If you ever saw Ben Gibbard pacing the sidewalk in Seattle in 2002, listening to his portable CD player and singing to himself, he was probably writing The Postal Service album “Give Up” in his head. The album eventually achieved platinum status, even though the band never properly toured behind it. Injecting singer-songwriter emotion/song structure into electronic dance music was undeniably compelling to millions of people now in their 30s, who first listened back then.
“I was in my mid-20s,” says Gibbard on the phone, talking about his writing process. “I would document what I saw. I would get the music mailed to me [by producer Jimmy Tamborello] on CD and put it in a Discman, and walk around Capitol Hill or wherever else and listen to the song. I’d hum ideas to myself, maybe jot down little things. I’d never worked like that before. Everything flowed pretty effortlessly.”
The Postal Service, thanks in large part to “Give Up,” still has enough fans to headline arenas around the world on their 10-year anniversary tour. They’ll do just that at KeyArena Thursday night.
In a sense, this is a year of nostalgia for Gibbard, a little more than a decade after not only “Give Up,” but also “Transatlanticism,” the breakthrough record for his other band, Death Cab for Cutie. (Death Cab performs that record at Bumbershoot over Labor Day weekend).
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Somehow the time was just cosmically right for The Postal Service.
“With electronic music at that time, there was very little of it that I felt had any emotional content,” Gibbard says. “It was very cold and process-oriented. We wanted to make a record that sounded like the records we grew up with, as big fans of ’80s electro pop. Stuff like Depeche Mode, OMD, Human League.”
“Give Up” doesn’t really sound like those bands. But the open, sincere emotion over electronic beats got through to the masses anyway, and resonated. Gibbard insists he wasn’t trying to do anything new or novel with The Postal Service, and he doesn’t want to “take credit for being the first person to combine peanut butter with jelly.” But he does like shaking up the indie-rock paradigm. His personal choice for an opener for this massive tour was New Orleans bounce-rap drag queen Big Freedia — whose booty-centric hip-hop has little in common with Postal Service’s relatively mellow sound.
“We’re really going into uncharted territory, as far as not having an indie-rock band open for us,” Gibbard says, sounding energized. “I love Big Freedia’s music and am really excited to see how people react to it.”
Andrew Matson: @andrewmatson or firstname.lastname@example.org