Throughout the year we shall be asking Oxford musicians to talk to us about the importance of lyrics in music. Each interviewee will be asked the same six questions in an attempt to discover which writers, poets and themes Oxford’s musicians find the most moving and inspiring. This time is the turn of an Oxford alt.country singer-songwriter who has been influenced by the very man who inspired the title of this regular feature. Ladies and gents, let me introduce Mr. Mat Gibson.
1.Who is your favourite lyricist of all time?
That’s not an easy question by any means but if I had to choose I’d probably go with Jeff Tweedy from Wilco. His lyrics have a poetry to them which is pretty unique in music today. His lyrics can be playful, sarcastic, emotive, sardonic, you name it. But it’s the way he laces words together creating such unique, abstract imagery which makes him shine above the rest. I know he works very hard on how the relationship between individual words and phrases effect the listener’s experience of the song which is something I’ve experimented with in songs like ‘Icebergs’ on ‘Forest Fire’. The most poignant example of this for me is ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ which was one of the standout tracks from their now timeless masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
“I am an American aquarium drinker
I assassin down the avenue
I’m hiding out in the big city blinking
What was I thinking when I let go of you?
Let’s forget about the tongue-tied lightning
Let’s undress just like cross-eyed strangers
This is not a joke, so please stop smiling
What was I thinking when I said it didn’t hurt?”
2. Which lyrics make you smile or laugh the most?
Probably Loudon Wainwright’s early albums. I can’t think of a more hilarious performer than Loudon. His lyrics are fully of black comedy without compromising on the quality of the music. I think this was best exemplified in his live shows where the audience would participate in the realisation of his craft; whilst the humour comes across very obviously in his recorded work, its the live performances which shine.
3. Which lyrics emotionally move you the most?
Wow. So many! Let me think… if I had to pick one song which gets me every time I hear it it would have to be Townes Van Zandt’s ‘No Place to Fall’. I even find it very emotional playing this song at home, especially around Christmas with family around. Willy Mason covered this song recently with Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan and did a great job… I remember playing a tiny gig with Willy at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn about 9 years ago before he rocketed to stardom with his single ‘Oxygen’.
“If I had no place to fall
And I needed to
Could I count on you
To lay me down?
I’d never tell you no lies
I don’t believe it’s wise
You got pretty eyes
Won’t you spin me ’round?”
4. Who is your favourite Oxford lyricist?
That’s an easy one, and a terribly obvious answer i’m afraid but I can’t look any further than Thom Yorke. Radiohead were the first band I ever saw when I was 13 at Gloucester Guildhall on the Pablo Honey tour and I’ve been a massive fan of them ever since. Thom Yorke’s songwriting and arrangements have been a big influence on some of my music in particular a couple of tracks off my new album Long Goner which is out on Sep 10th on Bandcamp. The thing I like the most about Thom as a lyricist is the unflinching socio-political edge to his lyric matter which he openly admits. He never shy’s away from making bold, politically charged statements in his lyrics which are always executed tastefully and with power and incision and above all, darkness. Darkness makes it engaging. The best example of this I can think of this right now is ‘Electioneering’ from OK Computer which seems fitting in the current political climate but there are many other songs with perhaps more subtle socio-political lyric matter.
“I will stop, I will stop at nothing.
Say the right things when electioneering
I trust I can rely on your vote.
When I go forwards, you go backwards
And somewhere we will meet.”
5. How do you approach writing yourself?
Most of the time lyrics ‘arrive’ simultaneously with a vocal or guitar melody or chord sequence. It usually starts with one line and if I like the melody associated with it I can build around it quite quickly. I tend only to write in spurts of 5 or 6 songs in the space of a week or two when i’m in a particularly creative mode of thought. I can’t usually plan for that so when it happens, for instance if i’m in the right environment and have time on my hands to sit around and tinker. Having said that, the all important subject matter of the lyrics is usually driven by whatever i’ve been influenced by leading up to that creative drive. For my new album Long Goner that was pretty much being sat on my sofa on cold winter nights watching TV, the news, films, reading stuff online etc which had an interesting slant to it. The songs have a dark edge to them and cover a range of different lyrical matter such as the London riots in 2011, so-called ‘Kill TV’ nights where British Apache helicopter pilots are shown footage of ‘kills’ for their evening entertainment to boost morale and an homage to the Water Bomber which is a thematic link to my previous album Forest Fire and shines a light on a potential tragi-heroic icon of the future of the climate change era.
6. Which lyrics are you most proud of?
I think the song that best exemplifies my style as a lyricist is ‘Icebergs’ from my last album Forest Fire. I think the best songs are the simple ones, and whilst the arrangement of this song is more intricate, the song in itself is quite simple and there aren’t reels of lyrics. Instead it hinges on two main images, one of a plane unable to land in a hostile environment, and the other of Icebergs melting. I think this goes back to what I was saying about Jeff Tweedy and the relationship between words, phrases and images. I think there is an interesting relationship between the two main images in this song and how one influences the other. I find writing lyrics a fairly subconscious experience so I was surprised at how politically charged my lyrics had become from the days of writing ballady country songs and I think that reflects the uncertain times we live in today.
“There’s a hurricane brewing
Careful where you stand
This airplane has nowhere left to land
The band is playing silently
There’s gum in the ashtrays, flies on the TV screen
I bet you, don’t care at all.”
Mat Gibson’s new album Long Goner is released on Monday 10th September via his Bandcamp page. He is launching the album with a live performance at the Brixton Windmill on the same night.