From Pinwheel to ¡All-Time Quarterback! to the Postal Service, Ben Gibbard has devoted his songwriting skills to a number of bands outside of his main gig as Death Cab For Cutie frontman. As a solo artist, he’s partnered with American Analog Set’s Andrew Kenney on Home Volume V (2004) and with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar on One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur (2009). But this fall will see the first proper full-length solo LP from Benjamin Gibbard (he’s going by Benjamin for this release), a 12-track collection of previously unreleased songs that span the length of his career, featuring reworked versions of a few tunes you may have heard live before. The album, Former Lives, was recorded with Aaron Espinoza (Earlimart). Stereogum’s T. Cole Rachel recently talked with Ben about the album for our Progress Report column. Here’s an excerpt:
STEREOGUM: Did you always imagine that at some point down the road you would make a solo album?
GIBBARD: It wasn’t a goal and it certainly wasn’t a reaction to any sort of dissatisfaction to recording with Death Cab or anything like that. It certainly doesn’t come out of like “I have all these songs to record and I’m not getting my fix with the band.” It was never anything like that and I never really had this idea that “Oh someday I’ll make a solo record,” and that I’ll go solo, which is definitely not what this is. In the past whenever I’ve put out any solo recordings it’s just been of a function of the time in which I was in. I’m a songwriter and that’s my job, and with every record that we’ve made there would always be a couple of tunes that just didn’t seem to fit in with the band. If people wanted to be dismissive of the record, they could just say “Oh these are leftovers,” but they’re really not. They’re not songs that weren’t good enough to make Death Cab records as much as they were things that … well, there’s not really place on a Death Cab record for a song that sounds like Big Star or Teenage Fanclub. It’s kind of not what we do, you know.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting — I know when you’re making an album with the band there’s always this eye towards the big picture of the album and how these songs fit together and the vibe of the complete thing as a whole. I was wondering if it was sort of liberating to approach these songs as individual songs, without having to necessarily place them in the context of a cohesive album?
GIBBARD: Yeah, I definitely approached it on a song-by-song basis. It really comes down to a matter of personal preference, but I kind of like that the record is something of a mixed bag. The songs themselves are not all of a particular mode — they’re not all about one subject — and they’re not from one definitive era of my life. They don’t exist in the time between record five and record six. So I think in that sense, I think as we were recording all these tunes, number one we didn’t necessarily know we were making a record, and two I think that to kind of put the record together and sequence it and everything else, I had kind of recognized that all of these tunes are kind of very different from each other and it’s only my voice and songwriting that ties them all together. And some people will find that to be a flaw of the record, but other people will really like it. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to go about constructing an album. As much as I like to hope that people think the songs are good and like the tunes, I think that people will kind of see past the fact that one song has a mariachi band, the next song is acoustic — it’s all over the map — but I’m really proud of the tunes and how they came together in the studio, and I’d like to hope that that’s enough to carry and justify the record.
Benjamin Gibbard’s Former Lives is out 10/16 via Barsuk (and 10/15 in the UK/Europe via City Slang). Tracklist and tourdates to come.