Ben Gibbard on Lockdown Creativity and the Future of Live Performance: 'We've all Gone Through a Collective Trauma'

Ben Gibbard on lockdown creativity and the future of live performance: 'We’ve all gone through a collective trauma'

3/2/2021 8:34:00 PM

Ben Gibbard on lockdown creativity and the future of live performance: 'We’ve all gone through a collective trauma'

Ben Gibbard shares what he’s learned from a year of live streaming, his quarantine show reccs, and watching Harry Potter for the first time in 2021.

Harry Potterfor the first time in 2021.Before we kick it off, I just wanted to say that I loved when you coveredAlvvays'"Archie, Marry Me"on stage back in 2015.I love that band so much. When I heard that song, I thought to myself,"This is a song I wish I would've written when I was 24." It feels like only someone in that age could write that song. It has a little bit of a"Wouldn't It Be Nice" [by The Beach Boys] vibe to it -- with that optimism of youth as it pertains to huge life choices, like marriage.

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So many iconic guitarists have been playing Fender guitars throughout the years. How does it feel to have your name attached to a signature model?Oh, it doesn't even feel real. When they initially approached me to design a signature model, I was almost like,"Well, you guys know I'm a sh--ty guitar player, right?" [

laughs] The crazy part is having your signature here on the back. I'm sure I've written my name a million times when I'm signing checks or filling something out at the post office, but I spent an hour getting my signature right. But yeah, this is a version of what I've played live.

What inspired its design?I fell in love with these '70s-era Mustangs that have this maple neck. I've aesthetically liked this maple neck on these guitars. The original Mustangs have these switchers that change the polarity of the pickups. When I started playing live, I had to tape all that stuff out because when I'm singing and playing guitar, I'd scrape my hand across the little switchers. Strangely enough, my guitar tech at the time worked for Kurt Cobain. And he said to me,"Yeah, I'd tape those up for Kurt, too."

So on my signature model, I took up the pickup switch that switches back and forth because I would always hit my hand across that. Then, I took the tone knob and made that into a pickup switch. There is no tone knob. I'm sure people have used the tone knob, but I have never in my life, on any guitar, have ever adjusted the tone knob. At the end of the day, it's just wild to have this thing that literally has my name on it.

When the pandemic hit, you started live streaming on YouTube. How was that experience?I'd never done any kind of live streaming before. The process was kind of intimidating initially because I've performed in front of audiences that were physically in front of me for my entire career. And surprise, people act differently when they're in someone's presence versus when they're behind the screen. I didn't expect people to be mean or anything, but it was a very odd experience to be playing to 15 to 20 thousand people during the early live streams. If you were to put these people in a venue, it would've filled an arena, but when I was live streaming, I was finishing songs in this room, where I'm speaking to you right now.

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As a veteran performer, what do you think live performances will look like later in 2021?My guess is that we will start to see some scaled-down, outdoor shows in the summer. In the fall, I think we'll start seeing some indoor shows. Those shows will also be subject to diminished capacity. For me, what'll be interesting to see is the level of consumer confidence in going out even after people get vaccinated en masse. It can't be understated that we’ve all gone through and continue to go through a collective trauma. We're slowly gonna have to dig our way out of this. It's unfortunate, but the reality is that our industry will be the last one to come back. Live performances will be the last thing to come back.

I don't wanna give you the impression that music isn't the most important thing in my life, because it is, but this year has really highlighted what the essential services are. Two years ago, I was really concerned about a rock club losing its status and becoming condos. While yes, that still concerns me now, I'd rather have the people living in the park near me have access to housing, medical care, and food. If we had to make the rock club a shelter, let's do that. This year has given us a lot of perspective.

Do you think that live streaming will stick around?I think so, but the technology isn't quite there yet. I've watched a number of concert films and live streams this year, but it's just not the same. I'm sure we'll continue to see people in the industry do live streams to pay their bills and as a way to generate revenue. I have a lot of friends doing that, and I'm glad they have fan bases who are willing to shell out ten bucks to watch them play songs on Zoom. I think that's a necessary part of supporting the arts in these difficult times, but it's not something that I wanna particularly wanna continue doing once we're able to play in front of people.

The connection you have with people in front of you is still one of the most powerful things I've ever experienced. While doing the live streams was incredibly valuable to me and to people watching it at the time, I don't want people to become complacent and think this is an acceptable alternative to being in a sweaty room with people hearing loud music. It's such a wonderful thing to experience.

Livestreams & Virtual Concerts to Watch: Week of March 1Speaking of supporting the arts, what do you think is the best way for fans to support their favorite artists while touring is on hold?That's a good question. It's a difficult question, because the revenue streams for a lot of artists have dried up. If people are interested in supporting the artists they love, it's worth looking into whether they have a Patreon account set up or are doing live streams, where you can give a donation for a nominal fee. Look into whether they're making special merch or doing a special sale on a website to generate revenue. Follow your favorite bands or artists on social media and check to see if they have crowd funding sites set up and sign up for those.

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I don’t see why not? We did it once. We might have to maintain some continuity from it.What movies have you watched in lockdown?Two months ago, my wife finally made me watch theHarry Pottermovies. I've never seen the movies. I never read any of the books. I've heard my friends talk about horcruxes and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, but I had no idea what they were talking about. You might feel this as you get older, but there are these moments when you lose touch on elements of pop culture. It's so weird. It's like going to another country, turning on the TV, and watching people pretend to be famous.

Or, it feels like I just landed in the UK and I'm around my British friends and they're watching their favorite TV shows, and I don't get the references or why they think it's funny. But yeah, I understand why people like the Harry Potter movies, but I kept pausing and asking my wife Rachel,"So they get to the train station and go through the wall, but why is there another train?" [

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