Q & A with Eric Gibson

I recently attended a Gibson Brothers concert at Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut; the opening act was Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, and they all jammed together later on. Needless to say, the evening’s music was outstanding. I was able to connect with Eric Gibson via email and posed some questions about their new album, “Mockingbird.”

HVBA: Talk to me about your process of songwriting alone and together with your brother. What comes first — lyrics or melody? Who contributes what? How do you know you have a song finished?
ERIC: They come a variety of ways. Sometimes the melody first, sometimes the lyrics, but usually a little of both. We have been known to work on songs off and on for years; other times, they happen in less than an hour. I think it is always best to live with them awhile, to make sure they are worthy. However, there are also times to let them go and be what they will be. Our songs sometimes change a little even after they are recorded. We may hook a little groove on a song live unintentionally, and we end up playing it that way for a while. Leigh and I write separately from each other more often than we co-write. Most of our co-writes are the result of one of us getting stuck and the other saying, “Finish this.”

HVBA: At what point did the two of you realize that you can make a living as musicians?
ERIC: I gave up a teaching job in 1998. There have been ups and down along the way and points where I had to do other things to make money, but I have seen myself as a professional since ‘98.

HVBA: What artists do you enjoy when you have the time to relax?
ERIC: So many. I have been on a Gordon Lightfoot kick lately. I still love all the heroes I ever had … Haggard, Petty, Skaggs, Emmylou. I am enjoying new artists like Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers. In bluegrass, I am excited by what Frank Solivan is up to. He has one foot in the past and another in the future. He is a seeker. We just did a run of dates with Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, another exciting and adventurous act.

HVBA: If you were to compile a mix tape of The Gibson Brothers to illustrate your evolution over the years, what ten or twelve songs would you include?
ERIC:

    1. Long Forgotten Dream
    2. Travelin’ Blues
    3. Open Road
    4. Don’t Forget the Coffee, Billy Joe
    5. Dreams That End Like This
    6. Ring the Bell
    7. They Called It Music
    8. In the Ground
    9. Highway
    10. Sweet Lucinda

HVBA: As an intermediate dobro player, I am interested in the resonator players you have on your albums over the years (Witcher, Pahl, Ickes). How do you decide whom you get to sit in? Is it the particular style of each one or merely availability?
ERIC: Those are all great players. Probably the most influential musician in our lives was a dobro player, Junior Barber (Mike’s father). He played with us for 7 years, taught us about tone and a “less is more” philosophy. I’d say we have looked for that in ourselves and in all musicians ever since.

HVBA: The title of Mockingbird is buried within the lyrics of “Love the Land,” the third track on the album. What’s the significance of the bird in light of the collection of songs?
ERIC: A mockingbird can sing a variety of songs. So can we.

HVBA: Mockingbird departs from the bluegrass sound of In the Ground. What sparked that shift?
ERIC: We were looking to stretch out and the opportunity to work with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach presented itself.

HVBA: When I first listened to Mockingbird, I was reminded of The Jayhawks and Flying Burrito Brothers. Were there any artists or sounds that inspired you for the album or any genre / era you wanted to emulate?
ERIC: We didn’t overthink it. We wrote a batch of songs with Dan Auerbach and others and went into the studio quickly while we were still excited about them. I wasn’t thinking about emulating anyone.

HVBA: I thoroughly enjoyed your show at Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut back in November. Do you have any plans for cutting a live album?
ERIC: Thanks! We have kicked around the idea, but there are no solid plans.

HVBA: Do you and Leigh ever perform as a duet without the band?
ERIC: Once in a while. Mostly at workshops.

HVBA: When can we expect you back in the Hudson Valley?
ERIC: We are coming back with our bluegrass band in the spring. Always a blast!

Editor’s Note: The Gibson’s will be playing for the HVBA on Friday, April 3, 2020!

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