Why Did Chris Walla Leave Death Cab for Cutie?

 Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla

Chris Walla first joined Death Cab for Cutie back in 1997 when it became a full band. He also helped work on the demo cassette when Ben Gibbard was the only official member. But after 17 years, Walla decided to leave. So why did Chris Walla leave Death Cab for Cutie?

Here’s what I know from being a long-time fan:

Walla left Death Cab for Cutie as he no longer enjoyed the music that the band was making, and he wanted to try something more experimental that he couldn’t do with the band. He wanted to take a risk and find a way to fall in love with music all over again. To do that, he needed to set out on his own.

Walla left to rediscover himself as an artist. Walla said, “I think I long for the unknown. It might be that simple.”

But did he have a falling out with Gibbard? Are they still friends? And what is the possibility he might someday return to making music with DCFC? After all, it’s pretty clear that Death Cab’s best and most successful albums were the ones with Walla.

Let’s get into it!

What is Chris Walla doing now?

After leaving Death Cab for Cutie, guitarist Chris Walla moved to Norway with his new wife. He has only released 1 solo album, 2015’s Tape Loops, but has indicated he is working on new material. Tape Loops, in addition to his previous solo album Field Manual, are available on streaming services.

Back in 2013, Chris Walla was struggling with the decision to leave Death Cab for Cutie.

During that time, he married his current wife, Dianna Potter, at the Swedish Cultural Center in Seattle. A year later, Walla left the band and has since been spending time with his wife and discovering himself as an artist.

Chris Walla was anxious after leaving Death Cab for Cutie. He had been the guitarist for the band for 17 years, and he wasn’t sure if he would have an identity outside of the band.

He and his wife made a large change and moved to Trondheim, Norway. After a brief adjustment period, Chris Walla fell in love with this new country. In 2016, he returned to Seattle briefly. After only a week, Walla said he was already missing Norway.

Walla says that Norway is unique in that it is a country that genuinely cares about artists and values what art can do for the world.

Being in that environment has relieved his anxiety about leaving a successful band. It has given him the courage to take a chance and experiment with music in unique ways.

Walla also says that solitude has been essential in discovering himself as an artist. It has allowed him to detach himself from the expectations of others and make the music he is interested in making.

Is Chris Walla working on new solo material?

Since leaving Death Cab for Cutie in 2014, Chris Walla has released one album, Tape Loops, in 2015, but has been experimenting with his musical style and has indicated new material is coming soon.

Even while being a member of Death Cab for Cutie, Chris Walla released solo material.

Field Manual is Chris Walla’s debut solo album, which he released in 2008 while playing guitar for Death Cab. Even further back in 1999, Walla released solo music under the name Martin Youth Auxiliary.

While contemplating leaving Death Cab in 2013, Chris Walla had plans for a solo project, which would later be known as Tape Loops.

The project started as an experiment in which Chris Walla was able to return to the basics and rediscover what made him fall in love with creating music. He began messing around with sound machines and instruments with no specific agenda — just to see what would happen.

The more time Walla spent investing in this project, the more he began to understand that this was more than a casual experiment. The music he was making was working, and it was powerful.

Part of this project’s power came from Walla’s anxiety and overwhelm at leaving Death Cab for Cutie.

He was channeling the raw uncertainty that came with setting out on his own. The project became the full album, Tape Loops, and was released in 2015.

Since then, Walla has stated he has plans for future solo material, but nothing official has been announced.

Are Chris Walla and Ben Gibbard still friends?

Chris Walla and Ben Gibbard like one another and have mutual respect but are no longer close friends. During the last few years of Walla being in Death Cab for Cutie, their relationship became strained, and that disconnect only increased after Walla’s departure.

Chris Walla and Ben Gibbard were fast friends when they first met back in the late 1990s.

Initially, when Walla and Gibbard first started working together, they were bonded by their shared interest and ear for music. They had a certain solidarity in being two young artists taking on the world.

