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Death Cab For Cutie - Follow Your Heart

by Brianne Mueller



Making music videos is not easy. The process consists of hours of design, story boarding, preparation and rehearsal that results in hours of raw footage which then must be whittled down to the final product, somewhere around a measly 3½ minutes. One-shot videos (such as “This Too Shall Pass” and “Here it Goes Again” by OK Go) are even more difficult as everything must be perfect in one full take. The plus side being that you get to shoot as many times as you’d like in order to get that one perfect shot. But a live, scripted, one-take music video? That’s enough to make anyone’s head spin! Indie-pop sensations Death Cab For Cutie decided to undertake this first-of-its-kind project with the help of director Tim Nackashi for their single “You Are A Tourist” off the album Codes and Keys (2011).

The project certainly made the music blogs buzz with excitement. In fact, the anticipated music video even had its own website counting down to its live, streaming debut on April 5th, 2011. Since it’s premiere, the video has remained in its original form, unedited and unaltered as the official music video. A well-balanced and emotional song (and album, for that matter), “You Are A Tourist” is catchy from the very first chord. Director Nackashi illustrates the themes within the song using the band’s performance and their interactions with their environment. Their message Nackashi drives home is simple but visually complex: follow your heart.

As the drums start the song, lead singer Ben Gibbard follows the camera and begins, When there's a burning in your heart / An endless yearning in your heart / Build it bigger than the sun / Let it grow, let it grow…”. This theme of burning in your heart is the most predominant. It reminds you of things your parents (hopefully) told you about following your heart – if you have a fire-y passion for something, then go do it. The opening lyrics introduce this concept by repeating “This fire grows higher” multiple times. Nackashi uses florescent lights to outline a big heart on each member of Death Cab For Cutie. Although the majority of the video is performance-based, Nackashi uses lighting and projection to give the video an appropriate visual tie to the lyrics. This not only adds visual aids to the words used in the song, it additionally creates a cartoon, line-animation quality. The performers are not just performing on a sound stage somewhere, but they are characters in their own fairytale – living proof that following your heart pays off.

The multiple lighting effects are all directly related to musical elements of the song. Some follow the lead or 2nd guitar and others follow the bass or drums. Combined, they act as levels on some sort of grandiose soundboard – each communicating the level and intensity of each musical instrument. Gibbard begins by plugging his guitar cord a glowing florescent string light (which is connected to his heart), into the Doctor Suess-like forest behind him. They light up like a Christmas tree and begin following the melody of his guitar. Likewise, the other band members plug into their respective trees and suddenly there is an entire florescent forest buzzing with excitement. “This fire grows higher…”. Their heart’s passions are literally (and figuratively) fueling their surroundings, making everything bigger and brighter.

The cameras follow Gibbard and his band mate to reveal dancers and some beautifully modern Busby Berkley inspired choreography. In the background lie 3 vignettes, each representing a snapshot in someone’s life. A business-woman, an actress, and a stay at home mom can all be seen as the lights flicker on and off with the music. Not everyone has the same dream and Death Cab For Cutie give all 3 different lifestyles equal weight. Although one of my favorite moments is seeing dancers hold bundles of white balloons while Gibbard sings, “When there's a doubt within your mind / Because you're thinking all the time / Framing rights into wrongs / Move along, move along…”. The in-tempo flashing of the balloons mimic the electricity of neurons firing within a brain. In conjunction with the lyrics, it has a stunning visual quality complimented by a medical-based allusion.

Thinking and questioning are the secondary theme of the song and video. The lyrics towards the end highlight this  by saying, “…Cause when you find yourself the villain / In the story you have written / It's plain to see / That sometimes the best intentions / Are in need of redemption…”. Much like the bulk of Death Cab for Cutie’s work, there are hardly times of hope without a need for introspection. “…Would you agree? / If so please show me”. Following our hearts is not enough. Sometimes you need to re-evaluate our lives, take inventory, and decide if we are still on the right path. If not, we should jump ship immediately and start back on the right one. The kaleidoscope-like camera effect enhances this twirling, “follow your dreams”, kind of attitude maintained through out the video. The band celebrate at the end, rocking out in front of a city-like background with digital EQ levels resonating on its surfaces, inspiring the viewer to follow the burning in their own heart.

We all can relate to a ‘tourist’ feeling, experiencing it ourselves one time or another. I can particularly relate to the lyric, “if you feel just like a tourist / in the city where you were born / Then it's time to go / And define your destination / There's so many different places to call home”. Moving from my home state of Wisconsin to New York and back…twice…I have certainly felt like a tourist in my various hometowns. The members of Death Cab For Cutie remind us that sometimes your heart lies somewhere other than where you are.

Bri Mueller is a life-long music enthusiast with a recent passion for film. An aspiring music video director, she is a theatre arts major (Psychology minor) from Lawrence University, currently employed as a Marketing Coordinator. Bri enjoys gluten-free brownies, parenthetical phrases and rock 'n' roll. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Daniele Teodoro. Contact Bri at bri.mueller[at]