Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) Talks with Meg Remy (U.S. Girls) on the Talkhouse Podcast

Doing their part to shine a light on the real Yoko Ono.

On this week’s Talkhouse episode, which we recorded as part of the On Air Festival, we’ve got a kind of unusually focused conversation about another person entirely: It’s Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie along with Meg Remy of U.S. Girls, talking at length about legendary artist Yoko Ono.

It’s not just out of nowhere, though: Ben Gibbard, who you almost certainly know as the frontman of Death Cab For Cutie, whose impressive catalog has shaped indie-rock over the past two decades, recently curated a compilation that pays tribute to Ono’s music. He’s a man on a mission, which as you’ll hear is not to re-evaluate Yoko Ono’s vast catalog, but really to evaluate it in the first place. What people tend to know about Ono’s music doesn’t reflect the variety of her output, and her narrative as the villain in the Beatles story is ridiculous. To that end, Gibbard gathered a killer lineup to cover Ono’s songs for an album called Ocean Child. Musicians featured in the collection include David Byrne with Yo La Tengo, Sharon Van Etten, Jay Som, Japanese Breakfast, the Flaming Lips, and of course Death Cab for Cutie themselves.

Also included on Ocean Child is U.S. Girls, the musical project of Meg Remy. She’s been making music under the name for the past 15 years or so, amassing an impressive collection of records up to an including 2020’s Heavy Light–a Pitchfork best new music designee. She’s a perfect fit for a tribute to and conversation about Yoko Ono, since she’s not only a huge fan but clearly influenced by Ono’s sonic and political fearlessness.

Before they get to chatting Yoko, Gibbard and Remy talk about Covid—there were some positives in it for Remy, who also gave birth to twins recently—and hotel notepads. Then it’s on to Yoko, whom they both deeply admire: They talk about her records, her art, and how the recent Get Back documentary kind of exploded the narrative on her vis a vis the Beatles. It’s a great chat about a worthy, misunderstood subject. Enjoy.

Thanks for listening to the Talkhouse Podcast, and thanks to Meg Remy and Ben Gibbard for chatting. If you like what you heard, check out Ocean Child. And if you enjoyed the podcast, please follow, like, and rate Talkhouse on your favorite podcasting platform. This episode was produced by Myron Kaplan, and the Talkhouse theme is composed and performed by the Range. See you next time!

(Photo Credit: left, Rachel Demy; right, Drew Reynolds; Edited by: Keenan Kush.)

 

Full Podcast Transcript:

[Talkhouse Podcast Theme]

Josh Modell: Hello and welcome to the Talkhouse Podcast, I’m Josh Modell. On this week’s episode, which we recorded as part of the On Air Festival, got a kind of unusually focused conversation about another person entirely. It’s Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, along with Meg Remy of U.S. Girls talking at length about legendary artist Yoko Ono. It’s not just out of nowhere though Ben Gibbard, who you almost certainly know is the frontman of Death Cab for Cutie, whose impressive catalog has shaped indie rock over the past two decades recently curated a compilation that pays tribute to Ono’s music. He’s a man on a mission, which as you’ll hear, is not to reevaluate Yoko Ono’s vast catalog, but really to evaluate it in the first place. What people tend to know about Ono’s music doesn’t reflect the variety of her output, and her narrative as the villain in The Beatles story is kind of ridiculous. To that end, Gibbard gathered a killer lineup to cover Ono’s songs for an album called Ocean Child. Musicians featured on the collection include David Byrne with Yo La Tengo, Sharon Van Etten, Jay Som, Japanese Breakfast, The Flaming Lips and, of course, Death Cab for Cutie themselves. Check out a bit of their take on Ono’s “Waiting for the Sunrise.”

[Song Clip]

Josh Modell: Also included on Ocean Child is U.S. Girls, the musical project of Meg Remy. She’s been making music under the name for the past 15 years or so, amassing an impressive collection of records up to and including 2020’s Heavy Light. A Pitchfork Best New Music designee. She’s a perfect fit for a tribute to and conversation about Yoko Ono, since she’s not only a huge fan but clearly influenced by Ono’s sonic and political fearlessness. Here’s a little bit of U.S. Girl’s take on Yoko Ono’s “Born in a Prison.”

[Song Clip]

Josh Modell: Before they get to chatting Yoko, Gibbard and Remy talk about COVID, there were some positives in it for Remy, who also gave birth to twins recently. Then it’s on to Yoko, whom they both deeply admire. They talk about her records, her art, and how the recent Get Back documentary kind of exploded the narrative on her vis a vis the Beatles. It’s a great chat about a worthy, misunderstood subject. Enjoy.

Ben Gibbard: So, Meg, I’m assuming this is the first time that we have met correct? In our musical travels, we have never crossed paths as far as I know.

Meg Remy: Not that I know of.

Ben Gibbard: Do we have mutual friends?

Meg Remy: I’m sure.

Ben Gibbard: Because you lived in Portland for some time.

Meg Remy: Is that where you are?

Ben Gibbard: No, I’m in Seattle.

Meg Remy: OK. Yeah. I lived in Portland for four years, 2003-7. So I’m sure there’s got to be one person in there that we know.

Ben Gibbard: Yeah, it’s too small of a musical scene to not have at least some crossover. You’re in Toronto, is that correct?

Meg Remy: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve been here for like over 10 years now.

Ben Gibbard: And how is the last couple of years been up there in relation to the pandemic? And everything? Has it felt a little less crazy than what we’re dealing with down here?

Meg Remy: I mean, in terms of my personal life, and it’s been really fruitful. I needed a break from the road, a forced break, and I was in the process of writing a book. So I was able to really focus on that project instead of trying to write it in the van, which would never have happened. And I had twins. I had two kids at once.

Ben Gibbard: Wow. So I saw that. I saw that as I was kind of doing prepping a little bit for this and I was like, Holy shit.

Meg Remy: Yeah, that feels always strange to say. Like, COVID has been really great for me, but there’s always multiple angles to every situation, you know? I always just try to make the best out of anything that’s thrown at me because there’s no control. So.

Ben Gibbard: Yeah, I have to say, especially in 2020, it was a pretty terrifying and unsettling time. But I remember having a conversation with my wife in the weeks leading up to COVID being a thing. The band had a bunch of stuff booked and I had some solo stuff booked and we were already talking about trying to start another record. And I remember telling her, like God, it would be nice if I could just get a year off of this, but I can’t take a year off. And, you know, kind of like famous last words, right? I mean, I think initially I was kind of paralyzed with fear and anxiety. But after I realized that this was going to be a while,

Meg Remy: Yeah.

Ben Gibbard: I settled into kind of a nice, kind of creative period.

Meg Remy: I had just put out a record and we had a ton of touring, and it was… When it was finally cancelled, the decision was made. You know, this isn’t happening. My husband was like, Oh, you got your wish? Because I would always be like, I wish the world would just stop for like just a month and we could, you know, you didn’t have to do anything. There was nothing. And I heard that from a few people. And that doesn’t mean like, I really enjoy what I do, but I think it hints at something that we’re maybe… Some changes could be made to that pushing too hard thing that really seems to happen in music, which is just like, yeah, I’ll eat from a gas station for nine months out of the year. No problem.

Ben Gibbard: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, I think for anybody watching or listening to this, you know, please understand, I think both Meg and I recognize that we live a very privileged life, that we had to make art for a living and that’s not lost on either of us, I would assume, right?

Meg Remy: Yeah.

Ben Gibbard: But I do think that there is this cycle that we get in is specifically touring musicians where… When we first started doing this in every tour was kind of an adventure and you’re going to places you’ve never gone before. It had the sense of being like a respite from regular life for me. And then as it became, you know, and I’m very grateful for this, like my job, every album tour cycle followed a lot of the same patterns and you’d finish one and be like, Oh, that was so we did it, guys. And then six months later, like, Wait, we’re doing it again.

