Daughn Gibson was probably one of the few American truck drivers without a love for country music. But hours on the road trapped with FM radio eventually changed his mind and his musical direction. After years playing punk and rock music, most notably in Pearls and Brass, he created the solo record All Hell, a sample-driven collection of spooky, powerful country/gospel/electro tunes.

The music on All Hell feels so immediately unusual and likeable that it almost speaks for itself, one of those albums that can lose some mystery when its origins are revealed. However, after speaking with Gibson I was still nowhere near the bottom of it.

Have you been making music your entire life?

Pretty much. Started off playing drums, got into bands in high school. Graduated and started touring. Different styles of music throughout.

There’re a lot of different influences at play on All Hell. Have you always been versatile in terms of style?

Yeah, though all within the same umbrella of [logistics], punk shows, shows at people’s houses. In high school is was about playing as fast and loud as humanly possible. Later I joined bands that played slower, but just as loud. Got away from punk for the blues, then tried to translate that into more rock style for [main gig] Pearls and Brass.

There’s definitely a maturity in All Hell, like it comes with years of weight, so to speak.

When I first started playing I was into Led Zeppelin, the first big band I gravitated toward. And I tried to go back to where they came from: Robert Johnson, Skip James, but old blues didn’t gel with me when I was younger. I couldn’t relate to it in any way. And it’s all about reliability, do you have the experience or “maturity,” for lack of a better word, to really take it in. Just one night my friends and I were listening to Johnson on a dark night drive and it just hit us like a brick to the face.  

I had the same experience. I bought a Robert Johnson album when I was a teenager and just couldn’t get into it. Now 10 years later, that era of blues is my favourite in music. 

Country music was the most recent of those discoveries for me, though it wasn’t as shocking. It’s enough to make me say “I can’t believe I like this” after years of being taught to hate it, which I think a lot of people are. That might have come with getting older, having a better sense of history to appreciate what has come before.

What changed your perspective on that?

A lack of things to listen to. Got tired of my CDs. It wasn’t old country that I was listening to, it was new, “shitty” country. That made me dig deeper. Compared to listening to Johnson for the first time it’s more of an entertainment. “I can’t believe I like this … but I do, a lot.” It goes from being a joke to really knowing and liking the songs. My friends and I know all the Toby Keith songs, the Montgomery Gentry songs. No embarrassment about it.

Toby Keith is one of the most genuinely funny songwriters  in popular music today, and he doesn’t get enough credit for that.

I agree. My wife and I were watching a Behind the Music on Keith and realized how much of an outsider he is. He’s kind of a freak in the realm of pop-country like a Merle Haggard, somebody with bold views. You can call them dumb if you want but they’re still bold and interesting to me. Despite whatever his political views might be, I give him props.

When did you decide to go solo?

When I moved out to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a place a few miles from everything. I’ve been playing with Pearls and Brass for years, there’s almost like a psychic connection with those guys and it was hard to go from that to something totally new [with other people.] I really just started trying different things on my own.

There are a lot of really striking samples on the record, particularly spoken word pieces. Where did you find those?

A lot of it came from Salvation Army stores, thrift stores. I was never a crate-digger, I would just buy albums based on covers. A lot of family Christian-gospel records. They had some totally hilarious covers with weird poses. I’d go home and find mostly total shit … but some of it was so good, unforgettable. Every time I move I stare at the records like “Am I seriously taking you with me again?” Moving a thousand records around every two years … what am I doing?

Where do you start lyrically?

I have lyrical parameters. I have an idea what I want to write about but I generally let the melody “write” the words. I have a framework but I let the melody shape and cultivate the words. I never start a song with the lyrics.

The song “Ray” is apparently about an ungrateful child dealing with a parent’s passing. Where did that story come from?

No specific place. The son is kind of a wreck, kind of a prick, and his mom dies. Basically, the father is just trying to get him together. No real event, I don’t know anyone that happened to. I write notes for ideas and revisit them later; the note for “Tiffany Lou” was “She saw her father on television again.” And I built something from that. There are definitely personal songs, too, that have nothing to do with anyone else.

You just recently started performing these songs live. Was translating them a challenge?

It was very hard [laughs.] Ideally I wanted a band to play the songs but that’s not why I started making them in the first place. Finding players to do it, to blend the electronic and live instrumentation, was no easy feat. I decided to start from scratch utilizing a laptop, with another guy playing guitar with me. I’d love to have other players come on. Karaoke-ing over a [pre-recorded track] is not interesting to me.

Daughn Gibson will be performing Friday June 15 @ 8PM (The Garrison), and Saturday June 16 @ 8PM (Wrongbar) for NXNE 2012.

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