At the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago I was catching my fourth Death Cab show of the year. Aboard Death Cab’s tour bus, I chatted with Nick Harmer, a fellow Puyallup guy who just happens to spend less time eating fair scones then he does playing bass in a really good band.
We ended up chatting mostly about how much we miss Seattle, in particular that special kind of rain no one on the east coast seems to be able to comprehend.
TIG: So I have to ask — what type of coffee do you like? What coffee places around Seattle do you like, etc.
Nick: I don’t drink coffee.
TIG: You don’t drink coffee? That’s diehard.
Nick: No. Everyone’s got their vice of course, mine’s just never been coffee for some reason. I mean, I see what it does to my friends and family and it tears me apart.
TIG: Sounds like it’s a disease.
Nick: Well, it’s like all my friends that drink coffee were like, you know, ‘It’s the only addiction I have, it’s the only vice I have, I don’t drink a lot.’ Or you know, ‘It’s better than smoking’ and all that kind of stuff. But you know, they’re still cranky and lame and jonesy and shaky in the morning until you get your first cup…
TIG: I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Nick: I’ve been around too many people that have been coffee addicts and have gone on this relentless coffee hunt…and then they start getting really picky about what kind of coffee they have first in the morning, and it just drives me fucking nuts. It’s just like, “Get over the fucking….” Anyway. I don’t want to really get to far into it, but…
Mark, the tour manager leads a scared looking reporter from Georgetown onto the bus
Nick: Is this next? Is this the next one for me? Oh, it’s for Chris. Okay.
TIG: Wow, you guys are really doing the press aren’t you?
Nick: Aww, no it hasn’t been too bad on this tour. I mean, we get a fair amount of requests, but it was a lot bigger of a press push last time.
TIG: Yeah, we [talked to] Aveo last night [in Charlottesville], and that was like down in the bar for 90 minutes. A little more low-key.
Chris (my photographer): Your set last night by the way was killer.
Nick: Oh, thank you very much. Thank you. I had a miserable time last night, I got sick yesterday, like I’m starting to get a cold, and you know how when you’re first starting to get sick it’s just the worse, like your throat’s like really tight? So yeah, like yesterday I was all just really fevery and achy and my throat was just really sore…anyway.
Chris: Well it came across really well.
TIG: Yeah, and the sound in that place was really good, especially considering it was kind of an odd set up [for the stage, in the corner of what seemed to be a place where one would hold a wedding reception].
Nick: Yeah, definitely, definitely. Tonight should be pretty fun too. I always like the 9:30 Club.
TIG: A lot of the old songs it seems like you guys have really given a whole new edge to, it seems like. Is that from just playing them live for so long?
Nick: Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. We just played them that way for so long – I think all of our songs live have a little bit more of an edge to them.
TIG: “Company Calls” last night was…
Nick: It was pretty fast, actually. (laughs)
TIG: Yeah, it was pretty fast, pretty intense.
Nick: Yeah, we played it pretty quick last night. Yeah, you know I guess if I think about that, most of our music now, just in the live setting is a little more raw, a little more edgy.
Chris: How do you guys when you’re picking the older stuff to do, I mean, we had a friend who caught you guys in Paris…
TIG: Oh yeah, Paris. She said to ask if you remembered them. Two red-haired girls studying art in Paris.
Nick: Two red-haired girls studying art in Paris…
TIG: I told them “There’s no way they’re going to remember you guys.”
Nick: You know what, I’ll tell you, there were a lot of exchange students there that night…
Chris: A lot of red hair.
Nick: Well I don’t know about red hair, but there were a lot of exchange students — I don’t remember.
