Oligarchs And Water: A Conversation With Daughn Gibson

Daughn Gibson’s voice travels in a barrel of baritone, often describing the life of someone with much to gain and nothing to lose. A unique mix of pedal steel guitar, programming, and synthesizers accompanies his solo releases, and his online presence is on par with your father. “It’s not mystery for mystery’s sake. It’s not my job.”  

So when he released new music earlier this month, an EP titled Kriminelle Energie, I asked what his job had been the past six years since his last release.

“We got pregnant, and had a family to support. Making music was the furthest thing from my mind.”

The we is he and Kristin Kontrol of the Dum Dum Girls. They got married and had a son, whom he brings with him as he travels from pool hall to pool hall, playing for money. I don’t know how much they make, but when I met up with him in Altadena, CA, he had bought his own coffee. He says he plays every day, “At 2 pm.”

Originally from central Pennsylvania, a place seasoned political consultants call “Alabama,” he is the largest person at this coffee shop, and the folks sitting around us are all wondering if he is going to arm wrestle them. I certainly did, but as he spoke and smiled that thought faded. He is extremely down to earth, an acute listener, and knowledgeable in an array of subject matter. He is a history nerd, and it bleeds into his music. Several songs off the new EP were informed by a summer reading list that focuses on the eastern front of World War Two. He also spoke of a lake that he claims he has never been in, but as you read and listen, I think you’ll find he has. | n matsas

Aquarium Drunkard: There is a sense of mystery about you, and I think this is rare amongst musicians today. There are artists I used to like, taken down a peg or two by picture on Instagram of what they’re having for dinner. When Captain Beefheart “retired,” and was painting in the desert for 30 years, it would have been completely different if he was re-tweeting everyday.

Daughn Gibson: This is something. We’ll, a good friend of mine who was my manager and earliest supporter, released my first record, and I was comfortable enough because he dealt with the admin side, but he didn’t really know how to do that either and we sort of figured things out together. But eventually, he would say ‘we need to hit social media harder,” and my sentiment would be the same. It’s not mystery for mystery’s sake, really it’s just not my job.

AD: When you write a song, is the goal to have a number 1? Do you want to play arenas?

Daughn Gibson: HAHA! No. I’ve said this before, but I love this alternate reality where Toby Keith is in Royal Trux.

AD: Oh my god…

Daughn Gibson: It’s a really deranged vision. Toby Keith is playing in a stadium full of people, but it’s Royal Trux’s music. That gets me off. There is no part of me that thinks, when I write a song with a really good hook, that it will be well received. I will not be Kenny Chesney. That’s something I’ve realized.

At one point though, the first record I did for Sub Pop, there were a few songs on there I thought, ‘Shit dude, let’s go for the ring!’, and I was insane to think it had a shot in Nashville, but I would push on Sub Pop radio guy, and tell him, ‘You need to get this onto mainstream country radio.’

AD: But that’s the good insanity. The type of insanity the world needs and spins slowly on. We all need to be, and are slightly delusional.

Daughn Gibson: When you put yourself at a distance from what you’ve made, you can look at it objectively, and clearly see it is not ready for the radio, but…But! There is something, when you’re in the midst of the process, it’s so intoxicating…Relevancy or popularity does not drive me. It’s just curiosity. What would it be like if I did this and this? It’s also a matter of time. I’ve had to fight for the time to make these records. The insanity of the process. I fight to get into the studio for no one but myself. In that sense, when music hits the atmosphere, its then reserved for the admin side. ‘Who do I send this to?’ I hate all that stuff. I really do, but at the end of the day, I like to share it with people who would be into it. It’s a way of finding friends. It’s a way to find my people. It’s a lonely world, and if you have one vessel to get you around to be social, for me, this is it. This is how I might relate to someone.

AD: Also, the fastest vessel. When I think about forms of creativity, art, and expression, music hits the fastest. “Like A Rolling Stone”. (I slap the table) That opening snare.

Daughn Gibson: Playing in bands is something I really miss. Playing solo is uncompromised, which is great, it’s efficient. There is a speed to getting the vision down, but I miss the days of playing with a band. I long to be in a room of pure volume with two other people. This sexual connection, that’s not remotely sexual, but it’s the closest approximation to that.

