To me, Laura Gibson is definitely one of today’s top American singer-songwriters. I felt so lucky that I caught her after her set at this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party. It was incredibly interesting to learn about the stories behind her newest album, Empire Builder. Check it out!
KXSU: Hi, Laura. Thanks for interviewing with us today!
LG: Thanks so much.
KXSU: How’d you feel in the Capitol Hill Block Party atmosphere?
LG: Yeah, good! Festivals can always be a little bit of a scramble. But it was a really fun and really sweet crowd. It was just such a nice and perfect day in Seattle. So it was great!
KXSU: Yeah, your set was wonderful. I really liked your songs “The Cause” and “Two Kids” from your new album. The drumbeat in “The Cause” brought a very strong opening to the record, and “Two Kids” shared some of your personal philosophy. What are some stories behind these two songs?
LG: With “The Cause,” I first actually had the melody in my mind, but it took me forever to write. It was the first song on the record I started writing and the last song that I finished. And so, I wrote “I had the cause/You belong to the cause/Come on, believe…” almost as a motivation for myself, and it encouraged me to take a risk. Lyrically, the song ended up speaking to myself more than it did to anyone else. Yeah, “The Cause” kind of became about taking risks and being an active participant in life. It’s a message I needed to tell myself.
And then “Two Kids” is more like a story song. Not necessarily my story, but maybe parts of it are quotes from my story. But I wanted to try a song that is kind of a pure, naïve side of love, new love, and young love. And, you know, so much of my songs are about love in difficult times, and love in heartbreaking times. I believe that there is a part of young love that is naïve and gilding, and I wanted to capture that with a song. “Two Kids” is a way of doing that through some other characters that have a lot do with me, as well.
KXSU: Interesting stories! When I saw your show, I noticed that your (very talented) band all played multiple different instruments. How do you know them, and how did you all get together as a band?
LG: Well, Shae, I have known him for the longest. He plays guitar, bass, keys, and [vocals]. And he’s been touring with me quite a bit. I met him playing music in Portland. I’ve known him for nine years. And then Dan’s the drummer. I’ve known him maybe seven years or so, and he’s been a good friend. He played on [Empire Builder]. He’s the one person in the band that was a part of the record. And then Lauren and I met a couple of years ago. She plays violin and keys, and some bass. I just made friends with her and then realized she was an amazing musician and that it would be perfect to have her on tour with me. I feel so lucky. They’re all really great people. I feel very lucky to have come across such wonderful musicians and people.
KXSU: I really like the orange-yellow shirt that you wore on the cover of Empire Builder. Where did you get it?
LG: Oh, yeah, the yellow shirt. Ha-ha. Where did I get that shirt? I’m not sure. Probably some cheap store in New York, one of the downtown stores. It’s funny because you get a shirt and you can never wear it again. I mean it’s on the cover now so I never feel like I can wear it again. I have to get a different color of the same shirt.
KXSU: How did you come up with the concept for the album art for Empire Builder?
LG: Yeah, it’s really hard. I was wearing that shirt for some press photos and happened to walk in front of this yellow wall walking around New York. And the photographer said, “Wait! Stop and take this photo.” And of all the photos that he took that was the one that everybody liked the most. I really like that there’s a shadow at the bottom of the photo, too. That shadow was the thing that won me over. It seemed like something more was going on other than it just being a great photo.
KXSU: The photo totally fits the sense of feeling that your album delivers. Your first debut album, If You Come to Greet Me, was released ten years ago. Do you still remember how you started your career?
LG: Yes, I started it before then. In college I started playing songs, so I feel like the beginning of what I do now came from that. And it just slowly progressed until I made that record. I felt really relieved and excited and proud to hand it to someone else, and then that led to some touring, and then that led to a label putting [the record] out. And that kind of led to more things. So it’s really hard to pinpoint the beginning of everything because there are so many beginnings to my career, and so many new beginnings with each record.
KXSU: How do you see your career looking back on these past ten years? And can you share some highlights of your career with us?
LG: Oh, there’re so many! I think that, of everything, finishing a record is always the biggest highlight because it means I’ve made something, and it is so much work and often feels like a miracle to finish any song at all. And so much work goes into making it, and so many thoughts go into making records and writing songs, especially. So every time I finish something, I think those are kind of the biggest highlights. But, I had some great tours, and some really great, fun moments. They’re all highlights. And often, the hardest moments on tour end up being the most memorable.
KXSU: We know you’ve played at lots of fun music festivals, but what are the top three on your list?
LG: Oh gosh. Well, I love Pickathon outside of Portland. It’s definitely a favorite of mine. I love End of the Road Festival in Dorset, England. It’s a similarly small festival, but really well- created. It’s really fun and they have great food and it’s held in a beautiful setting. And let’s see…I’m trying to remember. There’re so many little festivals. I played a really fun festival in Pinedale, Wyoming last summer. I really loved it because it was in a tiny town very far from anything else. So that’s really the only thing going on there, so the whole town came out. It was in a park. I know it’s very small, but it was just so memorable. Everybody danced that day and at the after-party with all the locals; it was so much fun.
KXSU: If you could make a collaborative record with another artist, who would you pick and why?
LG: That’s very hard. Maybe Yoko Ono or Sigur Rós. They’re the first two that come to mind. There are millions of people that I would love to collaborate with.
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