Support the news

Laura Gibson's Heartbreaking Train Ride

Laura Gibson "Empire Builder" (Courtesy of the artist)closemore
Laura Gibson "Empire Builder" (Courtesy of the artist)

Laura Gibson has always painted with words. Laura told me in an email that for "Empire Builder," the title track to her bold and beautiful new album, the songs story were married to scenery. "I captured this video footage while traveling from Oregon to New York on the Empire Builder and Lake Shore Limited Amtrak trains; so the music video and the song have existed together since their beginnings. At the time, I was moving to New York to attend graduate school. I had known for a while that I needed some sort of change, a new challenge in my life and work. I had always wanted to take the train from coast-to-coast, and this seemed like the right time."

As you'll hear, the song's story is a moving tale, emotionally and literally: "I was moving away from the person I loved most in the world," Laura wrote. "By making that choice, I was making a statement about my own ambition and independence. Yet the whole time on the train I was checking my phone for some sort of text, an affirmation from him that this choice I was making was OK. He was conflicted too, and much of the first half of the route is beyond the reach of cell phone towers. I'd stare out into the dark, and every so often capture more footage. I found myself writing the same two sentences over and over again: 'Hurry up and lose me. Hurry up and find me again.' This song captured a moment of utter unknowing, of self-doubt and confliction. The song itself became my means of finding an answer, my way of saying something I couldn't otherwise express."

This expression has been touching for Laura as a performer, as well as her audience. "The first few times I performed 'Empire Builder,' I felt almost embarrassed," she says. "It seemed too simple, too direct and personal. But it seemed to resonate with people, and more importantly I felt I had been able to communicate something I had been trying and failing to communicate up until that point. It was the charge, and the anchor that allowed me to make the whole record, which shares its name."

The video was edited by Kelly Lyon, who made the song's lyrics part of the passing landscape, as Gibson says they existed in her head.

Copyright NPR 2016.

+Join the discussion

Support the news

Next Up

Where to now?

More NPR or Explore Audio.