Chris: Well she said you opened up the set that night with “Your Bruise.” When you’re putting sets together, is it just sort of whatever you guys want to play that night, or it…
Nick: Actually, Ben puts the sets together and I don’t ever really know what I’m going to play until we walk out on stage and he hands me the list, and I’m just like, “Alright, okay, let’s do it.” Yeah, he’s really done the set lists, it’s kind of his own thing. Like, we may make suggestions like in the middle of the set or maybe we thought we were going to do it one way and we just kind of feel a little more amped up…
TIG: Like you want to do rockier stuff…
Nick: Yeah, we’ll throw in some more rock songs. So in that way I guess we kind of cater to it on the fly but for the most part Ben just comes up with it and we play it straight through.
TIG: Are there certain songs that you really like to play?
Nick: No, not really. I like all the songs, for different reasons. There are loads of setlists that I like better than others. Like, I don’t like it when we take a big dip in the middle and do like a block of slower songs because then it’s really hard to pick the momentum back up for me live, but some slow stuff’s okay. I mean, all the songs I really look forward to playing, you know, there are different aspects of every song that I like playing live and look forward to.
TIG: It seems like you and Jason get pretty into “Transatlanticism” live.
Nick: Yeah, it’s a really cathartic moment for us. It’s kind of hard to come off stage and feel upset about anything really.
Chris: We saw the Black Cat show [last October in D.C.] and I just remember — cause I had just picked up the album a couple weeks before — and I just remember being blown away by the difference between, well not the difference, but like the way it translated to the live show.
Nick: Well it’s a lot different, well, I shouldn’t say a lot different, but there are different dynamics live for a lot of material off the record. We were pretty torn about really in the beginning when we first finished the record, you know, how much of this is a requirement for us to reproduce exactly in the same way. But after we sort of gave ourselves permission to, not reinterpret, but allow the songs to occupy a live space that may be slightly different
then the record, it kind of opened up a bit, we could kind of even do some more things with them. I mean, like “[We Looked like] Giants” is one of those songs…
TIG: Oh yeah, last night was amazing for that song especially.
Nick: Yeah, thanks, well things kind of morph here and there.
TIG: Well how about Seattle. How do you feel about Seattle?
Nick: How do I feel about Seattle? I love Seattle. Every time I leave Seattle I think ‘Wow, this is great I get to go out and see all these wonderful new places, it’s so good to be getting out of town.’ And the every time I come back I think, ‘This is the most wonderful place in the world.’
TIG: Okay, you’re going to be the guy that knows the place. Every band from Seattle I have to ask if they know the Coastal Kitchen.
Nick: Ah, I live exactly right around the corner from the Coastal Kitchen.
Chris: I knew it!
Nick: Yeah, we all know it really really well.
TIG: Yeah, I was pretty sure I saw you actually. I went up to Sonic Boom since it was the only place selling the vinyl [of Transatlanticism] and I got a couple copies of it for me and a friend and I walked out across the street with them right past the Coastal and could have sworn I saw you. I was just like, ‘That’d be really weird if that was the bass player.’
Nick: Yeah, that’s my neighborhood. 15th Street all right along there. Ben and I live really close to that. I always run into him at the Coastal Kitchen, we eat there a lot. It seems like we’re on the same wave length, like whenever I feel like the Coastal Kitchen he’s feeling the same and I’ll see him there.
TIG: What’s your favorite Rumble? — or are you vegan?
Nick: Umm, I’m not vegan, but actually I like the low country farmer’s omelet.
TIG: Yeah, I love that place.
Nick: Oh yeah, and the spicy hashbrowns are great…for breakfast. For dinner, I mean I’ll admit it, I like the rotating menu. I like to sample new things every time I eat there.
Chris: I have no idea, I’m from Chicago.
Nick: It’s a good restaurant. I mean, it’s not the end all be all of restaurants, but it’s pretty solid. I mean, I’ve yet to go to the Coastal Kitchen and order a dish that was just not the answer and had me just like ‘Woah.’
TIG: Well I went over there with my friend from the U and took my dad back for breakfast like the day after Christmas while my mom and sister were downtown at Nordstrom’s, and he was like, ‘You can get wine with breakfast?’
Nick: Yes you can.
TIG: He was like, ‘Huh, well I’ll have a glass of that merlot.’
Nick: That’s great, that’s super great.
