Ben Gibbard on His “Live From Home” Livestream Concerts and “Life in Quarantine” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Ben Gibbard on His “Live From Home” Livestream Concerts and “Life in Quarantine”

Community in the Dark

Dec 21, 2020 Death Cab for Cutie
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As Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie walked around Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in the pre-lockdown days of the pandemic it was eerily quiet, like that week between Christmas and New Year’s when most of the city’s tech industry transplants have gone back to their home states. Stores were starting to get picked over, businesses were shifting to remote work, and people were scared. Death Cab for Cutie’s manager, Jordan Kurland, suggested that since everyone was home with nothing to do, Gibbard might as well do some livestream concerts to raise some money for local charities. “It just seemed like with everything starting to hurtle out of control, I was in a unique position to provide the one skill that I have to people who were fans of the band or were looking for something to focus on other than the news,” Gibbard says.

Like that, Live From Home was born. An original commitment to do two weeks of shows soon ballooned to 22 performances spread over two months, with Gibbard playing everything from Death Cab’s biggest hits to their deepest cuts, with a generous helping of covers on the side. With each concert Gibbard also asked fans to donate to a particular charity. Week after week, 4,000 to 5,000 fans turned up to watch Gibbard perform solo renditions on guitar and piano. Before long, something resembling an online support group had sprung up.

“People were saying ‘How is your week? How are you holding up? How is your mom doing?’—having these conversations among themselves,” Gibbard says. “Then I would play and would usually close the chat because it was a distraction, but when I would click in to answer questions, I would notice that people had been talking to each other the whole time. For me, that was probably the element of doing these shows that I didn’t see coming that was really heartening to see.”

A few days into the Live from Home concerts, before the state of Washington had officially locked down, Gibbard debuted the new song “Life in Quarantine.” An eerily prescient document of a deserted Seattle, with empty grocery stores and airports jammed with people desperate to escape the city, the song might be remembered as the first effort to capture the fear and panic in the early days of the pandemic. Gibbard says he won’t be disappointed if it eventually joins a list of tracks no one wants to listen to once COVID-19 is no longer a threat, however. He suspects that the coming year will see a veritable flood of such songs, and he has no intention to write any more of them. With no tours on the horizon, he now has the privilege of having time to do nothing but reflect and be creative. The result, he says, has been a period of productivity that rivals any in his career.

“This is kind of a bold statement, but I haven’t felt that things are flowing this well since I was writing Transatlanticism and Give Up at the same time,” he says referencing Death Cab for Cutie’s hallmark 2003 release and The Postal Service’s platinum-selling album from that same year. “I’m not insinuating that the product of this time is going to be records that are as seminal as those albums are. I like to joke that I’ve made it through all of the stages of grief, and I’m now at 100 percent acceptance that this is what the rest of the year, at bare minimum, is going to look like. After you’ve gone through all of those phases and you’re at acceptance you’re like, ‘Okay, this is my job. I’m a songwriter.’ I could either sit here and feel sorry for myself that the fun stuff I was hoping to do I can’t do, or I can focus my energy on making new stuff. I’ve decided to take the latter approach.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 67 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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