Susan Gibson :: http://www.susansongs.com
With a whole carload of new songs and the inspiration of her new band’s first CD, Susan Gibson is eager to take her contemplative, pop-folk poignancy and sense of humor on the road.
The new CD, “Chin Up”, features 14 new Gibson songs (a.k.a. SusanSongs) and stellar supporting performances by guitarist Michael O’Connor and fiddler Eleanor Whitmore.
Gibson remains boots-and-jeans down to earth, as unpretentious as a puppy. Her songs are often autobiographical and sometimes poke gentle fun at herself while exploring her feelings.
“My emotions are so close to the surface,” she said. “I explore myself at the risk of not fixing it because then it wouldn’t be there to explore again. That sounds self-deprecating – that I leave wounds open so I can go back in and see if they still bleed. It’s keeping a little soft spot, a bruise, and poking at it so you can keep feeling that tenderness, that sensitivity.
“It’s pain, but that’s not the defining thing. The defining thing is the healing or the methods we all use to get over that stuff. I like humor and I like hearing people laugh, even if it’s laughing at me. Laughing and crying are so close.”
Gibson, born in Fridley, Minnesota, grew up in Amarillo, Texas. She sang in church and school choirs for 15 years until she performed Suzanne Vega’s “Gypsy” in the Amarillo High School talent show. Hooked, she learned the entire catalogues of Vega, Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman, and Shawn Colvin and eventually began writing her own songs.
After a stint in forest ranger school in Missoula, Montana in 1992 and 1993, she discovered open-mic nights and developed her own solo gigs and eventually joined The Groobees. They performed and released two CDs over five years until May 2001, after two band members’ wives had children and a third wanted to get off the road.
The Dixie Chicks’ version of Gibson’s “Wide Open Spaces” made it the best-selling country song of all time, giving her the artistic freedom to write, perform, and record with few constraints.
She’s excited about working with O’Connor, Whitmore, and the rest of the band. “There are a lot of talented studio musicians who might have come in and heard the natural parts. But that’s Michael’s voice on some of his leads, and I can hear what he’s saying. And Eleanor – she gave so much thought. Those guys gave 155 thousand percent.”
Except for the quirky title song, the CD is filled with straightforward, peaceful sounding, likable songs whose topics range from weariness to yearning to love to memories. “Chin Up” is an example of the kind of good, personal song an artist can make without the constraints of demographics and marketing trends. Written after most of the CD was already recorded, it’s a banjo-based, part-sung, part-talky, humorous and meaningful look at Gibson’s failure in third grade to pass the presidential fitness test – about knowing you can’t call in sick again, about doing time behind the monkey bars, about trying to make it a game by pretending it’s just a firing squad when they call your name. She feels almost like an intermediary with her songs.
“It’s almost like some people believe the preacher needs to be there to facilitate your talking to God,” she said. “But when I’m singing about something, if it touches you it’s something you already know. You don’t really need that preacher. You can just go ahead and talk to God.
“I don’t need someone to sing me a song or paint me a picture for me to get the picture as an audience member. If it touches something I already know or feel, that’s why I relate to it. It’s already there for me in some way.
“My subjects are really personal and specific to me, and the irony is that I hope you’re not thinking about me when you listen to my songs. I hope you’re thinking about yourself or somebody else. I hope you’re thinking you weren’t alone if you were picked on in school, or if you were the one who did the picking, or if you’ve been abandoned.”