A go-to source for soundtracks to cathartic late-night musings, Death Cab for Cutie is a band unafraid to explore its own history — personally and musically. The group’s recently released eighth album,“Kintsugi,” embodies that philosophy. Named after the Japanese artform that mends damaged pottery with the intent of emphasizing breakage rather than hiding it, the album closes an era reflectively, its disparate narratives woven together through a mutual search for personal healing.
While Death Cab’s members have certainly endured some losses — the departure of longtime producer, instrumentalist, and songwriter Chris Walla and lead vocalist-songwriter Ben Gibbard’s divorce from Zooey Deschanel, to name just two — the resulting cracks have left room for growth. Working with a new producer, Rich Costey, led Gibbard and his bandmates to create an album that is true to Death Cab, yet also expands the group’s sound beyond the consistency achieved by its longtime lineup.
“You need someone to come and separate personal baggage from the songs, and make sure none of that gets in the way of making the songs on the record as good as possible,” Gibbard says, speaking by telephone.
He knows what it’s like to be stuck in his own head. “Writing [can] be a fairly self-destructive act, in that you’re alone for hours on hours, and you’re dredging up the darker parts of yourself to create some kind of narrative or song out of them,” he says. “I think so many writers and musicians fall into drug and alcohol abuse for a number of reasons . . . but you need a positive counterweight to what being a writer does to you emotionally.”
Since 2008’s “Narrow Stairs,” one of Death Cab’s darkest albums, and Gibbard’s sobriety, which shortly followed, things have been looking up. And Gibbard has found his positive counterweight in an unlikely form. “For me, that’s what running has become,” he explains. “I [expletive] love it. If I had my way, I’d just spend every waking moment out on the trails. It is such a wonderful activity, and such a wonderful community of people I’ve found.”
And the community with which Gibbard has chosen to surround himself lately has informed not just his own state of mind, but also Death Cab’s music. Costey’s induction opened doors that hadn’t existed previously. “It’s a better record for having someone else come in and work on it,” he explains, “not because Chris is not a very talented and insightful producer, but because we’ve all been working in this very unorthodox methodology for so long that we really needed someone to come in and shake things up. And he really did that. I’m really really proud of the record — he opened our eyes to what we could accomplish.”
Gibbard’s move from Seattle to Los Angeles during his time with Deschanel also inspired him to look to others for lyrical inspiration; the chaotic vibe of a city in which Gibbard sees everybody as “a little deranged” allowed him to adopt new perspectives. “I appreciate that people would think that everything I write is intensely personal, but that’s not always the case,” he says. “There’s always a part of you in everything that you write, but I don’t consider the vast majority of the stuff I do to be overtly autobiographical.”
While Gibbard’s first-person perspective gives the impression of lyrics being confessional and personal, he says, one song on “Kintsugi” in which he most directly drew inspiration from the Los Angeles crowd is “Good Help.” “The city has a way of flipping priorities completely on their heads,” muses Gibbard. “The people closest to you are people who are paid to be there. It’s like you can’t have a real conversation with somebody who is paid to be there. . . . It’s such an unsustainable and kind of conflicted dichotomy of a city. . . . It causes so many interesting dilemmas, and that song touches on that for sure.”
Gibbard’s uncanny capability to embody the protagonists of his songs may have resulted in part from his efforts to broaden his own character, including his new involvement in marathon running. “I don’t want to be a one-dimensional person, and I was for a long time, just being a musician and that’s all I related to, and all I did,” he says. “All I’d do is listen to music, talk about music, read about music. And at some point it’s just not sustainable.” With new passions to motivate and mend him, Gibbard feels better able to positively fuel what seems to be his sole constant — music.
“I feel so grateful that running found me,” declares Gibbard. “I can’t imagine my life without it at this point.”
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
With Explosions in the Sky
At: Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, Friday
at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $29.50-$49.50. 800-653-8000, www.livenation.com
Mallory Abreu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.