Ben Gibbard: Living With Ghosts The Death Cab for Cutie frontman recently released his first solo album, which he says spans eight years, three relationships and two hometowns' worth of songwriting.
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Ben Gibbard: Living With Ghosts

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Ben Gibbard: Living With Ghosts

Ben Gibbard: Living With Ghosts

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And if you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's time now for music.


RACHEL BILSON: (as Summer Roberts) I can't believe Seth is missing his favorite band. You know, it's one thing blowing me off, but blowing off Death Cab?

RAZ: Blowing off Death Cab? That's a scene from the TV show "The O.C." It went off the air a few years ago. And the Death Cab reference, that would be Death Cab for Cutie, the Seattle area band that became huge after appearing on "The O.C."


DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE: (Singing) I want to live where soul meets body...

RAZ: Death Cab for Cutie became one of the biggest acts in indie rock, all behind the voice of its front man Ben Gibbard, who is one of the most influential figures in indie music. He's just released a solo album of songs that he says aren't quite the right fit for Death Cab. It's called "Former Lives."


BEN GIBBARD: (Singing) He's been waking all through the night, pacing 'round in the moonlight. 'Cause these same dreams won't let them be.

RAZ: Ben Gibbard wrote some of the material while going through a very public breakup, his divorce from actress Zooey Deschanel. He describes the record this way: he says songs that span eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking and then not drinking.

GIBBARD: You know, I think it was Hemingway that said that we are strongest in our broken places, and I'm paraphrasing that. But, you know, and I'd like to think that as I move through my life as a songwriter, you know, part of my impetus for writing songs is to gain strength in those places that either are or once were broken.


GIBBARD: (Singing) I toss and turn but I just can't get to sleep when I start thinking about what you do to me. You're like a flower garden buried in snow. You're a hard one to know.

RAZ: And just to clarify, Ben, Death Cab for Cutie is not over. You still- you are still making music together.

GIBBARD: Oh, absolutely. No, I think that there's no doubt in any of our minds that we have a lot of things to say and a lot more music to create.

RAZ: You were born and raised in Washington state. Your fans most - sort of associate you with Seattle. You are sort of around the age where you were just sort of coming of age at the end of that kind of like grunge explosion - sort of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden era in Seattle, and then you guys formed a band several years after that was over. Was there a feeling in Seattle at that time that, you know, if you were a band, you kind of missed the boat?

GIBBARD: It was an interesting time to come of age because I think that everybody that I knew had a sense of pride in the fact that the music that was being made in the northwest was getting some national recognition but also a very high level of trepidation that these outside influences were not necessarily good for the music.

You know, it struck me as a kid who grew up watching MTV and seeing, you know, big hair, you know, metal bands, kind of all over the place. And, you know, there was a moment when I was 12, 13 years old that I really believed that you couldn't be in a band unless you could grow your hair like that, you could play guitar like that. I mean, I really believed that because that's all I saw on TV.

RAZ: And yet you were the complete opposite of that. I mean...

GIBBARD: Well, yeah, exactly. I mean, I...

RAZ: were probably a little bit of a nerd.

GIBBARD: Absolutely. But, you know, as I kind of became aware of college radio, became aware of underground music, it made a real impression on me to see these bands loading their own gear up on to the stage, you know, and setting everything up and then playing for 45 minutes and then tearing everything down and then selling T-shirts and CDs and seven inches at the merch table. I mean, this was like, these were our heroes.

So, you know, I think that when we started this band, our heroes sold 10,000 records. You know, our bar was fairly low. And as our band has kind of reached the heights that we have kind of gotten to, you know, commercially and otherwise, it's all been gravy, you know, because none of us ever really expected it.


CUTIE: (Singing) When there's a burning in your heart, an endless fury in your heart, build it bigger than the sun, let it grow, let it grow. And there's a burning in your heart...

RAZ: I'm speaking with Death Cab for Cutie's front man, Ben Gibbard, about his new solo record. It's called "Former Lives." Probably, I think, one of the most memorable songs in this record is one that you did with Aimee Mann. The song is called "Bigger than Love."


GIBBARD: (Singing) It's bigger than love, better than all the stars combined...

RAZ: I was reading about how you based this on real quotes, love letters, between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda.


GIBBARD: (Singing) Our summers in Paris, the Seine overflowing with champagne. And I knew you stepped out, but you knew that I had done the same...

I really fell in love with a book of letters called "Dearest Scott, Dearest Zelda" that is correspondences between the two of them beginning in their courtship and ending at the end of their lives, you know, when he was out in Los Angeles working as screenwriter and she was in Ashville in a mental facility.

And it's a really wonderful, really touching book, because no matter what stage of a relationship one might be in, it is inspiring to kind of read the correspondence between two people throughout their entire relationship and starting with the moments when they're really enamored with each other and they can't bear to spend an hour apart, all the way through, you know, there's a letter that's incredibly devastating that Zelda writes.


GIBBARD: (Singing) I live with my memories, the bustle and fervor of New York...

Talking about being in New York, and they had fought and broke the bathroom door.


GIBBARD: (Singing) We quarreled and broke the bathroom door 'cause you were just drinking, drinking till you could hardly see of how much I love you. I couldn't bring myself to leave you...

I mean, these very kind of jarring images that, you know, even if you don't have any other context for why they were fighting, why the bathroom door is broken, you can still see the two of them, and you can see this event happening. And it was - I found it really, really moving.


GIBBARD: (Singing) But what of our daughter, what of the love that we once shared. It's living inside us battered but not beyond repair.

RAZ: His relationship - F. Scott Fitzgerald's relationship with his wife was - it sort of endured a great deal of public scrutiny. And, of course, you were in a relationship that was under a great deal of public scrutiny with the actress Zooey Deschanel. You were married. You call this record "Former Lives." How would you describe the life you're living now?

GIBBARD: Well, you know, I - I've - I'm living somewhat nomadically now. You know, I've gone - going through, you know, divorces is not fun and - as anybody who's gone through it knows. And I've been doing so much traveling for work. I feel like, you know, I'm enjoying this period of kind of rediscovery of who I am as a person. You know, I think before I can move forward in my life in any kind of meaningful way, I think it's something I need to kind of finally address.

RAZ: How are you holding up?

GIBBARD: I'm doing good. I'm doing good. I realize that answer sounded incredibly dire, maybe kind of very serious. But, you know, I'm - you know, life is wonderful, and it's been really rewarding.

RAZ: That's Ben Gibbard, front man for Death Cab for Cutie. His first solo album is called "Former Lives." And, Ben, thank you so much.

GIBBARD: Of course. Thank you for having me.

RAZ: And you can hear a few tracks from that record by visiting our website,


GIBBARD: (Singing) It's been a basement of a year, and all I want for you is disappear. Oh woe you caught my eye. I thought that I'd give you a try. You're nothing like the way you look in all those famous songs and books.

RAZ: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smart phone app. Go to programs and scroll down. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.

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