Meg Remy: Well, any time that a person starts having to act like a machine, you know, whether that’s as an artist or it becomes machine-like or you work in a factory running a machine, I think it can become… Although our way of life as a privilege, I still think that there is also a twisted nature to it as well, so…

Ben Gibbard: Our industry has changed so dramatically in the 25 years that I’ve been doing it, where touring has become for most bands and artists, the sole source of revenue, or the largest source of revenue. So, you know, tours have gotten longer out for longer periods of time, longer time between records. But I love playing shows and I love writing songs and making records. But it seems like up until COVID, the period of the touring the promotion of the records was getting longer than the creation of the actual product. I think there’s moments and certainly in my creative kind of career that has… the albums have suffered because we’ve been on the road so much because I can’t write on the road, can you? Are you able to work on music on tour at all?

Meg Remy: I think mostly just, you know, writing, which leads to lyrics, but not like sitting and making a song in a hotel room, not that kind of thing, no.

Ben Gibbard: I’ve often like thought that would be really romantic to be at a hotel with the pad, You know, the hotel pad. It’s like, you know, the lyrics are just like Dylan or something like that.

Meg Remy: I love those notepads. They’re good for grocery lists. I always take them and the pens. Anything free, you know, you gotta take it.

Ben Gibbard: Got it take it when you can, you know? Well, I wanted to thank you so much for contributing a track to this compilation that we were putting together. Your version of “Born in a Prison” is beautiful, and it’s just such a beautiful pastoral kind of version of that song. And I’m curious when you were first made aware of her as a musician and as a songwriter, and what your impressions were?

Meg Remy: I can’t pinpoint exactly when I found out that Yoko was a musician and an artist, not just an image, not this hair. You know, like, I was obsessed with the Beatles growing up and was a kid when the anthology came out and all of that and had all the CDs and the book and all the things. But she was always just this kind of image to me that I really was drawn to without knowing why I can’t really remember now a time not knowing about her and like going to her. You know, we’ve had Grapefruit, the book in our bathroom as long as I’ve lived in Toronto, and that’s not saying it’s a bathroom book. It’s like that book is very much a source that you can turn to at any point in your life looking for guidance. It’s a little bit like, feels like looking up your horoscope at times, but no words can express how I feel about her as an artist and what she means knowing about her and having access to her work, what it’s meant for me and “Born in a Prison” was a song that just kind of opened up this idea to me about the idea of criminals. You know, which was something that was kind of already I think I was thinking about, but I wasn’t able to put into words. This idea that we say some people are criminals and others aren’t and people literally getting locked away for their lives. But yet, because we do that and we agree to do that as a culture, as a society, as a world, it, in turn, places us in this prison, you know, a separate prison. So that song was… It really got me going on her. After kind of getting into that record is when I got into Approximately Infinite Universe and like learning about not that she was making music, not just as these kind of message-y songs, but like stuff that sound like, Can, you know what I mean? Like hardcore cocaine… Not, I don’t know if…, but like that sound like New York crazy speed like… That record, just… And I found out about that record living in Toronto because I remember there was this woman, Anika. I don’t know if you remember her. Stones Throw put out a record of hers and she covered “Yang Yang.”

Ben Gibbard: Oh ok.

Meg Remy: It’s a good version. And then it’s just like, So it’s like, OK, Yoko is like, she’s not just this kind of caricature of the sixties that’s like this long hair and peace and like… messages, very surface political messages almost. It was like, OK, no, she’s like, She’s an improviser. She’s like hard-core rock blues like… And then you’re like, OK, then, but then she was part of Fluxus, and she’s like, around… She’s like that person that you kind of maybe is like in your scene that you find out was like at something 30 years ago that you learned about in school. You know what I mean? You’re like, what? You were there? And then she’s this thing that predates the Beatles. That, like, was necessary for the Beatles to then become what the Beatles became. And then the Beatles becoming what the Beatles became, like is part of you and I becoming what we do with our lives, what we become, like… It’s very she’s a complex topic.

Ben Gibbard: Yeah. And I one hundred percent and I think that you’re… I’m glad that you kind of pointed out her work in Fluxus before she was even in the Beatles kind of radar universe, whatever. I think one thing that people, in general, don’t understand about Yoko as an artist is that she was very active and respected long before, you know, John Lennon walked into a gallery of her work. And, you know, I think as an advocate for her specifically with this project, I found it was really important to kind of try to help whatever small way that we could grab a hold of the narrative of like this person wasn’t an appendage to a famous man.

Meg Remy: Yeah.

Ben Gibbard: This person was an established artist in their own right, long before they were together.

Meg Remy: Yeah.

Ben Gibbard: And you mentioned kind of coming across that record sometime in New York City that has “Born in a Prison” on it and that I was just thinking as you were talking, that’s such an interesting and odd entry point into Yoko’s music for a number of reasons, but because number one, because that record is such an outlier in the entire Lennon solo kind of cannon, as well as Yoko’s work, where if you just drop somebody into that record and said this is what their music is about, you’d be like, it’s super political.

Meg Remy: Yeah.

Ben Gibbard: It’s really like punk in this way and very much an outlier in relation to everything else. But yeah, Approximately Infinite Universe was also kind of a huge record for me in the development of my fandom of Yoko because I was just totally shocked that you’d be allowed to make a record that has these incredibly spaced out psych rock jams, and also some of the greatest pop songs you’ve ever heard, and also these incredibly introspective moments. It’s just a beautiful, sprawling piece of work that defies any kind of specific category.

Meg Remy: Well, and I want to say something in relation to what you were saying about wanting to advocate for her narrative, which I totally see that. What’s interesting about that, is that she doesn’t need you to do that or us to do that, people need this because it’s like they’re missing out, you know, like, I just..

Ben Gibbard: Yeah.

Meg Remy: You know, and I think like, that’s obviously been changing, and it seems like it’s been given a huge push by all this Get Back. You know, all the stuff that’s come out recently where it’s like, you can see what’s going on here. But I don’t think that narrative can ever leave her because of the fact that what she does is high art and it’s conceptual and it’s complex and that like, I think anyone can understand it, but it would be like they would need to be sat down and there would need to be like a one on one conversation with like a back history of other art movements and people to understand because I just think that they’ll always be people that are just like, she’s weird. You know what I mean?

Ben Gibbard: Yeah, 100%.

Meg Remy: That’s not for me or something. And it’s like… It’s so… I think it’s interesting too as well, her earlier work in relation to what the Beatles were doing at the same time, which is like they’re basically like the Backstreet Boys. I mean,

Ben Gibbard: Yeah

Meg Remy: And I love the Backstreet Boys. But like, they’re the Backstreet Boys, while she’s like… she’s a high art, like, I don’t know what… She’s like, Daly. You know what I mean? Like, while they’re being Backstreet Boys, they’re like…

Ben Gibbard: That’s a really good way of putting it like at the, you know, at the time, The Beatles were singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” She was sitting silently and have people cutting her clothes off, on stage. I mean, you know, I’m sure we’ve all been experienced this in our own ways, people been too cool for school, in certain art circles, like there’s… You couldn’t imagine a world in which an artist of that caliber and kind of discipline would ever be with, like a Backstreet Boy. You know what I mean? Like, it would be like Maria Behravesh being with like, like Justin Timberlake,

Meg Remy: Justin Bieber!

Ben Gibbard: Bieber. Yeah, with like Justin Bieber, that’s what it would be like. Which would be fucking incredible in its own way.

Meg Remy: They should hook up.

Ben Gibbard: They should totally hook up. But yeah, it definitely defies logic at that point, for sure.

Meg Remy: Everything should defy logic. There is no logic, you know what I mean? We should always be seeking out everyone’s narratives and always giving someone the benefit of the doubt, even if they’re making this really weird art, really weird work, or really straight whatever word you want to use, seeming very bubblegum mainstream over culture, whatever you want to call it, work because you don’t know what’s in within either of those things and like what that person is. You know, like I know some people that are some of the most out people I’ve ever known that make pretty, you know, like tame, if you want to say stuff that my mom would be like, I like this, you know, like, you just can’t judge work by its cover almost as well. And not just the person that would ever like, things are just infinitely more complex. And I think you can just say that about anything. And Yoko’s a very good example of that for this day and age that we live in as well, where I think like there’s a lot of people you know, you want to talk about someone being canceled for something. They become the thing that they’re canceled for, rather than a human being that’s had a life that was born, that things happen to them, that they went here, they went there, this and then the event or events occurred. You know, it’s a very narrowing down.

Ben Gibbard: Well, we have culturally decided that situational nuance should just be thrown out the window. Yeah, and of course, there are certain discretions, indiscretions that there is no situational nuance for, but.

Meg Remy: Sure

Ben Gibbard: But for a lot of things there are. I think one thing about Yoko’s music that’s been frustrating for me, not the music itself, but the conversation surrounding it is that, you know, people like you and I who are musicians and artists and who probably collect a lot of weird records and listen to things that are kind of left of center, this music resonates with us and we’re open to it and we’re open to the idea of it. But I think one thing that’s been frustrating in the conversations I’d had with people about her music is that I can’t think of another artist that people have such strong opinions about, but of which they know so little about. And there have been so many conversations that I’ve had with people who honestly should probably know better, about her music, and it’s very clear that they’re incredibly ignorant to it. But they have decided because they heard five seconds of guttural noise in the avant garde piece that, Oh, I know I get it. I mean, that would be like hearing like five seconds of like the high note in a Led Zeppelin song be like I get Led Zeppelin, so I don’t need to listen to any more of that. Yeah. And it’s been a constant kind of forge for me and some friends of mine who are enduring music to try to recontextualize or just give it any kind of proper context. Like I was talking to somebody, you know, doing an interview about this record recently. And, you know, the journalist was like, Well, you know, do you think it’s we’re in a ripe time for like a reevaluation of Yoko’s music? And I answered that, Well, I don’t think we’re in a place to reevaluate it. We need to just evaluate it.

Meg Remy: Yeah,

Ben Gibbard: Because it hasn’t been even available for most people until very recently.

Meg Remy: For sure. And there’s records of her… Like, I don’t know if you know It’s All Right, that record, that’s like, that’s not even on Spotify. You know? It’s like, why is that record not up there? Maybe that’s her choice, I don’t know. But like people, I know that love Yoko don’t know that record. And it’s so wild, when you’re talking about someone hearing five seconds of guttural noise and then being like, I’m done with this. That too shows you that, like the Beatles, maybe use guttural noise, but only for five seconds because they’re like, we got to sell this.

Ben Gibbard: Right.

Meg Remy: As you see with Get Back or it’s like the bottom line is always in the conversation there I found where I think Yoko is, and I’ve learned a lot from that, whether it’s accurate or not. But how I’ve perceived her in her body of work is that she made it for herself pretty much. And because she had to and because she’s on this search within herself and within technology and music and collaboration. And when you’re making things for yourself, I think that is often, I don’t like the word triggering, but I think it’s triggering for people that consume it. Because it’s like, Oh, some… I can… Like you sense this person’s living their life for themselves. And that’s scary.

Ben Gibbard: It’s a scary thing to think about if, because when you’re faced with somebody who is living their life that way, it really just kind of highlights that you are not.

Meg Remy: Yes. And that’s why people are like, Oh, I hate that or fuck that.

Ben Gibbard: And you know, that’s also a completely acceptable way to live one’s life.

Meg Remy: For sure.

Ben Gibbard: But it’s very clear that people who have the strongest reactions to someone like Yoko are the ones who are clearly want to be doing that. You know they doth protest too much.

Meg Remy: I know!

Ben Gibbard: They are the ones who are the most upset about it.

[Break]

Ben Gibbard: I kind of got into her music maybe 20 years ago. I was like record shopping and I came across one of her records. It was Feeling the Space and it was like in, I was like, I must have been shopping for like OMD or something like that and like, Oh, Ono, Ok. And it was like 10 bucks. And I was like, You know what? I’m going to take a chance on this, and I took this record home and put it on. And I was like doing other stuff and put on the turntable. And then like, what was coming out was not in any way what I thought was going to be. It just completely defied my expectations. And as I got into more of her records, to your point about fearlessness and living your life for yourself, it was very clear that she… There was no, well, yeah, why would I not have a 12 minute experimental piece? And then like a two minute pop song on the same record, why can’t you do that? And it’s like, Well, you can’t do that because that’s not how it’s done. It’s like, Well, that’s how I’m doing it.

Meg Remy: Yeah. Or that won’t sell. You know, I think that focusing on what will sell or like a lot of artists who have, like, you know, a team around them, that are interjecting about the work. That’s problematic for a lot of reasons, but a main one is that I think that it often underestimates the audience. Why would we not want to challenge the audience? Why would you not want to do something fresh for the people that you are going to be coming to check you out that are fans that are paying money that they, you know, hard-earned money for your record or to come to your show? And so to underestimate one’s audience, I think, can be disrespectful in a way.

Ben Gibbard: Yeah. And I think also there’s, you know, specifically with that record Feeling the Space, which was my introduction to her music away from the five-second clips that you’d see places. It’s only really struck me in recent years. Like, what an incredibly fearless position it was to take to be like, yeah, the rock landscape in 1973 is like, you know, Led Zeppelin and, you know, like AM Radio Rock and kind of shitty prog. And you know, and there aren’t a lot of women kind of, in making music, I know women are making music, but they’re not a lot of women on the radio at that point. I think the record I’m going to make is going to deal with my Asian identity and feminist themes. That’s the music I’m going to make, and it’s like, it’s fucking incredible to think about this record, which you put this record on now. And it’s it seems contemporary because of the style in which it’s written and the subject matter, everything like that. But we’re talking like fifty years ago, this was the approach that she took with this album.

Meg Remy: Yeah

Ben Gibbard: And it’s only really kind of hit me in recent years, like what an incredibly unique and brave series of choices that was.

Meg Remy: For sure. And but it seems that she was really able to make them because of… It seems like she has a really good relationship to death. She doesn’t shy away from it, like from what I know of her childhood in the war and stuff like… She was faced with it and then she had funds. You know what I mean? Like, she wasn’t. Oh, please record label, put my record out. She had the funds and she used them to good ends. I mean, I don’t think she could have operated any different way because she seems to be. But you know, she was able to do what she was able to do due to having access to money and veto power. And that is a privilege that I think is huge because so many people that want to make the music that they wanna make, wanna make out music, they can’t. I mean, now you can because you can put it up on Bandcamp or something, but you’re most likely not going to get to have a 60, 70 year long career.

Ben Gibbard: Well, that’s yeah, that’s a really excellent point. Thinking of some of the biggest pop stars or recording artists, whatever over the past 50 years, I’m having a difficult time thinking of one off the top of my head that once they achieved a level of notoriety or success or fame, then said, You know what, I’m going to make the really fucked up stuff now. Like, I’m going to go. I want to go out of my way and make some really wild shit. It becomes more like, you know, now we need another song like the hit from the last record. And you know, you see some pop stars kind of like, maybe Miley Cyrus will like moonlight with the Flaming Lips or something like that, but that’s not the main thing. You know, that’s not the main output.

Meg Remy: And that comes back around to what I’m saying about when artists start to act like the art becomes a machine. You know, it doesn’t… Something is off there. I don’t know any pop stars. I only see the… what I’m allowed to see, you know, that is presented, was chosen in a room for me to see. But I’m sure that there’s lots of them that have wild, amazing ideas that they’d like to achieve. But when you have a group of people around you that each get a percentage and want to continue getting that percentage, and you also were surrounded by rhetoric of like, we live in scarcity, you know, where it’s like, Ok, you got to this spot. You better stay there because someone else is waiting right behind you and we’ll take it and you’ve got to cooperate. And there is something that I think is very interesting with Yoko. I don’t think that she’s ever cooperated with the kind of truth, which is that entertainers are the lubrication for capitalism, whatever you want to call the thing that we’re all critiquing right now that we’re stuck in, that we’re trying to get out of that has completely poisoned the planet. I don’t think that she’s cooperated. She’s cooperated in the sense that she’s very wealthy, I assume. But she is not agreed to be that lubrication. And I think that’s another reason why she has a complicated narrative and there are people that are just like, she’s not for me. I don’t feel like the industry celebrates her.

Ben Gibbard: Oh, not at all.

Meg Remy: Until this, you know, doing this comp is something that’s… Because she’s dangerous to celebrate, I think.

Ben Gibbard: Well, she also flies in the face of the very tired narrative that, you know, artists make their best work when they’re starving. And then once they kind of achieve even like a small modicum of stability, then they start to get soft or make things that are kind of less challenging. And in this case, it’s like, No, that’s the exact opposite. This person, this person, you know, fell in love with somebody who was very wealthy. And instead of being like, Look, that’s great. Now I’m just going to sit back and either not do it at all or I’m going to just make things that are kind of soft, went the exact opposite direction and utilized Apple’s budget to make some really wild records, you know?

Meg Remy: Yeah.

Ben Gibbard: And I’ve often thought that’s just one of the wonderful things about her and also kind of starts to kind of pull apart that narrative that people have about the starving artists, which, you know, of course, people make, you know, some great records when they’re, you know, in their basement, but they also make great records when they’re I mean, Pink Floyd made Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and they also made Dark Side of the Moon. They’re both right.

Meg Remy: I love them both. That’s just so wild watching Get Back, which I just loved. I could have like a TV on that just played that twenty-four hours a day in my house and check in with it.

Ben Gibbard: 100%.

Meg Remy: It was just everything about it. But watching it and how they wear a different outfit every day, just like, they have a different outfit. And a friend of mine pointed out to me that to me was what signaled to me that it was a movie. You know, like, this is a movie. This isn’t a document, you know, it is a documentary. But all documentaries are… suffer from being a documentary. It can’t be real life. It can’t be exact. There’s no way of capturing what’s actually going on without influencing it. You know, even just us perceiving each other right now, you know, because this is being recorded, we’re probably acting a little bit different than we would if we were just sitting upstairs in my house, listening to Yoko records, talking, you know?

Ben Gibbard: Oh, sure, because we’re having this conversation for the benefit of other people that are not just the two of us.

Meg Remy: So that’s so apparent in Get Back, but like it was the outfits that really signaled to me. I know some snazzy people, but I still see them wear the same thing one time, like,

Ben Gibbard: Right

Meg Remy: Maybe the same shoes or something. I mentioned that to a friend and he said, Yeah, do you remember when John and Yoko showed up late? They had stayed up all late and they came and they wore the same outfits from the day before. And George saw them and said, Great, now we’re all going to look insane because they came with their new outfits for the day or whatever. And John and Yoko were still wearing what they had worn the previous day of filming, and that really just brought it all back to me, too. And like for years, there’s been that narrative of like, Yeah, Yoko is just sitting. She came to all the rehearsals and she’s just sitting there basically on John Lennon’s lap like, No, this is a movie, and Yoko is an artist and she’s a performance artist. So this is a performance.

Ben Gibbard: I also… I love to Get Back and, as I wish that we lived in a world where we could talk about Yoko without the Beatles. But having said that, I think that the timing of that documentary coming out could not have been better as it pertains to this project that we’re both apart.

Meg Remy: Yeah, of course.

Ben Gibbard: Because you see so many of the narratives that we have hung on to collectively for 50 some years, we’re completely destroyed in the course of the six or seven hours of that documentary.

Meg Remy: For sure.

Ben Gibbard: And one, it’s clear that the Beatles, they kind of liked her. You know, it’s like they, you know, it’s like they, you know, not only there’s those that great scene where Paul’s playing drums…

Meg Remy: Oh my god.

Ben Gibbard: John’s playing guitar and Yoko singing. And it’s just and like, you look at Paul and he’s just loving it, like he’s having a great time. And every every time. I am that Paul gets a chance to talk about Yoko, he’s always so affectionate and kind. And then the second, you know, we’ve been fed this narrative our entire lives, that Yoko was just around, man. She was always just sitting there and you’re like, Yeah, the first thing we see is some Krishnas in the corner,

Meg Remy: Like singing!

Ben Gibbard: Just sitting. Like, if I showed to a band practice, like, Yeah, I got four Krishnas with me, they’re just going to sit here or… But also the fact that, like Linda was around, children were coming around, friends, business managers like, you know, Peter Sellers shows up…

Meg Remy: Yes.

Ben Gibbard: People are just showing up all the time. So the idea that these were four, you know, insular men who needed, you know, the… that lived without… could not be distracted from the brilliance of their work is like a false narrative that we’ve all heaved on them.

