Ben Gibbard is the frontman for indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie. He is also an avid trail runner with dozens of ultramarathon finishes over the past decade.
On September 16th, Death Cab will release their tenth studio Album, Asphalt Meadows, before going on tour starting September 22nd. We talk about his career as a musician, the upcoming album, and how trail running has helped him to stay grounded as a human being and musician.
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Dylan Bowman (00:00:15): Hey fam, welcome to the free trail podcast. I am your host, Dylan Bowman always appreciate having you here today. We have a super fun episode with none other than Mr. Ben Gibbard, the Seattle based trail runner and front man for the legendary indie rock band death cab for cutie. And after 25 years together, death cab is on the cusp of releasing their 10th studio album entitled asphalt Meadows. The album is being released worldwide on September 16th, but they've already released two singles from the album, which you can find wherever you listen to music, they're called Roman candles and here to forever. So make sure you go check those out. And as I'm sure most of you will know in addition to being a massively successful artist and musician, Ben is also a dedicated trail runner with dozens of ultra-marathon finishes under his belt over the course of the last decade.
In fact, we recorded this podcast only about 48 hours after Ben had finished the white river, 50 miler up there in Washington, which is where we start the conversation. And I have to say it was so fun to chat with Ben admittedly. My favorite episodes are the ones where we talk about running, of course, but use it mostly as a lens through which we can understand the deeper things in life. And this was very much one of those episodes here, we discuss Ben's career arc as an artist crucible moments on the journey. We talk about the analog between training as an athlete and struggling to create great music. We discuss how trail running and the trail community have helped to be a grounding counterweight at times in his life, a life that is admittedly pretty surreal at times, living, traveling, and existing as a world famous artist.
And I really enjoyed chatting with Ben and hoped to hopefully share some miles with him on the trails in the near future. He explicitly did not ask me to pump death. Cab's new album, but I feel compelled to do that here because I got an advanced copy of it. And it's really amazing. Again, it's called asphalt Meadows. It's being released September 16th and then they begin their tour a few days later on September 22nd in Madison, Wisconsin. So if you feel inspired after the combo, please go to death cab for cutie.com to pre-order the album and check out if the band is coming through your neighborhood as always a big thank you to speed land for being the presenting sponsor of the free trial podcast like Ben and death cab, Dave and Kevin are also artists in a different domain as product designers and developers. They are creating the best trail running shoes on the market, really in the history of the market, the S SL H S V is truly a one of a kind shoe.
Unlike anything else ever created. I did some hill repeats in mind this morning, the carbon played in and I can happily report that your boy is starting to feel moderately fit again, a feeling I've desperately missed. And so if you are in the market for the S SL H S V, you better get 'em wall supplies last at run speed, land.com because we are getting close to the end of this commission. I don't wanna say too much, except that we are in the final phases before production of the next model, which will be released this fall. I've been testing it out for months now, and I really cannot articulate how excited I am to get these shoes on your feet, but for now go get SL HSV before they disappear from the face of the earth forever runs be land.com big thanks to speed land for their steadfast support of the show. Okay. Hope you guys enjoyed the conversation with Ben Gibbard. See you in the outro. Welcome. Welcome to the podcast. How are you,
Ben Gibbard (00:04:21): Buddy? I'm good. How are you, man?
Dylan Bowman (00:04:23): So good. So good to have you here. I think we need to start in the obvious place. And that is the recent 50 mile race you did over the weekend. White river, the classic Pacific Northwest 50 miler. Tell us how it went.
Ben Gibbard (00:04:37): It was really hot out there, man, like really hot. And, um, I originally had signed up to do it with a friend of mine who's training for tour de Jean. And he was like, Hey man, we should do white river as like a cuz I need training for tour. And, uh, it would be cool if we just like do it together and do it slow. I'm like, yeah, that sounds, that sounds like my speed. And then on Monday, past Monday, he was like, um, Hey, so I'm actually thinking about doing section J of the P PCT. Do you wanna do that instead? I'm like, you know, man, I don't have 75 unsupported miles in me.
Dylan Bowman (00:05:48): Thought there was carnage galore out there. I was thinking about you guys banded just a few hours south here in Portland. It was brutally hot all weekend. I was thinking, man, it's tough conditions to push 50 miles in, but, and we should come back to talking about the section J because that's something that I'm looking at, maybe tackling this summer. And I heard from a little birdie that maybe you might be actually doing that later in the summer, but we can. Yeah.
Ben Gibbard (00:06:10): That's, that's the plan. I think, I think our mutual friend, uh, Ryan thrower and I are planning on making, uh, making a go at it. Uh, yeah, hopefully in September that, so I'm, I'm excited. I've been wanting to do that for years. And for me, you know, I get, I have about 100 in my legs every year, if that, so, you know, if I'm doing a hundred that doesn't leave much room for a 70 plus mile push, uh, it just, you know, it's like, it doesn't leave a lot of room for that. So, um, the fact that I wasn't able to do one this year kind of sets it up nicely.
Dylan Bowman (00:06:39): Yeah. Well, let's give some shine to Ryan thrower because he's obviously our connective tissue. You and I don't know each other super well, but we have a bunch of mutual friends, including the free trail MVP in the producer of this podcast. One of your good friends and training partners, Mr. Ryan thrower, and you had the honor and responsibility to crew for at the big horn 100 in June. So maybe tell the people about that adventure and more generally just kind of describe your guys' friendship.
Ben Gibbard (00:07:08): Yeah, well, the plan originally was that we would run it together and in some form or fashion, right. And I got C five, six weeks out from the race and the initial infection was totally manageable and fine just a couple days on the couch, but I was really struggling, uh, once in the weeks after to get up to back into like an endurance, uh, endurance strength. I mean, I could go out for an hour, hour and a half around the neighborhood and be like, oh, I feel fine. And then I'd get three or four hours out in the mountains and just fall apart. And it culminated with a seven and a half hour attempt that I just completely blew up on. And yeah, my heart, my heart rate was like over a hundred for the last, for the hour after I got back to the car and I was like, all right, writing's on the wall, not safe.
Um, but then a week later I felt completely fine. So, and I had already put outta the race. I was like, well, let's just go out and crew Ryan, cuz Ryan's running. He has one dude, our friend David has like crewing and pacing. The course is an out and back for those who don't know it. And they had not figured out how they were gonna get David out to pace and then how they're gonna get the car back to the finish
Dylan Bowman (00:08:47): Yeah. Okay.