Their synergy was powerful, as can be seen by the success of Death Cab for Cutie. The two artists were certainly close friends as they road their unique sounds to success and critical acclaim.

However, as time went on, the two friends grew apart as their musical taste and goals evolved differently. Chris Walla started to disconnect from Ben Gibbard’s style of music. Walla notes that, at one point, Gibbard released a song that he genuinely didn’t like.

Gibbard picked up on Walla’s growing disdain for Death Cab for Cutie’s sound and direction. 

This made their relationship difficult. However, neither of them vocalized what they were feeling because they were both afraid of angering the other. But their silence did more damage to their relationship than a difficult conversation would have.

On Walla’s departure from the band, Gibbard says:

“I’m certainly not overflowing with joy that Chris left the band, but at the same time, just having — finally after all these years — the catharsis of somebody who’s had — in some ways — one foot out the door for years, finally leave the band, it comes with a particular sense of relief.”

Gibbard and Walla have not spent much time together after Walla departed from Death Cab. 

They are not as close as they once were, but they still respect each other as artists and wish for their relationship to be amicable.

Are Death Cab for Cutie’s best songs ones with Chris Walla?

Death Cab for Cutie’s most critically acclaimed and financially successful albums are from Chris Walla’s tenure in the band. Those albums are Transatlanticism, Plans, and Narrow Stairs from 2003-2008.

After the success of Death Cab’s demo, You Can Play These Songs with Chords, Ben Gibbard hired Chris Walla on guitar. From that moment on, Death Cab for Cutie continued to rise in popularity with each successive album release.

Chris Walla not only played guitar for the band but also helped in writing the songs. Death Cab for Cutie was nominated for a Grammy eight times while Walla was a member.

All of the band’s most popular songs were also released when Chris Walla was still a member of the band. These songs include:

  • Soul Meets Body
  • I Will Follow You Into the Dark
  • The Sound of Settling
  • Meet Me on the Equinox
  • I Will Possess Your Heart

And many more.

Even though Walla left the band before the release of the album Kintsugi, he was still a member during the creation of that album.

Death Cab for Cutie’s best songs and albums ARE ones featuring Chis Walla.

Could Chris Walla rejoin Death Cab?

It is unlikely that Chris Walla will ever rejoin Death Cab for Cutie as he enjoys the solitude of Norway, spending quality time with his wife, and the freedom to make any kind of music he wishes without the pressure of being in a well-known band.

While there was no major fallout surrounding Walla’s departure from the band, there was still a division created between Walla and his bandmates.

Walla made it clear that he didn’t like the direction that Death Cab was going, and he could no longer make music that left him unfulfilled.

Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla are no longer aligned in their artistic endeavors. The music they both desire to make has changed, and they have set themselves on separate paths.

Walla would have to backtrack and betray the new music he set out to make if he rejoined Death Cab. Considering how he has grown in his time apart from Death Cab, it is doubtful that Walla would ever want to rejoin.

Ben Gibbard would also be hesitant to accept Walla back even if Walla wanted to rejoin the band.

Gibbard notes that he was aware that Walla was no longer satisfied playing for Death Cab, and this made working together and creating music very difficult.

Gibbard wouldn’t want to put the band back in that uncomfortable position.

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Chris Walla left Death Cab for Cutie because he was no longer satisfied with the music the band was making, and he wanted to experiment on his own.

Walla has been living in Norway with his wife since leaving Death Cab for Cutie. He has been working on discovering who he wants to be as an artist. Unfortunately, he’s only released 1 solo album, Tape Loops, after leaving the band.

He says there are plans for more solo music, but nothing has been announced.

Chris Walla and Ben Gibbard are not as close as they once were. They rarely see each other, but they seem to still be on friendly terms.

The majority of Death Cab’s music was made while Chris Walla was a member. So, the majority of Death Cab’s most popular songs were also made with Chris Walla.

It is unlikely that Chris Walla would ever rejoin Death Cab. That is not something that either Walla or Gibbard would want.

Photo which requires attribution:

Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla by David Lee is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

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