AD: Is it true, when folks say, ‘the best bands are dictatorships’?

Daughn Gibson: You got to believe it. Yeah. Somebody has to have… a vision, and I’ve always envisioned it as a lake inside you. It’s radioactive, and you never see the lake.

AD: A lake?

Daughn Gibson: The masters get to the lake, and become radioactive. The laymen, get more, the closer and closer they get, but they never see the lake. That’s the enlightenment of the process in a band scenario. One person needs that lake. Not everyone can have the lake.

AD: Have you been in the lake?

Daughn Gibson: No. No! NO!

AD: Have you seen it?

Daughn Gibson: I’ve had a glimpse at it, and only in a band.

AD: Have you seen someone else in the lake?

Daughn Gibson: Yes. The guitarist in my old band. His riffs were otherworldly, like a tongue that unfolds and never stops. These riffs would just go. It was tantric and sublime. He was in the lake…But the radioactivity, you sustain some damage. We’d play a show, he’d say ‘let’s get lifted.’

AD: You were drumming in this band?

Daughn Gibson: Yes. We could see he was getting lifted, and was approaching the lake, and it would be residual, but I did not have that inside me. I was devoted to his riffs. Completely.

AD: What’s his name?

Daughn Gibson: Randy Hooth. He plays in a band called Pissed Jeans. Sub Pop band. Their old friends.

AD: Did you/do you go up to Seattle a bunch for Sub Pop?

Daughn Gibson: Not in years.

AD: Where have you been?

Daughn Gibson: Well, we lived in LA, and then when covid hit, we moved back to the middle of Pennsylvania.

AD: Let me know if this quote rings true from James Carville about Pennsylvania. “Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle.”

Daughn Gibson: Yes. I lived in a town that was both red and blue. I would never want to pin anything on anyone though. I lived in central Pennsylvania for ten years and it is guns, god, and anti-vax, and then it also isn’t.

AD: One of your new songs, “1918”, mentions anti-vax.

Daughn Gibson: That song is about an anti-vax gang. A gang of kids who are going to burn the city down. It’s all imagination (laughs). I’m not adhering, I’m not dishing up my political anchor. I think I wrote that during the trucker occupation of Ottawa, and I was like, ‘holy fuck, I wonder what it be like if this was younger.’

AD: Shoot the Land…

Daughn Gibson: John Doe, and Dwight Yoakam…LA country. It didn’t inspire the song, but I feel like it’s so LA. The guitars are moody and saturated…I was looking for that.

AD: I think if your EP was played in the troubadour in 1972, Harry Dean Stanton would end his conversation and yell “Who is this!? I want to sing Mexican songs with him!”

Daughn Gibson: That’s the dream.

AD: Are you going to play these songs live?

Daughn Gibson: No, it’s impossible.

AD: What about one show in LA?

Daughn Gibson: I can’t find anyone to play those guitar parts. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to form a band.

AD: I know one or two guys. Matt O’keefe, and Degnan. Degnan is an amazing slide player. His hero is Pete Drake.

Daughn Gibson: Pete Drake is a pedal steel guy? Nashville Skyline and John Wesley Harding?

AD: So you’re going to play live.

Daughn Gibson: No. You don’t make plans. Sometimes, something comes into view and you just follow it. That’s my life philosophy. A few years ago, 2016, I got a call from an oligarch oil billionaire in LA. He was married to a Kazakhstani Princess/oil oligarch. I kinda knew him before the call…But! There was this art festival out in Salton Sea, and he asked if I could play this show out there in this fucked up bar in Bombay Beach. Well, first he asked if I would play his hotel in West Hollywood, The Sirtaj, and then he asked me to play this abhorrent dive bar out in the desert, and I was like, ‘I’ll fucking do that.’

The problem was I wasn’t going to play on a laptop, and I didn’t have a band. So what I did was, I hired these two older folks from Carlyle, PA. A violinist and pianist. The piano player was classically trained, and they played in these cover bands, and were down. They flew out to LA and we practiced and they were so good I wanted to turn off my amp and let them riff.

AD: What are their names?

Daughn Gibson: Tom and Mary. We played the show and it was an abomination. Playing with a laptop sucks. You need so much. Jesus, it sounded like complete shit, and that was the last time I played live.

AD: Are there any circumstances you would play live again?

Daughn Gibson: If I could play the drums! Be a drummer in my own band.

AD: Do a little Levon? ‘Up on cripple creek, She sends me, Up on Cripple Creek, She Mends me.’ You should do that.

Daughn Gibson: No.

AD: Drumming and singing is badass.

Daughn Gibson: I’m with you. I would love a headset.

AD: Like Phil Collins.

Daughn Gibson: (Impersonates Phil Collins) It could work…I had a great band from Chicago. When we were touring with Sub Pop records, Jim Elkington was my guitarist, they were just killer. I wish I could have done that forever, but we were making no money. Paying the guys a grand a week was unattainable, and they weren’t going to do it for less. Jim is like ‘I gotta go play with Wilco. Pony up or peace.’ Listen, I love making music, I love sitting down and getting a coffee, but once you play live it becomes more Admin. Know what I’m sayin’?

AD: You lose what you liked by creating schedules, and being responsible for people’s livelihood.

Daughn Gibson: Any catharsis that might happen, which is rare with this stuff, is immediately undone with some tour shenanigan. That’s what I loved about drumming in a stoner band. We played and then we would drive. Setting up a laptop is stupid.

AD: How does your music feel right now? What does your EP make you feel?

Daughn Gibson: I love listening to it, and I loved making it.

AD: Did you listen to the new songs today?

Daughn Gibson: I didn’t.

AD: Do you think you will?

Daughn Gibson: Probably. There’s two listening experiences with making and releasing your own music. The selfish listening experience and the empathetic, where you listen through others. I’ve written songs…Not for a certain someone, but through them. I have a friend I grew up with, who was a Fred Durst kinda guy, and I did a song through him. It’s called “You Don’t Fade”, and when I heard it, it brought me to tears cause I felt like I was converging with his senses, and it wasn’t entirely me, it was my imagination on what he would get off on. It was pure joy. It was a collaboration.

AD: Do you cry a lot?

Daughn Gibson: No. Not a lot.

AD: Do you dream?

Daughn Gibson: I dream all the time. I have a lot of zombie dreams. Zombie dreams once a week. The last dream I had was with a girl and her mom at a train station. Oh god, I don’t want to say it. I have horrible dreams.

AD: Nightmares?

Daughn Gibson: Did you ever smoke cigarettes?

AD: Yeah.

Daughn Gibson: You ever take Chantix?

AD: No.

Daughn Gibson: If you take it, you will quit for sure, but you will have the most jagged-ass nightmares. They’re not even nightmares, they’re curiosities that are so brutal. So, ever since I took Chantix I’ve had horrible, jagged non-nightmares that are horrible to describe.

AD: Have you ever woken from a dream and wished it was reality?

Daughn Gibson: All the time. They’re usually love dreams. Falling in love with something or someone mysterious whose face you can’t see, and then you wake up and say, ‘God I love you. Who are you?’’ Have you had one like that?

AD: I wake up every morning feeling like a lonely rancher. ‘Does she exist?’

Daughn Gibson: There’s a Bruce Hornsby song …

She’s out there somewhere!’

Bruce Hornsy. 1986. The Range. The Way It Is. Love songs. Western Skyline. Mandolin Rain. What an album. I haven’t checked into that in a minute. A lot of casual weeping. The funny thing about the way we listen to music is the M.I.A of context. I can listen to Bruce Hornsby, or Avalon Sunset by Van Morrison, and wonder why this isn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Then you snap back into the reality of context, the reality of when you first heard those songs, the reality of what your situation is. Is context being absorbed by Netflix? This is one of my problems with the lawn of content. All difference is mowed down, and all context is eradicated. I don’t want to project my old-maness onto what young context is for music right now, that’s not fair, but you can’t deny the thought that we are getting to a flatter place. A flat society. An absorbed society…Man, I put on Rancid the other day. I was such a bay area nerd in high school. Their music seemed to match the urban landscape…Like Burial and Birmingham at nighttime.

AD: Or Boards of Canada and Scotland.

Daughn Gibson: Yeah! It’s an important part of the art form. It’s special and sacred. Music is ambiguous. It is a doubtful art. Its place of origin has a chance for it to make sense.

AD: When someone listens to your music for the first time, where do you think they think you are?

Daughn Gibson: I don’t know.

AD: I was listening to your song, “Mad Ocean”, the other day, and it reminded me of “Big Country”. The bagpipes. You know that song?

Daughn Gibson: Oh yeah. The pedal steel and bagpipes can bring the tears out of me.

AD: Are those bagpipes on “Mad Ocean”?

Daughn Gibson: I went to a July 4th parade in upstate New York, and bagpipes were coming down the street so I got as close as I could to it and recorded it. It was a field recording. I chopped it up and threw it in there.

AD: I did not know that song could get any better.

Daughn Gibson: The fate of a song, and where you are. I was off the Hudson somewhere. I love it. Everyone smokes cigs up there like it’s Paris. Old money.

AD: I sort of feel, in a very Phillip K. Dick sense, that cigarettes will be an indicator that you are wealthy.

Daughn Gibson: I smoke two or three cigarettes a day and feel like ‘the lonely scumbag.’ There is a conspiracy…

AD: You are really into conspiracies.

Daughn Gibson: Listen, it’s a wonderful time to be alive if you’re into the theater of the absurd. It’s the perfect time.

AD: What do you think about hate?

Daughn Gibson: What you harbor hatred towards, is love in disguise. Things I find abhorrent is only an indicator of my future love. If the reaction is strong, that means there is potential for devotion. It seems that the thing I like right away, fades. It’s a triumph to break yourself. If you hate Fleetwood Mac, and then come around to Fleetwood Mac, it’s an emancipation. You’ve shed your “identity.” If you tie the knot on hating Phish, and if you go to a Phish show, it’s probably going to floor your ass, and then it becomes pure joy.

AD: Let’s go through the tunes.

Daughn Gibson: Yeah! “Damascus Rose” is the first one. It’s about a home-owner who wakes up and hears something getting sucked in his backyard. He hears a sucking sound and is freaked out and terrified. So he investigates and discovers someone getting blown in his backyard. The end!

AD: “Shoot The Land”.

Daughn Gibson: I’m going to keep this as brief as I can. I’m a history dork. Big Time. I have a history degree that I wish I had done something with. Last summer was a deep dive into the eastern front of WWII. Read a lot of books. Fall of Berlin, 1945 by Antony Beevor. There is a story in this book that frightens me to even think about it. The Russians encircled the German 9th Army, April 1945 in the Spree Forest. The Spree Forest is mostly sand with gnarled hard tree roots. Nowhere to dig a foxhole. So what the Russians decide to do is fire rockets into the tops of trees and everyone below would get splintered. Nowhere to hide. Chest wounds, stomach wounds, and total agony.

AD: Ah, shoot the land.

Daughn Gibson: Shoot the Land. A lyric I love is A tree top bit by cannon, lying in the sand of timber. A man in despair. Nowhere to dig, getting splintered from above.

AD: “Fuckin American”.

Daughn Gibson: Get it together ya’ll. Ya know? Snap out of it.

AD: “1918”.

Daughn Gibson: 1918, anti-vax gang.

AD: “A Rich Foreigner Goes Berserk”.

Daughn Gibson: Some of my favorite lyrics I have ever written. Again, inspired by World War Two summer reading, but…It converges with Ukraine.

AD: Do you think everything is political? Do you believe in the Jean Luc-Goddard quote that sitting in a chair is a political act?

Daughn Gibson: I don’t.

AD: I don’t either.

Daughn Gibson: I’m not smart enough to unpack it. I love political imagination more than politics. It’s a sitcom everyone should be watching but not in it ’cause it’s so fucked… This song is about the bombardment of a city, and a western youth wants to fight for this city and is quickly disillusioned by the reality of the bombardment, and running around like a rich foreigner who goes berserk.

AD: “Bug World”.

Daughn Gibson: About anonymous people that lead you into situations you regret. Bug men are media antagonizers, and provocateurs. So Bug World is the loss of your world view. The bug men are everywhere. They’re in your phone…They want something for you that’s not even remotely healthy. That’s it.

AD: Do you want to go to Las Vegas?

Daughn Gibson: I have to go there sometimes and I hate it cause I’m a huge loser.

AD: Same.

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