Photo: Jay McCarroll
is caught somewhere between the past and the present, excavating elements of music history and filtering them through contemporary tools. He resides in a small Pennsylvania town, where he quietly constructed one of 2012’s standout releases, his debut solo LP, All Hell
, by wrapping his gravelly baritone around loops extracted from old country and gospel songs.
It’s an album packed full of narratives you don’t usually find outside the best crime fiction and which seldom work when set to song. Fortunately, Gibson has the charisma to pull it off, landing a record deal with indie giants Sub Pop in the process. It’s a match that ties into his history. “My first show was actually Nirvana in eighth grade,” he says, on a phone from his home in Carlisle. “That was a big moment.”
Gibson worked in trucking prior to signing with Sub Pop, initially driving long stretches of road before moving into an HR position in the same industry. It’s an unlikely past for someone ostensibly working in indie rock but one that provided him with plenty of inspiration for future material, some of which may surface at the Sub Pop showcase he is playing at CMJ on October 18.
What was the first music you got into as a kid?
When I was really small I always just listened to rap music. It was the Fat Boys and Digital Underground and stuff like that. My big music moment was when my cousin lent me every Led Zeppelin CD when I was about 10 years old. I just sat around with headphones on, listening to one after the other on repeat. That was my breakthrough with seeking out other music, or really just getting into it and wanting to play it.
Metal often acts as a gateway to punk for a lot of people. Did you get into punk that way?
Yeah, I think so. I was leaning toward heavy metal, and then I was about 11 or 12 when grunge was becoming popular. A lot of it was sneaking out into the living room at midnight and watching Headbangers Ball
and just taking in all that stuff. And, believe it or not, Beavis And Butthead
too. They would play videos and comment on the stuff, so I actually got exposed to a lot of metal through that. I think just gravitating toward punk was the way I could participate in loud music. Because there weren’t so many big crazy metal shows going on, but punk was the thing you could actually go see and be a part of, so it was a natural move.
When did you start making music?
I did that pretty early on. I was playing drums. I got a drum set from a family member. A buddy of mine, my friend Randy [Huth] who plays in Pissed Jeans and played in Pearls And Brass with me, played guitar. So we just started making noise in the basement. From there, it was like other people [saying], “Oh, I play bass, I sing,” and then other people would come over and we would make up all different kinds of bands, mostly within the hardcore punk world. It just went from there, and I haven’t really stopped since.
Was it strange for you to go from playing in bands to going out on your own?
Yeah, it’s still strange. It’s still something I’m trying to wrap my head around. But more so when I’m doing things live. I’ve only really been doing the live thing for this for a couple of months. It took some time to get used to not being behind a drum set and not being deafeningly loud. And still, that’s the way I like it. When I play this live I want it to be as loud as humanly possible, even though that doesn’t necessarily make sense because it’s not necessarily loud music. I still want to feel engaged with the sonics of it. So yeah, it’s kind of a strange transition, and I’m going through it right now.
How did you get the LP together? Was it something you were imagining as an album, or was it individual songs you were gradually putting together?
It was really individual songs. I didn’t play it for anybody until I was maybe eight songs in. Then I played it for Matt [Korvette] who runs White Denim. We talked about doing something with it, maybe a 7” or whatever. Only when I had 10 songs that were done was he like, “Yeah, let’s just do a record.” There was never any intention of doing anything with it at all.
So you must have been surprised when Sub Pop signed you.
Oh, man. Yeah. Big time. Like, monumental shock. I’m not sure quite what it meant. You know, typically we all have an idea of what we’re going to do the next year or the next six months with our lives. I mean, I’m 32 now, so I had this idea like, “Ah yeah, I’m going to do this thing and work here and chill out.” And that kind of thing just whips you right the fuck up from whatever world you’re in and gives you a new idea and makes you consider a completely different year ahead of you.
Are you still working in the trucking industry?
I’m not doing that. It’s way too hard to do touring stuff and really do this the way I want to do it and work there. So I kind of passed on that.
Are there things about it you miss?
]. No, I can’t say there is. What I was doing before was recruiting. Basically recruiting truck drivers. I guess the only charm it had was being able to talk to dudes who were in long transition from one trucking job to another. Hearing their stories or hearing what they’re going through are typically, as you can imagine, pretty wild tales.
What are some of the wildest tales you heard?
I would talk to so many dudes in one day, and the common theme throughout was these guys, and some females too, they were mostly living in a bad movie. You know, they had shit at home to deal with. But really because of the way things are with the economy, there aren’t a whole hell of a lot of choices. You know, guys who live up in bumfuck northern PA or southern Virginia, there’s not a whole lot to do, so it’s like, “Hey, I’ve got a truck, and I’m just going to keep doing it even though it’s killing me and it’s making my family life miserable and it’s a frustrating and hard job.” More or less, it was my job to soften the blow of this industry and be like, “Hey, we can get you miles and get you set up so it’s not so hard.” But in reality man, it’s a tough job to do.
Are you working on new material? Is there an album planned for Sub Pop?
Yeah, I’m working on stuff now. We’re going to do a record next year, I think. Middle of next year I’m hoping. So I’m just banging on it right now and getting it together.
Is it very different from the first record?
I think it is. Going back to the live thing, now I’m writing songs within this context of making it more live. So yeah, that’s a slightly different approach. There’s just a different energy to everything, and it might be in terms of live-r sounding drums or more upfront or louder melodies. But always with the understanding that this is going to be fun to do live and have a full band to do it live and not just necessarily a backing track.
Will you have a full band for your CMJ appearance, or is that coming later?
I’m going to start really hitting it later. Right now it’s myself and my friend Mary from Philly, and she plays keyboard. It’s the two of us doing it, and then hopefully next year it’ll be us two and other players. But we haven’t really had the time to go out on the hunt.
What music are you listening to now?
The Holy Other record is on repeat a lot. I’m a big fan of Holy Other, so I listen to that. And just an assortment of mixes. Basically, when I drive I put my old country mix on, and it’s like 500 songs. There’s a really good country station in Carlisle here. It plays everything from the ’60s on up, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard, so that’s what I pretty much listen to on the reg.
Is country something you got into by listening to it on the radio while driving?
Yeah, it definitely was. That’s one thing that was absolutely true. That’s one thing you can rely on being in places where there was nothing else going on, was some kind of country music station. So I just kind of gravitated towards it and started liking it and listening to it all the time. Once you start knowing songs and you start singing songs, before you know it, you’re hooked. I would definitely say that was a benefit of driving around and having road jobs.