In 2000 hardly anyone had heard of Death Cab for Cutie. They had two albums to their name, a new EP, and were getting airtime from a few college radio stations. In their home of the Pacific Northwest they were treated to leading band status, but for the most part they were still opening shows for others and scraping by. A lot has changed since then. They've released two more albums and their 5th full length is set to drop August 30th. After being namechecked incessantly on "The OC," being featured on "Six Feet Under," and seeing their videos find heavy rotation on MTV2, Death Cab has emerged as the most successful indie rock band to break mainstream audiences. You may have also heard lead singer Ben Gibbard's side project, The Postal Service, whose debut album went on to be used in dozens of TV shows, movies, and sell over 100,000 copies. On November 4th, 2000, after Death Cab finished opening for Pedro the Lion, my friend Jordan and I followed Ben outside and chatted him up. The following is the first interview I ever did.
So you were playing Tony Hawk 2 backstage?
You know I did play the second one for the first time today and I don't like it. Well, I mean I guess it's kind of a different game, so you need to know...it's just kind of different.
Have you skated at all before?
Like a long time ago. I never had video games when I was growing up and my girlfriend got me a Playstation and Tony Hawk for my birthday. It's the only game I have, I love that game.
On the next album is there going to be more of an electronic vibe to it? I noticed some elements of that on the EP [Forbidden Love].
Not necessarily. Like "photo booth" was just the drum loop of this really cheesy keyboard that I had so I demo'd the song and used that as a drumbeat. And as I was recording it I thought it'd be really cool for that to be a drumbeat and then to have Mike play on top of it. That was just like a one-off idea to do that on the side.
Have you done any tours overseas?
Never. That's kind of one thing that we really want to start trying to look into. Right now Barsuk is trying to finalize a record overseas. And there's some interest so far, but we don't have anything out over there.
How did you come up with the cover for the EP? It seemed kind of dissimilar to the other albums.
I always wanted to have a release and have that photo be the cover and we took the pictures a long time ago when we were in college. When we pulled them out they didn't look like what we thought they were going to look and they didn't look as good. So we had to kind of change the contrast and make it look really shitty. To be perfectly honest it didn't turn out as good as we wanted it to. But it's an EP. It serves a purpose and I think the label wishes they could have done more. It's not aesthetically our best release, but it's ok.
[A girl comes up to Ben and says that she had emailed him about taking photos and asked if that was ok. He replies "Yes, of course."]
We were talking earlier about how you included your email address on the All Time Quarterback CD. Have there been any crazy people emailing you?
Not really. The Death Cab mail from the Barsuk website goes right to my mailbox. We used to have a separate account for it but that email account died for some reason. I haven't opened up another one. I don't know if somebody hacked into it and fucked up, because it's weird. It's a hotmail account but I'd log into it and there'd be a kid's passport asking me "Are your parents home?" There's this kid that's been emailing me. He found out that I was vegan and he was like, "oh, you're a vegan," and he asked why I was vegan, and I'd tell him why and he kept emailing us and he was like, "So maybe we should hang out when you're in San Francisco." It was kind of like, "Yeah, maybe."
So you're not going to show him any vegan hangouts?
I don't think we'll have time to have hangouts with anyone. We're playing an early show and so we need to get up at the crack of dawn to make it to San Francisco.
Are the early shows shorter?
Well pretty much the standard when we're playing before Pedro [the lion] is playing ten songs. It's a fifty minute set.
I didn't even know you guys weren't headlining until I got the ticket.
Oh no, we're Pedro support on this tour. Up in the Northwest we're kind of trading off headlining.
Are there any bands you're listening to now that that you're really into?
Godspeed You Black Emperor! I really like American Analog Set.
Do you like Elliott Smith at all?
Oh yeah, I love Elliott Smith.
If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
Wow. The possibilities are endless. I'd like to think that I'd do something meaningful instead of going to a girl's locker room, but I don't know what that would be.
Are there any authors that you're into?
I really like Jack Kerouac a lot. Phillip Roth.
How long have you been vegan for?
About five years.
[We're outside and behind us we hear someone yell "Yeah, fuck that!" and look over to see a guy humping a tree]
Do you get a lot of tree-fuckers coming to your shows?
Yeah, tree-fuckers like Death Cab.
Are there any vegan products you recommend?
Rice Dream is really good. I like the cookies 'n' cream, err, cookies 'n' dream.
Do you like Tofutti Cuties at all?
Yeah. Actually I had a couple today.
Jordan: How would you characterize your onstage dance?
The Frankenstein. Pre-historic man. Have you seen "2001," the beginning? Kind of worshipping the stone.
Yeah. I call it "the monolith."
Jordan: But that thing just stays in one place.
Right, but ...I'm still picturing this guy fucking the tree.
Have you thought about putting any props onstage like that?
No, I don't think we need any trees onstage, we've got Chris.
[We then talked about movies for awhile, but my recorder didn't pick this up. Talk turned to Christopher Guest and his new movie]
What were your thoughts on "Best in Show"?
I thought "Best in Show" was a little weak. All the funny jokes were in the previews. And there's not that much substance after that. I guess that "Waiting for Guffman" is so amazing that it's hard to follow that, and I was kind of disappointed.
Jordan: You didn't like the lasso dance? And the cardboard cactus hitting him on the back of the head?
Oh yeah, it was good but I just wasn't into it as much as "Guffman." "Guffman's" a classic. It's so amazing. It was nice talking to you guys.