When you think about the most earnest and emotional voices on the alt-rock and indie scene, it’s hard not to think of Death Cab For Cutie, and distinctive frontman Ben Gibbard. The band has built an improbable, lucrative career, largely out of songs of sadness, loss, longing, love, and growth. In an interview at Billboard, in fact, Gibbard himself referred to his music as a soundtrack to help people from feeling alone in their “melancholic moments.” Most Death Cab fans will agree that seems a perfect way to put it.
Given this general vibe that Death Cab has cultivated, it’s easy to concoct an image of Gibbard and friends. We think of them as shaggy-haired, darkly-clad northwesterners, brooding together in rainy Seattle cafés sipping local brews (coffee or beer makes no difference), ruminating about lost loves, and writing lyrics on loose scraps. They are easy characters to imagine, even if most of us have never actually come across people who fit this description.
It may also be the case that this impression is not entirely off base. But over the years we’ve learned a little bit more about Gibbard, particularly in the aftermath of his breakup with actress Zooey Deschanel. And most notable of all — because it makes him seem a little bit more like an ordinary celebrity — is the fact that Gibbard has apparently become known as one of the true poker enthusiasts on the modern music scene.
To be clear, Gibbard’s apparent enjoyment of poker is by no means unique among modern celebrities. Granted, most of the known enthusiasts come from the acting world. Just last year, an article at NYPost.com unveiling the “real” version of Molly’s Game (a film about an underground high-stakes celebrity poker ring) revealed a number of A-list names heavily involved with poker — Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, and Leonardo DiCaprio, to name a few. Even in the music world though, figures from hip-hop legend Nelly to metal guitarist Scott Ian are also known to frequent the poker tables.
Those are just the celebrities who are public about the hobby, too. The reality is that with how easy online poker sites have become to access and enjoy on the go, it’s one of the few hobbies that busy musicians and actors can reasonably maintain with their schedules. According to Poker.org, signing up to an internet poker platform today is as simple as choosing a site, making a profile, and depositing funds to play with. That’s all there is to it, and after that a traveling musician or actor can access the chosen site at any point while on the road. It’s no wonder it seems to be a fairly common hobby in these circles.
Even if the hobby makes perfect sense though, it’s still somewhat surprising given the aforementioned image so many fans tend to have of Gibbard. Nevertheless, he’s said to be quite the enthusiast. Gibbard and others from Death Cab have been spotted at card tables in Macau (which is fast becoming a legitimate counterpart to Las Vegas) and in Nevada. And a Seattle Weekly article from way back in 2008 painted a picture of Gibbard as part of a surprisingly competitive Seattle-area poker scene. Going by that article, it sounds as if the Death Cab frontman is seeking out a game whenever he’s back in town, and can even be a fairly aggressive player.
We always enjoy learning little details like this about the musicians we love to listen to, though we also hope Gibbard’s poker interest isn’t playing a role in the band slowing down. Our favorite Death Cab is still primarily the early stuff, like Transatlanticisim, Plans (from which we selected “Summer Skin” for a “Summertime Playlist” a few years back), and to some extent Codes & Keys. The group isn’t putting out music like that these days, and seems to be a little less active in general. Though what they do make is still quite good, so here’s hoping Gibbard and the rest can churn out another hit album or two.
There will always be time for more poker after a bit more narration of our melancholic moments.
- The Surprising Tour Hobby of Alt Rock’s Most Earnest Romantic - April 3, 2021