Interview | Strong, confident woman – Laura Gibson finds her voice

We first became enamoured by Laura Gibson with debut album If You Come To Greet Me, and again with 2009 follow-up, Beasts of Seasons. Elegiac and gentle, both showcased a remarkable voice that seemed to echo from a 1930’s gramophone. For all their perfectly-pitched nostalgia and accomplished song-writing, there was an air of tentativeness running through both records – a feeling that Gibson was holding back. Then came La Grande, a full-horse gallop through the old American south. At times cleverly ironic, at others whimsical, at still others a strange but beguiling combination of styles, La Grande was the sound of an artist truly hitting her stride. We spoke to Gibson during the UK leg of her European tour to discuss the maturation of her sound and the discovery of confidence.

La Grande is much more experimental than your previous two albums, and it feels like you’ve really found your voice. Would you agree with that?

Yeah, I feel like somehow I just got this wave of confidence and I really just gave myself room to try a lot things. I kind of had this moment of: ‘I’m going to try everything that I want to and really take pleasure in making music and indulging ideas’. I was timid in the past, maybe, which is not to say there’s not a certain strength in a timid record, but it felt good to let myself create something and expand, and reach out a little bit more.

So this is a much more confident record?

Yeah, definitely…I was going into the record almost meditating on the idea of confidence. Both personally and artistically I wanted to speak out with confidence and explore it as an idea.

What helped you achieve this?

That’s kind of the question I was pondering, and I don’t know if I came to a good conclusion of it. I think just reminding myself of what I’m capable of and – like, shake it until you make it! I feel with a few of the songs I really almost played a character that was more confident than I really was, and through that I found confidence in that way.

Listening to La Grande, we felt like we were in the old Wild West. Does this period hold a particular interest for you?

Yeah…Portland [Gibson’s current home] is on the Western side of Oregon, and you can never see that far beyond the trees. It has more of an intimate feel. Growing up on the eastern side of the state there’s wide open skies and you can see for miles and miles and there are not as many trees. People who grew up near La Grande say they could never live in a place with trees cause’ they would feel too nervous!

Part of my reason for calling the record La Grand was because I felt that, sonically, it was maybe more expansive, like the Wild West is – you can see where you’re going miles and miles before you get there and you can see where you’ve been miles and miles behind you. So I think personally and then sound-wise I resonated with that environment and that place. Although I really love so many old sounding things, I wanted to deal with structures that dealt with movement forward. I think I’m really sensitive to place and I write in a really visual way.

There’s definitely an old-world aesthetic to La Grande, something that hearkens back to an older time…

I don’t think that was very intentional. I get a lot of people describing my voice as sounding old-timey but I wasn’t really interested in making an old-timey sounding record. I think I like the sound of old radio and I wanted to include those sounds as an instrument or character that’s in the record. I think in general I’m someone that can dwell in nostalgia but I always having to challenge myself to think forward in addition to the past. I do like those sounds, I tend to listen to a lot of older music rather than more contemporary music

What kind of music inspires you?

I don’t listen to that much music! I’ve never been a big music consumer, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian bossa nova music, I really got fired by the rhythms. I also love old Delta blues and music originating in the American south.

What is it about Portland that’s producing so many great artists?

It’s a place that really encourages trying new things so I think a lot of new people move there in order to start musical projects. It’s really inexpensive to live there and it’s really beautiful… It’s exciting to see a place with so many people making great things.

So how do you feel when you’re in a really big city like London?

I really enjoy being in London and I love going to New York. I do really love the big city but I don’t think I could live there. I’ve always lived very close to nature

How has the tour been going?

It’s been good but you know, we’ve had a bit of bad luck! Coming over to the UK from mainland Europe we had a wheel fall off our van and we actually missed our first show! And then at the Lexington show part of our kit stopped working… luckily we got it figured it out but it was such a sweet crowd and a full room of really nice people and so I was really thankful.

So what’s next for you?

I’ve been so focused on touring the last few months that I’m just starting to think… I have a few songs part-way written. It’s funny because I’ve come from my last record being a meditative record and this new record is a lot more upbeat and playing these songs live it’s really fun because with the big band I can get kind of rocking! But I think I’m really excited just to have some time with me. I do have a lot ideas I’m excited about and I’m up for challenging myself again.