During that break, he met electronic musician and producer Jimmy Tamborello and formed the Postal Service, named for the snail mail system through which they sent early recordings. Joined by an indomitable Jenny Lewis, the trio released its only album, the synthy, romantic “Give Up,” in February 2003.
At the time, Gibbard was in the midst of writing what would become “Transatlanticism,” Death Cab for Cutie’s anthemic meditation on the highs and lows of long-distance relationships that would catapult the group to commercial success. Its October 2003 release was followed by a tour with Pearl Jam. Backstage at one show they signed with Atlantic Records.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of both albums, Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service are hitting the road on a two-month tour, starting at the Anthem on Sept. 5. At each show the bands will perform both albums front to back. Gibbard, now 47, will also play a solo show at the Atlantis, the new replica of the original 9:30 Club, on Saturday. In a recent phone interview, he discussed reuniting the Postal Service after 10 years, the mythologizing of “Transatlanticism” and how his work changed the indie rock scene.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: You wrote “Transatlanticism” when you were in your 20s. How do you look back on that time two decades later?
A: I wrote most of those songs when I was between 25 and 26, a time that’s very much a fulcrum of people’s lives. You’re most likely just starting out in the world as technically an adult. It was a time in my life where I could move apartments in my car. But that sense of being somewhat unmoored was a point of great anxiety. It was an unsettled feeling for me. So when I play these songs, I find myself embodying my 25, 26 year-old self in the midst of the performance. This tour is going to be a very unique experience, personally and emotionally. I’m sure there’s going to be some nights that, I’m not going to break down in tears on stage, but there are going to be some overwhelming moments in the course of this tour.
Q: “Give Up” has elements of that untethered feeling. These sonically different albums with similar themes both found huge success, each selling over 500,000 copies.
A: There is a lot of overlap in the records. There are people who exist in both records. There are scenarios, anecdotes that are told in almost separate chapters across those records. If I felt compelled to sing about these subjects in the way that I did then surely some other people must have been feeling the same way. One of the reasons that both of those records have the resonance that they did is that in order for music to resonate with people, there has to be something in the lyrics that people see in their own lives.
Q: In the indie rock scene, there’s a pre-2003 and post-2003. How do you think about your own impact?
A: I was in the right place at the right time and had enough of a work ethic and just enough talent to ride the wave of indie rock breaking in 2003 and 2004. That was driven by things like “The O.C.” and “Garden State” because there were people supervising music on TV shows and movies who were tired of using music from 20 years ago. This music that was not being played on MTV or the radio was suddenly being beamed into people’s houses by people in positions of power to place it in front of people. It was time for a new crop of musicians to get the keys to the kingdom.
Q: The Postal Service was last on tour in 2013. You play songs from “Transatlanticism” live with Death Cab at most shows, but how do you bring “Give Up” back to life after a decade of dormancy?
A: Jimmy and Jenny are two of my best friends. I live in Seattle and they live in L.A., and Jenny spends half her year in Nashville now. We don’t get to see each other that often. It feels less like a musical reunion and more like we are three now old friends who have an excuse to get together and spend concentrated time together. It’s a really fun record to play. We’ve never played it from start to finish. When we were touring in 2013, we were playing the whole record because we didn’t have a lot of songs. But it’s really a pretty fun experience to play these records in order because they do have a particular arc that you can only experience if you’re listening to it in order.
Q: These albums are essential in the indie rock canon. Is there anything people get wrong about them?
A: I find some people’s assumptions about “Transatlanticism” specifically amusing. The mythology around that record, it’s totally innocuous. It’s not good or bad. It’s amusing because this is the same kind of thing that I do with my friends when we talk about records. It’s like, “I heard that this singer was in a mental institution” or whatever. The way we create stories and mythology around albums and the creative process is kind of fun as a fan. It would stand to reason that people would have these myths about the making of these records.
Q: This tour is obviously a huge undertaking. What’s next?
A: After this tour, I really need to go away for a while, folks, because I am giving the world too much Ben Gibbard in too short a period of time. One of my frustrations with the modern promotional machine is that nobody goes away anymore because of social media and the never-ending desire for content. I’m aging myself by saying that, but it’s just how I feel. It’s like that old adage: How can I miss you if you won’t go away?
Sept. 2 at the Atlantis. Sept. 5 and 6 at the Anthem. Sept. 14 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Sold out.
POST AUTHOR: Sophia Solano