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Summertime in Seoul, South Korea, like in many other big cities, is the time for music festivals. Being a new columnist on the interview beat here in Seoul means I had the chance to attend a few of those festivals and was able to interview some of the artists, too.

During Seo Tai-ji’s 2008 ETP Festival I sat down and talked to two of the members of Death Cab for Cutie – bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr – before their set. I asked them a few questions about their charity work and causes they support both as a group and as individuals.

Jason McGerr, Nick Harmer and Chris Walla
Jason McGerr, Nick Harmer and Chris Walla

Jason McGerr made it clear that they are a group that take their causes seriously and that they do their best to “think globally and act locally.” To this end, a portion of their concert ticket proceeds go to the Seattle Public Schools Lunch program.

Nick says, “We’re probably most active as a group with the Seattle Public Schools…to get all those kids fed.”

They also donate both time and money to various music programs in Washington State, and they give table space to non-profit organizations such as Planned Parenthood and to voter registration organizations.

In 2006, they were invited to play at the annual Bridge School Benefit. The Bridge School Benefit is a concert organized by musician Neil Young and his wife, Pegi, that takes place in Mountain View, California. The school’s mission is to help students with severe speech and physical challenges learn the skills needed to fully participate in their communities.

Also, Death Cab contributed a track to the 2007 Causes 1 benefit album to help ease the humanitarian crisis Daufur, Sudan. The benefit album is available on iTunes.

In addition, Death Cab’s guitarist and producer, Chris Walla, attended the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado along with lead singer Ben Gibbard where they performed at a few shows to benefit the political causes they support.

During the DNC they performed at the “Concert for a Cooler Planet”, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Rally, and the “Fix Health Care Now” rally. In addition, Chris Walla also wrote a blog from the DNC for Rolling Stone Magazine.

Individually, Nick and Jason describe Chris Walla as “the PETA guy.” Chris has been a vegetarian since he was a teenager. He made a public service announcement for PETA which encourages people to “try vegetarianism”.

Ben Gibbard is also vegetarian. As a group, Death Cab has supported PETA by giving away copies of the 2005 DVD Drive Well, Sleep Carefully. The teamwork regarding the vegetarian lifestyle and cause also shows up in how they tour. Nick and Jason describe themselves as “conscious omnivores”. However, during Death Cab’s tours they eat vegetarian meals.

Jason said, “We’ll roll that way for an entire tour just because it’s just easier having food brought in or prepared.”

“It’s easier to say the whole band is vegetarian because we can eat that, for sure, [but] they [Chris Walla and Ben Gibbard] can’t eat the other options,” added Nick.

Nick donates both time and money to the 826 Valencia Writing Center. 826 Valencia is the creation of author Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari. 826 Valencia mission is to support children ages 6 to 18 with their writing skills and to help educators get excited about their student’s writing. 826 Valencia started in San Francisco but now has programs in NYC, Los Angeles, Michigan, Seattle, Chicago and Boston.

Nick says “I’ve donated money and I’ve donated time. I taught a class last year at 826.”

Nick also supports Kiva. “That’s actually a really cool organization. They’re loan brokers for underdeveloped and impoverished areas where people are trying to get businesses started.”

Kiva is a non-profit organization that helps people in developing countries with small loans. Their mission is to connect people together to alleviate poverty. They do this by helping match lenders with entrepreneurs in need of small loans. Lenders browse the profiles of small business owners, choose an entrepreneur and amount to loan to the entrepreneur. Kiva’s partners then distribute the loans and often they also help the entrepreneur with training and other services to help their businesses be successful.

“I’ve been doing that for awhile. It’s been actually really great. I’ve been paid back for every loan I’ve lent out. It’s awesome to have the one-on-one connection with a business owner. It’s really personal. It’s not, like, [you] give your money to some faceless organization. It’s a really fun thing to be involved with,” Nick said.

Jason said, “[My] charitable time is in the world of music [and] the world of teaching and education, spending time in Seattle public schools [and] private teaching schools and donating my time for school camps. Because we’re able to do what we love and make our livings doing it, it is my duty to give back. The budgets in the public school system for not only lunches but for extracurricular programs are just not there anymore. Nick’s mom was a principal for years, she could tell you. My mom was a teacher was a teacher for years, so education has been in my background and upbringing for years and years and years. I used to teach in a music school and don’t have much time now, but when I do have time I certainly volunteer all my time…”

The guys in Death Cab definitely show their commitment to thinking globally but acting locally, backing up their words with both donations and with actions.

Thanks, Nick and Jason, for taking the time to talking to us about the causes important to you!

To learn more about some of the charities Death Cab for Cutie support, visit the websites below:

826 Valencia
The Bridge School
Planned Parenthood

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