Some band names are just odd.
Case in point: Death Cab for Cutie. Like, what the heck does it mean? Does it give off a rock and roll idea? Who would want to be in a “death cab,” even if you were a cutie?
All these burning questions and more about the meaning will be answered below.
The Band’s Origins
The group, which was formally formed in 1997, is originally from Bellingham, Washington, a college town about two hours north of Seattle. After the region-defining genre of grunge peaked, many were looking for a new sound in the area and Death Cab for Cutie largely embodied it.
Fronted by songwriter, vocalist, and performer Ben Gibbard, the group rose to fame first as a solo project of Gibbard’s and then grew to include more members after the outfit earned a record deal.
The band released its debut album, Something About Airplanes, in 1998 and their fourth album, Transatlanticism, which dropped in 2003, earned the group its first real taste of fame. Songs from that LP were featured in various television series and films, showcasing Gibbard’s falsetto voice and quirk songwriting prowess.
The Band’s Success
After the group’s 2003 album dropped, more success was soon to come. Their 2005 offering, Plans, earned platinum status. Ever since then, the group has been an important factor both in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The group released its latest album, Thank You for Today, in 2018.
Death Cab’s next album, Asphalt Meadows, is set for release on September 16, with a big swath of tour dates slated to follow.
To date, the band has earned eight Grammy nominations. Its first came in 2006 for Best Alternative Music Album for Plans. And the band’s most recent came in 2016 for Best Rock Album, Kintsugi.
Name: Death Cab for Cutie
But now for the most interesting part of this exercise: the meaning of the band’s name.
According to the band’s frontman, Gibbard took the band name from the song of the same name, “Death Cab for Cutie,” which was written by Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall. That song was recorded by their group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. The song appears on Bonzo’s 1967 debut album, Gorilla, and was performed in the 1967 movie, Magical Mystery Tour.
But even before that, the title of the song came originally from a story in an old pulp fiction crime magazine that Innes found in a street market some six decades ago.
In a 2011 interview, Gibbard said, “The name was never supposed to be something that someone was going to reference 15 years on. So yeah, I would absolutely go back and give it a more obvious name.”
Whether “a more obvious name” would have worked, or not, is, of course, up for debate. But given the name of another band Gibbard famously founded—The Postal Service—who knows what he might have come up with had he known the lasting impact Death Cab for Cutie would have decades after he founded it.
Photo: Eliot Lee Hazel