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All Access: Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie at San Francisco’s SF Weekly Warfield Theatre.

Photo: Steve Jennings

Out in support of Plans, Seattle-based indie quartet (who recently signed to Atlantic) Death Cab for Cutie (singer/guitarist/keyboardist Ben Gibbard, guitarist/keyboardist Christopher Walla, bassist Nick Harmer, drummer Jason McGerr) is playing to sold-out clubs and theaters, while keeping its touring package lean and mean. Mix caught up with the band and engineers John Byrd and Will Markwell in mid-November at San Francisco’s SF Weekly Warfield Theatre.

“We’re using modified Audix OM7s for vocals,” says monitor engineer Will Markwell. “In addition to the stock windscreen, we placed the windscreen from an Audix D3 over the OM7 capsule. So far, the results have been favorable.”

Front-of-house engineer John Byrd

Photo: Steve Jennings

John Byrd (for whom the band titled The John Byrd E.P., released this past March) says that the tour is just carrying mics, mic stands, cables, sub snakes, a drum riser, in-ear transmitters and FOH processing (sans effects). “My rack is always changing from tour to tour, and I try to experiment with different processors all the time,” Byrd says. “The pieces that I really enjoy using are the Meyer CP-10 parametric EQ and the FMR RNCs. I see my job as a simple technical problem of accurately reproducing and amplifying what’s happening onstage — no embellishment, no crazy effect unless it’s on the record. I’ll use whatever gear I have at hand.”

Byrd has become adept at using a different P.A. every night, but stays focused on the job. “Coverage in the front is one of my big concerns and I try to put up front-fills whenever I can,” he says. “I’m running 27 inputs and the mixing consoles we use are across the spectrum, depending on budget, availability and what’s appropriate to the show. Midas is my usual preference: Clean mic pre’s, an adequate number of channels and balanced ¼-inch inserts are all I really need.”

Switching to earphone monitors improved conditions for everyone. “Jason and Nick have been on in-ears for almost two years,” monitor engineer Will Markwell says. “Recently, Ben decided to try them out and loved them. Christopher wears a pair of headphones when he plays keyboards — at least sometimes he does. The rest of the time, he wears Sensaphonics ear plugs and works off of stage volume.

Monitor engineer Will Markwell

Photo: Steve Jennings

“Having the majority of the band on in-ears has brought down the volume onstage pretty dramatically,” Markwell continues. “That decrease in volume is an obvious benefit to John [Byrd] out at front of house. Nick and Ben are using Shure PSM700 wireless IEMs. Ben uses Sensaphonics Prosonic Soft 2x in-ears. Nick switches between the Sensaphonics and Westone ES3. The Westones don’t make as tight of a seal, and most of the time Nick prefers the bleed. Jason switches between the Sensaphonics, Westone ES3 and Westone ES2.”

The drum mic complement is mostly Audix, including SCX-25s on overheads; M1245s on snare top, toms and hat; and D3 on snare bottom. Kick is a combo of D6 and a Shure Beta 91. McGerr augments his acoustic kit with a DrumKat trigger pad and Akai Z4 sampler. “[Drummer Jason McGerr] also has a mixer for his in-ear monitors,” says monitor engineer Will Markwell. “That way, he can control his own sampler, song starter and ambient mic volumes.”

Both guitarists use Dr. Z amps. Gibbard uses a MAZ Jr. combo and a MAZ Senior combo. Walla has a Route 66 head feeding a 2×10 cab and MAZ 38 head going into a 2×12 cab. Audix ADX-112s mike all guitar amps.

Bassist Nick Harmer

Drummer Jason McGerr

Guitarist/keyboardist Chris Walla

Backline/guitar techs “Chopper” (left) and “Reno”

Ben Gibbard

“At the beginning of the tour, we were having a problem with our sampler setup,” explains monitor engineer Will Markwell. “The vibration caused by the bass cabinet and subs were messing with our laptop. After Jason tried everything he could with that setup, Chris offered one of his iZ RADAR units [pictured next to keyboards] as a solution. RADAR has been solid. Jason now has a more reliable sampler setup.”

Singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard