Photography Eliot Lee Hazel

this is ben gibbard from death cab’s krautrock playlist

Highly recommended listening.

by Frankie Dunn
09 August 2018, 1:03pm

Photography Eliot Lee Hazel

Calling all Death Cab fans: your favourite frontman Ben Gibbard just made you a playlist! You see, three years on since their last record, Kintsugi, the seminal Seattle band just announced that their ninth studio album, Thank You For Today, will be released later this month. Lead singles Gold Rush, I Dreamt We Spoke Again and Autumn Love are already out and going down a treat; and while the first two were notably more synthy than you’d expect, the latter is all classic Death Cab guitars. “Yeah, I feel like Autumn Love has reassured people that we’re not going in an entirely new direction with this record,” Ben says when we call him in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he’s rehearsing for a run of shows.

When he’s not busy touring and/or releasing brilliant new albums, Ben can usually be found at home listening to krautrock records. Not familiar with the genre? In the late 60s, something massive was happening to German music. Keen to forge a new space for themselves far away from their country’s divided post-war past, a generation of musicians looked past the rock and roll of the west and straight into the future. The result was a new kind of experimental rock that English-speaking journalists teasingly dubbed krautrock.

Krautrock was minimal as hell, psychedelic-leaning and the most original-sounding music that anyone had heard at the time. It would also go on to provide -- it turns out -- an important source of inspiration for a certain Benjamin Gibbard. “That period was one of those watershed moments where everything that we thought a rock band should be and should sound like shifted,” he explains. “To me it’s very similar to the French new wave as it pertains to filmmaking or the beat movement when it comes to literature; those movements really opened the floodgates to what was possible.”

Starting out on a healthy dose of NEU!, having been introduced to the band by a friend, Ben soon fell into a krautrock hole that he’d never quite climb back out of. Nor would he want to. “I’d never heard anything like it before,” he remembers. “There were no chords and there was just one note for ten minutes. At first you’re kind of left waiting for something -- a shift, a chord change or a vocal -- but after a four to five minutes, it just becomes this hypnotic thing that draws you in even more.” So to what extent have Death Cab, with their beautiful, traditional songwriting, been influenced by the genre? “Across our catalogue, we’ve certainly had some krautrock moments from time to time. We’d be like: oh, what shall we do for this final song? Let’s just play one riff for five minutes!”

Sensing he might be interested in krautrock, we asked Ben to make us a playlist of his all-time favourite kraut records. It might only be 11 songs long, but don’t be fooled. Krautrock has no concept of time -- the whole thing clocking in at almost one and a half hours. So sit back, relax and learn a thing or two as Ben talks you through both his selection and a brief history of krautrock:

La Dusseldorf, Time

“Klaus and Thomas Dinger from NEU! went on to form this band. Time is a song that I have tried to rip off many, many times with virtually no luck. In fact, Autumn Love was edited down from a demo that was about nine minutes long and was specifically my attempt to rip off this song. You wouldn’t really be able to tell from listening to Autumn Love now, but it had these long sections of very simple 1/4 chord changes and the chorus would just jump out of these long sections of instrumental. So when we were mining songs for this record, I figured I could cut this one down a bit and make it a little more compact. I just love how once Time gets going, it’s really, really beautiful.”

NEU!, Seeland

“This is one of my favourite NEU! songs. It’s a little more subdued, but I like it for that reason. It’s off of their album NEU! 75. From what I understand, NEU! made this album when they weren’t getting along. So Michael Rother did side one, and Thomas Dinger did side two. Michael’s is more introspective and prettier than Thomas Dinger’s side, so I tend to prefer his work.”

Harmonia, Watussi

“This band was comprised of Michael Rother and Hans-Joachim Roedelius from Cluster. It started out as a recording project when NEU! had gone on hiatus or broken up, and this, Watussi, is the first song on the first Harmonia record. What I love about them and especially this tune, is that it has a very lo-fi feel to it, like they were just fucking around in the studio. There seem to be no rules to what constitutes a song for them. As someone who likes more traditional songs, I sometimes have to shake myself up like: a song can be whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/alpha chorus. A lot of these Harmonia recordings remind me of that.”

Cluster, Sowiesoso

“Now we’re heading into a song by Cluster, as sort of a tribute to Harmonia. A lot of the early Cluster stuff isn’t very musical -- it’s much more experimental which is not something that I tend to gravitate towards, so I find their early records quite hard to listen to. But Sowiesoso is a very beautiful, ethereal recording and something which I really enjoy. I feel like it said exactly what Harmonia became.”

Ashra, Deep Distance

“Ashra was basically a solo project for Manuel Göttsching, one of the guitar players in Ash Ra Tempel, before he started releasing under his own name. Deep Distance is taken from one of my favourite albums of this period, New Age Of Earth. It was around this time that Brian Eno was — I guess some people would say — ‘inventing’ ambient music. This music by Ashra was certainly a companion to that. There was a hive mind occurring at that point because Manuel Göttsching was starting to do similar stuff; very long expansive meditative pieces. This is one of my favourites.”

Harald Grosskopf, So weit, so gut

“Harold was a member of Ash Ra Tempel for a short period of time before going on to do more synthesiser-based instrumental records. So weit, so gut is on his first solo record and I really like it.”

CAN, Waiting For The Streetcar

“First off, a new CAN biography just came out and it’s a total page-turner! This is a ten minute song that — as the story goes — was created when CAN were jamming at an art gallery opening. As they were jamming, people started leaving the gallery and hanging about in the street, waiting for the tram to come along. So Malcolm Moody started to sing; “Are you waiting for the streetcar? Are you waiting for the streetcar?” for like 20 minutes. They cut it down to ten minutes and released it. It’s somewhat grating at first but gets oddly meditative. I love that story.”

Thomas Dinger, E-605

“This one is by Thomas, the brother of NEU! drummer Klaus Dinger. He made a solo record called Für Mich, and this song from it is a really long, slow dirge that reminds me a lot of Mogwai. I have a feeling that they must have been influenced by this record because it reminds me of some of the songs from Come On Die Young. It has a very slow, languid pace but manages to still be really compelling.”

Faust, Jennifer

“I have mixed feelings about Faust. There are moments that I really appreciate them but there are also moments where they seem totally obnoxious. I think, in some ways, that was kind of the point of Faust. Jennifer, for example, is a very beautiful and fairly traditional ballad. But then on the same album there are tracks that’re just unlistenable and grating for the sake of it. I always liked the dichotomy of being both obnoxious and having this transcendent beauty. It’s a fun thing to play with.”

Roedelius, Staunem im Fjord

“So Hans-Joachim Roedelius was a member of Cluster and, by extension, a member of Harmonia. He’s still alive today. I think he must be in his 80s and he’s still making records. In his solo career he parallelled what Brian Eno [who was later part of Harmonia] was doing with his more ambient, expansive recordings. I always put Roedelius’ records on in the morning when I’m making coffee and getting my day started.”

Popol Vuh, Letzte tage -- letzte nachte

“Popol Vuh incorporated a lot of eastern percussion and drone alongside the German vocabulary of modular synthesizers, guitar music and a more German penchant for monolithic drone. They also did a lot of the soundtracks for Werner Herzog’s films in the 70s, like Nosferatu and Cobra Verde. This song has a very triumphant, open-hearted chorus and an awesome finale. You really can’t play another song after this one, it’s just so epic and sprawling. Okay, I feel like I just mansplained krautrock for 20 minutes. I apologise.”

Death Cab for Cutie’s Thank You For Day is due for release 17 August on Atlantic

death cab for cutie
ben gibbard