Ben Gibbard (00:08:48): But now that we were, now that we were gonna work, you know, we're gonna help Ryan, uh, you know, everybody was super excited and, and one of, you know, one of his Pacers or at one of somebody who was gonna pace me was then gonna pace Ryan, but then he got sick. So then I was able to step in and, and take him the last 18 miles to the finish. Yeah. And he just, I was incredibly impressed with his performance out there. I mean, I think it was a 44% finish rate this year. Yeah.
Dylan Bowman (00:09:14): I've heard, I heard it was also brutal, brutal day. Brutal. Well, thanks for stepping in. I mean, you, you know, sort of picked up the slack for me. I had to work the, uh, broken arrow sky race that weekend and was agonizing over the fact that, of course my great friend and business partner was out slogging through a hundred mile race, but likely he had a famous rock star there to
Ben Gibbard (00:09:51): Yeah. And he, he really, he really had it. He really, you know, put an incredible effort on that, out on that course. I mean, I, I don't think that if I would've even been at full strength, I would've, I probably would've been part of that, you know, 56% of the people who dropped honestly. Yeah. Given how, I mean it was just carnage out there.
Dylan Bowman (00:10:07): Yeah. Well, Ben, it's super fun to have you on the podcast. And I think we have so many different angles that we could go in this conversation, but of course you are the front man for death cab for, for cutie. And you've got a, a new album coming out here very soon and, uh, want to talk all about the process of putting that together, but maybe just to start as we meander down that path, where do you view yourself right now in the arc of your professional career? Um, you know, on the cusp of releasing, what I think is your 10th studio album, where are you thinking about yourself in the greater context of your career?
Ben Gibbard (00:10:44): I I've never been asked that before. That's kind of, that's a very good jumping off point
So at this point in our career, I'm just feels so grateful that people even still care, honestly. Yeah. And you know, I, you know, I don't want to come off, you know, this, I'm not saying this, you know, attempt to be like overly SELFA facing or with like a, uh, extreme level of modesty or something like that. But you know, it it's been really, it's been really incredible to see that PE the music that we've made over the years still has that is still resonating with people mm-hmm
So I think the, the deeper I get into my career, the more grateful I am for everything that we've accomplished in a way that I might have taken it for granted when we were just starting out. Um, yeah. Or when, or when, you know, we first got pretty big and, um, and I felt really overwhelmed by, you know, the requests for our time and the amount of touring and people trying to get at us and, and this and that. And, you know, now I'm just, I just feel so grateful that, uh, that we're able to continue doing this, especially, you know, we're in our mid forties now. And yeah. So, so many of the bands that we came up with have been broken up for a decade plus, or, you know, people went back to law school or whatever, you know, they, it's
Dylan Bowman (00:13:14): Funny, you know, I'd love to talk about this too, because Ryan who I chatted with sort of in preparation for this conversation mentioned that he spent some time with you guys in studio, as you were recording this new album and that he was so impressed with your interpersonal relationships and like how you communicated with one another and made sure that you honored each other's sort of artistic integrity. Um, and so maybe like if you could com comment at all on the relationships and how that's evolved too, because like you said, you're in your mid forties now, as we get older relationships change the way we view ourselves change, what motivates us, what inspires us change. So I'm sure there's some really interesting developments and, um, evolution there, like on the friendship and the partnership side between the bandmates, anything there you want to expand on?
Ben Gibbard (00:14:08): Yeah. I, I think that people in their early twenties tend to not be great at communicating with each other and we certainly were not when we first started out. So I think, I think that because we have this like long and rich history together, you know, you know, some people have kind of come and gone from the lineup over the years, but, you know, um, I think a lot of it is that we all really love and respect each other. And I think as we've gotten older, we've gotten better at communicating. We've gotten better at not pushing each other's buttons just to push buttons, you know? Uh I'm I'm I, I realize just as I said, that I'm not trying to kind of indict all young people at being bad at communicating. I'm sure. I'm sure. Uh, you know, you know what
Dylan Bowman (00:14:51): You
Ben Gibbard (00:14:52): Mean, man? I'm sure like, uh, you know, young people are probably better at it now than we were then. Um, but you know, I, I think that when I think over time, you realize that everyone is working towards a common goal and the common goal is to make the best record possible with the material that you have in front of you and you know, of we're human beings. Of course, we all have individual agendas creatively and otherwise, but I think that one thing that we've all gotten really good at over the years is recognizing that, um, maybe, maybe I don't have the best idea in this particular instance. Maybe someone has a better idea. Maybe somebody has a better direction and it doesn't, it, it shouldn't be taken as a slight to just at least walk down that road and see, see what kind of, uh, what kind of presents itself, right? Yeah, yeah. Um, and some, and sometimes you kind of, you kinda, okay, let's try it your way. And then it, it, it works like gangbusters other times. Yeah, yeah. That I, that idea doesn't work. Maybe we were better off where we started, you know?
Dylan Bowman (00:15:59): Yeah. I heard something recently that really resonated with me and that in life, you really have like four or five crucible moments and it made me kind of want to ask you, as you reflected on how you guys got started in Bellingham and you were into these, you know, nichey, independent acts, what was it like, like as you guys started to achieve some escape philosopher when death cab kind of became a phenomenon? Like, what was it like going from being anonymous, struggling artists to sort of achieving fame. And do you sort of look back at that as being one of those sort of crucible moments in your life?
Ben Gibbard (00:16:40): I, I think even before we were on kind of more of a mainstream radar, I mean, I'm speaking specifically around our record transatlantic and then definitely the record plans that came out in 2005, that was our first major label record. And it was kind of a big deal for us. And it was, you know, seemingly everywhere for a while, which, uh, was kind of an interesting and kind of terrifying, uh, period. Um, even before that, uh, I remember we played a show, a headlining show at the crocodile cafe in Seattle, Washington in, I believe it was like December of 1998. And it was a couple months after our first record had come out. And the crocodile was a place that when I was a teenager, I would get this magazine called the rocket, which was like a, a weekly music magazine, uh, just a Northwest music magazine, which is a crazy thing to think about now that there is once a time that not only there were music magazines
Dylan Bowman (00:17:36): But there were, and they were like good business too.
