When Death Cab for Cutie released their debut album, “Something About Airplanes,” in 1998, their sound was both mysterious and captivating, with lyrics awash in emotion. More than two decades later, the band’s introspective founder and frontman, Ben Gibbard, continues to examine his surroundings. And he’s troubled by what he sees.
On the Seattle group’s 10th studio album, “Asphalt Meadows,” released Sept. 16, Gibbard zeroes in on a multitude of feelings. From the trepidation of “I Don’t Know How to Survive” to the helplessness of “Here to Forever” (“Now it seems more than ever there’s no hands on the levers/And I wanna feel the pressure of God or whatever”), the singer reflects on modern times with his heart in his throat.
“These last two years have been an incredibly chaotic time, and all these systems that we’ve relied on and thought worked started to crumble,” Gibbard says in a call ahead of the band’s show Saturday at Leader Bank Pavilion. “We are so privileged as Americans that we’ve never really had to think about what the breakdown of our society would look like — and we got close to that. With no food or toilet paper being in stores, with lack of access to medicine.
“And I think that level of anxiety that comes out of something like that doesn’t just leave overnight. We just had all been lulled into a false sense of security,” he says. That feeling is embedded in the album’s lead single, “Roman Candles,” which describes a deteriorating society.
As ever, Gibbard’s songs are rich in detail, though he says the music drives the lyrics, not the other way around.
“I don’t know if I ever set out with a goal to tell a particular story. I don’t keep extensive journals of lyrics. I don’t write freehand. I keep notes in my phone, like four- or five-word little phrases and things like that, but that’s really the extent of it,” he explains. “The music that either I’m writing or that the band is working on dictates the narrative in the song. For the piece of music I’m trying to write lyrics for, I just allow whatever imagery that seems to bubble up to kind of take focus.”
Though this terrain may be difficult to navigate, he is grateful for his bandmates. “I’m a firm believer in the collective being more powerful than the individual. I’m not a singular force. I’m not David Bowie, you know? I feel like [Death Cab for Cutie] is my life’s work. We’ve built this thing and maintained it for 25 years,” he says. “I recognize what I contribute here and I recognize what my weaknesses are. I want to surround myself with people who are able to fill in the gaps of my knowledge or my ability and defer to them when things fall into their purview.”
Despite the shades of darkness in “Asphalt Meadows,” Gibbard insists that he is just being pragmatic — even with an extensive catalog known for its sentimentality. “It’s not so much that I’m an optimist or a pessimist. I just think like I’m a realist and a fatalist. In sports terms, it’s like ‘Yeah, your team’s down by 10 with a minute left. You’re probably gonna lose and the earlier you accept it the earlier you can move on.’ I feel that my position in life tends to be: Look at the situation, assess the most kind of logical outcome, prepare for it, and then be pleasantly surprised if it turns out otherwise.”
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
With Thao. At Leader Bank Pavilion, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. $29.50-$59.50. livenation.com