Much has changed for Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard since “Narrow Stairs,” the band’s 2008 Jack Kerouac- and Big Sur-inspired experiment.
He gave up drinking, took up running and completed the Los Angeles marathon this year with a time of 3:56:34.
He also recently relocated to Hollywood with his bride of two years, actress Zooey Deschanel, and penned a chiming new Death Cab for Cutie album called “Codes and Keys,” with tracks apparently celebrating his transformation: “Home Is a Fire,” “Unobstructed Views,” “Stay Young, Go Dancing.”
Is the album trying to make sense of Gibbard’s new L.A. existence? “I think that’s a fair assessment,” says the singer, whose quartet headlines the Treasure Island Music Festival Sunday. “Because we’ve been a band known for maudlin thoughts throughout the years, the prevailing dismissive position on the record would be, ‘Well, this is some sort of happy record, about living in California!’ But it’s really not — there’s a lot of nervousness and an unsettled feeling about it.”
Nevertheless, “Codes” has made sunny inroads. Its first single, “You Are a Tourist,” hit No. 1 on adult contemporary and modern-rock charts and featured a Tim Nackashi-directed clip that was the first live, scripted, single-take music video to be broadcast as it was being filmed.
If his attitude has been adjusted, Gibbard has his new daily routines to thank — starting with Blue Bottle Coffee’s Retrofit Espresso blend that he and Deschanel mail-order from San Francisco, then maybe an hour-long jog.
“Four years ago, I needed something to take the place of bad things, and I just decided on running,” says Gibbard, 35. “And I finally cracked that runner’s high that everybody talks about, where your brain shuts off and you become very aware of your physical self — very beneficial for somebody who makes a living with their brain, spending long hours thinking about yourself in relation to the world.”
Gibbard also has a new writing retreat — a 15-by-20-foot guest house on a friend’s property, complete with guitars, piano, drum kit and mixing desk.
“When I’m actively working on a record, I treat it like a day job and go there four, five days a week for five, six hours, and sometimes a song happens, sometimes it doesn’t,” he says.
He warns listeners not to take everything on “Codes” at face value.
“There’s this misconception that when songwriters write in first person, they’re singing their own story,” he says, “so there’s this natural assumption that the person in my songs is me. But more often than not, it isn’t.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Treasure Island Music Festival, Bridge Stage, Treasure Island
When: 9:20 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $69.50 to $119.50 single-day; $125 to $219.50 two-day
Contact: (800) 745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com;www.treasureislandfestival.com