Very few independent bands ever cut through the noise to enter the mainstream. Even those with critical acclaim and a solid fan base. Death Cab for Cutie was the exception to the rule. The Washington quartet started as a side project for Ben Gibbard during his time as an engineering student at Western Washington University.
Gibbard's other band, Pinwheel, aimed for for power pop so he had penned some solo tunes that resulted in the 1997 recording, You Can Play These Songs with Chords, which earned a good deal of attention locally. Gibbard took the cue to put a band together with bassist Nick Harmer, guitarist/producer Chris Walla, and drummer Nathan Good. Death Cab for Cutie had risen and signed on with Barsuk Records soon after.
As a band, Death Cab released its debut in 1998 with Something About Airplanes. The collection included some of the Gibbard solo cuts re-done with the band. On the side, Gibbard and Walla had other things going, as well.
Still, Death Cab went for a sophomore set in 2000, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, though Good departed before it was finished. Michael Schorr took the seat. Later in the year, another release came in the form of an EP titled The Forbidden Love.
The Photo Album, Death Cab's third full record, followed in 2001. Because the band's following had reached a critical mass, Barsuk took the opportunity to re-issue You Can Play These Songs with Chords in 2002 with an additional 10 tracks added on.
The next year was all about Transatlanticism... and another new drummer in Jason McGerr. Transatlanticism caught the ear of more than just fans. Among the new listeners were TV producer Josh Schwartz who sprinkled Death Cab's music into his show, The O.C.
A live set, The John Byrd EP, followed, as did a deal with Atlantic Records in late 2004. Death Cab's first major-label effort, Plans, dropped in the summer of 2005, debuting at number four on the Billboard Hot 200. Yielding three solid singles, Plans sold more than a million copies and stayed on the album charts for almost a year. A Spin magazine cover, a Saturday Night Live performance, and a Grammy nomination all ensued.
In 2008, Death Cab debuted Narrow Stairs in the top seat on the Hot 200. Much touring followed, including dates in Australia and Japan in addition to the U.S. To give their new legion of fans some history, the band released a deluxe version of Something About Airplanes that featured a live recording of their first show ever.
The next year, another EP came in The Open Door as an artistic bridge until their next full release. Once finished with the requisite tours, Death Cab took a little break before Codes and Keys came in 2011.