracks are alternate takes on songs originally released on their previous album.
October 9, 2001
The third studio album, The Photo Album, is released on Barsuk and on the London-based label Fierce Panda. The album’s three singles – “A Movie Script Ending,” “I Was a Kaleidoscope,” and “We Laugh Indoors” – all charted on the U.K. Singles Chart for the first time.
October 31, 2001
Amidst a wave of success, Walla and Gibbard begin feeling the pressure and duking it out. In a 2005 interview with A.V. Club, the two revealed that they had an explosive fight following a show at the Ottobar in Baltimore. Walla said, “We were as bad to one another in that car ride as I believe that we’ve probably ever been to anybody. Certainly I was. That was one of my darkest moments.” According to Gibbard, a comment about the show turned into “a you-know-what-I’ve-always-thought-of-you fight among all of us, in the van on the way to a hotel. All those thoughts that go through your head in your darkest periods when you’re assessing your relationship with somebody—all of that came out.”
February 19, 2002
The limited edition tracks from The Photo Album are re-released as The Stability EP, which includes a Bjork cover (“All Is Full of Love”) as well as a version of a song (“Stability”) that would later appear on Plans. Michael Schorr also appears on a Death Cab release for the final time.
Michael Schorr leaves the band, and members cited “creative differences.” Shed/Eureka Farm alum Jason McGerr takes his place.
September 16, 2003
The CW’s hit show The O.C., famous for bringing Death Cab’s music to a mainstream audience, features “A Movie Script Ending” in the inaugural season’s seventh episode, “The Escape.” Adam Brody’s character Seth Cohen is constantly cited as a fan of the band during the course of the show, and the relationship between Death Cab for Cutie’s music and The O.C. forever changed how television interacted with indie rock.
October 7, 2003
Transatlanticism is released and is hailed as one of the band’s best albums. It receives an aggregate score of 85/100 on Metacritic based on critic reviews, and charts at No. 97 on the Billboard 200. Singles from the album went on to appear in The O.C., Six Feet Under, CSI: Miami,Californication, The Wedding Crashers, Easy A, and Mean Creek.
November 14, 2004
Following the widespread success of Transatlanticism, Death Cab for Cutie signs with their first major label: Atlantic Records. In the deal, it is agreed that Barsuk will retain the rights to the band’s catalog up until that point, as well as to the upcoming John Byrd EP. Barsuk will also be able to release future albums on vinyl in the U.S.
While on their North American tour, Death Cab for Cutie records a number of live shows, which one day will find their home on The John Byrd EP and on the DVD Drive Well, Sleep Carefully – On the Road with Death Cab for Cutie.
July 27, 2004
Only available on iTunes, the four-track Studio X Sessions EP is released. The EP consists of new versions of all previously released tracks.
March 1, 2005
The John Byrd EP, which is named after the 2004 tour’s sound engineer, is released on Barsuk. The limited edition seven-track EP will be the last project the band will release on their longtime indie label.
July 26, 2005
The tour film Drive Well, Sleep Carefully is released on DVD. The 127-minute long movie was filmed and directed by Justin Mitchell during the Transatlanticism tour using a 16mm film camera. It was first premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival a month prior.
August 30, 2005
The release of Plans, their fifth studio album, is also Death Cab’s major-label debut. The album included singles “Soul Meets Body,” “Crooked Teeth,” and “I Will Follow You into the Dark” – all of which continue to be among the band’s most popular songs. The album peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart. This is also the first album to be created outside of the Pacific Northwest, as it was recorded at Long View Farm in North Brookfield, Massachusetts.
January 14, 2006
The mainstream success continues to pour in, as the band makes its debut on Saturday Night Live with a performance of “Crooked Teeth.”
February 8, 2006
Death Cab for Cutie makes its debut at the Grammys, with Plans receiving nominations for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Best Alternative Music Album.
April 11, 2006
The video album Directions: The Plans Video Album is released via Atlantic Records/Warner Music Group. After proposals were sent in from all over the world, 12 finalists were given the opportunity to each create a video corresponding to a track on Plans.
