Is the Postal Service Emo?

 the Postal Service ::: Red Rocks ::: 05.30.13

The Postal Service is a band that started as a side project for the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Gibbard. But while they have a lot of sad songs in their catalog, is the Postal Service emo?

Here’s what I know from being a fan and seeing them live:

The Postal Service is not in the emo genre of music. Emo is most often described as having punk energy and emotionally sensitive lyrics. The Postal Service, being synthesizer-based, would be best described as indie-pop or electronic.

Gibbard wanted to experiment with a slightly different style of music that could be free from the expectations that had grown around Death Cab for Cutie. The Postal Service eventually found monumental success as well.

The band is closely related to Death Cab for Cutie due to it sharing the same lead singer and founder.

Death Cab for Cutie is sometimes (incorrectly) considered emo, so this has led many fans to wonder if the Postal Service is emo. Ben Gibbard often writes sad songs, and this carries over into his work with the Postal Service.

But let’s explore more about their sound and style.

What is emo music?

Emo first appeared in the 1980s as a subcategory of the punk rock genre. The term ’emo’ is derived from ’emotional hardcore’. It is essentially pop-punk music with a strong emotional sentiment in the lyrics, but later bands such as My Chemical Romance are more influenced by bands like Queen than punk.

Emo music has a heavy focus on emotional expression and was born out of hardcore punk music. So being heavy, often fast, and guitar-driven is the biggest reason The Postal Service doesn’t classify as emo.

Using intense chord progressions with varying intensity is an important part of emo music that is borrowed from punk rock, which has a similar style of guitar work.

But then, if you listen to bands like My Chemical Romance, their complex guitar parts are closer to Brian May of Queen than they are punk.

Like post-modern music, emo music strives to upset the status quo and go against standardized norms. Emo music plays with the structure and sound of songs in order to give listeners something unique and unexpected.

The essential element of emo music is the lyrical work. 

Emo lyrics explore everyday problems that bring intense pain and anguish, such as broken relationships or outright rejection. Often, emo bands write lyrics that are confessing things that have really happened to them.

Emo music differs from punk and rock music in that it is extremely introspective.

Punk and rock often challenge the outside world and have lyrics that are all about fighting the man. Emo music turns inward and explores the mind of the very person writing the lyrics.

Instead of struggling against the world, emo music often features a single person struggling against themselves.

What genre is the Postal Service?

The Postal Service is generally considered to be in the genre of indie-pop but has also been called indie rock, alternative, or even synth-pop.

At the end of the 1970s, a new genre of music called post-punk began to form.

Post-punk came as a diversion from the punk rock genre. It took the general form of punk rock music but then added non-rock ideals. It sought to break free from certain rock cliches.

Indie pop, then, grew out of post-punk music.

Indie pop was determined to challenge mainstream pop in the same way that post-punk challenged mainstream punk rock. This new genre had a ‘do-it-yourself’ vibe. Bands in this genre refused to make their music sound any particular way just to get signed to a label.

They simply made the music that they wanted to make.

Indie pop is now most closely related to indie rock. However, indie pop is much calmer and typically avoids angsty and depressive themes.

The Postal Service is fairly different from the emo genre of music. In fact, most of its songs contain beats that are melodic and upbeat.

They occasionally have a hint of sadness, but this by no means qualifies the band to be in the genre of emo music.

And even songs with sad lyrical content, like We Will Become Silhouettes, which is about nuclear war, are delivered in a very upbeat and poppy way.

Is Death Cab for Cutie the same as the Postal Service?

While people might sometimes confuse these two bands, the Postal service and Death Cab for Cutie are not the same thing, and the only thing they have in common is vocalist/songwriter Ben Gibbard. Neither band has ever played the other’s songs live.

Death Cab for Cutie originally only consisted of Ben Gibbard and was his attempt at starting out in the music industry.

