After a whopping 17 years at the forefront of iconic alternative rock band Death Cab For Cutie, lead guitarist and producer Chris Walla has announced his departure from the group. His exit comes after a decision to focus his creative energies towards other avenues. Walla formed the group alongside frontman Ben Gibbard and bassist Nick Harmer, who are now the only original members holding the fort. Together they produced seven albums, six EP’s and toured the world multiple times. Their blend of fragile alternative rock paved the way for what is now commonly known as ‘emo’, winning millions of fans worldwide through their melancholy songs that were often composed of lush instrumentation and unorthodox instruments.

Chris Walla
With Walla [L} leaving the group, only two original members will remain. [Getty/Jason Kempin]

But with Walla clearly tiring of the band’s direction, where will Gibbard and Harmer go now? Despite Gibbard, who also fronts the cult indie-electro band The Postal Service with Jimmy Tamborello, acting as the group’s main songwriter, Walla’s contribution to the band cannot be overlooked. He has played an integral role in producing and engineering each of Death Cab’s albums as well as lending his production skills to records by Tegan & Sara, The Decemberists and Hot Hot Heat. With Walla absent, Death Cab will have to seek outside help for future efforts. But the group are currently sitting on a fully completed album that has yet to see release- produced in part by Walla, and which will also see the departing guitarist touring to support the release. To ease the band in to an existence without Walla’s guidance, Death Cab employed co-producer Rich Costey for outside input.

More: Death Cab For Cutie Appear In Documentary About Seattle Music Scene

In a statement released by the outward-bound guitarist, Walla explained: “Deciding to leave the band was not, and is not, easy. It’s really, really sad. I love my bandmates, and I’m proud of what we’ve done ... Moving forward, my plans are simply to continue making music, producing records, and erring on the side of benevolence and beauty whenever possible.”

Death Cab for Cutie
Ben Gibbard is now expected to become the band's sole creative force.

Gibbard now ascends to the sole songwriting force in the group and will be free to write music without Walla’s input. Whether this will benefit the group has yet to be seen, but Gibbard is a supremely accomplished composer in his own right and carries great respect for his talents. But with the group’s guiding force gone, Gibbard will be free to experiment to his heart’s content. Yet as we have seen with The Postal Service, Gibbard’s penchant for experimenting also yields equal amounts of critical praise and commercial success. Of course, there’s the possibility the band’s new direction will end in a concerted flop, as is the fate that has recently beset The Red Hot Chili Peppers or continued success. Their imminent new record will certainly bestow fans with a few clues.

More: read our Death Cab For Cutie reviews