The Bellingham, Wash.-based alternative rock band Death Cab for Cutie found incredible success by going against the grain. Eschewing the abstractness and irony that informed the work of many of their contemporaries, Death Cab embraced directness and sincerity.
After gaining a sizable underground following with the release of their first three records, the group broke into the mainstream with the release of their fourth album, Transatlanticism, in 2003. Full of emotionally engrossing and musically complex songs, the record resonated with audiences who had grown tired of rap-metal and boy bands. In addition to becoming one of the most critically acclaimed rock albums of the decade, Transatlanticism became one of the few independent albums to sell more than half a million units in the United States.
Death Cab for Cutie’s next record, 2005’s Plans, was even more successful. The record was met with strong critical acclaim, platinum certification from the RIAA and the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. The group’s next three records, 2008’s Narrow Stairs, 2011’s Codes and Keys and 2015’s Kintsugi, built on their initial successes and further established the band as one of the best alt-rock acts of their generation.
While the group’s music would’ve made them a success regardless of their name, their instantly memorable moniker definitely helped the band stand out. Befitting Death Cab literary sensibility, the band’s name is an obscure reference to another obscure reference.
Frontman Ben Gibbard took the name from a song by British psych-rock outfit The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band after seeing them perform in the Beatle’s “Magical Mystery Tour” film. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s song was itself a reference to a pulp crime fiction magazine referenced in Richard Hoggart’s 1957 cultural studies book The Uses of Literacy.