I sat down with Chris Walla and Jason McGerr of Death Cab For Cutie before their set at Osheaga in support of their new album, Codes and Keys. During our talk, I learned that they had an unabashed love for Montreal’s Jazz Fest and fellow Osheaga headliner, Elvis Costello. And if that Chris Walla isn’t careful, he’ll earn himself the reputation of being the nicest guy in rock and roll…
Montreal Buzz: How’s Osheaga treating you?
Chris Walla: It’s been really fun. We got into town yesterday and sort of spent yesterday bumming around town but the grounds are beautiful, the lineup is great today, the festival seems really well organized and the weather’s cooperating. I don’t know what else I could ask for.
Jason McGerr: I love that there’s a place to do this and hang out away from the main stage. That’s not saying I don’t want to see or hear the main stage, it’s actually the opposite. We wish we could be hearing the main stage because there are people we want to see today but sometimes you’re backstage at a huge festival and there’s nowhere to go. So it’s going really, really well.
CW: And I just found out we’re conducting this interview right now in the old Olympic swimming pool. So basically we’re in the pool right now. It’s so weird!
JM: There’s something appealing about places that once were, places where you can sit down and visualize what it was once like.
MB: Montreal fosters a really creative climate for a lot of reasons but one of the main ones is the affordability of studio space and the time to work on pursuits like music. And people can afford to save up money to buy equipment.
JM: Well, you also have aid to support your music. When we tour in Northern Europe there are government funded venues and it makes it a better experience for everybody. There’s a charm to a punk rock club with cardboard on the bathroom floor, but if you’re willing to work hard and you want to make your living that way and you’re trying to give back to the people and you qualify for a grant it makes a lot of sense to me.
CW: Montreal’s such a festival city, it seems like it’s really a priority for the city and the province and the country at large to try and support and bolster whatever they can. Like the Jazz Festival here, it’s like a heritage project and there’s nothing like that in the States at all. It’s all private promoters. You never end up with that sort of partnership between a public program and private group in the arts, at least not in rock and roll.
JM: Was the first big music festival in Montreal the Jazz Festival? I want to say that it is.
MB: I’m not sure, but I know that the Jazz Festival has been around since the 70s.
JM: Yeah, well that in and of itself is a testament to really caring about the arts. That would never happen in the States.
JM: It’s great.
CW: Yeah, it’s been really fun.
JM: It’s fun now, maybe talk to us after nine months of touring. I might not be quite as exuberant.
CW: I’m having more fun on this tour cycle so far than I’ve had in years. Not that I’ve ever hated touring, but it feels like there’s a lot air in what we’re doing right now. Like it feels really good, everything feels like it’s working. We’re all getting along really well, all the pieces are lined up and it’s really cool.
MB: That seems to reflect your new record Codes and Keys.
CW: It has to do with the new record but that feeling has been growing for the last couple of years and that’s part of what led to the new record.
JM: It’s a much healthier place for everybody. And when was the last time we had a record come out in the spring? So the front end of touring is generally nice weather.
CW: Yeah, I never want to put a record out in the fall again. This is the first time we’ve been to Montreal in the spring and I love it.
JM: The previous three records all came out in September or October, which means the first four to five months of touring were winter months. And you have all this energy at the start of a tour, and it’s met with dismal rain and cold weather. It’s hard to battle through that, especially over the holidays. Psychologically I recognize how different it is.
MB: You guys have been playing together since 1997. What were some highlights?
JM: We got to play with Elvis Costello. And he’s here at Osheaga too.
CW: Yeah, we played the part of the Attractions with Elvis Costello. It was horrifying but it was amazing.
JM: For him to turn around and count out the song in a language we didn’t quite know yet, is maybe something that sets in later in one’s music career. But we were so on our toes and excited, it was great.
CW: Yeah, we’re kind of fanatics.
JM: We got to play with some people who we never envisioned playing with, like Pearl Jam or Neil Young or Elvis Costello. It’s amazing, if you stay with this for long enough and work hard enough you eventually get to meet your heroes and they turn out to be cooler than you expected.