Postal Service Album Keeps On Delivering

What began as an experimental side project has become a hit.

The Postal Service’s Give Up shows no sign of doing so.

“We made that record like two years ago and it’s still selling like crazy,” puzzled Postal singer Ben Gibbard said. “I don’t really know why.”

Like the Energizer bunny, the album, released in February 2003, keeps going and going. The collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie frontman Gibbard, Dntel mastermind Jimmy Tamborello and Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis was just meant to be a fun little side project (see “Death Cab Singer Goes Postal With Electronic Side Project” ) but it has steadily crawled to 351,000-plus copies sold thanks to the wistful pop singles “Such Great Heights” and “The District Sleeps Tonight.”

The group’s sleeper-hit debut melds pop and electronic beats in a manner that plays to the strengths of each genre to create a hybrid some have dubbed “lap-pop,” because a laptop computer figures prominently in its production and performance.

But along with its surprising heights, the Postal Service story has also had its potential pitfalls. The United States Postal Service threatened to sue if the band didn’t change its moniker, apparently not understanding that the group had nothing but respect for the USPS — Gibbard and Tamborello, living hundreds of miles apart, relied on the mail to record their debut.

“I went down to L.A. and had a meeting with some guys who worked at the [USPS]. It worked out and we came to a consensus,” Gibbard said. “After all, I mean, we made a record using the U.S. Postal Service at a time when [they're] losing [money] because people are doing everything electronically. The bottom line is they’re being really cordial about it.”

As part of their deal to make nice, the Postal Service will perform at the annual USPS convention on November 17 in Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, the group recently made a video for their cover of Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” from the “Wicker Park” soundtrack. (Be sure to check out the “Against All Odds” video premiere here.)

“I’ve always had a soft spot for Phil Collins. He’s a great vocalist. And the thing is that I can’t [really] sing that song,” Gibbard said. “I was trying to do the vocals for that song in my house and there are all these little inflections and flutters. It’s really acrobatic.”

Skeptics may scratch their heads over the group’s choice of cover songs, but for the Postal Service, pop isn’t a four-letter word. “I’ve covered Avril Lavigne. I like good pop songs, and I don’t think there should be any kind of preconceptions about where good pop songs come from,” Gibbard said adamantly. “At the core you are heading towards the same ends — you’re trying to create this three-minute little symphony.”

After “Against All Odds,” the group’s next video will be for Give Up‘s “Silhouettes,” which will be helmed by “Napoleon Dynamite” writer/director Jared Hess.

“He talks exactly like all the characters in the movie,” Gibbard said. “He’s like, ‘Dude, I’ve got a sweet concept for the video.’ ”

While the group is being tight-lipped about the concept, one can assume the video will touch upon the song’s themes — one that the Postal Service frontman says evolved from post-September 11 anxiety.

“Every time you turned on the news there was something to be scared about,” Gibbard said of the days following 9-11. “I feel that we are currently living in a world that is similar to late ’50s/ early ’60s kind of world. All the propaganda that we see today is on par with the propaganda from [that era], but it can’t be laughed off now because that threat exists.”

As for the next Postal Service record, don’t hold your breath. Death Cab for Cutie and Dntel are both scheduled to issue new discs before the Postal Service regroup. But the idea is there.

“I think realistically we’ll probably start working on the next record over the next year or two. … I don’t want to rush it. But there will be another record,” Gibbard said.

Given the success of both of his groups, some have wondered where Gibbard’s allegiance lies, and while he insists Death Cab are his main band, he doesn’t shortchange his thriving electronic group.

“My heart is in everything I do,” he said. “I don’t half-ass anything.”