Ben Gibbard

Ben Gibbard on ‘Ben’s My Friend’

Words: Florian Obkircher 

Death Cab For Cutie front man Ben Gibbard lets loose on the iconic song Sun Kil Moon wrote about him

It’s been a while since we heard new music from Death Cab For Cutie. After Codes and Keys (2011), the indie darlings’ foray into the world of vintage synthesizers and electronic sounds, the US band took a break to focus on other projects. Mastermind Ben Gibbard helped out on the Foo Fighters’ eighth studio album Sonic Highway and revived his wildly popular electronica project The Postal Service for an ultimate farewell tour in 2013.

At Gibbard’s invitation, his good friend and fellow musician Mark Kozelek aka Sun Kil Moon attended one of the The Postal Service’s final gigs in Berkeley, California. Kozelek turned his experiences of that night into a song called ‘Ben’s My Friend’ which ended up on Sun Kil Moon’s critically acclaimed masterpiece Benji (2014). Now, for the first time, Gibbard speaks out on how he found out about the song, his friendship with Kozelek and the latter’s feud with The War on Drugs.

THE RED BULLETIN : How did you find out about Ben’s My Friend? Did Mark warn you?

BEN GIBBARD: You know, it’s funny because Mark isn’t the type of guy who warns anybody about anything. Years ago, when he put out that Modest Mouse covers record, Tiny Cities, we were talking and he was like, ‘man, I can’t wait for you to hear my new record. I’m really proud, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.’ I said, ‘cool man, that sounds awesome, I can’t wait to hear it.’

He sent it in the mail and I put it on and I was like like, ‘there’s something weird about this. Wait a minute, these are all Modest Mouse songs!’ It was funny that Mark made a record of Modest Mouse covers which he told me, he thought was the best thing he’d ever done. But he didn’t mention it was all Modest Mouse covers. That seems like an important detail, right? (laughs)

So it took you by surprise?

Yes, I was at home one day and I got a call from a friend who’s like, ‘oh my God! That Mark Kozelek song!’ I had no idea what he was talking about so he sent me a link to Pitchfork. I listened to it and it was f–king great, but I thought, ‘why did Mark not tell you about this?’ But like I said, that’s very much like Mark. He doesn’t warn you about things (laughs). 

It’s interesting because I really did invite him to that show. And, like he says in the song, getting to the Greek Theatre in Berkley is horrible. I almost didn’t think he would show up. So when I saw him afterwards, I even thanked him for coming, knowing how hard it is to get there.

What do you think about the song?

I love it. He’s phenomenal and that record is, I think without a doubt, the best thing he’s ever done after a twenty-year career of making great records.

“Mark was just f—ing around. It was a joke and I think that The War on Drugs didn’t take it the right way” 

Do you remember the encounter in Spain in 2000 Mark mentions in the song?

Yeah, I do. It was at Benicàssim festival, I think it was actually in 2001. It was the first time Death Cab For Cutie had ever played outside of the United States. So we got to this festival and we sound checked really early. And the only people backstage at the festival were us and [Mark’s former band] Red House Painters.

The Facts 

August 11, 1976

Keeping busy
Ben Gibbard has made music with Death Cab For Cutie, The Postal Service, DNTEL, ¡All-Time Quarterback!, Pinwheel, and Pedro the Lion

In the shops
Death Cab For Cutie’s new album Kintsugi is out on March 31

Were you familiar with their music back then?

We were huge fans. But I also had heard that Mark was difficult, not always the most gracious guy. So I was nervous but I thought, ‘f–k it, let’s just go and say hi.’ So I went over to him and said, ‘hey man, I just want to say, I’m in Death Cab For Cutie. We’re big fans of your music, we’re excited for your set.’ That’s it. And he was like, ‘oh yeah, you know what? I have your most recent record.’ I couldn’t believe it. It blew my mind!

We left it at that, I didn’t ask for his email or anything like that. But ever since then I see him every couple of years. We kept the correspondence. He’s a complicated fellow, but he’s a really talented artist. He’s a good friend.

That sounds very peaceful compared to the feud he had with The War on Drugs at a festival last year. 

Well, I think my interpretation of all that is, you know, Mark was just f—ing around. It was a joke and I think that The War on Drugs didn’t take it the right way. It just got a bit out of hand, you know. I played shows with Mark where he’s made fun of me at my own show. (laughs) It’s just kind of part of the deal, but some people don’t take too kind which is understandable.

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