On the first day of his band's inaugural tour, Postal Service frontman Ben Gibbard jumped into the tour van, scanned the faces of his traveling companions, and asked himself: Who the f -- - are these guys? ''It's weird seeing people in the rearview mirror you've never met before,'' he says. ''It's like stepping into some sort of wacky alternate universe.''
That the band had little pre-tour face time makes perfect sense in the world of the Postal Service, whose debut album, Give Up, was released on Sub Pop in February. The group began as, essentially, a two-man project featuring Seattle-based indie rocker Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and Los Angeles electro-pop whiz Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel, Figurine). Though the pair were separated by geography, the Postal Service resulted from some serious mail bonding: Every few weeks, Tamborello would send his Northwest neighbor near-finished synth-pop tracks, which Gibbard spruced up with lyrics and vocals. ''Jimmy and I didn't know each other very well when we started working,'' says Gibbard (above right), who had met Tamborello (above left) through mutual friends and contributed vocals to a Dntel song in early 2001. ''The impersonal aspect was actually a lot of the appeal. You'd get something in the mail and go wild. As long as the other person was okay with it, it stuck.''
The resulting album holds together surprisingly well. Despite the duo's seemingly disparate musical tastes, Give Up finds a common aesthetic between laptop pop and indie rock, with 10 tracks that sound as if they've been chirped by a lovesick old-school Nintendo system. It's all anchored by the kickoff single, ''Such Great Heights,'' an OMD-meets-emo lullaby that's just a WB soundtrack away from crossover success. ''I've never had that before, where there's that one song that everyone goes crazy for,'' says Gibbard. ''Once that [imitates the tune's signature synth riff] 'bo-beep bo-beep bo-beep' begins, people start going crazy.''
That budding success is proving complicated, since the group has to coordinate some busy schedules -- Gibbard and Tamborello have full-time commitments to other outfits. For now, the Postal Service have been fleshing out their lineup with several freshly recruited musicians -- including Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis. On their recently completed sold-out U.S. tour, the expanded band enjoyed some classic road-trip bonding. ''Whenever Jimmy drives, I'm excited to see what he puts on next,'' says Gibbons. ''It's always something I haven't heard before -- crazy, relatively obscure German techno or ambient stuff. I'm finding a lot of new bands that I really like.'' Who knows? Some of them may be sitting in the backseat.