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Death Cab for Cutie gets personal, political

By Denise Quan, CNN
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Marriage influences new Death Cab album
  • Death Cab for Cutie's seventh studio album, "Codes and Keys," is out May 31
  • Vocalist Ben Gibbard and bassist Nick Harmer both married since the group's last album
  • Gibbard says he will support President Barack Obama again in the 2012 election

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Hollywood, California (CNN) -- It's 24 hours before Death Cab for Cutie shoots the video for its new single, "You Are a Tourist," and the mood on the set is tense. The following day, the indie rock quartet is attempting to shoot the first-ever scripted music video to be broadcast live as it's shot in a single take.

Inside 204 Studios in Hollywood, a Steadicam operator runs through his moves. Across the room, a projectionist adjusts images splashed on background scenery, while a woman sits on the floor beneath a wardrobe rack, coaxing the band members' suits to light up whenever she hits a button on her computer keyboard.

The only people in a relaxed mood are the members of the band -- vocalist Ben Gibbard, guitarist Chris Walla, bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr.

"If you're going to undertake something like this, you kind of have to undertake it with a spirit of whatever happens happens, and you can't be too precious about it," Gibbard says.

The group's seventh studio album, "Codes and Keys," is out May 31 -- and while it sounds like Death Cab, there's a new spirit of optimism on this disc.

"I think fans may be a little thrown off that there's some light within the record," Gibbard admits. "But for me, personally -- when we finished 'Narrow Stairs' (in 2008), and I finished writing songs for that record, I kind of realized that I never wanted to write that record again. I didn't want to be that person anymore, and thankfully, I'm not."

What changed? Well, for starters, both Gibbard and Harmer are sporting shiny gold bands on their left ring fingers.

"Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!" they say, laughing as though they've each won the sweepstakes.

Gibbard tied the knot with in 2009 with actress Zooey Deschanel, who also moonlights as half of the indie pop duo She & Him.

"I think that marriage has been very helpful," Gibbard says. "I've made a lot of changes in my personal life that reflect moving toward positivity and away from negativity. I feel like I've become a much more even-keel person."

Harmer nods in agreement.

"I think probably the biggest struggle in anyone's life is balancing their professional life, and that's something we've been striving to do for years," he says. "I guess we're late bloomers for some, but early bloomers for others."

CNN spoke with Gibbard and Harmer about music, marriage and political mudslinging.

CNN: There's a certain amount of pressure that comes with making a live video.

Ben Gibbard: If something kind of goes wrong, it goes wrong. It's about the wabi-sabi -- the little, tiny, small flaws and imperfections that make something really human, you know.

CNN: Your new album, "Codes and Keys," is your seventh studio album. While you explore some new territory, it doesn't stray far from the Death Cab sound.

Gibbard: I think with every record we make, we want to make something that's new to us, and every record we make is kind of a reflection of the influences that we have in the moment and the things we're listening to. We don't want to make the same record we made before.

CNN: That philosophy seems to apply to your music videos, too.

Gibbard: In today's day and age, there's less and less of a market for music videos. Obviously, given the state of the music industry, and the fact that people are just buying fewer and fewer records, it makes less and less sense to spend a lot of money making a music video. The innovation is happening in new and interesting ways. The way we're able to make these things happen is also changing as well.

CNN: You talked about finding a balance in your lives recently.

Gibbard: It's always going to be a challenge. I mean, you're speaking to us on the eve on an album coming out, and a world tour, and it's not easy being pulled in as many directions as you are in our band, when it comes to maintaining relationships, and friends and family. That's just a given. But I think going into this album cycle, we've been trying to prioritize the other side of our lives. It's not just four of us traveling around the world playing music anymore.

CNN: You made this album in four different cities up and down the West Coast (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver).

Gibbard: Instead of hunkering down in a studio for six weeks, and just being in the same place, we wanted to kind of mix it up. I think we realized that after a couple weeks in one studio, we kind of start stagnating a little bit. We start getting obsessed with minutia of the recording process, and we start finding things wrong with things that there's nothing wrong with. We finally had enough foresight to go, "Let's spend two weeks in the studio, let's take two weeks off, let's meet somewhere in a whole new environment, and pick up where we left off." And it really worked for the betterment of the album. I feel like we were able to get perspective on the work we had just done.

CNN: How did the process work?

Gibbard: We would start a song in Los Angeles, and then six weeks later, be opening it back up in Seattle. Just hearing the music in a different studio was really beneficial to us, because we could kind of see what was working, and what wasn't working.

Nick Harmer: Certainly for myself, it speaks to that need to sort of compartmentalize your life in some ways. I mean, any narrative that I've ever experienced in my life is sort of broken up that way for me -- whether it's chapters in a book or sequels in a film. Even albums are sort of groupings.

CNN: President Obama just announced he's running for re-election. You supported him in 2008. Any thoughts about how he's been doing as president?

Gibbard: I can only speak for myself, and I feel that he's been doing as good a job as he can do with what he's been given, and we will, of course, stand in support of him in 2012. Now what we do -- that will be determined, I guess.

CNN: Do you feel as heartened as you did when he was first elected, about his ability to get things done?

Harmer: Dialogue in this country is hampered on all sides, and it'll be an interesting 2012 campaign, seeing how polarizing the lines have become, even in the media. It's going to be very difficult, I think, for a citizen like myself to really separate out the fact from the fiction.

Gibbard: Whenever we're bathing in the afterglow of an election -- or the sorrow of an election -- I feel that you're kind of susceptible to extreme emotions. In 2004 when George Bush was re-elected, I was convinced the world was going to end in the next four years. I really did. I was terrified of what was going to happen in this country over the next four years. And every day -- after the next day, after the next day -- the sun came up and the world didn't end.

And in 2008, I was convinced that the world was going to change for the better, and finally everything that I believe was gong to be put into action overnight. Well, that didn't happen. The administration hits a similar series of roadblocks the previous administration hit trying to put forth their agenda -- which is something I'm not in support of, but certainly a lot of people are.

CNN: You talked about how the media can be complicit.

Gibbard: I mean, I have my own political persuasion, and I like to be reported to by people who share the same views as I do. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I think everybody -- if they were honest with themselves -- would say the same thing. Even when I'm trying to get a balanced perspective on anything, it's difficult for me to hear out the other side when I disagree with them so strongly.

CNN: We were speaking with Dave Matthews a while ago, and he was lamenting the fact that people can't get on TV these days unless they say something outrageous.

Gibbard: It's unfortunate for me to see some of the people on the left -- who, for the most part, represent my views -- sinking to what I would consider some of the levels of the right, and kind of looking for the Ann Coulter type of sound bite.

But it's basically the extreme opinion on the left. If we're only existing in the extreme opinions on either side, it's going to further divide people in this country. It's really upsetting to me, but unfortunately, I don't see it stopping anytime soon.

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