Imbibe & Vibe: Death Cab for Cutie’s Zac Rae

Imbibe & Vibe: Death Cab for Cutie’s Zac Rae

Since coming on the scene in 1997, Death Cab for Cutie (DCFC) has brought a unique luster to indie rock music with their harmonious blend of endearing lyrics, stirring vocals and deft instrumentals.

Death Cab’s guitarist and keyboardist Zac Rae describes the band’s style as “fall weather kind of music.” A description that certainly fits many indie rock greats. Rae joined DCFC’s live lineup in 2015 on the Kintsugi tour and has since fully joined the band, recording and touring in support of albums Thank You For Today (2018) and Asphalt Meadows (2022).

In less than seven years, Rae has made his mark on the band’s discography, contributing swoon-inducing guitar riffs and keyboard melodies. It’s no surprise, given that he has also recorded with such musical stars as Stevie Nicks, Ringo Starr, Childish Gambino, Lana Del Rey, Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, and Jane’s Addiction. He also worked on Leonard Cohen’s final two studio albums and is a former member of Alanis Morissette’s band.

For my fellow millennials, our beloved DCFC will embark on a joint tour with The Postal Service later this year. It celebrates the 20th anniversary of both DCFC’s album Transatlanticism and The Postal Service’s sole album Give Up. DCFC is currently on tour in support of Asphalt Meadows.

Rae is quite the amateur bartender with a penchant for using unusual ingredients in classic cocktails. I bet you’ve never had a fennel and horseradish-infused vodka and Japanese gin Vesper. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Read on to find out more about his favorite drinks and his philosophy for mixing cocktails.

You’re based in L.A., so tell me about the drinking scene in the city now.
These days, I've switched into that phase of life where I'm more inclined to hang out at home with my friends in that kind of environment than go out every night. But there are still places that I love to go. My go-to bar is Edendale, mostly because it's close to my house. It’s a beautiful, old 1920s firehouse that was converted into a bar and a restaurant. It’s a nice dark space and there are no TVs. The staff is very friendly and are people I know. I've been going there for years.

And when you go to bars or when you're drinking at home, do you have a particular cocktail or spirit you favor?
It’s usually a whiskey-based or a mezcal-based cocktail. But if anything looks good on the menu, I'll give it a go.

You’re an adventurous drinker. Some people just stick to a Gin & Tonic or an Old-Fashioned. It’s good to have an open mind.
So, in terms of food and drink, somebody always tries to push the envelope or come up with some creative new thing. You learn a lot. If I have something good at a bar, I particularly like to analyze it and figure out how to replicate it at home.

What are some of the bottles currently on your bar cart?
It’s good to have one or two good spirits. Generally, I use rye over bourbon because that's my preference. I do a lot of stuff with mezcal. I like to have a nice gin; particularly, I like Japanese gins, which are just a little more interesting and floral than the classic London juniper. Those are good for making Martinis.

I also always have at least one or two homemade infusions, like a spicy tequila with some of the habanero chili just soaked in a bottle, so that you can always make a spicy Margarita. My girlfriend made some fennel and horseradish-infused vodka. You can easily make a left turn on a classic cocktail very quickly. So, if you have a couple of things like that lying around, it seems like you’re doing something impressive when really, you’re just stuffing things in a bottle and letting it sit in the fridge.

Wow! The horseradish bit with the vodka sounds amazing. I would never think to put those ingredients together.
Yeah, that was something my girlfriend did for a dinner party that we were having. It’s like a palate-cleansing shot. One of her favorite drinks is the Vesper, which is the James Bond Martini [twist]. So, we've been making that with Japanese gin and with the fennel and horseradish-infused vodka, and that's a very interesting, savory, funky cocktail.

That sounds so good! So, getting into the music, your band’s most recent album is Asphalt Meadows. So, what would be the recommended cocktail or spirit pairing if a fan is listening to it?
That’s a good question. I always feel like the band is more of a fall-weather kind of music. So, maybe something nice like a Hot Toddy infused with lavender, honey syrup and a bit of cardamom bitters for a bit of a twist on the classic whiskey, honey, and lemon recipe.

Spot on. Do you feel there's a correlation between music and spirits? And if so, in what ways?
We’re all humans and want to connect with other humans. If anything, the last few years have highlighted that through absence, then through slowly coming back into public spaces. The thing that music and alcohol share is the ability to bring people together, whether they're friends or family or bandmates or strangers. It gives people an excuse to brush up against the rest of humanity, which is wonderful because you just don't get that when you're sitting at home alone.

In our new series, Imbibe & Vibe, Flaviar Times columnist Gabrielle Nicole Pharms explores the connections between drinks and music.

*This interview has been edited & condensed

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