Death Cab for Cutie, or simply DCFC, is an American rock band from Bellingham, Washington. It was formed in 1997 and remains active to this day. Under the account of the band – 10 studio albums and 5 EP (mini-albums).
In their creative work DCFC successfully combine several genres of music. Starting as an emo band, the guys later “switched” to indie-rock and indie-pop, but many of the songs sound close to alternative rock. One of the most popular hits of the band, I Will Follow You into the Dark, is in the imo genre with a touch of American folk.
The story behind I Will Follow You into the Dark
The song that was destined to become popular was released on August 30th, 2005. It was the single for the upcoming album Plans, the fifth in the Death Cab For Cutie discography. The record itself was not released until the following summer, and by that time “I’ll Follow You Into Darkness” was already making a lot of noise at concerts and radio stations.
The composition is noticeably different from much of DCFC’s music. That’s because the band’s leader Ben Gibbard recorded this ballad proudly alone, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. There are no other musical instruments in the song, and the studio edits in post-production are minimal. And the creation of the text, according to the musician himself, took no more than 20 minutes. Isn’t it an inspiration?
The unusual sound of IWFYITD is explained by the peculiarities of the recording. Chris Valla, the second guitarist and part-time record producer of Death Cab for Cutie, used monaural mode – with one microphone, simultaneously capturing both Gibbard’s voice and his guitar playing.
The general public didn’t appreciate the lyric song at first. It debuted badly worse on the charts than both previous singles from the Plans album. And in the famous Billboard Hot 100 it didn’t get on the charts at all. But after touching live performances the ballad gained a lot of popularity and eventually became the biggest seller out of 32 singles Death Cab for Cutie.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, I Will Follow You into the Dark is now a double platinum release. On commercial radio stations that pay musicians to use their tracks, the song is among the most popular of all of DCFC’s work. It has also been used repeatedly in movie and TV series soundtracks. And the episode from season 5 of the famous show “Grey’s Anatomy” even borrowed its title (as well as the horror movie from 2012).
The meaning of the song I Will Follow You into the Dark
In the spring of 2005, when the lyrics of IWFYITD appeared, Gibbard was 28 years old. Almost 29 years old, to be exact. And for the first time the musician thought about the fact that he had never lost really important people. Of course, there had been breakups with girlfriends and quarrels with friends, but Ben had never had to experience the death of someone close to him. This thought became the catalyst for writing a complex and philosophical composition.
Analyzing his comfortable life, the musician, by his own admission, became slightly obsessed with thoughts about death and what happens after it. He realized that loved ones would not always be around – sooner or later everyone dies. Because of this, Gibbard felt that family and friends became even more meaningful and important to him.
The singer felt the need to tell the world about his discovery through music. The resulting lyrics are an exploration of the close connection between life and death. They are poems about love, but unlike most lyrics, they focus entirely on the moment of a partner’s imminent death and how the survivor copes with this tragic event.
In 2018, Ben Gibbard himself spoke about the meaning of “I Will Follow You Into Darkness” in an interview with the British website New Musical Express: “Death is eternal fear. And if not fear, the approaching reality of our lives. When our loved ones leave this life, we like to think we’ll see them again someday. The song talks about how a loving person can follow a deceased partner beyond reality, whether or not they believe in an afterlife. Most people would agree with that.”
Gibbard’s idea is perfectly illustrated by the second verse of the composition. The lyrical hero meets death (here represented as a woman in black), and she tells him, “Son, fear is the heart of love. After all, it is the realization of imminent loss, according to the author, makes people so much appreciate the loved ones. And it’s hard to argue with that.
As for the meaning of the title “I Will Follow You Into Darkness” – here we should also refer to the musician himself. He says, “I have no way of knowing if there’s anything beyond this life. I like to hope there is. But for now I just imagine the afterlife as a dark room, because I don’t know what’s inside.”