Daughn Gibson has become one of the undeniable surprises of the season with his particular mixture of country and electronic music: “All Hell”, released on an independent label thanks to the persistence of Matthew K from Pissed Jeans.
Daughn Gibson’s music is in a no man’s land halfway between electronica and country; his songs are populated by fragile beings or ones undergoing extreme experiences. His songs speak to us of that deep America that he has experienced travelling as a truck driver. Both his music and he himself confound any preconceived notions. But solving the mystery isn’t easy either: except for his work and his past as a drummer in a metal band, not much is known about this musician from a small town in Pennsylvania. He has slipped into the music world almost on tiptoe, without making any noise, without powerful sponsors or any other support beyond that of Matthew K from Pissed Jeans, who fortunately managed to overcome his lack of interest in releasing “All Hell”. His album doesn’t give us much more information either: only the titles of the songs and a picture on the sticker on the B-side of the record, of a teenager with an A for anarchy on her t-shirt. No credits, no lyrics, no acknowledgements… not a single clue.
As I am preparing the questions, I resolve to try to untangle the mystery, to decipher these songs that speak of the American heartland, broken and in crisis, calling to my mind Donald Ray Pollock and John Steinbeck. They are songs that definitely speak of the pariahs of the technicolour plastic America that we are sold every day and which is nevertheless so human that it hurts.
When I first listened to “All Hell” and looked for your name on the internet, I couldn't find much information, except that you'd been in a metal band before and that you drive a truck. In a way, it was like going back in time, when music had to speak to you because the information on the artist was scarce. Now that everyone shares their privacy online, do you prefer to keep a certain mystery so that people focus on your music, or is it just coincidence?
I never really like to hear personal details about artists I appreciate; I’d rather use my imagination about what kind of people they are. Also, I’m totally lazy when it comes to self-promotion.
"It’s definitely great that people dig it, but ultimately I like to keep my expectations of others’ perceptions really low"
Before your solo career you were in a metal band and had a background in punk, rock and metal bands. How did you evolve from that to the songs in “All Hell”?
I moved to a small town and had no one to play with, so this whole thing was just a product of isolation and not really having any interest in playing drums alone in my garage.
Did you feel any need to tell stories that you couldn't tell otherwise?
I think I’ve quietly been collecting stories my whole life and prior to recording this record, I would sometimes get bummed that I’d never really get to share them with anyone. So, yeah, this is the perfect purging of a storytelling impulse I’ve always had.
What made you mix country and samples, loops and synthesizers?
Just trying different stuff, I didn’t think about it too much beforehand, I just did it.
Onstage, do you have a band or are you all alone - is it more electronic or more country-like?
Right now I’m alone doing this and it’s pushed me to learn Ableton (the program I used to record “All Hell”) as a live instrument. I do have my friend Mary Lattimore joining me soon on keys, but I’m open to recreating these songs in a different context with a variety of instruments and players and letting it unfold however it wants to.
At first you were reluctant to release these songs. Why?
Not really reluctant, just more thinking it wouldn’t be paid much attention to. I mean, if Matthew K wouldn’t have stepped up to the plate to put it out, I never would have played this stuff for anyone or tried to do it live or anything.
Your music has received a lot of praise from media specialising in “alternative” music. Did you expect this?
No. I mean, it’s definitely great that people dig it, but ultimately I like to keep my expectations of others’ perceptions really low because it ultimately infects how you create.
And how has the country and folk world reacted to your music?
This, I am definitely clueless about.
You've also said that it took you some time to like country music. What made you appreciate it? What nerve did it touch, what spoke to you?
Country music does two things for me. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry. Punk doesn’t make me angry anymore, and rock doesn’t make me wanna get high, but country consistently moves me through the emotional spectrum.
"Flaws and bad experiences are far more interesting to me than accomplishments and good health"
Traditionally, country music has spoken from the vulnerable side of man, while rock and punk tend to be more combative, sometimes even denying vulnerability. As someone who has been on both sides, do you think they can complement each other or do you see them as antagonists?
There’s definitely some country out there that focuses entirely on like just getting drunk with ladies or waxing nostalgic on some county fair from years prior. I guess it doesn’t take itself as seriously as punk or rock, but at this point I think all the touchstones of emotional song-writing have been hit with every existing genre, so it’s not fair to say one is more vulnerable than the other. They’re antagonists insofar as maybe the audiences don’t necessarily mingle.
Country and folk music are on the side of the weak, the dispossessed and those living on the dark side of the American dream. Does that attract you?
Definitely. I really have no interest in humans who have their shit together. Flaws and bad experiences are far more interesting to me than accomplishments and good health.
On your travels, especially as a truck driver, have you come across that America? Can you tell us about it? Have you had any life-changing experiences?
I guess as a traveller, the strangers you run into at a bar or somewhere feel more compelled to tell you lurid details of their life; be it cheating on significant others, having weird obsessions or generally dealing with really serious life problems. It’s a matter of treating listening as currency for an open door into others’ strange lives.
Do you believe in the American dream?
Yeah, but I’m not sure that it’s any more exceptional than some other modern nation participating in the global economy. Still, I see more and more of my friends completely doing their own thing these days. You can call it forced entrepreneurship, but I call it making the best out of a bad situation. Maybe I’ll have a better answer when I’m 65, though.
The only information on your album is visual, and it's a girl wearing a t-shirt with the Anarchy symbol on the centre sticker. Was it an artistic choice or a subtle political statement?
Yeah, that’s my wife when she was in high school. I just love that picture.
How has what you've seen in your travels affected your writing?
It affects it a lot. I think when you see different places you are more sensitive to things locals would take for granted. Also, sometimes when you are travelling you are more subject to confusion and disorientation and it makes you more exposed to interesting experiences.
Somehow, both musicians and truckers have a lot in common, because both worlds are kind of closed, mostly dominated by men, and involve driving for hours. Where do you feel more comfortable and which one would you choose if you had to? Why?
The truckers I know couldn’t be more different from the musicians I know. Most musicians have a devotion to “sharing” what they do with the world, whilst a lot of truckers want to be outside of society and make their own schedules, rules and acquaintances. I understand both sentiments completely, but trucking can be pretty brutal at times, so I would definitely choose lying around and writing songs all day long.
Just one last question: everyone asks you to recommend a country song or musician. I'd rather you recommended a book and a film that you find inspiring or can relate to.
Alice Munro is one of my favourite authors, “The Love Of A Good Woman” in particular. She writes mostly about the deceit inherent to familial relationships, but in such an evocative and omnipresent way, really getting to the bottom of what makes a relationship rupture or thrive. Film-wise, I’m a big fan of Pasolini, Harmony Korine, and John Waters because each director is fearless in how they portray human impulse, vice and folly.