Interview by Dan Rozman Photos by Mark Raker
We had the privilege to sit down with the Gibson Brothers before their concert at the AMP by Strathmore in North Bethesda, MD. Eric and Leigh answered questions about their inspirations, career, as well as their new album “Darkest Hour”
Raised in Upstate NY’s Ellenburg Depot a little town about 25 miles from Plattsburgh, the Gibson Brothers have been playing music since they were kids. Their father liked music but didn’t play it himself. After seeing Roy Clark on Hee Haw, Eric asked for and received a guitar for Christmas. Their father also bought a banjo and fiddle which they used. Without anyone to teach them Eric and Leigh just played around for a few years. When they started taking lessons Leigh played guitar and Eric took up banjo. At that point, things began to make sense. Leigh said if you learned from an Earl Scruggs book, which Eric did, “you were destined to play bluegrass.” They started playing in a band in high school. In college, they started to play with upstate New York dobro player Junior Barber. His son Mike Barber has been playing bass with the Gibson Brothers for 30 years this summer. Early on, they got to be around a lot of the first-generation bluegrass players including Bill Monroe, the Osborne Brothers, and Jim & Jesse. They played at festivals with early greats like Ralph Stanley and Charlie Waller.
What’s interesting about their new album “Darkest Hour” is that some of the songs are 20 years old and some are brand new. Leading up to “Darkest Hour”, “we came out of doing 15 consecutive records that were straight bluegrass, and then in 2018 we had the opportunity to do “Mockingbird” with Dan Auerbach which was a different type of record, an electric record.” “Darkest Hour” was kind of stepping back. Producer Jerry Douglas wanted us to send him everything that we hadn’t recorded. Douglas wanted to meld the two worlds together and highlight the songwriting, making the album lyric first.
When it comes to writing Leigh said “It always seems like when I’m in a lull productivity-wise, Eric is having a wellspring of stuff happen. And it works the other way around too. I think we both influence each other.” When talking about the writing process Eric said, “Every song is different. You might have a song that we had the idea for 20 years ago and just couldn’t figure out how to get it out. And then one day, one day you figure out. Then you have other songs that all of a sudden that you didn’t wake up that morning thinking you were going to have anything and by the end of the day, you have a song that you’re proud of.”
“I write a lot of songs that I get away from for a few days. I don’t like them anymore, but I still think it’s worth it to try. You’re working that part of your brain. And I write a lot with my son. He loves writing songs and I can’t say no to him when he asks if I want to try to write one. Sometimes I’ll have a conversation with people and I can I’ll hear a song in the conversation that I might not hear if I’m not in that mindset. You have part periods of your life where there are songs all around you. Leigh agreed, “It is funny because people just say something. You hear the music in it. It sounds strange. We hear cadence or see a picture in what they just said, and if you like it you just start creating and figuring out the puzzle.”
Eric said that he usually writes in the morning but as an artist, you seize the moment. I Go Driving is one of the few songs that he wrote at night.
Just like when they are live in concert, they play off each other for creative ideas. Additionally, being around other musical people helps get Leigh’s creativity flowing. When talking about the DelFest Academy, Leigh observed, “The way I write, when you get around different musical people you get different input coming in. And it’s something about that Academy. Everybody’s there for the love of music, it just fills you. Since I don’t camp, in the evening I go back to the hotel and it’s like you’re still sitting with the guitar and things happen. I’m still fired up from the day.” Leigh wrote the title track to “Darkest Hour” at the hotel in Cumberland, MD during DelFest.
The brothers enjoy collaborations at festivals like DelFest. The chance to play with a variety of different artists both old and new is creatively energizing.
According to Eric, if you told him in his 20s that he would be sharing the stage with people like Del McCoury he wouldn’t have believed you. And now the title song “Almost Proud” on Del McCoury’s new album was written by Eric Gibson and Mike Barber.
They are looking forward to their eighth time playing at DelFest. The Gibson Brothers will be bringing a few new tunes to the Return to Laurel Canyon set with Dre’ Anders, Sierra Hull, Taylor Rae, Frank Solivan & Friends, and the Plate Scrapers.
Leigh summed it up, “I feel fortunate to do the stuff we’ve done and still be doing it.”
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