Ben Gibbard (00:17:38): Yeah. Not only that there were music magazines, but there was enough, you know, excitement about that format that you could have one for just your local area
Dylan Bowman (00:17:47): Regional. Yeah. The regional music.
Ben Gibbard (00:17:49): Exactly. Um, I would get this magazine and I would, uh, you know, I would see the ads for the crocodile and like, oh my God. Like, so, and so is playing again. You know, this shirt I'm wearing right now, teenage Fank is playing or, oh, super chunks playing, oh my God, my bands I loved. And, um, and I would dream about playing that place. And we played this show and it was, uh, uh, a small show, but sold out at 300 people or something like that. And I remember we came off for, you know, our little like Encore break and I just became completely overwhelmed and I kind of broke down in tears and I just, it was this moment of like, we made it, this is it. Wow. This is like, this is the, this is the pivot point where we go from, we're just these like kids from Bellingham who like made a record and play shows and our friends come and our parents come to see us cuz they're being supportive to whoa, maybe this is a real thing.
Maybe, maybe we're a real band. Um, and of course, any band that plays music is a real band, but in the sense that we are now playing to people that are not just our friends and they're paying money to see us play and they're buying the records and sure it's, it's, you know, small potatoes in relation to, you know, limp biscuit or whatever was popular at that time. Right. Sure. Yeah. But it was this moment of like, maybe this is gonna work, maybe this is maybe this isn't just gonna be like a Bellingham thing. And so that was this moment where, you know, I, and I think we, as a band started realize that, yeah, this not that we were gonna become what we became, but this, this could be something that at least will be, uh, worthy of our time and effort for the next.
Dylan Bowman (00:19:27): And how old were you guys at this point?
Ben Gibbard (00:19:30): I was 22.
Dylan Bowman (00:19:32): So had you ever had like a normal job aside from being a professional musician? I mean, I know music is I went back and watched the Solomon running video they made about you, which is fantastic by the way.
Ben Gibbard (00:19:44): Yeah. They did a great job with that.
Dylan Bowman (00:19:45): And uh, you say in it that something to the effect of that music had always been kind of the driving force in your life and you probably always imagined yourself as being a professional musician. Was there any doubt in that path along the way?
Ben Gibbard (00:20:00): Uh, well to answer, uh, the first part of the question, I, I, I have a degree in environmental chemistry from Western Washington university. Um, oh. And so I was, I went to,
Dylan Bowman (00:20:10): Is that how you ended up in Bellingham?
Ben Gibbard (00:20:12): Uh, sort of I ended up in Bellingham because I knew some people who were a year ahead of me in school and they wanted to start a band and they had just said, you should come up to Bellingham, we'll start a band. And I had applied to university of Washington and a few other schools and Western, and I'd gone up to, and even aside from this, you know, kind of conceptual idea of starting a band, I just loved it up there. It was far enough away from Bremerton, you know, far enough away from home that my parents couldn't just like stop by or something.
And then I worked there for the year after I graduated. So I graduated in 98. The band was making our first record, uh, in called something about airplanes for the first six months of 98 off and on at home. And then the record came out in August in 98 and I had taken a job, uh, a contract job at this place doing the same work. So it was kind of a great job to have in the sense that it paid not a lot of money by adult standards, but by 22 year old year rent is $250 standards. I was like, I was, I was a millionaire. Right. Yeah, of course. Um, and, uh, and it was also the kind of job that, because it was, it required so much training to get to the point where I was doing this job. I would just, I had them held hostage where I would just leave on tour and say like, Hey, I'm gonna be gone for two weeks, uh, here to here.
You know, I'm sorry, if you have to let me go, I totally understand. But you know, it's gonna take you like four months to train somebody up to where I'm at this job. So, you know, I understand if you gotta fire me and they're like, just go, just go and come back in two weeks. And, uh, I kind of took advantage of that pretty, uh, pretty blatantly, but yeah, I mean, I, I, I worked, I did that for a while. I worked in some labs in Seattle, uh, when I moved down to Seattle in 99, uh, temp jobs and, and whatnot, I worked for a nonprofit in a warehouse for a year, uh, packaging shipping and receiving for like a, uh, non-violence curriculum, uh, place that sold that. But
Dylan Bowman (00:22:41): Like, did you always have the belief that music was gonna be the thing for you? I mean, cuz it feels like obviously it's a competitive industry, right? It's hard to break through, especially when you're living up in the deep Northwest of Bellingham, Washington, although maybe in those days it was like kind of a, a great place in which you could mature and hone your craft. I don't know. I'm just curious to, to sort of hear if there was ever a doubt on this journey, as you've said that you've already eclipsed, any expectation, any dream you guys could have ever imagined in the early days to hear about any moments of doubt along the way?
Ben Gibbard (00:23:19): Well, I guess kind of to back up a little bit and, and clarify, uh, that it was always my dream to make a living playing music, but the people that were our heroes and the people we looked up to, they, they were maybe making a little bit of money playing music and it might, might be the kind of thing that could sustain them for a very active four or five years. Um, you know, kind of not dissimilar to ultra running, honestly. Yeah, yeah. In the sense that like, okay, well I'm gonna put a lot of hours into this and a lot of time into it. And I, there was nothing I would love more than to like do this professionally for the rest of my life. But I'm well aware that there is not a lot of money in this particular venture so that the, the be the most I can hope for is that I will be able to do this and make some kind of, um, uh, kind of supplemental living, doing it for a period of time.
And after that period of time, I will have to join the real world in some capacity. So, you know, in 99, 2000 we were starting to get in 2000. I remember we got our first royalty check for what seemed like a fortune. It was like $4,000 a person or something. Right. Mm-hmm
I just thought that this would be something I would hopefully be able to do, uh, and make enough money to survive. Maybe pick up temp jobs along the way if I had to, yeah. For four or five years maybe, and then eventually I'd have to go back to grad school or something like that. And that's, what's been so interesting to me about, you know, when I started getting into, uh, ultra running and kind of learning more about the community, it felt very similar to the early days of being in a punk or an ind or an indie band. Right. Where there's a little bit of money there, but it's not, it's not like, you know, 401k money. Right?
Dylan Bowman (00:25:50): Sure. Yeah.
