We’ve Got A File On You: Ben Gibbard

Jimmy Fontaine

We’ve Got A File On You: Ben Gibbard

Jimmy Fontaine

We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.

A cool thing about Ben Gibbard is how game he is. Got a 100-mile race that cuts through the verdant national forests east of Seattle? He’ll run it, in 27 hours, no less. A lifelong love of Teenage Fanclub spurred him to cover their seminal LP Bandwagonesque in its entirety. When his friend John Krasinski asked him to be in a movie adaptation of a David Foster Wallace short story collection, he just went with it — never mind that his lone scene involved a three-minute, heavily sexual monologue delivered directly to camera.

His openness to possibility is on full display throughout Asphalt Meadows, the surprising new album from his band Death Cab For Cutie (and their tenth since 1998) that finds the indie mainstays navigating a terrain of exciting new sounds. It was clear on lead single “Roman Candle,” in which guitars grind like anxious dental drills, and it’s even more in focus on “Foxglove Through The Clearcut,” a journey that blends spoken-word passages with thick mountains of their twinkly emo past.

Throughout his 25 years with Death Cab and his highly influential work as half of the electronic duo the Postal Service, Gibbard has established a kind of indie elder statesman identity. It might be strange to see him collaborating with Noah Cyrus, but that’s exactly what someone in his position would be asked to do — and he remains down. Below, ahead of Asphalt Meadows’ Sept. 16 release, Gibbard revisits the highlights of his career, goes long on the legacy of The O.C. as it pertains to his band, unpacks the nostalgia for the Pacific Northwest, and more. Ask him anything. He’s game.

Asphalt Meadows (2022)

Not to start with a complete downer, but when “Roman Candles” came out, you said: “The lyrics were cobbled from a couple of different songs dealing with my general sense of anxiety, the feeling that the fabric that weaves a functioning society together was crumbling during the pandemic.” I was wondering if you still feel that way. Has your relationship to that song changed since then?

BEN GIBBARD: It definitely seems that things are not necessarily getting better on a national or global scale. But so much of why I write the way I do and why I choose to kind of take on subjects like I write about on “Roman Candles” is in an attempt to transcend my own anxiety or my own maudlin feelings about a particular subject or situation or person. I would hope that there would be something cathartic about coming to the show and singing along with that particular song, or any of the songs that deal with similar subject matter.

That song in particular, I think the message is really in the chorus is like, I’m trying to let go of all these things that I can’t control. One way to do that is to not obsess over the news. Things are hard, you know? It’s okay to go a day without being up on whatever insane shit has happened in the world. You’re allowed to take a mental health day from the shitstorm of bad news. And that’s a hard thing to do, because we’re given the impression often that through our actions or through our words or through our social media accounts, we can make systemic change, and I can say that I believe that to a smaller extent, but not to the extent that I think that has been sold to us.

Lance Bangs’ video for the song is chaotic but shows a resolve to keep going through anything that’s quite literally being thrown at you. How did you and Lance come to that idea?

GIBBARD: It was kind of based on an idea that I had since writing the song, and definitely since recording it with [producer John] Congleton. I just kept coming back to this image of us performing in the midst of dangerous-looking explosions. And we’ve known Lance for a long time. I mean, as I’m sure you’re aware, maybe people who read Stereogum are aware, he’s kind of like an indie rock Zelig. He’s been in the front row of every show that you wish you could have been at for the last 30 years. Unlike a lot of kinds of people who fall into those places, Lance is just an absolutely wonderful, sincere, awesome human being. I think that’s why so many people have given him access over the years. So Lance was the first person I thought of because he’d worked with the Jackass guys for so many years. Our initial conversations were like, “I just want it to be a lot of explosions, we’re playing, it looks really dangerous, maybe it is.” And Lance was like, “Okay, I got it.” And then I get a call a week later, like, “So are you guys okay with shooting bottle rockets near your faces?” I’m like, “Yeah, that should be fine.” He’s like, “Okay, talk to you later.”

He was checking up with us often to be like, “This is what it’s gonna be like, just want to make sure that everybody is cool.” He relayed some stories of working with an actor on some project who only found out had extreme anxiety around explosions the moment they were filming it. So he just wanted to be very, very sure that we were going to be cool with it. And he just nailed it.

Were there any unexpected things that happened during the shoot since you were dealing with projectiles and flying materials?

GIBBARD: They’ve been doing things like this long enough that it’s a lot safer than it looks. All of the debris that’s flying around is rubber, like foam or something like that. These explosions are the same thing they use in, like, Saving Private Ryan. They’re all made to be ostensibly safe, but there is a lot of debris and smoke. We did two takes — [the video] was the second one — and throughout the performance, I was just really struggling to not cough, because I was just inhaling so much, because I was the only one who didn’t get a mask.

“Here To Forever” begins with the line about watching older films from the ’50s and being overwhelmed by the thought that those actors are dead. Which films or actors were you thinking about?

GIBBARD: I was thinking of, like, Monica Vitti. You know, any of those French New Wave stars. You watch those films, and you think that was such an amazing time, but oh yeah, they’re all dead now. Anna Karina, Jeanne Moreau from Elevator To The Gallows. I just love these films so much. You see Anna Karina in an old film, and you’re just like, oh my god, what a stunning person — oh, that person’s dead. They’re kind of frozen in this time and space. That’s one of the many wonderful things about film in particular as a medium is that it kind of freezes people in time. Photographs as well. You see an old photograph, and even if people in those images have been gone for 100 years, there’s something kind of comforting about the fact that they get to kind of live forever, at least in celluloid, or whatever it might be. To me, that’s a very comforting thought, especially as a musician who I assume will die someday. I don’t think in even 50 years people are gonna care about the music that I make. But at least it’s there if somebody wants to dig into it, you know?

Speaking of snapshots, in March 2020, you released “Life in Quarantine,” which now plays like a snapshot of that particular moment. How much of Asphalt Meadows dates back to that period?

GIBBARD: There’s moments in the record and songs that are related to that period, but they weren’t written during that period. The first song on the record, “I Don’t Know How I Survive,” to me is about this crippling anxiety and fear that was deep within me during that time. I mean, we were all there, right? I’m realizing that we were living a lot closer to the bone than we thought we were as far as the tendrils that hold society together. I didn’t write it in the midst of that time, but that feeling I got waking up in the night and just being crippled with anxiety was something that I’m sure a lot of people were also feeling. But it became very real for me.

Ben Gibbard: Live From Home YouTube Livestreams (2020)

People could see you grappling with COVID anxiety in real time on your livestreams. But I also think a lot of people felt comforted watching Ben Gibbard play “We Will Become Silhouettes” in an R.E.M. T-shirt in his house.

GIBBARD: Well, it wasn’t an entirely altruistic venture on my part. It also allowed me an opportunity to do something familiar, or do something normal. Even though the venue was totally new and uncharted territory for me, it gave me some structure that I otherwise wouldn’t have had, especially in those early days where we really weren’t leaving our house and we really didn’t know what was going on. Coming back around to the record, “I Miss Strangers” was a phrase that I remember hearing [from] a friend in the depths of the pandemic. I think that one of the things that I love about being in the world that I only realized was really important to me when it was taken away was being alone with everybody. Being in a restaurant by myself, or a bar, or an airport, or waiting for public transportation, or whatever. Just doing normal shit, and you’re getting that din of people speaking and the sound of life existing and people conversing and interacting with each other. I think only when it was gone, a lot of people realized how important it was to their sense of being alive.

At that time, how strenuous was it to put on a concert every night, even one you were doing in your own home?

GIBBARD: It wasn’t strenuous, and honestly, I really appreciated the kind of sense of purpose that it gave me. I think because I’m in my mid-40s, I lived very little of my life with social media. For young people or young artists, it’s just not even a big deal to just to open your life up to almost egregious levels. You need to be sharing everything in your life all the time. Talking with strangers for hours on end, or answering questions, or putting up parts of songs that you’re writing as you’re writing them — this is just totally anathema to how I came up in the world and who my heroes were. Most of my heroes were mysteries. Part of the appeal was that you didn’t know much about them.

