Walking a line between horror and humor

Electronic music artist Daughn Gibson , a Nazareth, Pa., native, went to Temple University for a history degree. ADAM WALLACAVAGE
Electronic music artist Daughn Gibson , a Nazareth, Pa., native, went to Temple University for a history degree. ADAM WALLACAVAGE
Posted: August 17, 2013

Back in 2011, the country-noir electronic music artist known as Daughn Gibson, who headlines Johnny Brenda's on Friday in support of his album, Me Moan, was playing drums in the heavy rock band Pearls & Brass and finishing up work on a history degree at Temple University.

"I was living in South Philly and was messing around, using a computer to make songs and sounds," says the 33-year-old Nazareth, Pa., native, talking on the phone as he drives between tour stops in Portland, Ore., and San Francisco. "I never had a path or direction. I was just mimicking people I liked."

Those people came from opposite ends of the pop music spectrum. On the one hand, Gibson, whose given name is Josh Martin, was into earlier dubstep dance music practitioners like U.K. knob twiddler Shackleton. And on the other, he had a growing appreciation for traditional country singers such as Waylon Jennings, John Conlee and David Allen Coe, whose baritones bear a resemblance to Gibson's own burly voice.

The arresting synthesis of gothic storytelling and electro beatmaking caught the ear of Matthew Korvette of the Allentown band Pissed Jeans, who last year put out the 10-song collection All Hell on his White Denim label. The out-of-the-blue buzz for the sui generis sound earned Gibson - whose stage name is in part a nod to "Oh Lonesome Me" country songsmith Don Gibson - a record deal with the storied indie label SubPop, which put out Me Moan last month.

When he first started writing, "I wanted to make country music, at the heart of it," Gibson says. "I didn't want it to be a hip-hop song or a techno song. I wanted to be very specific. It's not hard to tell a story with country music, but if there can be a cool way to enhance a story that involves recontextualizing some old [stuff] and help move the story along, to me that's the challenge and the fun of it."

Me Moan employs pedal steel guitar, trombone, and bagpipes in sharply sketched, playfully menacing songs like "The Pisgee Nest," which is about breaking into cars with a state trooper's daughter.

"A lot of the time, it's my way of attempting to be Alice Munro or Raymond Carver or Donald Ray Pollock, somebody who writes about rural noir, for lack of a better combination of words," Gibson says. "And if the calamity is murderous and vile, all the better. Oftentimes, it's that fine line between horror and humor."

Gibson started touring in rock bands when he was 18, and his bio plays up his straight-out-of-a-pulp-novel resumé, including jobs working at an adult bookstore and as a recruiter for a long-haul trucking company in Carlisle, where he now lives.

"Those kind of jobs are A-OK with me," he says. Even now, he's not so sure that making music is the long-term career path to follow. "I want to have a taste of all the fruit. I don't want to just eat pizza forever. I want to try this, and try that," he says. "To me, that's the currency of living a full life. Hoarding experience. Hoarding good times and bad times."

 


Daughn Gibson with Hiss Golden Messenger and Man On at Johnny Brenda's, 1201 N. Frankford Ave., at 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets: $12. Information: 215-739-9684, www.johnnybrendas.com.

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