Ben Gibbard (00:25:51):
Dylan Bowman (00:26:24): Wow. That is so fascinating. Because like I remember talking to Jim Walmsley in Europe last summer, actually I was speaking with his fiance Jess, soon to be, or actually no, now his wife anyway. And she revealed that she and Jim had had these conversations and Jim and I talked about this publicly on the, the podcast. So I'm not revealing any, anything that I shouldn't hear, but that he sort of had these doubts of like that she was saying, oh, we're gonna move to Europe now because like Jim's contract comes up like at X date and we wanna make sure. And I was like, it's so funny that even Jim Walmsley sort of worries about the security of his contract and it's similar to you. It's like, I think that's what keeps people sharp and keeps people at the top of their game is to just assume that the end is nine and that you have to continue to, you know, sharpen your craft and keep yourself at the top of the GA of your game in order to keep your position and, and continue to, to be successful.
And I want to get around to hearing about how you got into trail running, because obviously this is a trail running podcast, but I also think there's a lot of parallels between being a professional musician and, and being an athlete in that you probably have good years and bad years, you probably have moments where you have like profound, creative inspiration, but also probably times where you feel like you're washed up or you've lost your spark or whatever. So maybe if you could just describe the emotional grind of doing what you do professionally and, and maybe describe a time where you were struggling to find the motivation and, and how you got through it.
Ben Gibbard (00:28:00): Yeah. I, I, I think that's a very apt kind of observation in the sense that, you know, keeping it kind of in keeping it between these two worlds that, you know, we're discussing. I, I think of, you know, what would be an, an ultra runners season is kind of like, that would be an album cycle for me. And for people who are unaware, um, an album cycle is kind of the period in which you're writing the record, you're recording the record, you're releasing it and then you're touring the album. So this could be a year and a half, two year period, depending on how much touring you're doing, how much, you know, pre-production how much writing you're doing for the record. And as I look back on my career, I can certainly see places where, uh, with the benefit of hindsight, I can, I can pinpoint moments in my career records that I've made, that the band has made that I wish I had a second crack at, you know, oh, I, I wish that, but one of the things about being a, uh, an artist, and I think also to an extent being an athlete, is that what, wherever you are in your career, you're dealing with, you're dealing with what you have right in front of you.
Right. You know, as a musician, you're kind of, and a songwriter you're dealing with, these are the songs that I have in front of me right now. These are the songs I've written for this record. Um, you want every record to be the best record you've ever made, but of course that can't be the case. Some are gonna be better than others. The more records that we make, the more records that I've made, um, it's become clear to me, which, you know, it's, it's like a little, you know, the, the, the metaphor of records as children is kind of an off repeated thing in, in circles, uh, music circles, but it is as if like, yeah, you know, sometimes some kids achieve, uh, more than others and you love them all equally, but you can see, you can see their, you know, their strengths and faults.
And, uh, so it's, you know, if taking it kind of back into the running world, there's been running seasons, I've had where everything has just been dialed and worked perfectly. And, you know, I haven't had any real lows or doubts. And then I've had those years where you asked yourself, why am I even doing this? Why did I sign up for this event? Why am I here? I'm not good at this? Or, you know, I'm, or I'm injured. And I can't do it the way I wanted to do it, or I can't do it at all. Um, and so I think so much of, I think a lot, I think where the, there are parallels parallels is that both artists and athletes have to deal with a lot of self doubt from time to time. Yeah. And, and you don't want to get too high.
You don't wanna get too low and you wanna just keep metaphorically or literally putting one foot in front of the other and just get, get to your destination eventually. And AF after you've gotten to your destination, you create a new destination, and then you try to get to that one and, you know, not every race is gonna be your, your best race and not every record gonna be your best record. And you just have to kind of accept, like, sometimes you're on a heater sometimes you're not, and yeah. You know, long, the longer, the longer a career, you know, the more, the, the more kind of, um, the wider the picture gets yeah. And wider, that kind of, um, that kind of view of all of your, your highs and lows is, is more apparent.
Dylan Bowman (00:31:20): Yeah. So in talking about not getting too high in the Solomon video that they made about you, you sort of discussed how trail running has been a grounding influence for you and you living this extraordinary life that every kid sort of grows up dreaming about touring the country, being famous, performing in front of thousands of people. And that maybe there was part of you that needed a little humble pie that you found in the trail running community. So if you could expand on that and maybe in doing so sort of paint the picture of your origin story within the sport, I think people would get a kick out of it.
Ben Gibbard (00:32:04): Yeah. I, I think one, one of the many things I love about this sport is that it doesn't leave a lot of room for ego. Um, in the sense that, you know, someone might go out and have the best day of their life on the trail, be it in a, on a, in a race or, or what, what have you, and you know, those moments where you feel invincible and, but for every one of those races or periods, you know, you, there's a, there's another, there's another point where like, you're puking on the, the side of the trail, right. Or, or like, you're just an emotional wreck in the middle of the night, in the mountain somewhere, and you're cold and you don't know why you even started this thing and you're you think you're not good at it? And why am I even out here doing this or whatever. And it, I, I think that, I think that it's one of the many reasons that the overwhelming majority of ultra runners that I've met have been, uh, very kind and, uh, um, humble is because even the greatest runners in the world have found themselves, you know, crying and puking on the side of a trail probably. Right.
Dylan Bowman (00:33:24): Yeah. Well, in almost every day you get humbled, you know, like even the normal training days, you get your ass kicked. It is a uniquely humbling sport, like a life practice and a lifestyle. And I don't think it's a coincidence, right. That the personalities of the people you find within it are often characterized by that humility.
Ben Gibbard (00:33:45): Yeah. It it's, it's humility is almost, is like the second thing you learn,
Dylan Bowman (00:33:57): Yeah.
Ben Gibbard (00:33:57): And you're gonna have to reckon with that. Right. Um, and so as a, as one might imagine, it's a pretty great feeling to stand up in front of thousands of people who are cheering for you and singing your songs back to you. And it, there have been moments in my life where I've been deeply seduced by that, and that I have, uh, lost perspective on what's important and who I am and, uh, where I, where I've come from. And, uh, and I think I would hope that even without running, I would've, I would've gotten to a place of, uh, perspective in humility, but getting involved with this sport has been a, a really necessary and valuable counterweight to the ego highs that being a performer, uh, gives me, um, and also of equal importance is that, uh, it, it allows me yet another thing to share with people that is not just the music that I make or who I am as a personality in the greater kind of musical landscape.
