Death Cab's Chris Walla to Illegal Downloaders: "At Least Have Enough Respect for the Artist to Not Call Yourself a 'Fan'"

Renee McMahon
Seattle's Death Cab for Cutie, featuring Chris Walla, plays KeyArena on Saturday. The Head and the Heart open.
Reverb Questionnaire is a (mostly) static list of questions we pose via e-mail to folks in and outside the music industry (Sarah Silverman, Michael Chabon, and Michele Norris, etc). This week, we reached out to guitarist/producer/songwriter Chris Walla, who plays KeyArena on Saturday with his band, Death Cab for Cutie. Here, Walla talks about why he wouldn't shut off the sound man's air supply, and why "'Supporting an artist you love' isn't a crazy concept."

What music have you been listening to today? Did you like it?

Today at the breakfast restaurant I heard 'Is This It?' by the Strokes. I liked it a great deal, it's been quite some time. After that, Kaputt by Destroyer came on and everything got quiet.

What's your preferred method for listening to music (iPod, car, home stereo, etc.)?

Most of my music listening happens in the studio or in the car. I don't like my iPod much and usually don't know where it is.

When was the last time you heard "Stairway to Heaven"? Did you turn it off?

Just a few weeks ago, and I absolutely did not turn it off; in fact, I was genuinely moved.

Do you still listen to anything you were listening to in high school? If so, what?

Most of it! Talking Heads have never left rotation, nor have Eno, PJ Harvey, or Kate Bush.

What was the first band/artist you saw in concert? Would you see them again?

Mom and Dad took my sister and I to see Paul McCartney at the Kingdome in 1989. I'd go again but I hope he's done away with that shirt, it was kind of a yellow and black tiger-stripe thing; he looked a little like a Golden Girl.

What was the last band/artist you saw in concert? Worth your time?

We played with Explosions in the Sky last week. I've been a fan forever but had never seen them play. They were more than worth my time: Rare is the rock band who can convey much of anything even with the aid of language. Explosions are darn near mystics without uttering a word.

When you sing karaoke, what's your go-to number?

I have done well with Ratt's 'Round and Round'. Not a go-to, exactly, but I've sung it more than once.

How do you feel about ABBA?

Very positive, in large part because I feel like I'm always hearing ABBA sung by 5-year-olds. Kids love ABBA.

What is the last song you want to hear before you die?

"Hounds of Love" is a song of faith and joy, of pure fear, of both holding on and letting go. Singing "I don't know what's good for me" over and over in a song that's all about doing exactly what's good for you certainly ties up my feelings with a bow. I can think of nothing else that expresses the absolute beauty of a life of love through such nervousness and uncertainty. And it seems like good exit music.

Second-to-last question: You're a record producer, and artists have paid for you to lend your ear and expertise to the recording of their albums. After hearing bad sound at a show or in the studio, have you ever tried to shut off the sound man's air supply?

I tend to go the other route: I carry a box of hat pins around with me, and when a band on a stage is too high to play or acting out a misguided sense of entitlement, a hat pin in the monitor snake will derail their show pretty reliably.

Last Question: A lot of people think that when they illegally download an album, they're only hurting the crooked labels, not the artists. If "fans" download Death Cab for Cutie's new album, Codes and Keys, without paying for it, are there negative repercussions for the band?

Yes, there's a negative effect on the band. But the effect on us directly is secondary to the larger problem, which is that the compensation structure for the artistic class is vanishing. Not to suggest that anyone simply "deserves" boatloads of cash for doing much of anything; that's for a free market to decide. But music is a job. It is a valid career. Songwriting, singing, recording, touring, and playing all require dedication, purpose, mental acuity, and, most of all, time. That's time a musician can't spend working a "traditional job." It's time a musician can't really be in school. And the loss to us all comes when developing artists -- the would-be world-class greats -- throw in the towel because it's just too hard; because they couldn't pay rent or because their family couldn't afford health insurance or something.

"Supporting an artist you love" isn't a crazy concept, and it's not charity. If you sing along to every word in the car, if you are moved and enriched, pay it forward. Buy the record. Go to the show. I won't call you names if you do neither, but at least have enough respect for the artist to not call yourself a "fan."

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