For me to enter this arena where there are people talking in real time about what I’m playing, and are they going to be nice? Are they going to be mean? Why are they here? Who are they? I can’t see them. Are they enemies? Are they friends? Are they trolls? Are they fans? It’s kind of silly to say it now, but as someone who had very little interaction in that arena, it was kind of stressful at first. But once I did a couple shows, I was like, it’s not that dissimilar from doing a show in front of a paying audience. People are tuning in because they like what you do. They want to hear your music, and so just have fun with it. And once I was able to settle into this little community that was forming and realize that it was just, you know, all people who were feeling somewhat similar to how I was feeling in that uncertain time, it really allowed me to kind of open myself up in ways that I certainly wouldn’t have done.

An easy highlight for me was when you played “The Bones Are Their Money.” What made you honor that particular request?

GIBBARD: There’s a woman named Natalie who’s worked for the band. She’s toured with us a number of times, and when I Think You Should Leave first came on, I think we were on tour together and we were bonding pretty heavily around how much we loved that show. I would pass by the production office and I would just stick my head and go, “The bones are their money, so are the worms.” It became this whole thing. So when she said, “Play ‘The Bones Are Their Money,’” I’m like, alright, fucker, I’m gonna do it. You think you’re kind of pulling one over on me, but I’m going to do it.

Acting In John Krasinski’s David Foster Wallace Film Adaptation Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (2009)

Your main scene in this film, and your acting debut, is a highly sexual three-minute to-camera monologue taken from a David Foster Wallace essay. What kind of preparation did you do for that?

GIBBARD: Oh, none. I mean, John and I were thick as thieves around that time. [It was a] pretty ambitious project. I don’t know if you’ve read that book, but it doesn’t scream, “Let’s make a movie out of it.” It’s pretty esoteric. It’s pretty conceptual. And so John had just reached out like, “Hey, man, I’m doing this movie, I want you to be in it.” I’m like, “Sweet! What do you need me to do?” He’s like, “Dude, you’re gonna be one of the friends of the main character.” That sounds great! I can do that. And then as the date approached, he was like, “Actually, I think I want you to do one of the monologues because I think it’s important that we have you do this particular one. It’ll be really evocative if you’re the one doing this monologue. It’s pretty sexual.” I was like, okay, cool, whatever. And then I read it, like, “Oh my god. You want me to do what?”

I mean, I was like, okay, I’m trusting John. John’s my friend. He feels I can do this. I trust him. Let’s give it a go. So I just practiced this thing the night before in my hotel room in New York. And by myself, by the way — no acting coach, no nothing. So I come in the morning. It’s in this big warehouse movie set in Brooklyn, and I start running the monologue. And I don’t know how many times I did it — 10, 12, I don’t know, 15, a thousand? I did it a lot.

John would come up. And he’s like, “Okay, listen, I don’t want to give you any line notes” — what I learned was that actors hate it when directors tell them how to say something — “but maybe on this thing, you try like this.” And I say, “John, I don’t know what I’m doing. So you just tell me how you want me to do it, and I will do the best job I possibly can.” So I get through it. I walk out of the set and I just feel completely exposed and raw and insecure.

And I go up to John and I pull him aside and like, “Hey, John, listen. I know that wasn’t very good. If you need to cut me out of this film, that’s totally fine.” You know, just this screed of insecurity is blasting into John. And he grabs me on the shoulder like, “No, man, that’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” And another actor comes in after me who I was kind of palling around during the shoot, and we’ve kind of become friends. He’s a professional actor, like, a very, very talented character actor. He’s doing his monologue now, and he goes through, does it two, three times, fucking nails it. And I’m like, wow, that’s what real actors look like. He goes over to John, and is like, “Look, I know that wasn’t very good. If you want to cut me out of the film, that’s fine.” And John’s tapping him on the shoulder, like, “It’s fine, man. You did a great job.” In that moment, I realized acting is fucking insane. And I’m like, man, this is not for me. I do not need any more of this. I’ll always treasure it, but it was also a real eye-opener as to how difficult it is to be good at that, you know?

Scoring Kurt Cobain: About A Son With Steve Fisk (2006)

Steve produced Nirvana and was there in the room with them, so what perspective was he able to offer as you worked together?

