Music News

Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla turns the tables on the critics

Chris Walla plays guitar in Death Cab for Cutie, and in addition to producing all his band's discs, he's helmed albums for a litany of indie-rock heroes (Decemberists, Tegan and Sara, The Thermals, and more). Walla's been called Ben Gibbard's "sonic wingman," but the perpetually cheerful multi-instrumentalist recently headed out on his own mission with solo effort Field Manual. And he told us that, unlike Gibbard, he loves to hear reviews of his own work.

"His optimism is renewable and satisfying, and for it, Field Manual is enjoyable overall. It offers a small, mindful plea forward, rather than the vicious roar of a wave that could drown the whole world." (Village Voice)

"Well, that's very nice! In a way, that's what I intended: a small, mewing baby lion. It's been really funny — I've been thinking that this thing is intensely political, and it's becoming really clear to me in talking with people that it's really just a breezy little pop record. But I dunno, it should be a pop record first; I don't wanna browbeat people."

"Over the course of around 50 minutes, a lot of doors open and a lot of doors close. Furthermore, a lot of doors slowly wither from their hinges and fall to a million tiny irreconcilable pieces right in front of your eyes." (

"That's . . . uhhh [laughs]. I'm trying to figure out which doors are withering from the hinges. Maybe he was talking about The Doors.  I don't really know how to respond to that. I guess I hope that there are more doors opening than closing. You know, that kinda creative thing — sorta going on a little flowery, esoteric journey to describe the record — is a totally valid and good thing to do if it's a record you're writing on a first impression, because first impressions are like that. If a particular writer's mind is blown in that kinda way, they should go for it. Withering doors or, I dunno, crashing airplanes."

"There's nothing like 'I'll Follow You Into the Dark' here, no song so adorably sweet and saccharine that teenagers will clamor to slow-dance to it at their high school proms. Instead, Walla targets the head — not the heart — while delivering songs about crooked senators, sustainability, and American soldiers." (All Music Guide)

"I think that's perfectly fair. There's not a song like that, nor was there intended to be. If that'd been pointed out with some malice it might bother me a tiny bit, but it's a perfectly factual statement.  That song is the song that will define my band's career, and probably my career, and I didn't even play on it! It's an exceptional little song. For me, my version of hell is where I'm so hung up on the success of my band and the fact that I'm not the singer or the songwriter, that I'm trying desperately to write songs that are like Ben's most popular song."

"Just about every track on Field Manual would fit comfortably somewhere in Death Cab for Cutie's catalog, and Walla's singing voice even turns out to be cut from the same cloth as Ben Gibbard's." (Pitchfork)

"Umm, I guess? As far as my voice is concerned, part of the reason it took me so long to get this thing done was that I've had hang-ups about my writing and especially my voice at different points. I love singing, but I've always felt a little funny about my ever-so-slightly nasal, squeaky voice. And the world's filled not necessarily with lousy singers, but with people who complain about lousy singers.  I know I'm never gonna be a singer's singer, but I did finally figure out how to carry a tune."

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Michael Alan Goldberg