Since 2003, frequencies from the Postal Service have been combing the tiny hairs of our inner ears. The tamped, mechanical sieve of Jimmy Tamborello's beats and the eased harmonies of Ben Gibbard, Jenny Lewis, and Jen Wood know our temporal lobes well. Along the nerve routes of our auditory cortex, they've posited the characters of their melodies. There goes Clark Gable, swimming the spiral channels of our cochlea again. Somehow, it's not an image that ever tires—our inner ear as the London Underground, smeared with black ink. Or mirroring eye-freckles, fire escapes, and a figure in the dark who knows who shot JFK. In the recent video for "Tattered Line of String," the Postal Service hooks us once again with their audio imagery. It's a flip on a man at a laundromat, directed by Parisian team AB/CD/CD, where the world is washed and spun instead of his clothes. As the video ends, the man is falling up into the sky. The shot is clear and fitting—inside out, but right. To Ben Gibbard we go, as true and tranquil a troubadour as there is. When he spoke, my inner ear saw his songs.
Where are you? Fremont. Coming at you live and direct.
Has the announcement been made about the Postal Service headlining WrestleMania IX? Playing all Molly Hatchet covers. Can I break that? What, that we're headlining WrestleMania? Yeah, sure, why not. Is there a halftime? We're the halftime show. I can't say anything about the Molly Hatchet.
I wanted to talk about your friendship with the world speed-eating champion Kobayashi. You met in Tokyo in 2006, and over the years, y'all have become super-tight? I'd say we're super-tight, yeah. You know, I've been getting into running, and marathons—right now, I'm training to do a 50K in October. And if you think about it, ultrarunning is only a step away from competitive eating. As an ultramarathoner, you're pushing your body to achieve things that are outside the norm. Kobayashi and I have that in common. We meet up for a light lunch when we can.
The dude can eat 150 hot dogs in five minutes. And he weighs like 90 pounds. He'll talk about his food-chewing and -swallowing techniques. I talk about running. We share war stories. We trade tips, but they're not really analogous or useful to either of us [laughs]. But just the sound of his voice is inspiring. It feels good to share tips with someone you admire, even though they're not applicable.
Can we talk about you doing the reality show Lead Singer Swap? With the Postal Service and Black Sabbath getting back together, they had you switch with Ozzy. You fronted Black Sabbath for a week. What was that like? Did you get along with those guys? Yeah, I got along with the band pretty well. I think the most challenging thing about doing shows with Black Sabbath was dodging bottles. That was fairly difficult. Over the course of an hour-and-a-half show, you're gonna get 50 or 60 bottles thrown at you. And two or three of them will get you. But you take it in stride. You figure, it's only a week long, I can tough it out, the bruises will heal. Also, in hindsight, it was a very terrible idea.
Don't you have a manager helping you with those decisions, or was that decision made for you? To be perfectly honest, that's an internal conversation we'll be having. They keep saying, "No, it's on YouTube, you get nailed with the bottle, people love it, it has a lotta hits." I don't think that's a good thing. They say it's good because my name's out there, and they're going with this whole "all exposure is good exposure" thing. But being the recipient of a bottle to the head doesn't make me feel good, I don't care how many plays on YouTube it has. It's one of those things where management and I get into a disagreement, and they say, "Why don't you come into the office for a week, so you can see how hard our job is?" And I'll say, "Well, why don't you front Black Sabbath for a week and get nailed in the head with Michelob bottles?"
And when Ozzy came out instead of you, the Postal Service fans fucking loved it. They did. I mean, he did a really good job. Jimmy loved him. The thing is, the Postal Service fans are a pretty polite bunch. And they're like, "Oh, this is happening now, I guess we'll go with this." I think he had a much more enjoyable week than I did. But my YouTube videos have more hits than his, so at least there's that. Hindsight 20/20, though—a very bad idea.
Where's the first show of this current Postal Service tour? We're making up a show in Salt Lake City. For the first time in 15 years, I actually lost my voice and had to reschedule.
