It was a great artistic experiment — author Jack Kerouac’s getaway to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s remote California cabin to pen his 1962 classic “Big Sur.” If it worked for his beat-poet hero, it could work for him, thought Ben Gibbard, when he rented the same retreat a few months ago.
The Death Cab For Cutie frontman, who plays with his band at San Francisco’s Fillmore tonight, wanted to ditch his Seattle surroundings to compose the high-pressure follow-up to the band’s Grammy-nominated 2005 breakthrough “Plans.”
“I thought it would be rather romantic, being there … in this beautiful, idyllic place in a canyon,” he says. But being creative wasn’t easy on the road.
Gibbard, 31, had discovered — and been offered — the place while taking part in a Kerouac documentary.
“But it’s funny how nature in its purest form is a far more terrifying sound — or lack thereof — than being in a bustling city, where people are smoking crack out in front of your apartment,” says the intellectual, who ditched cell phone and computer lines for the trip.
Alone in the wilderness, he says, “My mind immediately turned to thoughts of ‘What if there’s a mountain lion out there? What if there’s some crazy, deranged lunatic who lives in these woods?’ And all of a sudden, all of my fears became these weird horror-movie scenarios, where just the creaks that happen in an old house had me going ‘What was that?’”
That might be what made “I Will Possess Your Heart” — the first single from Death Cab for Cutie’s forthcoming album “Narrow Stairs” on Atlantic — turn out as a nearly nine-minute Pink Floyd-esque epic about an unhinged stalker.
Despite that, Gibbard’s retreat was an oddly unproductive period.
He says, “I had this idea that I was going go to that location and just reel off 20 amazing songs, but the hit-to-miss ratio was more like one in five.”
Unlike Kerouac, who cracked under the weight of his own notoriety, Gibbard seems remarkably grounded. Stardom for DCFC has been a slow decade-long build, the band finally catapulting out of the indie scene with the ethereal platinum-selling “Plans” and its flagship radio hit “Soul Meets Body.”
All over the world now, fans approach the singer on the street.
“And you have to adjust to that, because it can run counter to what’s important in your life,” he says.
IF YOU GO
Death Cab for Cutie
Where: The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today
Contact: (415) 346-0600 or www.ticketmaster.com