GIBBARD: Steve’s around town [in Seattle]. We have a lot of mutual friends, and it turns out we lived like two blocks from each other. I would just walk down to his house every morning. What was interesting about how we scored that film was we didn’t have anything to look at all. All we had was the audio from Michael Azerrad’s interview tapes that became the book Come As You Are, the source material for that movie. So we were scoring only to what Kurt was talking about. We were trying to match a mood, or a vibe, to the stories he was telling in the arc of the film that [director A.J. Schnack] had created. There would be periods where Kurt is like — you can hear him eating cereal or something. And we’d be like, oh, that’s kind of a cool moment, a very human moment. Why don’t we drop out there? There shouldn’t be any music there because I think people would appreciate hearing Kurt, like, slovenly eating this food. It’s a moment you don’t get to experience from somebody whose life was so curated.

A lot of other artists who have worked with Steve will refer to a period that happens in the studio called Storytime With Steve. Steve has been to so many places and seen so many things and he’s worked with so many legendary artists, especially the Northwest. There’d be these periods where we’d be working, and I’d ask him a question about something, and he would all of a sudden go on this tangent. It would be an incredibly fascinating Kurt story, or Screaming Trees, stories like that. But then like an hour later, we would be finally picking up the instruments again. Storytime With Steve didn’t slow down the process dramatically, but it did bring perspectives and ideas into the creative process that I don’t think we would have had. He would go on some tangent about, you know, Kurt and Olympia. And then we’d be like, “Why don’t we sample Jad Fair talking at the beginning of that, and then we’ll write something that kind of sounds like Beat Happening.”

The Many Covers Of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” (2005) And “Such Great Heights” (2003)

There are new versions of those songs every year by so many different artists. Everclear has a pop-punk take on “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.” Have you heard any particular renditions that have stayed with you?

GIBBARD: I think one of the things that’s appealing about “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” in its definitive version is it’s just the voice and guitar. I don’t really know how to fingerpick or anything like that, so it’s a very kind of hamfisted arrangement I’m playing. The accompaniment is not complicated, and it’s just kind of farmer chords. So it’s a pretty easy song to learn, and it’s an easy song to sing. I’m proud of the song. I think it’s a rather universal song. It’s a rare song that I hear is played at both weddings and funerals. I was pleasantly shocked to find out that Natalie Imbruglia had covered it. It was a super solid, really good version! And as someone who I was very aware of, and, you know, I had a crush on in the ’90s, this person singing a song that I had written was not something that I’d ever dreamed up in the rock and roll fantasy daydream or anything.

As far as “Such Great Heights” goes, I think the OG Iron & Wine cover will always be my favorite because, you know, at that time, Sam [Beam] and I had become buddies. This is like 2001, 2002, and I can’t remember when the first Iron & Wine record came out, but I was a huge fan of his music. Jimmy [Tamborello] had this idea of having an EP where we got a bunch of people to cover the [Postal Service] songs almost as if they’ve existed for a super long time. And we heard the Iron & Wine version. We’re like, well, that’s the version now. I mean, when I play it solo, I play the Iron & Wine version. I play a similar arrangement. It’s kind of a weird thing to quote, but I remember that old SNL skit with Eddie Murphy playing Buckwheat, and at some point, the announcer says, “When Buckwheat sings a song, it’s eternally his!” That’s kind of the same for Sam Beam. When Sam Beam sings a song, it’s eternally his.

Death Cab Being Seth Cohen’s Favorite Band On The O.C. (2003)

Was Seth Cohen’s Death Cab obsession the most surreal part of that whole era? Was there anything that compared to that?

GIBBARD: Oh, of course not. No, there’s nothing weirder than that. It was early 2003, and Transatlanticism was not out yet. We didn’t even have a manager at this point. Josh [Rosenfeld] at Barsuk said, “There’s a new show on Fox, and they want to license ‘A Movie Script Ending’ for an episode, and it’s gonna pay X amount of dollars.” We were just blown away. “Somebody’s licensing one of our songs, and they’re gonna pay us real money?” We were not starving at that point, but certainly no one was investing in real estate. It didn’t seem like there was anything ethically dubious about it — yeah, sure, let’s go for it. Nick [Harmer] lived up the street for me at the time. They had a couple of people over and let us watch the show, and then it’s like, “They’re talking about your band… in the show.” We all looked at each other like, wow, what was that? Just totally taken aback.

