Interviewing Benjamin Gibbard
  • TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2012

  • Posted by: Ilana Kaplan

Upon hearing Benjamin Gibbard's voice, it is not uncommon to feel some sort of nostalgia for your teenage years. Often, his relatable lyrics and comforting melodies have been known for paving the path of growing up, falling in love, lust and exploring the essence of human emotion. It wouldn't be a surprise that most adults today, who were teenagers that grew up in the late 90s or early 00s, would have one Ben Gibbard-sung track that reminded them of their youth.

For Death Cab for Cutie's frontman, Former Lives, out today, was something very personal (no one really knew he was working on it), and it is close to the singer's heart. The tracks on the album are a bit folkier than Death Cab for Cutie's indie-pop songs, and they demonstrate the influence of classic country style on Gibbard's songwriting. One of the best surprises on the album is his duet with Aimee Mann on "Bigger Than Love," which complements the album well. The beauty of Gibbard's lyrics and song structures are just as evident on Former Lives; it will be hard to disappoint die-hard Death Cab for Cutie fans.

We spoke with Gibbard about interpreting his songs, his friendship with Aimee Mann, The Postal Service and what it was like finally putting out a solo album.

Q: How's everything going?
B: I'm better now that the fire alarms weren't going off in my apartment.

Q: Were you cooking?
B: No I think some dip shit repair guy was setting them off to see if they were working, but he ended up setting off all of the ones in the building. It's really loud a lot louder than I thought it would be.

Q: The new album is great. How do you think Death Cab for Cutie fans will react to the album? It's been somewhat long awaited.
B: We're very fortunate to have very loyal fans that feel very strongly about the band; the fact that the record doesn't sound drastically unlike the band. People are very versatile. I think that every fan of any band wants to freeze that band in whatever period they like the best of that band. This record doesn't really lend itself to any of them. Honestly, there will be people that like it and people that dislike it. Those opinions will all be valid. At the end of the day, I hope that anyone who is a fan of the sound can enjoy it. That's the hope. I don't have super, lofty ambitions for it.

Q: Why create a solo album now? You've done several collaborations, but never a solo album.
B: I felt that I finally had enough material that if I had my way at it, I could come out the other end with a record. I just started in LA recording while taking breaks working on Death Cab for Cutie stuff. I realized I had a bunch of new songs, but they had never existed away from the demos I recorded. They always lived in that form. I thought, why not go into the recording studio and see what happens. I didn't announce to the world I was doing it. I didn't find a record label. I didn't even tell my manager I was doing it. After so many years, I'm grateful of this, but after a number of years now making records, people know we're making them, and there's anticipation for them. It was nice to work on something that nobody knew about. It was something I was making for myself.

Q: After listening to the album, I was wondering how much of it is autobiographical and how much of it is storytelling?
B: Everything that I write, a part of myself is in it. I've never seen too much merit in trying to make a road map for the songs. There are so many things involved in being a writer. You're twisting truths, creating outcomes and storylines. You start to move far away from your version of how something even happened. There are more than three sides to any story. I kind of see all of them. At the end of the day, all of these songs are stories. In my opinion, it doesn't matter too much if they're moments of my actual life. I'm not even sure if these songs are moments of my actual life.

Q: "Oh, Woe" is such a beautiful song. It's definitely one of my favorites. A lot of things happened in your life the past year. This song seems to be about love and marriage perhaps. Is this song, or any other songs on the album related to your experience being married?
B: That's also completely your perception of the song. You know based on the circumstances going on based on my personal life of the past year, but there's nothing in that song that refers to marriage at all. I guess that's kind of my point about songs and how they directly relate to people's lives. People, like yourself, and other people who have come to know about events in my life that have occurred in the last year, but it's not necessarily that a song is about that subject. I'm not trying to be harsh at all I hope you're not taking it that way. It's yet another example of one inferring that a song is about a particular subject that may or may not be about. Marriage is not mentioned within the song. For me, I see the song being something really different. I'm sure people will kind of take it the same way because they know about these events in my life that have been very public. I find it interesting as I talk to people about this record. I think a lot of people are trying to connect dots, and I would never speak on anyone connecting dots correctly or incorrectly. I have found it a pattern, which has been somewhat amusing to me more than anything else [Laughs].

Q: The album reminded me a lot of your collaboration with Jay Farrar. I tread lightly on the word country, but I definitely hear a country influence in there. Was that the direction you were trying to go in?
B: Well, after I was touring with Jay [Farrar], the touring band that we put together was myself, Jay, Jon Wurster, who played drums with The Mountain Goats, Mark Spencer, who played steel, and Nick [Harmer] from Death Cab for Cutie, who played bass. I loved how the steel sounding, and I loved Jon's drumming. He helped out on "Broken Yolk in Western Sky" and "Lady Adelaide." I recorded those at his studio and had Jon play drums on it. I also really appreciate the directness of classic, country songwriting. They are formed so well, and if there's one thing that I'm starting to connect with less in modern music, it's the overabundance of sound, production, tracks and stuff happening on modern recordings.

Q: How did you choose to collaborate with Aimee Mann on your debut solo album?
B: I've been friends with Aimee [Mann] for some time. I thought it would be great for Aimee to come down and sing on this thing. I felt so honored that she would come down and sing on my little song. Once that voice comes through the speaker, it's like, "Oh my God, that's the voice! That's it!" She's just a wonderful, gracious person. It was a real honor to have her.

Q: I have to ask this because I've been dying for a new record for so long. Is a new Postal Service album ever going to come out or is it tabled?
B: There's as much of a possibility that there will be a new Postal Service record as there will be another record with Jay [Farrar], or Ill do another soundtrack with Steve Fisk. That record and any other record that I did outside of the band were never intended to be living, breathing organisms, you know? They're not bands: they were projects, and projects tend to not see sophomore efforts. Never say never, but nobody should be holding their breath for a new Postal Service record.

Watch Gibbard play "Teardrop Windows" on Fallon last week.


Stream Benjamin Gibbard's Former Lives.


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