Ben Gibbard has spoken to NME about 2023 marking key 20th anniversaries for both Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service – as well as plans for upcoming tours and celebrations.
- READ MORE: Death Cab For Cutie tell us about the meaning and making of ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’
This week saw Death Cab kick off their UK tour in support of their acclaimed 2022 album ‘Asphalt Meadows’. Later this year, Gibbard will be hitting the road in the US for a double headline tour in which The Postal Service will celebrate 20 years of their cult classic ‘Give Up’ while DCFC will mark two decades of their 2003 breakthrough album ‘Transatlanticism’ – with both records being played in full each night.
Looking back on the influential synth-pop gem ‘Give Up’, NME asked Gibbard if he felt at the time like he was making an important record that we’d still be talking about 20 years later .
“Of course not, but what if I said I did?” he jokingly replied. “Maybe I could really drum up some hate press! Really though, it’s important to understand the context of early ‘00s American indie rock.”
He continued: “We were making this record before 2004, when indie rock really broke [in the US]. Death Cab felt like we were on cloud nine, having sold like 40,000 records and playing venues like The Bowery Ballroom. We felt like we had made it. When we made ‘Give Up’, it was just a fun project, and I was thrilled to be releasing a record on [influential record label] Sub Pop.
“Author William Gibson was once talking about the Neuromancer trilogy, and was asked about why these books mean so much to people. He said: ‘I think of my books like my children, who went off into the world and had great adventures’. The record took on a life of its own and it felt like I had little-to-nothing to do with it.
“I’ve been taking credit by cashing the royalty cheques, but Jimmy [Tamborello, bandmate] and I have never felt the urge to grandstand about it. We were just two kids fucking around.”
Looking back on the impact of ‘Give Up’ – which featured now-classic singles ‘Such Great Heights’ and ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ – Gibbard noted how they were ahead of the curve of ’80s synth-pop sounds coming back in vogue.
“By the late ‘90s, electronic music had become a thing for connoisseurs – it had become very clinical and process-oriented,” he argued. “There weren’t a lot of synth-pop bands around, and certainly no one that was melding emotional American indie rock stylings with beats.
“It wasn’t a conscious reaction, but looking back on that climate and what was coming out at the time, there wasn’t anything like it. I’m hearing a lot of bands today that sound like they came out of a time machine from 1994, and if you’re 20-years-old today then you probably don’t know that. In 2003, people probably weren’t aware of a lot of the reference points, so it would have felt really new and fresh to them.”
Despite The Postal Service’s continued popularity and importance to new generations, Gibbard downplayed the chances of hearing any new material from the outfit.
“That was put to bed long ago,” he said. “I was cataloguing some old hard drives and came across some demos from 2007 when Jimmy and I were trying to make some new Postal Service songs. I’m telling you guys: they’re not good! I’m not being hard on myself, they’re just really not good. It just got to a point where it was this unique moment in time and I was young enough to have the hubris to think that I could write two records at the same time. I did so, and I can say, without too much self-aggrandising, that they were both very successful.
“It was a unique and odd moment in time that can never be repeated.”
Despite both ‘Transatlanticism’ and ‘Give Up’ being released in the same year and going on to be hugely successful and influential, Gibbard said that “it just didn’t seem like that big of a deal” at the time.
“Death Cab had got to a place by 2001 where we were really burning out,” he admitted. “We had been touring a lot and going from touring to the studio to make a record, but without enough songs. There is often a take that it’s when a band gets money that they start to suck and make bad decisions. The truth is that the worst place to be is on that bubble between hobby and job. You make weird decisions to push it into job territory. By the end of 2001, we decided to take some time off to reset.
“That involved getting a new drummer, but it also gave me a lot of time to write. I wrote ‘Transatlanticism’ and ‘Give Up’ at the same time through 2002. The periods of my career where I’ve done my best work have been where I’ve had a lot of time to work at my own pace.”
He added: “The 46-year-old who releases a lot less music now looks back on that period and thinks, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just have a tenth of that kind of hubris back?’ It’s gone!”
Looking ahead to playing both records in full back-to-back, Gibbard noted how gigs for him were “normally a trip down memory lane”, but this time it will be “like that, but on crack”.
“Reflecting on who you were 20 years ago is necessary to understanding who you are today,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. There are no skeletons in those records that I can’t face head-on.”
Asked if the joint tour would hit other territories such as the UK or Europe, Gibbard replied: “We have limited time for many reasons. Jenny Lewis [The Postal Service bandmate] has music coming out at some point and will need to tour, and members of the band would probably like to maintain relationships with their children and spouses. There’s just not enough time to take a global victory lap – but never say never.”
As for the current UK and European tour, can DCFC fans expect a lot more nostalgia in the setlist to celebrate the landmark anniversary?
“It might be a little heavier on the ‘Transatlanticism’ era, just because we’re probably not going to make the joint Postal Service/Death Cab tour over here,” Gibbard replied. “When I write the setlist, I’m trying to find a balance in presenting a new record that people are thankfully reacting to really well and acknowledging one’s past. If I could toot our own horn, I think we’ve been pretty good at finding a balance of that.”
He added: “First of all, I’m a music fan and have been to shows where a band has played the whole new record, three old songs and left. Long ago I made a pact to never do that.
“We’ll definitely be leaning on ‘Transatlanticism’. It’s one of the fan favourites, if not the fan favourite, so we have to honour it.”
In terms of other key releases, 2025 will mark 20 years of Death Cab’s massive fifth album ‘Plans’ – featuring the college-rock standards ‘Soul Meets Body’, ‘Crooked Teeth’ and ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’. Will they be looking to tour that record again too?
“We haven’t got that far yet,” replied Gibbard. “I’m sure we’ll do something. I don’t know what it will be. It’s important to recognise as a band that has been around as long as we have that we’ve made records that have touched people’s lives and taken a space in the culture. It’s important to reflect and give people access to their memories, but not every record that a band or artist makes is a classic record. I’ve started to see a lot of 10th or 15th anniversary tours for records that were good, but weren’t the record.
“You can’t do it for every record, and I don’t think you should. Maybe we’ll do something, but it definitely won’t be to the extent of what we’re doing for this anniversary.”
‘Asphalt Meadows’ by Death Cab For Cutie is out now. Visit here for details on their joint US tour with Postal Service, see their remaining UK dates below, and check out ticket details here.
22 – Usher Hall, Edinburgh
23 – Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow
25 – Apollo, Manchester
27 – Dome, Brighton
28 – Roundhouse, London
29 – Royal Albert Hall, London