Daughn Gibson: Story Songs Born Of An Odd-Job Life
Daughn Gibson is kind of the heir to the Johnny Cash throne: a deep-voiced country singer whose songs are filled with characters of questionable morality — or just pure evil. He worked as a long-haul truck driver, a cashier in an "adult book store," a drummer in a metal band, and all sorts of other odd jobs before he became a bit of an indie music darling last year. NPR's Jacki Lyden spoke with Gibson about his new album, Me Moan; click the audio link to hear their conversation.
JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
Once again, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. And it's time now for music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU DON'T FADE")
DAUGHN GIBSON: (Singing) Every time I listen to the sound of a baby wailing the night away.
LYDEN: The deep, resounding voice belongs to Daughn Gibson. He spells it D-A-U-G-H-N. Not like the country singing Don Gibson of the '50s and '60s. This Daughn Gibson held a number of truly odd jobs before his singing career took off, from long haul trucking, to playing drums in a blues metal band, to working in a porn shop - more on that later. Gibson became buzzworthy last year with his debut album, "All Hell." This song is from his latest, a new record called "Me Moan."
And both offerings left viewers fumbling to describe this sound and to place this voice. It lives somewhere between Johnny Cash and Iggy Pop.
GIBSON: I don't even consider myself a singer at all.
GIBSON: I always call myself a drummer, and I probably always will. It wasn't up until early last year when I started working on "All Hell" that I was singing on any recordings at all. So...
LYDEN: You mean you didn't know you have that fabulous voice? Come on.
GIBSON: I didn't know until I got up to the mic to belch it out. And I was, you know, pleasantly surprised I found a voice I could sing in that didn't make me cringe later on. So I just continued using that voice and appropriating different background music for the voice.
LYDEN: So how do you describe your music? What's your favorite description of your music?
GIBSON: I guess there's no easy way to do it. Generally, I just say it's country techno. And then whoever I tell that to rolls their eyes and walks away. So now, I've kind of just been saying, well, I just do country music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KISSIN' ON THE BLACKTOP")
GIBSON: (Singing) It was a quiet afternoon talking with my drink at Rio Bar and Grille.
LYDEN: You know, I'm really attracted to the story that is a true story from your life, and this is you get your trucking license, you're 22 years old, you're doing these long haul jobs - really a lonely job.
GIBSON: Well, I mean, when you're driving long stretches like that, you tend to wax nostalgic a lot. And even at the age of 22, I remember just thinking about old days and old loves and old embarrassments. It's enough to drive you completely insane. But I did make certain discoveries along the way. And I guess an appreciation of matching music with landscapes or matching music with certain scenes and listening to people that you meet at bars or, you know, truck stops, it gives you a greater sense of empathy and it - for me, it seemed like it defined my palate a little bit more. Not necessarily musically, just in terms of how to approach things creatively all together.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KISSIN' ON THE BLACKTOP")
GIBSON: (Singing) What's got me down so damn wrong is one shot. Granddaddy so hot, hot. He left me in the parking lot. Ooh, kissin' on the blacktop.
LYDEN: This wasn't the only really interesting job that you had, Daughn Gibson. You also worked, I think, in a dirty bookstore, right? I mean, I love the story of how you were asked to keep an eye on the customers.
GIBSON: Yeah, yeah. That was also a job for - you know, I was about 20 years old. And a friend of mine had just got fired from it which, you know, it takes a lot to get fired from an adult bookstore. I'm not quite sure what he did. So I took the job, and every night, it was me and, you know, five other derelicts behind the counter, not really doing anything, just listening to rap music and watching the security monitors to make sure no one was in the back, you know, doing anything wrong.
LYDEN: Even though they're encouraged to come in there to do things wrong.
GIBSON: Basically, yeah. We're giving them carte blanche to explore all their carnal desires in these backrooms. But when they cross the line, and it's a very thin line, we have to go back and scold them.
LYDEN: A lot of these songs are raw. I mean, they are speaking from the heart, but they're also, you know, at that edge where - what we might call a polite society just wouldn't want to go or drift into, a lot of bad behavior, a lot of really bad behavior. I'm thinking about a song I was marveling to read that is based on a true story. And this is a song you call "The Pisgee Nest." Tell me the tale behind that one, would you, please?
GIBSON: Well, yeah. Somewhere in central Pennsylvania, I was driving around with a buddy of mine and someone who's from there. And we were in a mountain area, and we passed by a village called the Pisgee Nest. It's more or less, you know, what - someone in West Virginia or Kentucky will call a holler. This was just kind of a dilapidated mountain village.
And, really, he just said: This is a place where the state trooper's daughter would go to engage in kind of extreme sexual behavior. And I was really disturbed by it, only because of the setting. It was dark out when you're driving around at night.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PISGEE NEST")
GIBSON: (Singing) We broke in a car to count the rent, but you had to go back for your lucky barrett. State trooper's daughter in the Pisgee Nest, and I'll never know where the wind took my hat, no.
LYDEN: And I think I read in the account of this, she was actually engaging in prostitution, that her boyfriend was sort of pimping her out.
GIBSON: Well, yeah. That was actually an embellishment, because, really, the story was so bare that I didn't have much to go on. I think I'm generally moved by obscene things. You know, I'm a fan of B movies. I'm a fan of Troma, I'm a fan of dirty books. Sometimes I find something can be moving and artistic and obscene all at once.
I don't want to do it too much or be over the top, but that was a memory of mine or just hearing a story activated my imagination. So more or less, I just elaborated on that one sentence.
LYDEN: When you think about the lyrics, you write the stories you want to tell, are you drawn to what might be called - and this does make me think so much about country - the broken places?
GIBSON: Oh, for sure. Yeah. Country music resonates with me for that reason. It is the only genre of music that actually makes me fully cry. So when I go into that writing words, I'm not thinking about, you know, metaphors or abstractions. I want to be as hyperliteral as I can and make there a clear understanding of what's happening in this particular scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRANCO")
GIBSON: (Singing) If you're still unsure and time can only bend you like nothing else can. You can always find my love bleeding from trying to get the earth to lift.
LYDEN: That's Daughn Gibson. His new album is called "Me Moan." You can hear a few tracks on our website at nprmusic.org. Daughn Gibson, it was a real pleasure speaking with you.
GIBSON: Likewise, Jacki. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRANCO")
LYDEN: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on Programs and scroll down. For much more on the national reaction to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, stay with NPR online at npr.org and on the radio tomorrow morning on MORNING EDITION. I'm Jacki Lyden. Thanks for listening and have a great week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.