In I Made You A Mixtape, we ask our favorite musicians, actors, writers, directors, or whatevers to strut their musical savvy: We pick a theme, they make us a mix.
The mixer: For years, Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard was the slightly pudgy guy in glasses who, through his songs, let the world know just how he was feeling. About five years ago, though, Gibbard quit drinking and started running. He’s since gotten so into the sport, he’s been featured in Runner’s World and finished several marathons. He’s also just put out his first solo record, Former Lives, which is made up of tracks written and recorded over the past 10 or so years, as he’s gone through different stages in life. Part of how he’s gotten to who he is today is by hitting the pavement, though—both as a runner and as part of a band—so who better than Gibbard to make The A.V. Club a mixtape of essential cuts for long-distance runs?
Fresh Espresso, “The Lazerbeams”
The A.V. Club: Do you have your own set running mix?
Ben Gibbard: I have two lists. I have a list of songs I just put on there that are indicative of this list of songs. These songs are on that list. Then I have a list of songs at particular beats per minute. This song is at 83 beats per minute, so I have a playlist with them all at 83, because I found that for runs of a certain length, that’s kind of a good stride for me. My feet are striking at that speed. It gets a little bit hypnotic. So I just have two random playlists. The longer one, I just add to whenever there are songs I feel like I want to listen to.
AVC: What makes a good running song for you, other than the beats per minute?
BG: It has to be up-tempo, or at least above 83 BPM, so I feel like it’s kind of pushing me. They don’t all have to be rah-rah-rah songs, but they have to move me, physically and emotionally. A song like “Fresh Espresso” will be on there, then a hip-hop track, then Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place.” That’s not a pump-up song, but I just love the song. I’ll get into a particular kind of mental rhythm with it while I’m running.
Spiritualized, “I Think I’m In Love”
AVC: This one isn’t exactly a club banger.
BG: No, but I love the outro. Just six minutes of that: [sings] be-do-de-de-de-do-do. That bassline doesn’t change chords or anything like that. It just keeps adding. It’s not obviously straight-up kraut-rock, but it just moves and doesn’t change chords and is really hypnotic. Anything that’s kind of hypnotic and repetitive like that is really helpful. The more the song goes on, the more stuff gets added. There’s horns and other vocals and guitars and stuff, and it just continues to build. I love that song.
The Equals, “Police On My Back”
BG: I figure it’s probably worth having a song on your running playlist that is literally about running from something. What’s more terrifying than being chased by the—well, I guess there are things more terrifying than being chased by the cops. But there’s a certain kind of implication of being chased by the cops, that you just did something you shouldn’t have done, and the consequences are going to be dire if you’re caught. That is the motivation. Thankfully, I’ve never had to run from the cops, except for maybe when I was a little kid. Even then, I doubt I did anything that was really worth being arrested for.
Big Freedia, “Feelin’ Myself”
BG: I ran one of my fastest mile splits to this song. I had a playlist and I was running, and I was on a six- or seven-mile run, and I ran my fastest mile at the end of that race, because of that song. The BPMs are so jacked through the roof. They’re so fast. All the crazy delayed vocals, and the beat is so fast. I just fucking took off. I got done, and I looked at the Nike app I run to, and it was like “You just ran your fastest mile.” I was like, “Oh really? That’s crazy,” and I looked down and I was like, “Oh yeah, because I listened to Big Freedia.” The lesson to be learned is to not put Big Freedia on any marathon playlists, because you’ll just burn yourself out really quickly. Keep that shit off of it. Only Spiritualized.
AVC: When you make a list, do you have an order? Do you have warm-up songs and songs to get you past the wall?
BG: I just kind of put it on random, or I’ll start on something I know I want to listen to first, and then shuffle from there. The other thing is that I don’t always listen to playlists. I tend to listen to playlists on shorter runs. A short run for me is anything under an hour. If I’m doing longer runs—I’ve been doing these 20- to 22-mile training runs on the weekend because I’m training for a marathon—I kind of listen to podcasts during those. You just get so sick of music after three hours. But listening to This American Life or baseball podcasts, it’s something to take your mind off the fact that you’re tired. There will inevitably be a point within one of those long runs toward the end, where I think, “Okay, now I want to listen to music. I’m at mile 18, and I need something to motivate me. Not Ira Glass.”
Them, “I Can Only Give You Everything”
BG: I love any song that has a four-on-the-floor, kick and snare at the same time. Bam-bam-bam-bam. That kind of beat just feels good for my strike. It’s like a garage-rock classic. You’ve got to have something kind of filthy on there.
Erik Blood, “Today’s Lover”
BG: That’s my favorite record of the year so far. It has that really disco krautrock vibe. It does the same thing that the Spiritualized track does. It’s so propulsive. It just moves forward. There’s nothing about that song that’s looking backward at all. That record is great. It’s a whole concept record about pornography. It’s awesome, and that song is my favorite on there.
New Order, “Someone Like You”
AVC: This one’s a new-ish New Order song, from 2001’s Get Ready.
BG: That’s a really underrated record. Nobody ever talks about Get Ready, but it’s a really good record. When I first started running, I ran quite a bit slower. The BPM of that song was perfect for me. When I was first running and trying to stretch out, just doing more than a couple miles, I would listen to that on repeat to keep motivated and to know how fast to go. Even now, even though I run considerably faster than that, I still love having that song on a playlist, because it reminds me of one of the things that got me running in the first place.
Gang Starr, “Work”
BG: You’ve got to have some Gang Starr on there. Like many Gang Starr songs, this one’s about just doing the work. You’ve got to do it. I feel like I needed something that has that hip-hop bravado, the idea of “I’m the best, because I’m putting in all the work doing the thing.” I’m clearly not the best—far from it—but it’s nice to have a motivating hip-hop track with a dude saying how great he is. You can project a little of that onto yourself when you need that strength, when you’re in the middle of a long run. The track is just killer. The beat is so good on that song.
Azealia Banks, “212”
Public Enemy, “Brothers Gonna Work It Out”
BG: I listen to more hip-hop when I’m running than I do in regular life. Public Enemy. Gang Starr. Azealia Banks. Big Freedia. That stuff—especially some of the stuff like Gang Starr, that is more of my generation—that’s just kind of boastful hip-hop. Or righteous hip-hop like Public Enemy. It’s strange that it’s so uplifting for a white dude from Seattle, but it totally is.