Dylan Bowman (00:35:44): Yeah. Okay. We,
Ben Gibbard (00:35:45): We have in common is I am me. They recognize me and I am me. So there can be a slightly, uh, um, awkward, sometimes an awkward kind of standoff before, you know, usually I I'm able to kind of diffuse it and kind of like ask somebody a question about themselves. Like, what are, who, what is your name,
Dylan Bowman (00:37:33): Do you feel that because you are able to get out of your identity as a musician, when you are putting on the identity as a trail runner, that when you get back in the studio, you're able to then put the identity of musician back on and execute maybe, maybe at a higher level because you have that counterweight.
Ben Gibbard (00:37:52): I think it's really important for people in general, but, but very much, uh, specifically artists to have a place where they can get away from their work. Because when I was younger, I lived in and with my music and music in general, 24 7, it was all I cared about. It was all I thought about. It was all I read about. Um, it was all I did. Um, and it, it led me to some kind of neurotic places where I was just obsessing over something. I was in the midst of writing that wasn't going particularly well or something as asinine, as seen politics or whatever. And it just, it made my world very small. And to have ultra running as this counterweight is important in many ways, we already already discussed that. It's important as it, a way to kind of remove, you know, strip ego out of yourself.
But it's also important as a place for me to kind of leave my head space as a writer and just be, you know, in the mountains, on the trails with friends, most of which, who are not musicians, you know, who I'm friends with in this community, mm-hmm
Dylan Bowman (00:40:01): It's funny now, because I feel like that principle applies to basically every profession, but maybe is heightened in the type of work that you do, where you are in the spotlight and where you do need that creative energy, but it is so important to just kind of have hobbies, right. And the same is true for pro athletes. Like if you become, so one-dimensional in that identity, then if you get injured, your whole life falls apart, or, you know, you just limit the ways in which that you can approach the world, similarly in business, when you have your own thing going on, or you're leading a team of people that you've become. So, you know, single mindedly focused on one particular thing that ultimately over time, it burns you out and you don't perform as well at whatever duties. So it's funny, I've been talking to my brother about this too, of just like how important it is for people to have interests that don't have anything to do with their profession. So something to keep in mind. Well,
Ben Gibbard (00:41:00): Especially, especially when you know, you and I are in professions that are relatively tenuous at best true. Uh, you know, I mean, you know, there are times where I've lamented to friends. Like, I mean, obviously I wouldn't change anything about my life, but you know, if, if someone goes to medical school and becomes a doctor or becomes an accountant or whatever, that's something that for the, for all intents and purposes they can kind of do until they don't want to do it anymore. Mm-hmm,
Dylan Bowman (00:41:56): Yeah. Yeah.
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So going back to the analog, between being an athlete and an artist, I wonder what it's like in the lead up to an album release because where you sit now, what are we like six weeks away from the new album being, uh, you know, coming to market asphalt Meadows. And I think this is potentially interesting too, you know, as a pro athlete talking to a pro musician, I imagine that in this final build up as you're doing a lot of press and anxiously awaiting taking this creative baby to use that metaphor and presenting it to the universe that there's maybe like some anxiety or some self doubt that comes with that whole process. Am I touching on something there that might be accurate? Or can you explain what the mind space is after you've put all the writing and, and recorded all the songs and put 'em together in the sequence that you want? All that's left to do is to release it into the universe. What's that like, where's your mind stayed at right now?
Ben Gibbard (00:45:43): That's, that's a, that's a very astute observation, Dylan. Um, in the sense that one of my, one of the purest, um, feelings that I have as a songwriter is when I've finished something in this room that I'm in right now, and I'm listening back to it and I'm really, uh, proud of it and no one has heard it yet. And I'm just like, and even if it, and often times it's something that it might not even be any good, but in the moment, I'm just like, I'm so proud. This is, oh, this song is awesome. Killed the game on this one. Yes. And you're just excited and you're proud of yourself and you feel like you've done a good day's work. And that feeling is, uh, exponentially larger when you've just finished this statement, uh, with your bandmates. And you've, you know, you've, you've kind of got the sequencing, right?
You've got the artwork and the, you know, the mixes all sound good and you're listening to it in the car and, you know, and your studio and in earbuds, and you're just kind of walking around and you're vibing on it. And you're really proud of it. And you can hear all the, the months of work that you've put into this, uh, record, and then there's a period in which, um, no one's heard it yet. And you're, um, you know, you're talking to people about the record, some of which have, who've heard some track, some who have heard the whole thing, but you're waiting on this day where it's going to be released into the world and it's going to, it's the narrative of what it is and how good it is, is going to be determined by everyone. Who's listening to it and writing about it.
Uh, and, uh, and kind of the kneejerk, uh, first impressions and opinions that people are spouting out into the world via social media and everything else. And, you know, that's all totally fine. That's all part of living in the 21st century. Right. But, um, if I have any anxiety around it, it's not so much that, um, I'm not even anxious. It's more that you break the seal on that kind of like very, um, kind of, uh, kind of self congratulatory time where you're proud of it, but no, one's heard it yet. Yeah. And you can, it's, it's almost like pure
And then we've released songs or made records that I was like, yeah, we'll see how this goes. And then it turns into something that we couldn't have even imagined. So, but I think at this point in our career being 25 years in, I think I also have to be, uh, I also try to maintain a sense of, uh, being realistic about what, you know, the culture at large, um, how the culture at large is going to react to a record made by a band of dudes in their mid forties. Who've been around for 25 years. And that, because we've had, we've made these records in our past that have had these like larger kind of, um, kind of cultural kind of, they've been these kind of, you know, smaller kind of cultural zeitgeist moments, you know, even, even though they were never, we never thought they would be that or atten you know, they were not intended to be that, um, it can be difficult to ha to kind of be releasing something new with the knowledge and the, the memory of having a death cab record be like more of an event in the culture yeah.