We’d never seen a TV show where a fictional character is talking about a real band that is not a household name. It’d be like, “I love the Beatles.” Yeah, of course, we all love the Beatles. Or like, “Led Zeppelin rules.” But the idea that a TV show on one of the four major networks would have this character on one of their shows that was name-checking a band that for all intents and purposes was pretty underground at that point? Our biggest record had sold 40 or 50,000 copies, which was certainly good for the time, but by no means put us in an echelon that we would think that we would be getting name-checked on national television. And then as the show continued on, they kind of started really leaning into the, you know, “Seth Cohen loves Death Cab and Bright Eyes” and whomever else. There was a moment where it started to feel like, oh, it’s just gonna be — it’s gonna be bad, you know? It felt like it got a little out of control. I guess we could have maybe called the show and said, “Stop doing this.”

There were periods in the immediate wake of The O.C. that I started getting a little defensive about the fact that, look, we’ve been here for quite a while and we’ve been trending upwards. We appreciate the exposure that The O.C. gave us. And it was incredibly helpful to our careers. But were there moments where you were fearful that it was going to tip into the not good kind of exposure.

We started to see different people at the shows. They were enthusiastic. They were well behaved and everything. But if you were a fan of the band before The O.C., there was this ownership that you had over the band, as a fan, and we’ve all been there, right? We’ve all had a favorite band, and they’ve gotten popular, and then you’re frustrated that they’re no longer your secret. I remember some moments talking to some fans after shows and them being like, “What do you think about all these like new people at the show?” As if I was supposed to say, “Yeah, man. You’re the real fan.” Of course I didn’t say that, and I never felt that way either. I understood how they felt. But in my life to that point, I had realized that there’s really no wrong way to discover music. As somebody in my mid-40s, now I’ll talk to my old head friends about having to take the boat over to Seattle and walk up the hill to Fallout Records and look through the 7-inches to find that Gas Huffer/Mudhoney split, and then take it back to Bremerton as if you’d found Excalibur because that was the only way to get it. And you’d have friends like, “Can I get a tape of that?” “I don’t know, man, are you worthy of this?”

I didn’t really mind talking about [The O.C.] then. I definitely don’t mind talking about it now, because it’s an odd chapter in our band’s history that is now 25 years deep. If somebody wants to claim in 2022 that the only reason we’re here is because of The O.C., I guess you could do that. But you know, that show has been off the air for 15 years, and we’re still here playing to pretty good crowds.

Singing With Conor Oberst And M. Ward On Jenny Lewis And The Watson Twins’ Cover Of “Handle With Care” (2006)

I was always curious about how the division of labor came about. Were you like, “I’m definitely singing the Roy Orbison part,” or how did it work?

GIBBARD: That was all Jenny. The thing that I now recognize is so brilliant about her choice to do that song was that it is such a fucking troll job the indie snobs of the world and the people — and certainly websites — who already just loathed all of us. I know that Jenny wanted to do that song because she loves that song, and she wanted to do a song with all of her friends. I never asked her this specifically, but I have to think that there was a small part of it that was like, “Pitchfork’s gonna fucking hate this.” To kind of just thumb your nose at the people who think that you’re not cool by doing something that can be read as, “We are implying that we are these modern versions of these people [in the Traveling Wilburys].” Absolutely no we’re not.

I can’t remember what the exact attempt at a takedown was, but I feel like Pitchfork said something like, “These guys think that they’re the modern version of [Bob] Dylan and Orbison and whomever else, but they’re really just today’s Jackson Browne,” and people who were also very well respected. I’ll take that! If your attempt to take us down a peg is to compare us to other legendary artists, yeah, I’ll take that. I remember how incensed that track made some people, and I just fucking loved that, even at the time, even in my more insecure younger self. That is part of Jenny’s brilliance as a public figure and often an agent provocateur.

