Philip Gibbs: The guy who couldn’t get into CanadaBorn and raised in Texas’ capital city, Gibbs has witnessed his hometown’s growth into the hip music mecca it is these days.
Poor, poor pitiful Philip Gibbs. On the eve of his interview with the Budgeteer, the Austin, Texas, singer/songwriter was denied access into Canada. (He ran into some trouble with the law a couple years back. Typical outlaw highwayman.)
This wouldn’t be such a problem for Gibbs if his intent had been to just take a pleasure cruise throughout the Great White North.
Nope, this move by border officials north of Bellingham, Wash., hit him where it hurt: his wallet.
“Two legs of this tour were in Canada,” Gibbs said. He was forced to camp out after being denied access. “So now I have to deal with this issue and it’s just like, Oh boy....”
Apparently not feeling too beaten down about the whole situation — granted, the interview was before he had to call up all those Canadian venues and let them know he’d be MIA — Gibbs nobly treated it as a life experience.
“I’m just learning the business,” the Texas native said. “I feel completely like I’ve got so much to learn.”
This isn’t the first time he’s felt this way. It seems that getting the word out about his latest record, “Paper Crosses,” has been a long time coming. Despite the fact that it sports a 2003 release date, Gibbs is still touring in support of it.
Why? He only recently sent it out to radio stations and newspapers outside of his two longtime comfort zones, Austin and New York City (where he lived for a couple of years). The 7-year-old album of 10 rootsy Americana tracks has been quick to find fans when it gets to them.
“Which is great,” Gibbs said of his third album’s newfound popularity, “because that had never happened in Austin, even though I had hired a PR agent and all that.
“It just didn’t get picked up at all with the Austin press.”
As you can imagine, that initial rejection in his hometown wasn’t easy to stomach: “I was way low on confidence, as one of my buddies had pointed out,” Gibbs said.
During this dark period, Gibbs bided his time with a number of intriguing projects, including “The Wellspring,” an (as of yet) unfinished “folk opera” about the early days of Barton Springs, a beloved natural swimming hole in Austin and reportedly the largest of its kind in an urban area.
The project led to the musician’s first foray into acting. “As I was writing this play, I thought I should learn something about theater,” he said.
The role was the prince in Vortex Repertory Company’s musical revamp of “Sleeping Beauty.”
“I was actually auditioning to be in the music pit,” Gibbs said. He ended up writing two pieces for the play. “But I think they were sort of short on actors, so I got drafted into service … which was a lot of fun.”
When he started the current tour, that same Austin theater company revived the musical for another run.
“They kept my music in, which was cool, but I didn’t have to do the acting this time,” he said. “It was fun, but my heart is really into what I’m doing now.”
Born and raised in Texas’ capital city, Gibbs has witnessed his hometown’s growth into the hip music mecca it is these days.
“In Austin, you get all genres,” he said. “There’s really no specific genre ... you get jazz players, folk guys, blues rockers.”
But he was quick to point out the downside of his hometown’s “saturated market.” When Gibbs returned to making music fulltime a few years back, it was a daunting decision because “Austin is pretty much ‘under siege.’”
“I mean, it has its good parts too,” he was quick to clarify. “A lot of talent’s coming through town, which is good.”
Of course, Austin’s music scene didn’t just happen overnight.
“You had those two big schools in Austin back in those days,” Gibbs said of his formative years. “You had Willie (Nelson) and the country music, rednecks and hippies coming together. And then you had like the Stevie Ray Vaughan, electric blues.
“Those two distinct styles, I think, are what really inform Austin’s past.”
And informing Gibbs’ past was his mother, who used to sing backup on “little rock ’n’ roll records” back in the 1950s. His mother also became quite involved in saving symphonies, both in the state and around the country.
His father contributed to his musical tendencies, too, but in a far more ethereal way. “My dad’s not much of a musician, but I do think his being from the Mississippi Delta itself made me interested in the sort of music that comes from over there,” Gibbs said, referencing masters like Robert Johnson.
Enter Gibbs’ first official release, the “Digging in the Bottom of Mines” EP.
“It was a little country record that we did in New York after I first left college,” he said.
At the time, Gibbs was working at EMI Music Publishing (“That was an interesting job….”) and playing open-mic nights around Brooklyn. The record was cut with some friends he had “drafted” and guys from a Hank Williams cover band — five “little songs” with pedal steel, fiddle and upright bass.
“I think it was a good example of Williamsburg country music in 1999,” Gibbs said, mentioning that a bunch of his friends still live around that area and “country music is alive and well in Brooklyn.”
He calls his middle record, “Another Place to Disappear,” a “hodgepodge of things.” It included live cuts from New York and stuff he recorded in his Nashville apartment (where he lived on his way back to Texas) and the Cactus Café and AltaVista studios (both in Austin).
“It was almost a rough draft for ‘Paper Crosses’ in many ways,” he said.
Still, it’s an approach to music making he’d like to revisit. Gibbs wants album No. 4 to be more “this and that” like the predecessor to “Paper Crosses.”
No matter how he puts his ideas down to tape, he seems to be doing pretty well. A number of Gibbs’ tracks have been covered by other artists, including “You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming to You,” which the Defibulators recorded for a Sin City Social Club compilation.
“So it was all over the country, and they play it every night,” Gibbs said. “They do a fantastic job. They just blow me away.”
Then there’s the Charlie Faye track “She’s Gonna Go,” which was at least partially written about things she witnessed Gibbs going through. At that up-and-coming singer/songwriter’s request, Gibbs suggested a melody for the track.
Gibbs couldn’t be happier about other artists expanding on his ideas: “It’s the highest form of flattery,” he said. “Absolutely.”
NEWS TO USE
Philip Gibbs will perform at 8 p.m. Aug. 6 at Beaner’s Central. Minneapolis’ Jason Shannon and the Lift Bridge Boys are also on the bill. Cost is $7.