Than it necessarily is going to be now. And so my expectations for any record we make now is like, I just, I want the record to be the best possible collection of songs that we can put out in that time period. Mm-hmm
Dylan Bowman (00:49:57): It reminds me of being like six weeks out from a hundred mile race. And knowing that you've put in so much work and you just want it to go well, and you just like, yeah. Hope that you can put on the type of performance that, you know, you think you've sort of built yourself up to a condition to be able to execute against. And I don't know, being somebody who is in the spotlight and whose self identity and profession is wrapped up in the success in the studio, it's similar to an athlete who has a similar thing, uh, based on how high they stand on a, a podium at the end of the race. But I'm also curious, like, you know, and now in the final stages of putting the, the album together, and then once things are released, do you have like a bit of a calm down, because I guess you won't have much time to do so, because you're gonna be going on tour here very soon, but, you know, there's that phenomenon like after big races or even after, you know, the Olympics or whatever, where athletes sort of have this post post race blues more or less.
Yeah. And, uh, you know, I, and it's never necessarily like associated with how successful the athlete has done in that competition. It's, it's the process of building up to something. And then coming through the other side where you experience a pressure release, and sometimes that's accompanied by a melancholy feeling. Is there something similar to that in, in, uh, your creative field?
Ben Gibbard (00:51:26): Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, to, to your point about, you know, getting up for a big race, you know, for I've often found that after I finish, um, like a race that I've been kind of had on the calendar for a long time and looking forward to it and putting all the training in and everything. And then, you know, the, if, you know, if all goes, well, you finish and you, I, I feel the sense of like, everything is right in the world for like a week. You know, the news doesn't bother me. You know, when Trump was president, I didn't care what he was saying. It's like, everything's fine, man. And I'm just crushing food, you know, it's like burger and fries and a milkshake. Why not? I just ran a hundred miles. I burned like 12,000 calories. I can eat this. No problem.
Yeah. And then, and it's very similar with an album in the sense that you put the record out and you're like the record's out guys. We did it. Everything's right in the world. You know, I don't care. What's in the news right now. Let's go out for a big dinner and celebrate. And then eventually as with, uh, the time, you know, post a big race, you know, in the same way that maybe 48 hours after a hundred, I'm already looking on ultra sign up about like, what's the next thing I'm gonna sign up. Okay. What am I doing next? You know, there's a similar, uh, there's a similar kind of, uh, kind of like nervous energy that comes up after we finish a record where I'm like, okay, now I need to start writing the next one. Now what, you know, you know, what, what should, what, you know, what, what worked with the last one?
What didn't work? Uh, what can we build on? Uh, and I often kind of have this like empty nest syndrome in the sense that like I've done so much writing for this record. I think, you know, um, it, it, it doesn't matter how much writing I did if the record is unsuccessful, but, you know, I wrote, and we wrote, you know, around 90 songs and ideas and things for this record that we kind of chipped down to some stuff that we would record. And then from that, we chipped it down to the actual, uh, sequence of the record. Um, but raw intents and purposes, I, I am, I have no songs right now. I have no new songs. I haven't really started, uh, the process of writing a new record because I feel like we need to get this one out. And I need to kind of bask in kind of the sense of accomplishment that I got from, from completing it. And then a little bit of time needs to go by, and then I can start thinking about what the next record is gonna be. And I think that very similar to how we build our calendars as ultra runners. We're, we're building a calendar for the year. And then as soon as that, the last race is done, we're already thinking about yeah, what we're gonna do next year. And it's, it's very similar, you know, as a songwriter.
Dylan Bowman (00:54:17): Yeah. So tell us about the album. Of course, you guys have been together for 25 years, more or less, and, uh, you've done a lot. There's a lot of things that you're already proud of. In what ways is this an extension of what people have come to expect from death cabin? In what ways is, is it different?
Ben Gibbard (00:54:37): Well, I think one of the hardest things to do as one gets deeper into their career, uh, as a band or as an artist, who's to maintain, uh, elements of the music that are signature to what you do while also trying to kind of push forward and, and bring in new elements and new ideas, um, because, you know, if it would be very easy, it would be easier to make a completely different sounding record every time that would be, that would be an easy thing to do because in that sense, um, you would be basically killing your own legacy, not kill, like that's not the right of putting it. Um, you would basically be cutting bait with everything you had done before that point with every record. Mm. But as someone who is first and foremost, a music fan, what I love about my favorite bands and what I love about artists, who've kind of been doing as long as we have or longer is that, you know, there are going to be successes and failures throughout any artist's discography.
But that when you listen through say like Neil Young's discography, which is massive at this point, mm-hmm,
And so for us, one of the things I'm the most proud about with this record is that for the first time, you know, in a, in a, in a, in a very real way, um, we were writing together a lot more than we had in, in, on past records in the sense that, um, I kind of came up with this songwriting exercise early in lockdown, uh, just out of boredom and, and, and wanting to kind of mix things up in the sense that, so there's five of us in the band and there are five days in a work week, right? So normally I'll sit in this room and write songs and then just upload them to a Dropbox and the band will pull them down. And, you know, they might say like, Hey, gimme the guitars for that. Or I wanna try something new. They might mess around with my demos, but mm-hmm,
And so I came up with this idea of, okay, well, there's five of us. Let's kind of every week create an out of order order. And on Monday, say Nick, our base player will write a baseline and then upload it to a Dropbox. The next day on Tuesday, Zach, our keyboard player might pull it, he'll pull it down, he'll add some keyboard, something to it, and then put it back up. I pull it down Wednesday. I add vocals, write a melody lyrics, you know, put it back up. So and so forth till Friday. And at the end of the week, we have a song, but the rules were that whomever has the piece of music has 24 hours to add their stuff and upload it. And, and no slacking, like, no, like, oh, I didn't get around to it. It's like, if Wednesday is your day, you have to, you have to get it done.
Yeah. Yeah. While you have it, you have complete editorial control over the process. So something that on Monday started sounding like Octo, baby, you two by Friday, it might sound like massive attack. Yeah. Because you know, everybody who had the music had complete control over what, over, where it was going. And, you know, it was, it wasn't always successful. But the moments that it was the most successful were the moments where I was not going first. So I wasn't setting the harmonic and melodic, um, kind of tone for the rest of the week because every, because my hands tend to go to similar places on an instrument, oh, I'm making similar shapes on the guitar or the piano I'm playing in similar keys, I'm writing similar melodies. But if Zach, our keyboard player writes this kind of angular piano piece, and then four days later, I'm getting something that is completely different than anything.