Both Plans and Transatlanticism are certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
May 13, 2008
The band releases their highest performing album to date: Narrow Stairs. The Chris Walla produced sixth studio album peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart during the first week of its release, and produced the Grammy nominated single “I Will Possess Your Heart.” The album was also nominated for Best Alternative Music Album.
February 8, 2009
Although they did not win a Grammy in either category, Death Cab makes waves by wearing blue ribbons in protest against auto-tune. In an article posted the day after the event, SPIN reported Gibbard saying, “We just want to raise awareness while we’re here and try to bring back the blue note… The note that’s not so perfectly in pitch and just gives the recording some soul and some kind of real character. It’s how people really sing.”
April 14, 2009
The Open Door EP is released, including tracks recorded during the same time as Narrow Stairs. The EP peaks at No. 30 on the Billboard 200, and is later nominated for the Best Alternative Music Album category at the Grammys.
The Lonely Forest, hailing from Seattle, is the first band to sign onto Chris Walla’s label Trans- Records – an imprint of Atlantic Records.
April 5, 2011
Following the release of single “You Are A Tourist” in late March, Death Cab makes history by recording the first ever live, scripted, one-take music video. Directed by Tim Nackashi, the video was shot on multiple cameras and was not edited as it was streamed live online.
May 31, 2011
The band’s least guitar-centric album, Codes and Keys, is released, debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart. Recorded in eight different studios across the West Coast and Canada, it is a step away from what the band is used to. It is also the first album not mixed by Walla – while Walla remained the producer, Alan Moulder took over mixing. Once again, album was later nominated for the Best Alternative Music Album category at the Grammys.
October 16, 2011
A track entitled “Meet Me on the Equinox” by Death Cab is played during the end credits of the blockbuster hit The Twilight Saga: New Moon and is included in the official soundtrack.
Death Cab for Cutie took on a rigorous touring schedule, playing internationally as well as in the U.S. Over the course of the year, they toured with Codes and Keys collaborators the Magik*Magik Orchestra, headlined the first Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio, and completed a festival circuit in Europe.
October 11, 2013
It is reported that the band has begun recording their next studio album with the producer Rich Costey (rather than Chris Walla,) and it is later confirmed on the band’s Instagram page.
October 29, 2013
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the band’s most beloved work, a remastered edition of Transatlanticism is released including demo versions of every track.
April 14, 2014
The band’s first and only full-length live album, entitled Live 2012, is released by Death Cab for Cutie on Record Store Day. It is only available as a vinyl release and included live recordings of tour dates with Magik*Magik Orchestra.
August 13, 2014
Fans are surprised when Chris Walla announces he is performing for the last time ever with Death Cab that night at the Rifflandia Music Festival in British Columbia, Canada. However, he confirms at a later date that he was involved completely with the recording of Kintsugi. There are no hard feelings between the members as a result of Walla’s departure, following his 17 years spent with the band.
January 20, 2015
Paying homage to their first ever show, Death Cab returns to the Crocodile Café – but this time without Chris Walla. He is replaced by Dave Depper and Zac Rae, who both continue to perform with the band.
March 31, 2015
Kintsugi, named after the Japanese artformin which broken pottery is fixed, is released. An apt name for the band’s eighth studio album and final Chris Walla collaboration, Kintsugi is received well critically and nominated for Best Rock Album.
October 16, 2015
Chris Walla releases his solo album Tape Loops on his own label
October 10, 2016
Dave Depper and Zac Rae both are credited with contributing to Death Cab’s standalone single “Million Dollar Loan,” which is a part of an anti-Trump protest project spearheaded by writer Dave Eggers.
November 17, 2017
In a similar fashion to the Kintsugi announcement, an Instagram post reveals that the band is back in the studio working on their ninth album together.
June 12, 2018
Both the title (Thank You For Today) and the lead single (“Gold Rush”) for the upcoming album are released, as well as the date. The ninth studio album by Death Cab for Cutie, which will not feature Chris Walla at all for the first time, will be available on August 17, 2018.
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A Definitive Timeline of Death Cab for Cutie: Featured image courtesy of Barsuk Records, Photo Credit: Chris Rhoads