Benjamin Gibbard: Death Cab wouldn't have survived past two albums as a new band today

Benjamin Gibbard: Death Cab wouldn't have survived past two albums as a new band today
Photo by Ryan Russell

Benjamin Gibbard is going by just his full name for his new album Former Lives -- his way of declaring independence from his many projects. The singer is known for carving out the indie-rock music landscape with his involvement in acts such as the Postal Service, All-Time Quarterback!, and most famously, Death Cab For Cutie. Benjamin draws influences from many areas of his life, and he divulges his guileless opinion on his different projects, while talking about Death Cab without any prodding. 

Before his Thursday show at The Assembly of the Woman's Club in Minneapolis, Benjamin shares with Gimme Noise some things you may not have known about him. Though Gibbard stays mum on his past relationship with Zooey Deschanel, he's quite frank about his own (and his bands') musical development.

See Also:
Death Cab For Cutie at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 8/26/2011

1. It's liberating to try new projects.

"One of the things I feel blessed about being in this band [Death Cab For Cutie], is that we've been making records for 15 years, and whether they like the music or not, the people that do like it are very passionate about it. Every time a record comes out, they feel very strongly about it, either good or bad, because they have a body of work to compare it to. It's enjoyable for me to try new things, because they exist on their own merit -- much more than the records for Death Cab, because there's nothing to compare it to. I like that this is the case with my solo project."

2. He doesn't write consciously for his different projects. 

"I'm always writing, but I'm never writing for an end point. I'm not thinking, 'This is going to be a Death Cab song,' or, 'This is going to be a solo song." I'm just writing, not thinking about where it's going to end up. The majority of these songs on Former Lives, whether or not they were new or older, they didn't fit into the tone of any Death Cab albums that were being made at the time. I've been cagey about telling people what songs were written when for obvious reasons. One of the songs, 'Broken Yolk Western Sky,' was written around the time of Plans. If anybody's familiar with that record, they would go, 'Yeah, that song doesn't really belong on Plans.' That's how these songs ended up being solo recorded songs and not a band thing."

3. He doesn't think Death Cab For Cutie would survive if they were a new band today.

"I think it's difficult to speculate on 'what if' or what would happen if you would have taken a different road. Every once in a while, someone will ask me, 'What would you be doing if you weren't doing music?' I don't know. It's like, 'What would you be doing if you weren't writing about music?' No one can know. The only thing I can say is that knowing what kind of people we [Death Cab For Cutie] were at 21 when we started this band, and knowing how brutal the indie-rock community can be, and how little time band's are given these days to develop -- not only to grow musically, but also to grow into themselves -- I don't know if we would have made it. Our first shows of the tour were abysmal.

"We weren't playing to anyone. We weren't playing well. We didn't have equipment that worked. We didn't know how long it took to get from Minneapolis to Chicago. We didn't know these things. The first time we were playing in Minneapolis was at some dive bar, and now we're playing at First Ave., and it's sold out. We were just four kids from Bellingham pulling up in a little van, not knowing where the stage was. I don't think we would have survived past our second album if we started today. Then again, it's speculation. I just think that knowing our personalities then, and how much we had to weather -- just personally among the four of us -- learning how to be a band, if there was a lot of outside pressure, I'm not quite sure we would have made it to our third or fourth album."

4. Some people will connect with your music, and some won't give a shit about it.

"There are a lot of things that come into play when it comes to music that are really interesting. I think the bands that are destined to connect to a lot of people are going to connect regardless of the times that their record comes out. I have had conversations with people all of the time in Seattle who are saying, 'Why can't we get a show at this venue?' and, 'Why isn't this happening for us?' When you feel cut off, you think, 'Everyone would love our music if they would just hear it. Everyone would realize that we're brilliant.' I think the hard pill to swallow is we live in a world where people are paid to peruse band's Facebooks, Twitters, and all that shit to find new music. That's what people are doing all day long, and if they pass by your music, it might be because the music you're making is not interesting to anybody. That's the harsh reality, but it's definitely in play in this harsh world we live in."

5. "Something's Rolling (Cowpoke)" off of Former Lives almost remained as a demo.

"I hired an all female mariachi band called Trio Ellas from Los Angeles to perform on that song. The song actually originated from an old cowboy song that's written by a guy named Stan Jones called 'Cowpoke.' The lyrics are something along the lines of (singing) 'I'm lonesome but happy, rich but I'm broke, and the good Lord knows the reason, I'm just a cowpoke.' It's just about being a traveling rodeo cowboy. I love the song so much, and the version I heard was by a man named Elton Britt who had this really beautiful, high lonesome sound. It also had a beautiful melody, and I decided I wanted to rewrite the lyrics and turn the song to make it relatable to me.

"So I wrote this song disappearing into the landscape of Los Angeles and just the nervousness, the kind of uneasiness that comes with that. It caused a little bit of a problem, because I got wind of the fact that you could just not do that legally without permission. We got ourselves in a situation where we were desperately trying to find out who owned the copyright for that song. Thankfully they were very cool and very gracious about the whole thing, but we spent a lot of time researching that. We were very nervous we would have to do something crazy, but thankfully we didn't."

6. He's just a regular guy.

"We live in a world where fans expect virtual unlimited access to all of their favorite artists. I think it is difficult, but what I always try to do is if I'm approached on the street -- and it happens very rarely -- but when it does, you just have to be fine and say hello and ask them questions about themselves. I think it's important to diffuse the 'I'm a person of note' thing. The way you don't diffuse it is by blowing somebody off or acting like you're better than they are or that they should be embarrassed for coming up and trying to talk to you in a restaurant. The most important thing is to treat them as if you would anyone else and not look at the fact that they are putting you on a pedestal and are nervous to be around you. It does happen -- I'm not saying I'm Tom Cruise or anything -- but there are people who really like our band and get a little awkward, but it's on me to diffuse that. 

"The only real social media I do is Twitter. It's a way for me to do fun stuff and talk about baseball and running and stuff that interests me. I try to use it as a promotional tool, but I think it's also on me how much I want to give people. If I feel uncomfortable sharing my life with people, I won't share it, but I don't mind. I do feel that it's important not to give people unlimited access. I want to diffuse this idea that since I'm a songwriter and a musician, that somehow I should be treated like I'm special. It's important to remind people that, yes, I may do this weird thing, but 95% of my life is completely normal. 5% I'm on stage talking to you; I'm doing something people don't do, but that's a small percentage of my daily life. I do a very extraordinary thing, and I feel very fortunate that people feel the way they do about the music I make -- at least the people who like it -- but that doesn't make what I want out of life any different than I imagine anyone else wants. I think that's what connects us all."

Benjamin Gibbard will perform with Advance Base at The Assembly at the Woman's Club on Thursday, November 1, 2012.
AA, $32.50, 7 pm
Purchase tickets here.

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