Chris Walla on Leaving Death Cab For Cutie and His Latest Solo Album, “Tape Loops” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Chris Walla on Leaving Death Cab For Cutie and His Latest Solo Album, “Tape Loops”

Color Inside The Blackness

Feb 01, 2016 Issue #55 - November/December 2015 - EL VY Photography by Dianna Walla Bookmark and Share

In the fall of 2013, Chris Walla was having a crisis of confidence. After 17 years as guitarist and producer for Death Cab for Cutie, he found himself disinterested in the music they were working on for their eighth studio album, Kintsugi. The songs were “flat,” none of his ideas seemed to be sticking, and Walla felt the band needed an infusion of fresh blood. Before the recording sessions began, he announced that he would not be producing the album, and for the first time in the band’s history they would have to hire someone outside of the band to fill that role. “I was really dissatisfied with where the Death Cab stuff had gotten to when I quit as producer, and that’s why I quit,” he explains.

He hadn’t yet decided that he would be leaving the band altogetherthat decision came much laterbut he was already experiencing a sense of loss. “There was a little bit of despair in abdicating that role,” he admits. “Like, ‘Well, what do I do? What am I good at? Am I good at anything?’” A week later, Walla began the process of answering that question.

Finding himself as personally overwhelmed as he was creatively underwhelmed, he attempted to reverse engineer “1/1,” the otherworldly ambient piano loop that opens Brian Eno’s seminal Music for Airports. Before long, he was spending hours fiddling with his own loops, trying to better understand what made the Eno album so entrancing, more interested in feeding his own curiosity than making a serious recording. If constructing a Death Cab album was a torturous process of fighting through countless ideas, making loops was far more relaxing, and Walla embraced the randomness inherent in the process of cutting and splicing tape. In the process, he had created “Flytoget,” the final track on what would become Tape Loops, Walla’s five-song set of experimental guitar and piano-based compositions. He might not have known what he was looking for, if anything, but every morning for several months, he found it.

“I think I wanted to find some genuine fucking sadness,” he says with a laugh. “The thing about those pieces is that it’s a little bit like staring at a piece of flat, black cloth. You know that there’s detail in it, and you know that there’s texture and there’s color inside the blackness. But you also have to step away from it enough to look at other things to recognize what it is in there. There’s a ton of detail in [Tape Loops], but so much of it is not the sort of detail that you choose or even can affect manually. It was such a different kind of record-making.”

No hooks, no vocals, no melodiesthe tracks on Tape Loops are meditative and ethereal, pure sound. This is music that is meant to be lived with as much as listened to, and Walla says he experienced the tracks as entities with their own agendas and personalities, some of them angry, some welcoming, some full of despair. It’s the kind of music that is guaranteed to be divisive, with little overlap between those who will be immediately bored and those who will be transfixed.

“Certainly, I get it, and I wasn’t really making it for an audience,” Walla explains. “But I did have a few different moments where I was like, ‘I don’t know who is going to like this, but someone needs it and they don’t know it,’” he says. “I hope they can find it.”

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s November/December Issue. This is its debut online.]


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