Meg Remy: Well, because to be a commodity, you have to be a closed loop. You can’t be like, I’m selling this, but then there’s something hanging off down here that I’m also… You have to.

Ben Gibbard: Yeah.

Meg Remy: So the Beatles had to become these geniuses, these things. But I really think that that narrative, like when I reflect on it, especially after watching Get Back, I think that a big part of that is back in the day it was to try to get women to not make music honestly, like, you know, like, no, just don’t. It’s like, don’t do it because this might happen to you, where you’re going to become like the villain or you’re just going to get shredded or made fun of or, you know, and that’s like… That hurts me to think about it. What she represents is the exact opposite. You know, it’s just like, make things anyone, make things, do it, go out… Like you breathing is making something, I feel like is the perspective I get from her when I consume, particularly her written work, is that existing is is doing something.

Ben Gibbard: Yeah, and Yoko seems to be one of those people who I, in a way, I’m in awe of, but also in a way somewhat envy, which is that everything they’re doing is art all the time. Like, I write songs, I’m in a band. You know, the term artist could be used and is used when you’re talking about recording artists like, I’m a recording artist. Yeah, but there are musicians and songwriters and people who do what we do, and then I feel that there are artists, people who they wake up and they are just creating.

Meg Remy: Yeah.

Ben Gibbard: It seems like there’s never a moment in which the day in which they’re not creating. And one of the many things I’m so in awe of as it pertains to Yoko Ono is that she just kind of worked in so many different disciplines throughout her career and was great at all of them. And I think that somewhat her greatness has so much to do with her confidence and her utter dismissal of anybody who said that she couldn’t do it or shouldn’t do it.

Meg Remy: Yeah, and a confidence that I think she readily expresses this fragile, you know, and complex. It’s not like this steel thing. I think she’s just she’s extremely… human, which is what I want from the artists that I consume. That, yes, I can be in awe of that everything you do is art, but that you’re going to always let me know that you also sit on the toilet the way I do every day, you know what I mean? Like the little something in there. So it’s like I don’t have to feel bad about myself that I take a shit. Do you know what I mean? Like, and then I haven’t been able.

Ben Gibbard: Yes, I do.

Meg Remy: I haven’t been able to eliminate that and be the ultimate artist… pristine.

Ben Gibbard: I think so much of being a songwriter, a musician, artist, whatever is, you know, there is this kind of fantastical narrative that we all kind of believe about the greatest artists of our times, in that like they just exist, and these things kind of come out of the ether to them. And I had this realization years ago thinking about David Bowie, for example, and I was like, David Bowie sits in a room the way you and I sit in a room in front of an instrument with nothing and conjure something. And that’s in no way to equate the music that I make with David Bowie’s or anything like that.

Meg Remy: No, no.

Ben Gibbard: But just like there is a relatability amongst anybody who’s creating anything. And to your point, Yoko has completely dismantled this idea that artists are superhuman or that they’re more important than anybody else, and also that anybody can be one. Anybody with any kind of creative idea that, you know applies themselves to that idea can be an artist.

Meg Remy: Sure. Yeah. I mean, good thing we got Yoko.

Ben Gibbard: Well, Meg, this was so fun. I’m so glad we got to meet. It feels like I’m meeting so many people in these virtual spaces these days, that unfortunately couldn’t be in the same room doing this. But yeah, hopefully, we will be allowed into Canada at some point, or you will be able to get down here for tours and we can continue this conversation in person.

Meg Remy: Sure. Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Josh Modell: Thanks for listening to the Talkhouse Podcast, and thanks to Meg Remy and Ben Gibbard for chatting. If you like what you heard, check out Ocean Child. And if you enjoyed the podcast, please follow like and rate Talkhouse on your favorite podcasting platform. This episode was produced by Myron Kaplan, and the Talkhouse theme is composed and performed by The Range. See you next time!

Talkhouse curates musicians, actors, filmmakers, and others in their respective fields to speak one-on-one with their peers via the Talkhouse Podcast and Talkhouse Live events. The Talkhouse Podcast offers listeners a unique insight into the creative work of creators across all genres and generations. Subscribe now to stay in the loop on future episodes.