I would've written myself. Well, that's gonna take, you know, that's going to allow me to write melodies that are different, that I would normally write. And often because of the Sonic palette of what I'm listening to, which is something that, that I did not initially create the imagery that's coming into my mind is very different than if I'm sitting down with an acoustic guitar trying to write something. Mm. So a good, you know, almost half, maybe a little more of the record had its origins in that, uh, in that writing kind of style. And it was, you know, it was something that we kind of thought we'd try for a bit just to see if it might, this
Dylan Bowman (00:59:49): Originated during lockdown or is this a process that oh, wow.
Ben Gibbard (00:59:53): Yeah. So, so, you know, you know, during, obviously in the beginning of lockdown, everybody was freaked out and then thought we were gonna be in our houses for two weeks or something and then get back to normal life or whatever. Right. And as the months kind of dragged on, um, and it became apparent that this was gonna be kind of how things were for a while. Uh, I really wanted to kind of stay engaged with my band mates because we couldn't be in the same room together. You know, we live in four different cities. Couple of us have kids who were going to school or daycare and, you know, obviously it was, as we all remember at that time, at least, you know, certainly in Seattle, um, you know, that was kind of, you know, we were like outside, you know, like, you know, around like space heaters, right. Hanging out with our friends and like jackets, you know, because everybody was terrified of, um, you know, getting C so, uh, we, there, we, it was just impossible for us to be in the same room, but, you know, the technology has advanced to such an extent where it wasn't necessary to be in the same room to, to create
Dylan Bowman (01:00:51): Together. Yeah. So it'll have a, a different feel probably based on just the different process. And, uh, yeah, that's probably a good thing for a team of people to sort of learn to work together in a, in a new and creative way. It probably keeps things fresh, um, you know, on album number 10. So you're gonna be going on tour as soon as this thing is released. If not, actually, I think the tour starts before the album is released. The album's released on September 16th. Yes. I believe you guys start your tour. Uh, what shortly thereafter.
Ben Gibbard (01:01:28): Yeah. I think we're starting in officially starting in Madison on the 20th or something
Dylan Bowman (01:01:32): Like that. Okay, cool. So maybe, uh, talk about how the, the tour lifestyle too, as we begin to, to wind down, I feel like I could spend all afternoon with you, but I don't want to take up too much of your time, but I, I would love to hear sort of like what that lifestyle is like, but also just kind of like how running fits in with the tour lifestyle and, and, and in what benefit it brings to what I'm sure is a fun though, hectic couple of months on the road. Like how does running as the counterbalance for you in that context?
Ben Gibbard (01:02:08): It's, it's become an incredibly important part of, uh, the touring experience for me and in multiple ways, uh, you know, in, in one way, I it's, I, I sometimes call it speed tourism, um, because, you know, if we're we're playing in Paris or something like that, and I want to go for like a long run, I'm like, I'm just gonna go run around Paris and just see a bunch of stuff. Yeah. That I wouldn't see if I was walking or in a car or in the, in the Metro, whatever. Um, and I think there's also, I've I often find that I play, I play more high. It almost seems counterintuitive, but I play more high energy, more, um, kind of sustained. Uh, my energy levels are sustained better when I, when I, the day that I'm doing like a long run or something like
Dylan Bowman (01:03:06): That. Yeah.
Ben Gibbard (01:03:07): Yeah. Because often, um, you know, you know, at this point I've been training for ultras, like often on the road and there's days where, like, I guess I'm doing a five hour run and then getting the sound check just in time to do sound check or something. Right. Yeah. And, you know, on varying terrain, sometimes you get lucky and, you know, you're playing in Nashville and Percy Warner park is just down the street and they've got pretty cool trails in there. You can kinda like get some actual, you know, a little bit of ver or something like that. Yeah. But then sometimes you're like, oh, I'm in grand rapids. And I guess I'm just running this bike path in 90 degree weather, 80% humidity for three hours of which I did a couple weeks ago. Right.
Dylan Bowman (01:03:59): It's funny. Cuz Ryan mentioned, and it, I think this is accurate, but correct me if I'm wrong. But he said that the days that he was in studio with you guys, you did like four hour runs in the morning before getting to the studio at like 9:00 AM and then recorded all day. So there is a, an energizing component to your run training that probably helps cleanse the pallet or, you know, get the creative juices flowing before you get on stage or before you get in the studio.
Ben Gibbard (01:04:29): Well, yeah. And it's also very important to note that at the level we're at now, we don't have to like set up the gear or anything like that. Yeah. Okay. And we have a tour bus so often on tour, if I'm gonna do a long run, you know, come back, clean up and then take a nap on the bus for an hour, something like that. Right. Or, yeah. You know, when, when Ryan was in the studio with us, you know, I would leave, you know, I would leave our house on Capitol hill at like 5:00 AM and like run to discovery park and like run a couple hours in discovery and then time it, so that I was getting to the studio, which thankfully had like a bathroom with a shower. I would leave clothes there the night before. So I would just run to the studio and get there as the other guys are pulling up in their cars. Yeah. And like, you know, ha I'd leave a change of clothes and everything there the night before. So I'd like, okay guys, I'm gonna hop in the shower. And then I'll, I'll, I'll be in the studio in like 10 minutes and then even
Dylan Bowman (01:05:19): Classic run commute there.
Ben Gibbard (01:05:21): Exactly. And then, and then, you know, which is not dissimilar from what a lot of people have do. Right. So it's not, you know, it's, it feels like, uh, maybe a little bit more glamorous, but it's not, it's not dissimilar to somebody running to work and using the shower in the gym or something like that before.
Dylan Bowman (01:05:35): Yeah.
Ben Gibbard (01:05:36): Sit in an office all day.
Dylan Bowman (01:05:37): Awesome. So Ben, before I let you go, I have to make you tell a story here on the podcast, cuz I had, you seen Deb boon on the show a while back and he related a story about ceremonially smoking his last cigarette while listening to Pearl jam. And he told me that after that podcast went live that you sent him a message and told him that you had a similar story about cigarettes and Pearl jam. I'm wondering if you maybe want to tell that story here on the podcast cuz it's quite entertaining.
