Ben Gibbard, frontman of Death Cab For Cutie, says he is fine with people loving or hating them

Death Cab For Cutie comprise (from far left) bassist Nick Harmer, singersongwriter Ben Gibbard and drummer Jason McGerr.
Death Cab For Cutie comprise (from far left) bassist Nick Harmer, singersongwriter Ben Gibbard and drummer Jason McGerr.PHOTO: WARNER MUSIC SINGAPORE

Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard is glad that listeners feel strongly about the indie rock band, good or bad

8Q

American indie rock band Death Cab For Cutie are the kind of band you either love or hate. So says its frontman, Ben Gibbard.

"People feel very passionately about this band," the singer, musician and songwriter says in a telephone interview ahead of their show tonight at The Coliseum, their third here. "There are people who really love this band and hate this band."

From their beginnings in 1997 as Gibbard's solo project, Death Cab For Cutie, which now also comprise bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr, rose from cult status to become one of the United States' most prominent indie rock bands.

Gibbard, 39, relishes how the band's brand of plaintive, emotional music attracts polarising views.

Their eighth and most recent album, Kintsugi, for example, was described as "smartly shaped" by The New York Times, but was criticised as "the sound of a rock band giving up completely" by pop culture website PopMatters.

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"I feel very fortunate that throughout our career, we have guarded extreme kind of feelings, extreme love or distaste. There are so many bands out there that people are just mildly enthusiastic about or they are fairly indifferent, like 'oh yeah, those guys are all right'."

Still, critics for the most part love the Washington band. Their last three albums - Narrow Stairs (2008), Codes And Keys (2011) and Kintsugi (2015) - have been nominated for Grammy awards in categories such as Best Alternative Music Album and Best Rock Album.

The fact that they have yet to win any of the awards does not faze Gibbard, who is also known for his other music projects that include electropop outfit The Postal Service.

"I am proud of the work I've done and continue to do. I don't have any illusions of our band being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," says Gibbard, who was married to actress Zooey Deschanel from 2009 to 2012. He is now in a relationship with photographer Rachel Demy.

He is looking forward to playing to their Singapore fans again, describing them at the last two shows as being "amazing".

Of the upcoming set, he says: "It's songs from the newest records and the old records. At this point, we have eight albums so we try to represent everything we have in those shows. It'll be close to two hours of music and we'll have a good time."

1 You did a radio show recently where you talked at length about your favourite books, such as The Brothers K by American novelist David James Duncan. Do the books you read have any inspiration on your songs?

It's not necessarily the plot or the stories, the narrative arcs per se, but even though I write songs, I do take a lot of inspiration from prose and how people write long-form work.

Certainly the books I chose, among a number of others we weren't able to discuss, have really been inspirational and taught me different ways to use language, which is not necessarily the same way one uses it when one is writing a book.

But I think the way language has been used has been very interesting.

2 Someone made unofficial mash- ups of Death Cab For Cutie songs with Kanye West's raps and posted them online recently, under the moniker Death Cab For Yeezy. Did you get to hear them?

I did - they're cool.

I love that stuff, I think what people are able to do with technology these days and the ability to disseminate that stuff is exciting.

So long as somebody's not printing copies and trying to sell them, we're always proponent of people doing cool projects like that.

3 You are one of the contemporary songwriters who wrote songs for an upcoming comeback album by 1960s American television show band The Monkees. How did you end up working on that?

It just came through my management. They wanted me to write for them. It was an honour to be asked. If it's not my ultimate career highlight, it is pretty far up there.

The Monkees are my first favourite band. My dad had the records and, as a kid, I used to watch the show. I grew up in the 1980s and this was 20 years after the show went on the air, but there's just something so universal about them and I think they're amazing. I'm really excited.

4 It's been almost a year since you released the band's latest record, Kintsugi. Now that you've played the songs live a lot, looking back, how do you feel about the album?

It's holding up pretty well. Whatever album we make, there are songs we think are going to connect to an audience and don't, and then songs that we don't expect to connect to an audience but do.

I think the songs lend themselves well to being played live. There are a lot more uptempo numbers sothe new material is going over better with the fans than the last record did, which is a good sign for us.

5 Death Cab For Cutie's music has been used to soundtrack many shows on television. What are your TV watching habits like now?

It's an interesting time, I feel, because TV has never been better and never been worse at the same time, if that makes any sense. In America, you can watch the lowest common denominator, brainless drivel or you can watch some of the highest form of that particular medium on HBO or Showtime or Hulu or Netflix.

House Of Cards is fantastic. I love that show and I think it's coming back pretty soon, which I'm excited about.

6 You have been posting a lot of old photos on Instagram. What do you miss most about Death Cab For Cutie's early days?

When I look at some of the older photographs of when we were younger and the notebooks I've written in and things like that, I think it gives me a good perspective of how far we've come.

We've played shows in basements, we've played shows to three people, in coffee houses to nobody and we did it because we loved it.

7 You are known to be an avid runner. Will we see you pounding the pavement in Singapore?

I don't know how much I'll be able to do in South-east Asia. It'll be like 95 deg F (35 deg C) and the humidity - I think I'm not really conditioned for that. But I definitely try to get out and do it when I can just because it's become this very important force in my life.

There are times I almost feel that if I can make a deal with the devil and have, like, perfect running health for the rest of my life, I can just walk away from everything and just run till the day I die.

That's the goal, that's what I'm hoping for. We'll see.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I hope that people look back and see us as one of the bands that defined the sound of a particular era.

I would love it if what's on my epitaph was: "He was a musician who helped define music of this particular era."

That would be amazing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2016, with the headline 'Love or hate us, we won't mind'. Print Edition | Subscribe