It's kind of amazing what Death Cab for Cutie—a band often dismissed as kids' stuff or the mushy embodiment of all things "emo"—gets away with. This year's Codes and Keys is an ambitious, dark and futuristic effort that culminates in a six-minute atheist anthem. If it's kids' stuff, the kids are more complicated than we tend to give them credit for.

While frontman Ben Gibbard is responsible for much of the band's appeal—his high word count and turns of phrase have been widely praised, hated-on and imitated—it's his bandmate Chris Walla who gives Death Cab its forward-looking, layered sound. Walla has produced every Death Cab record, and his aesthetic can run refreshingly obscure (Codes was inspired, in part, by the spacey krautrock of Ash Ra Tempel) for a guy whose productions have spent so much time hovering toward the top of the Billboard charts. WW talked to Walla, who returned to his native Seattle in 2010 after a four-year stint living in Portland, via phone. 

WW: Why did you move back to Seattle?
Chris Walla: There was some family stuff happening. Long story, but everything is OK. I'm trying to plot my return to Portland, because I miss it a lot.

What makes it so different from Seattle?

Oh my God, where do I start? Portland's a town where I don't mind paying my taxes, because I understand that whatever is going to happen at a civic level is probably going to be cool and going to make the city better in some way or another. Seattle just doesn't seem to have any capacity to solve any of its myriad problems. It's my hometown. It's a beautiful place, it's full of people I love, but it's just not nearly as livable a city as Portland is.

What inspired you in producing this album?

Has being on a major label ever hindered you?

Has Death Cab’s “emo” rep finally faded?

So you’re on less of an island these days?

How do you feel about your first two records?

Why are you not on Twitter anymore?

SEE IT: Death Cab for Cutie plays the Crystal Ballroom on Thursday, Dec. 8, with Telekinesis. 8 pm. Sold out. All ages.