Shortening “Stability” Down To “Stable Song” On Plans (2005)

GIBBARD: My original version of “Stability” was “Stable Song.” I wrote it like it is on Plans ostensibly for The Photo Album in the same batch of songs. The Photo Album is — I know people like that record, and some people, that’s their favorite record, and I totally respect that. But for me, that was the most difficult record that we ever made. It’s just got a lot of bad mojo for me because it was a very difficult and an emotionally raw experience for us. We were just burned out and we had just come off of two months of touring and right in the studio. We had very little time to make the record because we had to have it out in the fall, because we had a tour booked, and if we didn’t have a record, we couldn’t tour, and if we couldn’t tour, we’d have to go get day jobs. It was this pivotal moment in the band where we had to keep moving forward.

I think we attempted some versions of “Stable Song.” For whatever reason, it just seemed like it wasn’t working. Chris [Walla] was like, “Everybody leave. I’m gonna work on this thing for a bit.” He kind of flipped everything upside down and used my vocal, but redid all the music underneath it. And then he sent [then-drummer] Michael [Schorr] into the tracking room, like, “Play that and I’ll tell you when to stop.” So Michael went in with no accompaniment and just played that. Have you seen 24 Hour Party People?

No, I haven’t. It’s been in my Letterboxd queue for years.

GIBBARD: It’s great. But there’s a scene where Martin Hannett is recording the first Joy Division record. And, you know, this probably didn’t happen, but they put the drummer on the roof, and they play, and they just leave the studio, and he’s still up there playing drums. And Michael, you could see him getting angry because he thought that Chris was fucking with him because he’d been playing for like 10 minutes. Eventually, Chris was like, “Okay, we got it.” And then Chris built this nice, really beautiful long outro on it. So I think when we were doing Plans, I don’t know whose idea it was to revisit “Stable Song,” but it felt like it had kind of gotten buried on the Stability EP. And it was a song that kind of seemed to fit the general theme of everything on Plans. It felt like it was fair game to revisit and try to re-record. So the version on Plans was far closer to the vision of what I had had when I’d written it then one we attempted in 2001.

“Ichiro’s Theme” And His Ardent Baseball Fandom (2012)

I know next to nothing about baseball, but a very good friend of mine said that the Mariners are looking pretty good this year. If they make the playoffs, is it time to add “Ichiro’s Theme” back into the setlist for the October Seattle dates?

GIBBARD: I don’t know what the schedule is for when the World Series will be occurring, and I don’t think that the Mariners are going to be in it. But if the Mariners are in the World Series, I mean, it’ll be difficult to get me to play the show. But we’ll have to do something Mariners-related, and that seems like the most obvious thing to do.

For my dad’s 70th birthday, like four or five years ago, I took my dad to the Baseball Hall Of Fame because he had taken me when I was 10. So I thought this would be a nice kind of trip, a bonding experience. For certain people, one might call them VIPs — I wouldn’t consider myself one of those people — but you can get a white-glove tour. They’ll take you down and you can hold stuff, literally wearing white gloves. You can hold Ichiro’s bat. When they found out I was coming, the archivist was like, “Is it possible to get the handwritten lyrics for ‘Ichiro’s Theme’ for the permanent collection at the Hall Of Fame?” I was like, of course! When I’m writing lyrics, I write them all by hand. You can see where I scratch out stuff and write something different. So I brought that with me to give to the Hall Of Fame. It’s not like it’s in glass. You can’t see it there. But it is in the permanent collection. They were saying maybe when Ichiro gets inducted, the Hall Of Fame will have a pop-up, and this will be in there. The obvious joke is that as a kid, I always envisioned myself being in the Hall Of Fame someday, but this isn’t exactly how I thought it’d be. Yet again, life just throws weird curveballs at you. And that pun was intended.

Playing Bass In Pedro The Lion (2000) And Playing Drums And Piano On Kind Of Like Spitting’s Bridges Worth Burning (2002)

It seems possible that as the years go on, we may find a bunch more early-2000s Ben Gibbard Pacific Northwest collaborations that haven’t gotten wider releases yet.

