Ben Gibbard’s career started with heartache. In 1997, he recorded a few songs he’d written after his girlfriend broke up with him. To his surprise, the demo tape landed him a record deal and led to the formation of Death Cab For Cutie.
Thanks to Gibbard’s (centre) shimmering guitar anthems with a melancholic undertone, the band soon turned into one of the most successful indie-rock acts of our time, reaching number one on the US Billboard charts with their 2008 album, Narrow Stairs. They released their eighth album, Kintsugi, earlier this year. Here, the 38-year-old frontman reveals the songs that shaped the record.
Prince: “When Doves Cry”
“We used a lot of LinnDrum machine on our album. It’s famously used by Prince on When Doves Cry. We listened to it a lot as we wanted to hear how it worked on the track. One fascinating thing about the song is that there is only the drum machine in the verses. No instruments are doing the chord changes, but you can feel them. It shouldn’t work, but it really does – which is genius.”
Francis and the Lights: “Like a Dream”
“Our producer, Rich Costey, played this to me. It’s a really simple but beautiful pop song by this New York-based one-man band I don’t know much about. But as we were trying to finish the record, I would listen to this song a lot and be like, ‘Man, this thing sounds so effortlessly written.’ I tried to make my songs feel the same way – almost like they were beamed down from outer space.”
Michael Jackson: “Beat It”
“I love the beat on this song. It’s really sloppy and off-kilter, but it sounds great. When we were working on our album’s rhythm tracks, we tried to capture that feeling, too. You want the beat to sound good, but sometimes things need to be a little bit off, which is why for a lot of songs we combined real drums with drum machines. We merged them together to make them sound like one thing.”
Sharon Van Etten: “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”
“I’m a huge fan of Sharon because I love how she writes harmonies. Her vocal performance here is just phenomenal. I’d listen to this tune fairly often while writing songs as I find the way she delivers it very inspiring. I didn’t want to rip off her style, obviously, but there’s so much personality in how she sings, and I want to make sure that I’m doing that for myself.”
Spiritualized: “Lay Back in the Sun”
“We were listening to Spiritualized a lot in the studio, especially this song from 1995. It’s so powerful; the bassline hits so hard. I wanted something on our album that has the same drive to it. I love the guitars on this, but Spiritualized’s secret weapon is the bass player. If our bassist Nick [Harmer] struggles with a line, I usually say, ‘Go listen to Spiritualized and come back with a bassline.’”