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- Posted on Oct 11th 2012 4:00PM by Ian Gormely
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty
The many pitfalls of the solo frontman are something weighing heavy on Ben Gibbard as he readies his first solo album, Former Lives for release.
"One of the fatal flaws of anyone who's trying to go solo -- which is not what I'm trying to do here == is [assuming] that the success of the band they're in [Death Cab for Cutie] is going to transfer to their solo career," Gibbard tells Spinner.
Despite almost 15 years fronting indie-rock darlings Death Cab for Cutie, Gibbard says it's only a really small percentage of the population who invest in music to the point where they can rattle off the names of record labels and band members.
"The vast majority of the people that like Death Cab for Cutie don't know my name," he says. "Most people don't listen to music like that. They hear a song on the radio, they buy the record, they download it."
The members of Death Cab haven't been shy about working outside of the band in the past, particularly Gibbard. Yet his creative itch has remained unscratch and over the years he's played sporadic acoustic solo gigs showcasing material from across his vast catalogue along with his own unrecorded compositions. Many of which make up Former Lives.
Things finally came to a head while working on Death Cab's last record. Following his move to Los Angeles after marrying singer-actress Zooey Deschanel, Gibbard found himself surrounded by musician friends with time on his hands.
"When I was working on [Death Cab's] Code and Keys I found I had enough tunes to finally record," he says. Hooking up with longtime friend Aaron Espinoza of Earlimart, he set to work laying the songs down track by track, without any real purpose behind the sessions.
"These songs were written aside the last three Death Cab records," he says, with one, "Broken Yolk in Western Sky" dating back to 2005. "They were slightly homeless for a while."
At first there was no thought of bundling the tracks together into an album he says.
"But by the time I got to nine or 10 songs, I kind of started to think, 'Yeah, this is looking like it might be a record.'"
Over the years Gibbard has released music under a variety of names -- Pinwheel, All Time Quarterback, and of course his massively successful collaboration with laptop auteur Jimmy Tamborello as the Postal Service. But Former Lives is the first release to bear his name save a short split with American Analog Set's Andrew Kenny. Being himself is partly trend avoidance.
"It's such a trendy thing to do, make a fake band name," he says. "I mean, I did that when I started Death Cab for Cutie. I did it with All Time Quarterback, I'm as guilty of it as anybody else."
Since his split with Deschanel last December, Gibbard has moved back to his native Seattle ("I had reasons to leave," is all he'd say on the matter). And while his time in L.A. helped solidify his very own, legit solo career, he maintains that his solo shows will retain the off-the-cuff feel that's characterized his appearances sans his Death Cab bandmates up to now.
"I'm doing all of these shows solo acoustic and with a piano," he says, noting that he likes having control over the entire evening's setlist, allowing him to cherry pick fan faves and more obscure numbers. "The idea of me bringing a band at first was a thought, but looking at the material, it didn't seem appropriate to bring a full band to play half of a solo record and some other weird tracks along the way. I can't play Death Cab stuff with another band. [But] I feel okay doing it if I'm by myself.
"I'm trying to make sure that people know what they're getting into when they come to see me play, but I feel I'm pretty upfront about that."