Modern-day country star steps out of the shadows…
Daughn Gibson had done the rounds before he realised he could sing. He’d been a truck driver hammering the Philadelphia to New York beat. Worked in an adult bookshop and as an outside news broadcast engineer, erecting transmitters and receivers. He’d packed boxes in a warehouse and handled the sound in local Philly dive bars. He’d played drums in bands called Nokturnal Acid and Natal Cream and, notably, the Drag City stoner-rock act Pearls And Brass, back when he went by the name of plain old Josh Martin. More recently he roadied for his pals Pissed Jeans. All this, and he still hadn’t found his calling.
When he decided to go it alone and came to record the first song of what would become his alluring debut album, last year’s All Hell, he discovered he possessed a striking baritone akin to that of Scott Walker. In this tremulous, resonant croon which also calls to mind the honeyed boom of Johnny Cash or even Elvis, Gibson proved to be quite the storyteller. And with a voice like that, those who heard him listened, bewitched, to All Hell’s small-town tales of corrupt cops and dysfunctional families as he unveiled a sleepy psychodrama every bit as compelling as his music, this readymade mongrel hoedown constructed from hotwired country and Americana tethered to loops of beat-up dub-techno.
Released on Pissed Jeans’ frontman Matt Korvette’s White Denim label, All Hell was barely promoted, but those who did come across Gibson online tended to latch on to certain qualities such as his old-school authenticity, honesty and black humour. Word soon spread of this strapping 6’5” troubadour from the backwater of Carlisle in central Pennsylvania whose rugged good looks made it easy to believe he was playing the lead role of the flawed romantic in his own cinematic songs. Like Ben Affleck cast as a lumberjack, you could strike a match on his stubble and swim in his eyes. In press shots he seemed to have difficulty doing up his plaid shirt. As an indication of that album’s magnetism, it’s worth watching a new short film inspired by Gibson and his music by the British director Saam Farahmand, who was so intrigued by the imagery and mood conjured by All Hell that he wrote, funded and shot Another Hell, in which Gibson stars as the disturbed protagonist sprinting through misty woodland.
Bearing all of this in mind, Gibson’s second solo album Me Moan is still a remarkably potent brew that scrambles your thoughts for the first few listens as points of reference collide in unfamiliar ways, as if you’ve just huffed bath salts in the parking lot. Pedal steel abounds and Gibson sings like an old-time country boy (he’s 32), yet his vivid stories unpick a murkier side to small-town, rural America ignored in the patriotic bluster of the likes of Toby Keith and Tim McGraw. He tackles the same territory as All Hell – relationships, hopes and dreams – but this time the songs are realised in brilliant high-definition, the choruses almost euphoric. Gibson’s confidence at the computer allows for wild risks – slathering a field recording of bagpipes across “Mad Ocean”, an ode to his wife, for example, or dicing vocals like a house track on the lolloping “You Don’t Fade” – to the extent that you cannot predict how a song will unfold.
Gibson’s sleek style of electronic production is influenced by his love of British shapeshifters such as Shackleton and Demdike Stare, but the digital doesn’t dominate Me Moan. Rather, these textures embellish the woozy soul of “The Pisgee Nest” or build atmosphere on The xx-ish “Franco”, the tale of a husband trying to help his wife get over the suicide of their son. At its slinkiest, “Phantom Rider” is the kind of drowsy disco that other neo-cowboy Matthew Dear would kill to write. Traditionally, country music and club-derived electronics make for awkward bedfellows, but it’s a testament to the strength of Gibson’s strange vision that Me Moan might well become a touchstone of modern-day Americana.
Your sonic palette is incredibly broad. When starting a song, how do you know which style to begin with?
The most fun part of this is starting somewhere and ending somewhere completely different. I never know where I’m going to end up. It’s a lot like cooking – keep tasting until it’s good. It’s all accident. If it makes me blush a little bit or makes me feel slightly embarrassed, that’s when I know it’s a great-looking accident.
Why the title Me Moan?
I like the idea of a primitive confession. What it would be like if I was an early subhuman who had discovered religion, a channel for my bad vices and guilt? I thought, how would the caveman or neanderthal express that?
You used to be a truck driver. What’s the allure of that job?
It really is like the embodiment of the American troubadour, I guess, and that’s what attracted me to it when I was a kid. I just wanted to get out there on my own and do my own thing and not have a boss. Turns out it’s lonely and provokes a mild form of insanity.
Mixing electronics with country – kind of James Blake meets Johnny Cash – is not common, possibly with good reason, but you pull it off.
It’s not easy to explain to people what music I do. Country and techno? Oh, that sounds terrible!
INTERVIEW: PIERS MARTIN