It’s been an intense election cycle, one in which all aspects from media coverage to personal expectations have been amplified. So, it makes sense that voter registration drives would see a proportionate boost in importance. In the effort to get college students, in particular, to not just vote, but actually care, celebrities often lend their clout. This cycle, it’s been no different.
That said, Death Cab for Cutie has teamed up with The Ultimate College Bowl in the quest to get “every U.S. college student to register and vote in the 2008 election.” When they say “ultimate,” they mean it.
The former is a band from Seattle, WA, currently signed to Atlantic records, an “indie” band, if the term applies anymore. They released their sixth album, Narrow Stairs, in May and in a very non-indie manner, it went to no. 1.
The latter is the largest voter registration drive—ever, apparently. It’s an amalgam of several non-partisan organizations such as HeadCount, Why Tuesday?, MySpace and Rock the Vote, to name a few. The gist is to award a Death Cab for Cutie concert to the university or college that registers the most students for the 2008 election.
While it wouldn’t seem that Belmont would stand a chance due to small size, in a separate race for highest percentage, Belmont has the top spot. Though Death Cab will not be gracing the Curb anytime soon, the winner of this contest will receive a concert by a yet-to-be announced artist.
In the midst of all this activism, Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla braved a conference call with at least ten college journalists on Wednesday morning to give an update on the contest and answer questions about anything from The Ultimate College Bowl to his own political inclinations and opinions.
“[Ultimate College Bowl] was one of those things presented to management,” Walla explained with regards to how the band first became involved roughly two months ago. “We jumped on it right away.”
Back in 2004, Death Cab went on the Vote for Change Tour with the likes of Bright Eyes and Bruce Springsteen and in many ways it made them want to do more, to find a way to “insert [themselves] into the election cycle without being a nuisance or pain in the ass.” Walla expressed repeatedly that the fit with The Ultimate College Bowl was perfect.
“Death Cab for Cutie has never been a political band,” Walla said discussing their relative discomfort in “stumping for a candidate.”
“We’re entertainers, we’ve always been sensitive to that,” he said making the point that when people go to a concert, it’s their Friday night, it’s their escape from whatever is going on in their lives as it was for Walla in his pre-Death Cab days and remains now that he’s the one playing the shows. Death Cab is mindful not to infringe upon that musical sanctity, though many a picture has been taken of lead singer Ben Gibbard sporting an Obama sticker on his guitar. At the same time, Walla acknowledged that “when you feel strongly it’s impossible to keep your mouth shut.”
“Musicians have a really unique role in all of this—there’s something about music, live performance. There’s a built-in spokesmanship with musicians and performers,” Walla said. He was reluctant to admit that Death Cab for Cutie could have enough pull on fans to mobilize them, but did speculate as far as that connection. Maybe it’s a matter of expectation, maybe it’s a matter of trust.
Walla leaned on the idea that their involvement had to do mainly with being “concerned citizens” rather than celebrities wielding any power. “It’s nice for us to feel like we’re doing something. I feel like it’s going to work.”
“It’s about the candidates this time.” Walla stressed. The band’s agenda is not to recruit voters to one side or another but to get people “involved in the process, to vote.”
“Voting is real, it’s the one thing that will actually get things done” Walla said emphasizing the importance of taking some ownership in one’s world. “Any change you want to levy can start in your own town.”
Reflecting on the difference four years can make, Walla marveled at the change in attitude among the youth. Just 4 years ago, raising awareness and registering voters felt like “pulling teeth,” this time around, there is an abundance of enthusiasm generated by both candidates. Personally, he’s become a “real political junkie.”
“It was disheartening to find out more people voted in American Idol than in the election,” Walla said voicing one of several frustrations. Another of said frustrations is the media.
“I’m really happy if the media can get back to some real journalism at some point,” he said, describing how media coverage is “either stenography or a pair of perceived experts.”
Then there’s the war in Iraq. Walla is greatly concerned by the lack of coverage, saying that regardless of personal beliefs about the war, there’s “barely a mention” of it and how “outside of military towns and families, these people [soldiers] are largely out of sight, out of mind.”
A mix of exasperation and frustration snuck through his otherwise calm speech as he talked about how this is an issue that should not only be remembered but should make headlines daily, across media. “Media coverage has been so monolithic and absolute,” he stated.
Speaking of happier topics, Walla is hopeful and positive. Referencing the approximately twenty-three tours Death Cab has been on, Walla said, “you can’t help but be really changed by the country.” He expressed wonder in the idea that places as different as Mobile, AL and Juno, Alaska could be voting in the same election.
“If people could come from this election cycle with a sense of community and a sense of involvement with the inner machinery of the country…” he didn’t really finish the sentence. Walla didn’t really have to.