Daughn Gibson, arguably one of the most original singer songwriters to emerge from America in recent years, has released two albums since 2012; the critically acclaimed All Hell and this years follow-up Me Moan. Both albums shared some common traits, both contained Gibson’s almost too-rich-to-be-real baritone vocal register and both have also had music critics reaching for the category-creating thesauruses. Honky-tonk electronica, gothic country, electronic gothic post-punk blues…the list goes on. Gibson himself, all 6’5″ of him, simplifies it to country music, something he spent countless hours devouring during his days as a long-distance truck driver. Even his nom de plume is a nod towards his fondness for the Southern American art-form, however his James Blake-esque take on the music is far from simple. State spoke with Gibson ahead of his appearance in Dublin’s Whelan’s next week.
So how has your year been?
It’s been great, this has been a good year and being in Europe for so much of it is surreal. Europe has this quality where every time I’ve been here it’s almost like coming here for the first time. Which, in the context of touring, is the best possible outcome. Who wouldn’t like to feel like they’re visiting somewhere for the first time after three visits?
How has your music been received in Europe?
Honestly, I don’t know. I try not to read too much about my music because after you spend so much time on something there’s only so much you can take – or do with it – once it’s been released. It’s out of my hands after that.
Ok, well how do you feel Europe has received country music? Do you consider yourself a country musician?
I consider myself a country musician, for sure. I write and play country music and in Europe there is something quite different about that, strangely enough it is quite exotic here. Back home it is less so, country music tends to be overlooked unless you’re a cowboy or, at worst, some places just a guy walking around Wal-Mart in your sweatpants, country music has come to be so commonplace that it’s refreshing to play it to people who wouldn’t normally seek it out.
What do you make of so many attempts to create cross-genre labels for your music, honky-tonk electro, etc.
Well as I said, I’m a country musician, I would never consider myself an electronic musician at all, that would completely limit me. My songs are written to be performed for people and in order to deliver them it’s important that I stay with what I set out to do. Obviously, when a song is written and ready to be recorded I’ll need help from people and that’s where the technology comes into it.
The electronic element is something you treat your music with?
Yeah, well kind of. These guys are amazing at what they do and I could never wish to even attempt it, but they free me up to do other things. I mean that in the sense that if I were just a rock performer, a guy with a guitar and a Marshall amp, personally I feel there is only so much that I could do with it. I’d be pretty bored with it. Other than turning it up louder or playing at a different tempo or whatever, it would seem like I’m limiting myself. With technology and the electronic elements I’m freer with it. And luckily the guys I play my music with are born performers.
Are the other musicians involved from the beginning, how do your songs come to life?
For the most part I write and arrange my music at home and bring it to the studio later. I’ve been really lucky to have worked with, and still work with some incredible musicians, Jim Ellington, the Chicago based guys are so good to work with. In many ways I’m lucky because I really don’t consider myself a born performer so to play with them is perfect for me. I could never see myself as just a lone performer in a bar somewhere. To be honest I’d much rather perform the songs from under the bed with the curtains drawn or in complete isolation but playing with these musicians is ideal.
So from a songwriting perspective, your music is ostensibly about America and a fairly low-key lifestyle, but on second inspection there is a fairly gothic element to it. Is that because you see dysfunction in everything, or do you see a beauty in that dysfunction?
Yeah I guess I see the beauty in the motion of dysfunction. It’s like looking for that dysfunction but without having to piece everything back together afterwards. It sounds like a cliché, but I definitely find something cathartic about that in my music. About noticing this dysfunction, I find I make sense of it when writing about it. Between lyrics, chords, everything, I find it natural to put it into a song, but it’s not as if I go looking for subjects to write about. Most of it comes from memory or things I might have heard about as a kid. I take the memories and work them into something else which songwriting allows me to do. It really isn’t a case of me walking the streets looking for something pathetic, or somebody pathetic, to write about.
And how does religion fit into that? Between All Hell and Me Moan there are some striking religious motifs.
Well, I’m not religious at all, even though I was raised a Catholic and encountered all that goes along with that, the rituals, the lifestyle, everything, I always found it to be funny how some people engage with it. Some people seem to live their life as though they are fully engaged with a fantasy rather than the real world and I find that funny more than anything else.
And finally, how is the tour going, are you looking forward to your first show in Ireland?
Touring is the greatest thing in the world, I absolutely love it. Who wouldn’t? We played in Copenhagen last night and it was just incredible. But obviously, as with pretty much everything in life that you love, there is a small curse that comes with it. This tends to happen with everything that people do. But with me it’s just this kind of quite, quake of anxiety that comes in the 5 minutes before I go on stage. It’s not like I’m pacing the floor or going out of my mind with nerves, in fact I wouldn’t even call it nerves at all. I do definitely feel a strand of hair going white every time I’m ramping up to go on stage, after that, I love it. And I’m really looking forward to coming to Dublin. I’ve wanted to come to Ireland pretty much as long as I can remember, even before the idea of coming in a performing capacity. To get to do that in Dublin is so exciting for me.