What made you lose your voice? You've never had to cancel a show because you lost your voice before? Never. Somehow, I've gone this long. There have been shows where my voice isn't great, but I've never had to cancel. I think this was a combination of flying from Europe with someone who was sick sitting next to me, and maybe playing in cold weather at Sasquatch!, then heading into high elevation and dry weather. Just being sick, I guess. It's all good, we were able to reschedule the show. Some people were bummed, but there's nothing we could really do. If you can't sing, there's no show, you know?
And you probably ran some ridiculous amount of miles training for a marathon, now that you run marathons. [Laughs] I don't know if that had anything to do with me getting sick and losing my voice, but I have been doing a lot of running lately. I find it perversely enjoyable.
When you're touring, are you able to keep your running up? The touring life doesn't necessarily allow for long-distance running, does it? I've been getting into trail running. It's fun—you're in the woods, and the mountains. I like it so much more than running on the road. The time disappears, miles go by; you run slower and farther. On tour, it is kind of a grind—sometimes I'll get lucky and there's a park nearby, but usually not. I have an app on my iPad, I'll drop a pin and it's like, OK, where am I? And it looks for some green space nearby. More times than not, it's a bust. I'll try to do long runs on the days off—I'll get up and do between 15 and 20 miles, then augment the other days with however much I can get in without burning myself out.
Shows are somewhat exhausting, but I'll say—after getting into the marathon running and doing these long distances, it makes standing onstage playing a show seem pretty fucking easy, as far as the physical exertion [laughs]. Even the most physically exhausting rock shows I've played don't hold a candle to running a marathon. Now that I have that kind of perspective on it, I don't mind being a little tired for a show because the adrenaline will get me up for it. At this point, I need the running for my sanity. If I don't do it, I'll end up a fucking mess.
How do you eat healthy enough on tour? Truck stops, Denny's, and Taco Bell? Or do you travel with a Special Ben Gibbard Marathoner Chef? Or do you borrow Brad Pitt's micro chef? No, we're not quite at Coldplay level [laughs]. But touring now is such a different animal than when we first started. I mean, we're traveling in buses, and there are people whose job it is to go get us food and stuff. It's not like it used to be, where you're hassling in some town, having to figure out how to cobble a meal together at an ARCO station. Although I do find myself eating four or five meals a day sometimes when I'm on tour. From running and playing shows, I need a lot of calories.
Are you one of those singers who does the preshow warm-up routine, singing scales and doing diaphragm squats and shit? No, you know, I don't sing that loud, and I've never done that stuff. I feel like I've never really needed it, for better or worse.
During shows, in between songs when you're changing guitars, you don't just hand the guitar tech your guitar, you throw it. One time I saw you throw it like 30 feet. I mean you launched it, Metallica-style. Is that something you practice? Did it just evolve? Has it ever gone wrong? It just started happening. There wasn't a practice run or anything. I've always told our techs that it's on me—I'm throwing this to you, so if you don't catch it, it's not your fault. If I'm dumb enough to be throwing a guitar across the stage to you, I would like it if you caught it, but I'm not going to hold you accountable. As I've played shows these last five years sober, it's something I've been doing a lot less.
Are those valuable guitars? Or are they just cheapies that you can break? Because I can't see you playing cheapies. They're valuable, but they're not invaluable. Does that make sense? They're not irreplaceable. I do have a handful of guitars that have emotional and vintage value that I would never throw across stage.
So, let's do Ben Gibbard Guitar Throwing Tips for When You're Throwing Your Guitar Across Stage to Your Tech. When someone is throwing their 1949 Fender Broadcaster prototype worth $375,000, what do they need to remember? You don't want it to pinwheel. Consider it like you're throwing a knuckleball. You don't want any spin on that bad boy. You want it to float stagnantly through the air. It's gotta be catchable. As it's leaving your fingers, remember you don't want any rotation on it. That's no good. You want to stay away from that.