Ben Gibbard (01:06:08): Of course I will. Yeah. So yeah, not, not to, not to one up, uh, Yasin stories. Although I, I feel like I am big top and him a little bit over this one. Um, so in, we were on tour with Pearl jam in 2004, uh, we were doing this tour, uh, called the vote for change tour and it was this kind of, uh, a series of, of packages that were traveling around swing states, uh, during around election time. So this was like October, I think, of 2004. And so, you know, on one day we would be opening for Pearl jam in Ohio and then, you know, in like Columbus and then, uh, Bruce Springsteen was playing in Cincinnati and so on. And so far there were all these like, you know, kind of legacy acts all doing these, all, doing a concert in a swing state on the same day.
And the idea of course was voter registration and, and um, political activism. Uh, so, so I used to be a very heavy drinker and uh, and smoker and for whatever reason, which is still unclear to me in 2004, I decided to start smoking again after not smoking for three years for I, for reasons I still unclear as to why, but I was like that, you know what, you know what, it's been three years, I should start smoking again. That would be a good thing to do. And, and, and I, and I did. And, uh, we, we found out we were on tour with Pearl jam and we were opening for them. So there was just a lot of time on our hand, just a lot of time sitting around a venue. They weren't our shows. So, you know, we, we weren't playing much longer than 40 minutes.
And so it was just a lot of downtime and I was really smoking a lot just killing time. And um, eventually my voice started to, I started to realize I didn't have the lung capacity that I really needed to sing and just getting winded. And I was like, this is stupid. Why did I start doing this again? This is such a, this is such a disgusting habit. And so, you know, a week into the tour, I just quit cold Turkey. So we've, it's the, there is an after party after the last show that we have played with Pearl jam and it's at this hotel in Florida where we were playing. Um, and, uh, and you know, guys from Pearl jam are there, they're all wonderful dudes, awesome people and they're crew. And one of the other opening bands and we're all drinking and partying and, and ed, uh, Eddie Vetter, um, comes up to me and he is like, Hey, Ben, come have a cigarette with me. And I'm like, uh, oh, sorry, man. I quit like a week ago. And ed goes, don't gimme that shit, come have a cigarette with me. And I'm like, okay, cause I'm just 27, 28 years old. And this, and I'm
Dylan Bowman (01:08:53): My legend. That's
Ben Gibbard (01:08:53): One of my, this is a legend. That is one of my idols. I'm like, okay. So I, I go outside and a week after quote unquote quitting smoking. Yeah. I smoke a cigarette with ed and I realize in that moment that that was gonna be my last cigarette because if I smoke another cigarette after this cigarette that I just smoked with ed, that will no long, I will not, I will no longer be able to say that I smoked my last cigarette with Eddie better. So that was, that was the motivation that I had. You know, when I start getting the cravings again in the, in the days and weeks after that cigarette, I would tell myself, well, look, man, if you, you could smoke another cigarette, but then that will not be
Dylan Bowman (01:09:36): You'll ruin the story, ruin
Ben Gibbard (01:09:38): The story.
Dylan Bowman (01:09:49): Yeah. What a great story and no doubt it's paid dividends for your athletic career, your ultra running.
Ben Gibbard (01:09:55): I would
Dylan Bowman (01:09:56): Hope so performances to, to lay off the SIGs, but, uh, well, yeah, Ben, it's been great to, to chat with you and, um, you know, I wish you guys nothing but success with the new album and with the, uh, the tour, maybe as we sign off here, tell people where they can find out more about both the album itself and where they might be able to see you guys live.
Ben Gibbard (01:10:18): Uh, yeah. You know, it's, we're not hard to find on social media, um, you know, death cab for cutie.com. I think it's at death cab for cutie for all the socials. So yeah, if you guys are interested, um, and finding out if we're playing in your town, uh, by all means, go check that out. And, uh, yeah. And if you, if you see me on the trail or at a race or something like that, just come on, come on up and say, hi, ask me whatever you want.
Dylan Bowman (01:10:41): Amazing. Uh, well, uh, thanks so much for coming on the, on the pod. Maybe, uh, maybe we can rip some of section J the P CT together later in the summer. And then Ryan and I were talking about coming to one of those closing shows to end the tour and late October and saddle your home. Absolutely.
Ben Gibbard (01:10:59): Yeah, you should come up, man. You're, you're more than welcome. Yeah. And I think I might, we
Dylan Bowman (01:11:02): Can catch a run beforehand. We'll get you nice. There we go. Yeah. Well, yeah, your jaw.
Ben Gibbard (01:11:05): Yeah, exactly. We'll go out and hit. We'll go out. Uh, hit if it's not, it's not, everything's not snowed in yet. We can go and, uh, hit some, hit some cool shit in the cascades. I think. Think I might be, are you gonna be in chimney? Are you gonna be
Dylan Bowman (01:11:15): Out there? I'm not no gonna be there. Okay. My, my wife is nine and a half months pregnant right now. So we're, uh, hunker down, wait, waiting for baby and, and, uh, missing out this year, but we'll be there in spirit.
Ben Gibbard (01:11:28): Alrighty. Well, it was wonderful talking to Dylan and um, yeah, I'm looking forward to that. Uh, getting some trail time with you at some point.
Dylan Bowman (01:11:35): Yeah. Likewise, Ben,
Thank you Mr. Ben Gibbard. What a great chat that was. I honestly, could've gone multiple hours with him, so hopefully we will get a chance to do round two at some point in the future. As a reminder, go visit death cab for cutie.com preorder the new album, asphalt Meadows being released globally on September 16th. And while you're there, get tickets for a show as they tour the country, maybe buy a t-shirt from this iconic American band of course, trail runners, support trail runners. So let's get behind Ben and death cab as they approach this very important milestone. 25 years together, and 10 studio albums reminder to also check out the two already released singles from the album Roman candles and here two forever. Wherever you listen to music, a big thank you to our sponsors on this episode. Speed land run, speed.com fast shoes ever made.
Get the SL HSV before they disappear from the face of the earth. Forever. Gnarly nutrition go gnarly.com. Use code free trail 15 for 15% off your order of all the best nutrition supplements on the market. NSF certified recyclable sustainable packaging. These guys are the best go gnarly.com. Joel Bo jbo.com best sunglasses ever made, especially for trail runners. Photochromic lenses free trail 10. We'll get you 10% off these fantastic sunnys okay. Hope you guys all enjoyed the episode. Really appreciate you all for listening, especially all the way to the bitter end so that I can tell you that I love you as I do every episode, because I do sincerely love and appreciate you all so much. We're just getting started. Talk to you soon. Bye bye.