Other cities, other plans; different friends, different dreams; former loves, former lives. After fifteen years in Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Gibbard didn't make his first solo album in search of a new beginning; instead, it closes a door. "These songs span eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking" he says of the dozen tracks that comprise Former Lives. "They're a side story, not a new chapter."
Still, what we keep for ourselves is often just as interesting as what we choose to share.
Former Lives is a gorgeous shadow anthology, the exuberant sound of one of our best songwriters finding his voice by experimenting with those of others. "In Death Cab, we've always been very specific," Ben explains. "We record for the album and then maybe two or three more." But fresh ideas and new experiences don't stop during the weeks and months between the studio and the tour bus; life rarely follows a neatly organized itinerary. "When I'm home between records my only job is writing songs," Ben says. "So when I get up in the morning, what else am I gonna do?" Over time, stray ideas - some fully-formed, others just flecks of melody - filled notebooks and hard drives but as Death Cab songs they never quite, in Ben's words, "fit into the whole."
It took a dramatic change of scenery for their author to realize these square pegs could do just fine on their own, when, a couple of years back, Ben found himself in Southern California, living away from his native Seattle for the first time and making a go of it in a city he famously mocked back on 2000's The Photo Album. But instead of sunshine and celebrity, he discovered a fountain of inspiration. "All the musicians I knew in Los Angeles were constantly making things, always working and doing something interesting. That really lit a fire under me," he says. "And at the same time I was disappearing into the vastness of the city. It surprised me, but there was really something very comforting about falling away into such a huge place." The castaway songs (and pieces of songs) that had been "floating" for years seemed suddenly like the perfect paint for this wonderfully disconcerting new canvas. In between fruitful sessions with Death Cab for what would eventually become 2011's Codes & Keys, Ben holed up with longtime pal Aaron Espinoza (Earlimart) in the City of Angels, reveling in the freedom of solo recording, enjoying both the careful process of turning what had seemed like disparate material into a cogent album of songs and the spontaneity, as Ben puts it, to say things like "fuck it, let's get a Mariachi band." And then to do exactly that.