Cult Classics

19 July 2012 | 9:35 am | Doug Wallen

“I always wanted to do straight country... In a small way, this was my attempt to do it. It just came out weird."

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It reads like the set-up of a failed joke: what happens when the truck-driving drummer of a stoner band turns to country? Not only is that premise real, but Pennsylvania's Daughn Gibson spun his circumstances into a head-turning, genre-fusing debut with All Hell. Bringing together his love of country songs with his natural baritone croon and a stack of samples from op-shop religious records, Gibson has made his very own strain of R'n'B-twisted outsider music.

Not that he set out to do that, exactly. “I always wanted to do straight country,” he confesses. “In a small way, this was my attempt to do it. It just came out weird. If you want to be in a country group, you need players. And nobody I know really wants to play that kind of music. So it forces you to figure out a new way.”

Gibson turned to the sample-based electronic music he'd always tinkered with on the side, using those resources to flesh out his ostensible country project. Without a proper band, he casually grabbed drumbeats and basslines from old vinyl. The results are just as organic, from the forlorn twang and tentative rhythms of opener Bad Guys to the poppy loop anchoring The Day You Were Born. Even with his froggy voice and dark country themes, the album is quite accessible. Especially the deceptively hooky In the Beginning, with its female vocal sample lifted straight from the record bins at a Salvation Army store.

“A lot of them are Pennsylvania Christian records. Some reverend's recording studio,” he muses. “There's a certain feel that's so interesting. It's like a church basement. I'd say 90% is garbage, but then you spin one and it's so bizarre and totally captivating. That sample was just another in a stack of family gospel. Those girls sound like aliens. There's a weird alien/cult thing going on with all those records. They breed out of isolation, so you get really fucked-up things.”

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Having grown up between Philadelphia, New York City and Nazareth, Pennsylvania, Gibson now divides his time between Philly and Carlisle, a humble uni town where he's lived with his wife for about six years. “She's from Carlisle,” he explains, “so we came home to visit. I was like, 'This is a great town. Let's move here.' That's it. There were really no jobs here.” Laughing, he continues, “It's just a good area: nothing goin' on, and I like it like that. I think the college keeps the town from looking like other Pennsylvania towns. [Most] Pennsylvania towns, it's like industrial fallout, unless you're near Philly or Pittsburgh.”

While he's had his commercial driver's license for a decade, Gibson doesn't drive trucks full-time anymore. But he still picks up the odd driving job when he can, and that line of work is where he nurtured his fondness for country music. That includes the kind of character songs echoed in his own tunes Tiffany Lou and Ray.

“Country music, to me, was the one genre that focused on that stuff,” he argues. “I like to read, I like stories. This is the best of both worlds: you get to listen to somebody's account of either themselves or somebody else, put to melody. They have to get their character portrayal down in a couple lines, so that makes more of an impact because you're not hearing all these fine details. You're just getting the meat and potatoes of what makes a person awful or heroic or sad.”

Now that his on-off stoner band Pearls & Brass is more off than on, Gibson is developing a live set-up for his solo work. So far it's a duo with him on keyboards plus a guitarist. While he hopes to tour Australia someday, all things in due time. “The plan is just to grow and have fun and get other people in,” he says simply, “but at our own pace.”