Like the U.S. Postal Service — which laughs in the face of rain, sleet, snow and people who neglect to use ZIP codes — the electro-pop duo Postal Service have a knack for overcoming obstacles.
The pair — Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard and Dntel mastermind Jimmy Tamborello — wrote and recorded the better part of their debut album, Give Up (Sub Pop), with no budget and while living 1,000 miles apart. Making the long-distance relationship all the more difficult was the fact that they hardly knew each other before it began.
"When I sent him the first couple of songs back, I was just petrified," Gibbard said recently from Seattle. "I really thought he was gonna be like, 'How dare you do this to my songs?' I didn't even really know him very well, so I didn't know what his reaction was going to be."
The two had collaborated before, though, pulling the same music-by-mail trick for a song on 2001's Life Is Full of Possibilities, Tamborello's second electronic LP under the Dntel alias. "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" was so well received that it inspired talk of an EP, which grew to an LP once Sub Pop showed interest. The resulting Give Up combines the sensibilities of Death Cab for Cutie's moody indie rock with the manipulated samples, keyboards and beats of IDM electronica.
"There aren't a lot of people doing stuff that uses qualities from both indie rock and electronic music," Tamborello said from his Los Angeles home. "It's either one or the other, even lots of the stuff that people are calling indietronica. It's sort of alienating to an indie rock fan, and we thought a lot more could be done with combining the two."
And indie rock fans are certainly responding. The album recently hit #1 on the CMJ college radio airplay chart, thanks to the first single, "Such Great Heights." Over a bouncy, scratchy beat, uplifting keys and a peppering of canned handclaps, Gibbard sings, "They will see us waving from such great heights/ 'Come down now,' they'll say/ But everything looks perfect from far away/ 'Come down now,' but we'll stay."
"I was really, really into this girl I was seeing at the time, and I wanted to write a love song for her," he explained, "but that fizzled rather quickly after I wrote the song, so it was kind of pointless I guess."
Filmmakers Josh Melnick and Xander Charity recently shot a video for the song in Los Angeles. The clip, which won't feature Gibbard and Tamborello, revolves around the attraction between two middle-age workers in a computer factory.
Another track, "We Will Become Silhouettes," matches the buoyancy of "Heights," but its cheeriness is belied by apocalyptic lyrics delivered from inside a bomb shelter: "I've got a cupboard with cans of food/ Filtered water and pictures of you/ And I'm not coming out until this is all over."
"I went through this phase after [9/11] where I was just convinced the world was going to end," said Gibbard, who insists he hasn't loaded up on duct tape. "I was convinced that I needed to become very survivalist ... and stock up food for the impending apocalypse. Whenever our government gives us these bullsh-- false-start warnings about things that are supposed to happen, you almost wish something would just happen so you could just get it over with and the relief could set in."
But lately, Gibbard has had another concern on his mind: Friday's (April 4) tour kickoff. "The biggest question right now is how we're going to do some of this stuff live," he said. Aside from the technical challenges of re-creating the album's songs, there's the question of how to keep audiences interested in a performance centered around a singer and a man with a laptop computer.
"We're going to have videos for each song," Tamborello explained. "It'll be split between some really primitive movies of just us running around with a video camera, and then there's some computer-animated, more fancy ones."
Some will be conceptual, others more direct. "[The one for the song] 'Clark Gable' is probably going to be just us videotaping two people making out, because it seems like it'd be really cool to see that on a giant screen," Tamborello said, laughing.
The films will be projected on screens behind Gibbard and Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis, who sings backing vocals on the record and will accompany Postal Service on tour. "It'll be Jenny and I both playing keyboard and guitars," Gibbard said, "and there'll be a small drum set that I'll go back and play at certain times." And what about Tamborello?
"Jimmy will be doing his Wizard of Oz thing behind the curtain."
Postal Service tour dates, according to Sub Pop:
- 4/4 - San Diego, CA @ The Casbah
- 4/5 - Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culture
- 4/7 - Austin, TX @ The Mercury
- 4/8 - Dallas, TX @ Gypsy Tea Room
- 4/9 - Fayetteville, AR @ JR's Lightbulb Club
- 4/10 - St. Louis, MO @ Rocket Bar
- 4/11 - Nashville, TN @ Slow Bar
- 4/12 - Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
- 4/13 - Orlando, FL @ The Social
- 4/14 - Carrboro, NC @ Go Rehearsal
- 4/15 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
- 4/17 - Philadelphia, PA @ North Star Bar
- 4/18 - Brooklyn, NY @ North Six
- 4/19 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
- 4/20 - Cambridge, MA @ Middle East
- 4/22 - Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick
- 4/23 - Chicago, IL @ Abbey Pub
- 4/24 - Milwaukee, WI @ Wehr Hall
- 4/25 - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St Entry
- 4/26 - Omaha, NE @ Sokol Underground
- 4/27 - Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theatre
- 4/28 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
- 5/1 - Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Cafe
- 5/2 - Portland, OR @ Black Bird
- 5/3 - Los Gatos, CA @ Los Gatos Outhouse
- 5/4 - San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
- 5/5 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo