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On the Side of Confidence: An Interview with Folk Singer Laura Gibson


Following the release of her new album La Grande, Oregon-born folk singer-songwriter Laura Gibson gave an intimate and powerful performance this past Monday at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side. The show was part of her current tour, which has her visiting Europe and playing several venues throughout the US.

In “Nightwatch”, a song from her first album If You Come To Greet Me, Gibson confesses “I see life as a worn out photograph”: La Grande seems to be a sonic invitation to enter and explore that image. Her exquisite voice- reminiscent of jazz legends like Billie Holiday, or the sweetest moments of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons- travels across her lyrics, playing with the words or little fragments of them. Gibson sings with that special kind of ease and softness of some of the greatest singers.

La Grande combines the “old” Laura Gibson- poetic lyrics, great vocals, beautifully orchestrated melodies- with a more energetic and expanding vibe, as if we were looking, from within that worn out photograph, towards some kind of future. During her brief stay in NYC, Laura kindly spoke with CultureMob about making the album, and how her creative process has evolved with this work.

CultureMob: I read that you wrote Beasts of Seasons in a rented apartment overlooking a cemetery in Portland, which clearly correlates with the concept of the album. (The album is divided into Communion songs and Funeral Songs). Your new record La Grande shares its name with a small town in northeastern Oregon. Could you reflect on the influence of places on your composition process, and tell us a little about how and why you came to name your new album La Grande?

Gibson: I do think I’m a person affected by place, whether or not it’s conscious. Whenever I find myself stuck on a problem in life or music, I usually try and change my surroundings.  With Beasts of Seasons, I was halfway through writing all those songs about mortality, before I connected those themes to my living near a cemetery.  My visit to the town of La Grande really served as a catalyst for the new record.  While I was there I felt that many of my hopes and fears at the time were being reflected back to me in the landscape, or perhaps the landscape gave a shape to the feelings welling up inside me.  I was thinking a lot about the idea of movement forward, an about asserting my being. La Grande, the town, well represents movement forward, in connection with the Oregon trail and the great movement west in America.  It was on that trip, where I really started to think about the kind of record I wanted to make. I made a goal that I would err on the side of confidence, not really knowing what that meant.  I wrote a song about the area, and my experience of connection with it.  Later when it came time to name the record, I knew my song about La Grande would be the first song.  Almost as an inside joke to myself and my goal of erring on the side of confidence, I thought to name the record La Grande, so in certain languages, like French – the Record cover would read “The great laura Gibson”. I wouldn’t normally let myself get away with such a title, but ultimately it was named for the town, so I suppose it’s ok.

CultureMob: Could you tell us briefly about your sources of inspiration for composing La Grande?

Gibson: Thematically It’s very much a record about desire, about owning your desires, and moving forward while desiring to take more than one path.  It’s also a record about confidence.  At the time of writing it, I was really trying to transcend my own timidity in life and music. Much of the imagery bounces between scenes from the wilderness, and more domestic pictures. Sonically, much of the feel of the record came from experimenting, and layering my voice on lo-fi mics. I was listening to a lot of Bossa Nova and Samba music, and my housemate and drummer Matt studied percussion in Cuba and was teaching me a lot about clave rhythms and Latin percussion. I wanted those rhythms to serve as the backbone to the record. I chose the palette of instruments (flute, clarinet) from old Bossa Nova, then weaved in things like guitar feedback and fuzz bass. I gave myself a lot of space and time to indulge my curiosities.

CultureMob: The release of this new album had you touring in Europe and now will have you travelling throughout the whole US to present the record. How do you adjust to life on the road?

Gibson: I really love touring, as tiring and disorienting it can be.  I think I’m always inspired by new places and new people.  I’m definitely learning tricks to keep me from getting stressed, and I take a lot of precautions in order to stay healthy and sane.  It’s certainly hard work, but I know I’ll look back on these times with fondness.  It does make me savor domestic things like washing dishes, and cleaning my room.

Gibson expressed her happiness upon the release of the new record a few weeks ago on her website, saying “I wholeheartedly believe La Grande is the best work I’ve ever done, and can’t wait to share it with everyone.” That enthusiasm filled the stage at Mercury Lounge, and was greeted by a thrilled audience. With a solid ensemble of musicians accompanying her ―clarinet, flute, piano, drums, bass, guitar― Gibson showed herself comfortable onstage, amusing the crowd with anecdotes from their tour in Europe, or revealing the homey situation in which a certain song was born. The evening’s performance included some earlier songs from If You Come To Greet Me (2006) and Beasts of Seasons (2009), as well as a beautiful solo version of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, the old American folk song better known to today’s generation in Kurt Cobain’s 1990s cover version.

During the last song, Gibson stepped towards the edge of the stage, and for a second or two we couldn’t tell if she was going to start walking through the audience. She stayed there on the edge, as her voice often does with words, leaving them ―and us― on the verge of something we aren’t quite sure of. Gibson asked the audience to help her out, accompanying her as the choir while she sang the lyrics. And as we took part in that live-music ritual, “The Rushing Dark” (a track off La Grande) filled every particle of space: “They told me when I was young that future is a paper sky”. The ritual would eventually come to an end, we knew it, but in that moment of perfect connection it didn’t matter.

The last lines of the song drew forms in the air: “When evening plays her hand, will she find us afraid? Will she find us trembling, or will she find us welcoming? The rushing dark, the rushing dark, the rushing dark.” We don’t know about the evening Gibson ponders, but in that evening, the answer was clear.


Click here to watch the brand new video for the single “La Grande”:

To check out Laura Gibson tour dates visit her website: