Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds. The Joe Perry Project. Slash's Snakepit. Johnny Marr and the Healers.
The list don't lie.
It's a perilous world out there for guitar players who embark on solo recordings and leave their bandmates in the wake. This being the case, why is Portland's Chris Walla, the painstakingly polite guitarist for Death Cab for Cutie, releasing his first solo recording—Field Manual, out January 29—as quietly as possible? No tour dates whatsoever have been planned, his press schedule is deliberately bare, and besides a certain newsworthy incident at the US-Canada border (more on that later), there seems to be more focus on the early summer release of a new record from Death Cab than Walla's initial foray into solo waters.
But if anyone is behind the deafening silence that surrounds Field Manual—a near flawless pop record that doesn't stray far from the Death Cab template of perfected pop songs, pristine recordings, and intelligent lyrics—it's Walla himself. "Death Cab has an agreement about it. Once it's time to be on rock band time, it's what we do, and everyone understands that." Walla continues, "Were this a different world and I wasn't part of Death Cab, of course I'd be touring, and of course I'd be promoting it more. It's an eternal understanding that we all do willingly."
It's a practical way of thinking, one that illustrates the deliberate and well-planned rise of Death Cab, which Walla joined over a decade ago in Bellingham, WA. And while the band has emerged as one of the last big rock bands in the dying days of the music industry, Walla himself has developed into a masterful producer (the Decemberists, Tegan and Sara) and an occasional solo artist under the handle Martin Youth Auxillary. But with the exception of a lone homemade cassette and a few scattered MP3s, Field Manual is the true product of Walla's solo work. Deliberately tempered and pristinely assembled, the songs on Field Manual are a coming-out celebration for an artist who is not unfamiliar to the masses. But to hear Walla in the forefront—as a skilled songwriter, a soft-voiced singer, a musician who performs nearly every note and sound that grace the album—is a new experience.
"This whole project for me was as much therapy as it was making a solo record." He continues, "I felt like the time was right to do it, and when I started to work on it, things came together." And they did come together—that is, until the master hard drive of the recording was seized from a courier while crossing from Vancouver, British Columbia back into the States. What ensued was a maelstrom of controversy; Walla's initial comments included a quip about Guantánamo Bay being the punishment for the album's political tone, while border officials pleaded ignorance of any political undertones to the seizure. For Walla, it was little more than a hurdle, since the recordings has (thankfully) been backed up before falling into the vast abyss of seized border items.
As always, Walla is a beacon of grounded calm, and his outlook toward the record is about as realistic and genuine as it can be: "People don't buy records anymore, and the thing is, I don't care. I bemoan the death of the album as a creative piece, a 40-minute-long cohesive medium, and of course it would be nice if people bought my record, but again, I don't really care. They can take everything away from you, but they can't take the song out of your head."
To read a longer version of our interview with Chris Walla, please visit endhits.portlandmercury.com.