TIG: So anyways, what are your favorite parts about just being in Seattle?
Nick: Seattle? Well number one, the climate. I love the weather, most people are…
TIG: No, that’s me too.
Nick: Most people are like, “Oh it rains all the time.”
TIG: Well it’s a different kind of rain.
Nick: Yeah, it’s a different kind of rain…it oozes a lot in Seattle. But it’s gray an appropriate amount of time, and I like seasons wherever I live, and there’s a very nice distinguishing sort of characteristic about each of the seasons…you know, whether it’s snow or fall and the leaves and spring, the evergreens are always there…I don’t know. Climate’s big for me.
TIG: I noticed you didn’t say summer.
Nick: Well summer, I mean it’s warm, it can get hot, it can get hella nice. I mean it’s never humid…
Chris: Chicago’s got all that.
Nick: Well maybe like once a year, but it’s never like you know you’re sweating your balls off and you’re just like hating your life kind of stuff. Like it’s never miserable. It’s not sunny enough for a lot of people it’s not dry enough for a lot of people, but you know that’s okay. I like the moisture, you know, it makes a lot of things real green. And I love the hills and the water. I think that’s the other thing — you know, when you live in a city where you can see water, water and bays and the ocean sort of start to represent a way out, you know you start to feel like there’s hope and possibility in life, like there’s destinations yet to be reached, that kind of thing. You know when you live in a land-locked city, when you never see water, for me it’s just really depressing. Like there’s no escape route.
TIG: So if you’re like a sailor or a boatsman…
Nick: And look what we do for tour, it’s like we’re these weird sailors that sail from city to city and play rock and roll. But it’s true. I mean water’s great.
TIG: And you went to Western [Washington Univ.]?
Nick: I did go to Western.
TIG: Oh yeah, so you’re right up there with the San Juans and everything.
Nick: Yeah, I’ve been out there in the San Juans and scuba-dived and everything.
TIG: Yeah, I worked out there the past two summers on Orcas…
Nick: Really? Oh yeah, that’s where…Moran State Park and all that.
TIG: Yeah, there’s some great hiking up there.
Nick: Oh yeah I mastered that hike. It can be really beautiful up there.
TIG: Well hey, what’s the most important thing I need to know to have something interesting about, you know I could write, ‘Transatlanticism, by Death Cab for…’ but for something that hasn’t been done, what do I need to know?
Nick: I don’t know. That’s a good question…
TIG: Sample answers are: ‘We’re not fucking rock fucking stars” from Aveo.
Nick: (laughing) That was Aveo’s answer?
TIG: Yeah, that’s from last night. The Unicorns were “We do cocaine,” and the really fun one was, umm, Clearlake. (British accent) “Don’t use the word ‘quintessential.'”
Nick: (laughing) Well, I don’t know what’s the most important thing about our band. For me…I mean…
TIG: Well, how about just the best story…like from just hanging out in Bellingham or the first time you played the Crocodile or something.
Nick: Oh geez, there’s so many good stories. Too many. Let me think about that for a second. I don’t know. That question really implies a lot of true objectivity, and being able to look at what you do and how you do it and have some sort of analysis of it, and I don’t know. I haven’t really done that yet. Maybe when I’m fifty and like in a rocking chair I’ll be able to look back and be like, “Oh yeah…”
Chris: So you’re not going to be like the Rolling Stones and out touring around, on tour forever….
Nick: Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be a touring juke box, I really would…but by then I think it would be pretty apparent what we’ve accomplished if we are fifty and still touring…I don’t know.
TIG: How about for you? Or just for this tour.
Nick: I don’t know, it’s just so hard.
TIG: It’s just a cheap way of me getting a lead for my column this week.
Nick: (laughing) I don’t know what the best thing, there’s just so many things. There’s small moments that are really great and there are large moments that are really great; and there are moments that journalists drool over like, ‘I can’t wait to print that, that’d be amazing’ and there are just dumb moments that we’re excited about and make sense to us.