An intimate sound redefined
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Friday, January 27, 2012
Like her music, Laura Gibson is soft-spoken, deliberate and introspective. She has never been the loud girl at parties or the attention hoarder among friends. In high school, she tried out for musicals but always ended up feeling more confident working the curtain rather than the stage.
"I was always pretty shy," the neo-folk singer-songwriter says by phone from her Portland, Ore., home. "I grew up in such a quiet little corner of the world. I am always most comfortable dwelling in the quiet and the silence."
Gibson's last album, the haunting, confessional-like "Beasts of Seasons," was as much about the silence between the notes as it was about the notes. But on her new album, "La Grande," she seems to have found a boldness, filling the voids with vocal harmonies and affectations and, on the title track, even a rousing drumbeat.
"I've always really aimed for sincerity," she says. "My first two records had this intimacy that was like somebody sitting beside you and whispering in your ear." With "La Grande," Gibson says, she wanted "to see things through the lens of someone who is really confident. . . . It is really reflective of my desires in the way that I wanted to grow in the world."
Gibson, 32, grew up in a small, remote Oregon logging town, where the only music on the radio was country and Nirvana.
"I didn't play music growing up at all," she says. "My family wasn't musical, and it didn't occur to me." Gibson did enjoy writing poetry, a skill that she demonstrates today in her lyrics, which evoke images as much as mood, conveying a message about love, loss and living.
"I really found that magic of stringing words together and balancing words in a line and reflecting them onto the next line, and so I would write these little rhyming poems when I was young. That's the thing I can look back to and feel like it's connected to what I do now."
As for her music, it wasn't until college that Gibson picked up a guitar.
"I just discovered my songwriting as this way to understand the world and understand myself and my place in the world, and to really explore my identity, especially at that age in college," she says.
After graduating, Gibson moved to Portland, where she performed every Tuesday night for AIDS patients. But she felt intimidated by that city's indie music scene, and it wasn't until she met music engineer Adam Selzer that she felt confident enough to make an album - 2006's "If You Come to Greet Me," a quiet and melancholy collection featuring simple melodies, poetic lyrics and tasteful production.
"La Grande," which was also engineered by Selzer, is just as intimate as Gibson's previous albums, but it also reflects a new, expansive definition of intimacy, and of the singer herself.
"Before, I really had this tendency of being bound by the identity I created for myself in music: 'Oh, that's not something Laura would sing or do.' This time around I came to the conclusion that there is this other way of being intimate . . . it's being free and loving what you're doing and letting the listener in on that."
But, she adds, "I'm still the quiet person at parties."