GIBBARD: I don’t think so. I think most of the stuff has come out. But you know, that was really a great time. It seems like every band, every artist has a story about the early days of a scene, or when you’re young and you’re just super enthusiastic. And you’re like, like, “Let me play guitar on this,” or, “You’re making a record? I’ll come down.” “Here, why don’t you sing on this?” “Totally. I’ll do that.” If a friend wants to come in the studio and play on something or sing on it, by all means, I’ll do it. But I think that at that time, there was nothing I wanted to do more than play music. It’s still all I want to do. I’ve developed a couple other hobbies since then. But if anybody would call me, I’d be more than happy to come down.

All-Time Quarterback (1999)

GIBBARD: We were really mobbed up with Elsinor records, who co-released our first record [Something About Airplanes], and it was just kind of a thing to do. Everybody on Elsinor had three side projects. Death Cab started as a side project from a band called Pinwheel that I was in. And you would think that just having one side project would be enough. But I was like, no, I need a second side project. It was the cool thing to do to make lo-fi four-track recordings in the mid-to-late ’90s because everybody was inspired by Guided By Voices. There wasn’t GarageBand or Pro Tools. I just got on that bandwagon with everybody at Elsinor and just wanted to make something that was just mine. It was a very, very liberating and empowering thing to, for the first time, record myself with the goal of it being it coming out. Most all of my recordings at that point had been demos. But this was like, I’m making an actual recording that is going to come out and people can buy it. It might sound kind of trite now, but it was like a really empowering thing. Even if it was not very good or very memorable, it was still something that I enjoyed making.

Is it interesting to look back now and realize that because of Death Cab, so many more people are listening to songs that you probably didn’t anticipate too many people hearing?

GIBBARD: I would argue that there’s probably still not a lot of people who did or are listening to All-Time Quarterback [laughs]. Album sales didn’t explode after Transatlanticism went gold. But everything that I’ve been involved with is like varying size pieces of a larger mosaic. Death Cab and the Postal Service obviously are the bands that I will have on my tombstone, so to speak. But I’ve always really embraced this idea with a discerning mentality of saying yes to a lot of stuff. And there’s no reason to be precious about everything. Every time you collaborate with a new person, you learn something new about making music, or writing songs, or process. To me, collaboration and taking on these projects and doing these things that might not really amount to much in relation to my main gig, or they’re all incredibly valuable because you learn stuff.

Competitive Ultramarathon Running (2012-present)

You run 50-mile and 100-mile races quite often. The psychological part of long-distance running is very hard for me, personally, so what do you tell yourself during those races? I imagine you have to go into a state in order to run 100 miles in one setting.

GIBBARD: Not to be overly philosophical about it, but running ultramarathons is not dissimilar from living one’s life. One of the most important lessons that I keep having to relearn running ultramarathons is like, there will be periods where you feel terrible, and everything hurts, and you’re asking yourself the question, “Why the fuck am I doing this? This is such a stupid sport.” I’ve had moments where I’ve been throwing up for two hours, like, I don’t know when am I ever going to not be nauseous. And then something clicks, and you start to feel better.

It just so happened that I ran a 50-miler this last weekend, and it was 90 degrees, and it was super mountainous. I went in thinking I’m gonna drop from this race at the halfway point. I was like, I’m gonna come in and I’m gonna quit. There’s no way to do this whole thing. It’s too fucking hot. And the first half, I was having a miserable time. And then as I was coming back down off this long, 4,000-foot, eight-mile descent back to the start finish, I started feeling better. And I’m like, oh, wow, I feel kind of good right now. I kind of want to drop, too, but I feel too good to drop. I can’t justify stopping right now.

Every time I run an ultra or I am out on a long effort in the mountains, there are always highs and lows. The lows are really fucking low. But the highs? When you hit those highs and you hit those flow states, when there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than here right now? That’s a feeling that I usually get playing music when it’s going really, really well. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it’s a spiritual component. It’s fucking crazy to think that you can, just with running! The most simple sport on the planet. That the longer you do it, the more you can learn about it. It doesn’t seem possible. But it’s true.

Asphalt Meadows is out 9/16 on Atlantic.

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