After Gibbard was signed onto a label, he decided to expand the band and added new members to create a full band. In 1998, Death Cab for Cutie released its debut album, which was well-received. 

The band kept releasing albums and kept increasing in popularity until they became the group adored by millions.

Death Cab for Cutie is often considered to be alternative rock, but some consider it emo because it often wrestles with darker and depressive themes.

In 2001, Ben Gibbard collaborated with Jimmy Tamborello, providing the vocals for one of Tamborello’s songs. The song, (This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan, became so popular that the two musicians decided to continue to work together.

Eventually, Jenny Lewis joined these two, and they became a proper band and took the name the Postal Service.

The Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie certainly share some similarities, but they are two distinct bands. The Postal Service is often considered to be more upbeat and lighthearted than Death Cab for Cutie.

Why does Ben Gibbard write so many sad songs?

Ben Gibbard’s military and Catholic upbringing have undoubtedly contributed to some of the sadder and darker themes in his songs. Also, his failed marriage to Zooey Deschanel, which ended in 2011, contributed to the melancholy themes of the Codes and Keys album.

Both of Gibbard’s bands are in genres that try to upset the established order and move away from what the mainstream demands a song to look like.

This shows that Gibbard was never looking to make music for the sake of success or money.

Gibbard has always been looking to create a sound and style of music that he finds artistic and meaningful. So, the songs he writes are truly the songs that he wants to write.

As for why so many of the songs he wants to write are sad songs, Gibbard may have an answer for this himself.

In an interview, Gibbard said: “When you’re alone in a room with an instrument, more times than not, at least I feel very introspective because I’m alone and playing something on an instrument. Whatever I’m playing is kind of dictating the tone of the lyric and where the song’s going to go.”

Gibbard’s very style of songwriting leads his songs to often be sadder in tone and theme. 

This is because he often writes his songs alone, and he says he can’t help but be introspective when he is alone with his instruments.

It also comes down to his personality and beliefs about the world. Ben Gibbard often writes sad songs because he is frequently ruminating on and considering topics and ideas that many consider ‘sad’.

Does Ben Gibbard suffer from depression?

Ben Gibbard has certainly had some low points in his life. He has never admitted to suffering from depression. He did, however, quit drinking alcohol, sometimes linked with depression, in 2008.

Depression is an actual medical diagnosis that cannot simply be assigned to someone who seems sad often.

Ben Gibbard has certainly been depressed at times, as everyone has, but this does not mean that he suffers from the mental illness of depression.

However, Gibbard has had dark times in his life that have led him to be in a negative state that influenced his music. 

Specifically, Gibbard says that he went through a period of intense drinking that brought him to a very bad place. He would go on wild benders for days at a time until it finally reached the point where he knew he had to stop.

Gibbard points out that he has never been to AA and doesn’t believe he was ever a true alcoholic.

Sadly, many of Gibbard’s fans want him to be depressed and romanticize his suffering. Fans identify with the melancholic music that Gibbard makes, so him being depressed means they will get more of what they love.

They feel known by him when he is miserable because many of his listeners are miserable themselves and turn to his music for comfort.

Whatever happened in Gibbard’s past, he says he is in a much better place now and has moved on from the darker thoughts he used to dwell on, and a true fan would be happy for him.

The Postal Service: In Their Own Words


Emo is a subcategory of the rock genre that has a strong focus on an emotional proclamation and often deals with depressive themes.

The Postal Service is considered to be in the genre of indie-pop, not emo. Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service are both founded by Ben Gibbard, but they are still separate bands, and neither is related to the similar-sounding band Owl City.

Ben Gibbard writes so many sad songs because he is an introspective person who writes about the topics he is interested in most, regardless of what other people think.

Ben Gibbard has had dark periods, especially with alcohol abuse, but it isn’t clear if he was ever clinically depressed.

Photo which requires attribution:

the Postal Service ::: Red Rocks ::: 05.30.13 by Julio Enriquez is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped and had a text overlay added.

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