There are some things you don't expect to hear in an interview.
"Knoxville is somewhere I've always wanted to visit," says Ben Gibbard, lead singer-lyricist with Death Cab for Cutie. "I'm just kind of fascinated with the South, and Knoxville is one of those cities I've always wanted to visit."
Formed in 1997 in Bellington, Wash., Death Cab for Cutie has toured the globe, but never made it to Knoxville. The group landed critical acclaim, gained a dedicated following and released four albums on the independent Barsuk Records before signing with Atlantic Records in 2004. The group's most recent album, "Codes and Keys," was released in 2011.
"The profile of the band has raised, but we, as individuals, have not gotten famous," says Gibbard. "That's a good place to be. You can go about your daily life and do your work and go on tour and go out in the city you live in and go to the grocery store and just live life and not be self-conscious about it."
Gibbard says that the group's sound has evolved naturally, but he understands if fans don't always appreciate the change.
"People's relationships with an artist they like is not unlike a romantic relationship in which one party changes," says Gibbard. "Every once in a while we'll see a criticism that says, 'You guys have changed. Why can't you make a record like (the band's second album) 'We Have the Facts' again?' Well, we've changed. Our lives have changed. As a songwriter, how I address it has changed. In the minds and hearts of some fans, there's a sense of betrayal when an artist they love or a band they love continues to evolve and change from the place where they first fell in love with them."
He can remember clearly when he first fell in love with music and it's probably not the music most fans would expect. It was hearing his father's copy of AC/DC's live album "If You Want Blood You've Got It."
"I remember (the song) 'Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be.' Being a Catholic, before they tell you about Jesus, they tell you about hell. They tell you, 'There's this terrible place called hell where you'll burn for eternity and the devil will pluck out your eyes. ... So here is 'Hell Ain't a Bad Place To Be.' It's a terrible place! I was about 5 years old and I remember being scared of it. Scared of the aggressiveness of AC/DC, which is one of my all-time favorite bands now and I would argue the greatest rock band of all time. Because all their songs are about girls, rockin', not rockin', there's no ballads."
Gibbard says he has no embarrassment over any music he has ever loved and calling something "a guilty pleasure" is cowardly. He and some friends recently took a road trip and brought a stack of $5 CDs, one of which was Huey Lewis and the News' "Greatest Hits." One of the friends scoffed at the choice, but, says Gibbard, was singing along by the time the CD was ending.
"It's cowardly to have to qualify something that you like as something that you should feel guilty about. Life is too short to be qualifying things like that. It's almost what you're mom would say: 'Anyone who makes fun of you for liking Huey Lewis and the News is not your friend! Just enjoy Huey!'"
One thing that Gibbard admits may have not been the wisest choice is naming his group after an obscure reference to a song by the 1960s cult favorites the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. It's meant 15 years of answering questions about the band name.
"It's on me, when you decide to name the band some music nerd reference you're going to get a lot of questions about it ... But with a silly name, I can never make fun of another band's name."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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