Listeners Won't 'Give Up' On Postal Service

Excerpted from the magazine for

The Postal Service's debut album, the ironically titled "Give Up," is doing anything but. In the July 17 issue of Billboard, the Sub Pop set reached No. 1 on the Top Electronic Albums chart. It recently spent its fourth week in the top spot -- 68 weeks after debuting on the chart at No. 11.

With scant radio, club or video exposure and minimal touring (no more than 30 live shows), the Postal Service has, with much positive word-of-mouth, delivered Seattle-based independent Sub Pop its second-best-selling album- -- after Nirvana's "Bleach."

Scratching your head? You are not alone. "It has surpassed our expectations," says electronic producer Jimmy Tamborello who, along with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, is the Postal Service.

Tamborello records under such aliases as Dntel and Figurine. He says he and Gibbard worked on the album as they would any other project. "We had no ambition to make a crossover album," Tamborello says.

"We didn't even have a plan for an overall sound; we just wanted to make a fun record," he adds. "We just thought it would find a small audience for people that liked our other bands."

The project took its name from the pair's method of working on tracks: through the U.S. mail. "I would send Ben one or two rough instrumental tracks on a CD," Tamborello says. "He had [sound editing software] Pro Tools. He would do all the guitar, keyboard and vocal parts, then edit the track for length. He'd then send it back to me and I would make the final changes. We got together twice during the recording process: once to record vocals and then when it came time to mix the album."

"I don't play instruments," he continues. "I do everything on the computer. So, for me, it doesn't make much difference to be working with the person in the same room. I don't really require that immediacy. I find it nice to be on your own and work it out."

For Sub Pop president and founder Jonathan Poneman, the Postal Service delivered the right album at the right time. "The album has that certain quality that lends itself to a fascination with retro culture -- from one generation to another," he says.

Indeed. An older generation is responding to the Postal Service's fondness for such synth-pop bands as the Human League and Pet Shop Boys. Conversely, today's indie-centric youth, which vaguely remembers artists from the '80s, find the sounds fresh in a contemporary context.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, "Give Up" has sold 300,000 copies in the United States, and another single, "We Will Become Silhouettes" (with remixes), is being readied for release later this year. Also being discussed is a Postal Service tour, which would likely occur before Gibbard and Tamborello begin work on the next Postal Service album.

"We would like to tour more, but this really is a side project for both of us," Tamborello admits. "We both have other things to focus on. We did a U.S. tour when the album first came out. And it would be fun to do it again -- maybe later this year."

By the same token, Tamborello is looking forward to the release of a new Dntel album, work on which has lagged due to his Postal Service commitments. "The Postal Service distracted me for much longer than I thought it would," he says. "At the same time, I haven't had that many new, good ideas. I've felt blocked. I feel that, now more than ever, more people are watching me. But I try not to let such things give me added stress or pressure."

Excerpted from the Aug. 14, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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