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Ben Gibbard talks about connecting with fans and supporting his Seattle community during a public health crisis

Ben Gibbard performs with Death Cab for Cutie at The Current in 2018. (Nate Ryan/MPR)
Ben Gibbard performs with Death Cab for Cutie at The Current in 2018. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

by Caleb Brennan

March 20, 2020

As the Covid-19 virus continues to spread worldwide, forcing countless musicians and support staff out of work, members of the music community are stepping up to help those in need. Jill Riley got on the phone with Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard to discuss the Facebook Live events he’s been hosting daily to help raise funds for those in need and provide comfort to fans during these trying times.

Jill Riley: So Ben, how are things going in Seattle?

Ben Gibbard: Well, you know, people are really freaked out. You know, obviously, Seattle was one of the, if not the epicenter of the outbreak here in the States. This is one of those know, I'm often very proud to be a Washingtonian, but I've been incredibly proud of the work that Governor Inslee, and our mayor here in Seattle, Jenny Durkan, have done in taking this as seriously as they've been taking it.

Throughout this crisis today, I think there have been moments for everybody that I know, including myself, where it's gotten real. I think people early on kind of maybe thought that some of the social distancing requests were not mandatory, or maybe they didn't apply to them. And I think as things have kind of ramped up, we've seen the majority of people here realize that this is very serious, and they should be falling in line with the directives. I'm really proud to say that a lot of people here have been doing that.

Can you talk a little bit about the Facebook Live videos that you've been doing?

Earlier in the week, I had a conversation with my manager, and we just were discussing ways to kind of give people a respite from the worry and the onslaught of news coming at us from every direction, and just offer people an opportunity to think about something else for a couple minutes. I've committed to doing a live show every day at 4 p.m. Pacific Time [6 p.m. CDT] for the next two weeks or so. And what I'm trying to do is kind of rope in a local charity here in the Northwest — or, as we continue, to those outside the Northwest — that need non-monetary assistance. Because obviously people are being laid off, people are having difficulty making rent and paying bills.

You know, I think going out and asking people for money is a little bit of a tall order. But, there are organizations here in Seattle, they're very much in need in point, an organization called the Aurora Commons that is in desperate need of tents and sleeping bags for some of the people in their community experiencing homelessness that [are] now being turned away from shelters and hotels. And if we're able to kind of facilitate a handful of tents and sleeping bags showing up at Aurora Commons by doing a 45-minute acoustic show, then that's something that I feel very proud to be at.

So you're really interacting with your fans. I see that you've been taking requests. What is it like to connect with your fans in this way?

Well, you know, I think for somebody of my generation, I'm 43. Obviously a lot of people in our generation have embraced social media, but I think that very few of us have embraced it with [the] fervor and transparency that a lot of young artists and younger people have. So this is all kind of a new experience for me. I think maybe in the past I've been a little bit leery of kind of entering into something like this. It's so transparent and so exposed.

But I think what I'm learning in this particular case is that in this time, with what we are going through right now, people are really craving connection and kind of respite from their isolation. I think there are people out there who are fans of our band or my music. They're given an opportunity to kind of interact with me and, then conversely for me, getting a chance to interact with them feels really good. It feels like we're all kind of in this together because we are.

I read an interview where you had made a statement that so many Death Cab for Cutie fans have traveled from all over the world to congregate to see your band perform. And now I mean really, you're kind of returning the favor by coming to your fans.

It's a really easy thing to do because I have some recording equipment in my house. At the same time, there has never been a better opportunity for people in positions like I am in, in which, thankfully, you know, we will be able to weather this kind of crisis probably better than a lot of people. I have a lot of friends out there who have albums out right now, or that just came out.

Living in this economy of being in a band over the last 15 years, playing live shows, it's really the only source of reliable income for a lot of people that I know. To have that completely stripped out from underneath them is very difficult. And it's not only the musicians themselves, but it's also the people who work on the road crews, work in their venue, the bartenders at clubs. It just trickles down in this really kind of tragic way. I know I'm really enjoying seeing the response that people are having to any and all artists who are realizing that they can just open up their laptop or turn on the phone and just immediately create a connection with other human beings.

Ben, when you were at Minnesota Public Radio, and you were on the tour cycle for Thank You for Today, I was thinking about that album title and we had talked a little bit about the idea of “thank you for today” and I remember you telling us that it started out as kind of a sarcastic exchange, but just that phrase and that mindset, “thank you for today.” Boy, if that isn't relevant right now, I don't know what it is.

Yeah, I mean, you know, we are learning in real time what it's like to live moment to moment. You know, I feel like a lot of us, including myself have almost taken kind AA, or any kind of recovery services, there's this emphasis on just making it through the day, you know? At the end of the day, you can say, like, "I didn't drink today," or "I didn't use today." And I think that a lot of people that I know are kind of experiencing a similar brand of gratitude for having made it through another day.

Not only as far as their health is concerned, but just as far as their ability to kind of spend time with their immediate family if they're all in quarantine or be able to kind of recognize whether you are FaceTiming with your parents or your sister or just how valuable points of connection and relationships are. And so I've been finding myself as, I go to sleep every night, you know, of course, worried for the state of the country, and the world and my immediate friends and family and bandmates — but at the same time, kind of going to bed with a real sense of gratitude that I'm on this planet. I get to experience all the highs and lows of life and that's something I’m trying to kind of really take to heart every day.

I think with that message, that's what we need to hear, you know, just as a community as people who are all...we're in this together and I appreciate you saying it and then I appreciate you checking in with The Current this morning.

Absolutely. It's lovely to talk to you again and hopefully, we'll all see each other on the other side.

Connecting with the music world during the coronavirus crisis

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.