With his nomadic, adventure-seeking nature, open eyes and mind, and honest, intellectual songwriting, San Francisco native and international singer/songwriter Mike Gibbons has discovered a way to take us on his journeys and help inspire us to set off on our own. His recent April 12, 2011 release Marigolds: The Bangkok Sessions was recorded in Thailand, where he spent five years in the 1980's as a child and returned in the fall of 2009 with his wife to spend one year living, writing, and recording. Their time there turned out to be Bangkok’s most intense and violent period of civil unrest in decades. While this certainly inspired several songs, much of Marigolds revolves around being a newlywed and the adjustments that accompany such personal transformation. Throughout, the cohesive, universal theme that emerges is one of revolution, be it personal or political.
On this third independent album, Gibbons teamed up with former Columbia Records artist, Thai movie star and music producer, Jay Montonn Jira. Together, they co-produced Marigolds, giving it a real organic and heavy feel with an emphasis on the simple and primal spirit. “There’s a little peace loving hippie, a contemplative Buddhist, a guilty Catholic, a psychedelic shaman, an over privileged child, and a world wizened sage; all these characters flowing together and spilling out in my music,” says Gibbons. Mixed by Charlie Wilson of Sonic Zen Records in Berkeley, CA, the album also features New York City cellist Yair Evnine and Los Angeles based drummer Aaron Sterling (Fiona Apple, Liz Phair), both of whom contributed outstanding performances via cyberspace.
Mike Gibbons, at his core, is a storyteller who uses his guitar to articulate a story or channel a feeling. “There’s a sense as a songwriter that in order to remain creative, you need to remain inspired,” says Gibbons. Ever-present, open and receptive to the world around him, Gibbons also has a passion for words and is smart about how to use them. In his song “Marigolds” he presents the concept of an individual who aspires towards a career that will keep him away from his family for months at a time. He opens with, “I fell so hard / I broke my legs / In a field of marigolds / All bright and blossoms blooming.” Here, a simple concept, so beautifully and deeply conveyed with brilliant metaphors that seem to sneak up on you.
As positive and warm as “Marigolds” is, Gibbons exercises his range and strength as a storyteller with the incredibly dark and emotionally intense song “Cobras in the Bushes.” Tens of thousands of Thai protestors camped out in the center of Bangkok’s financial center, protesting on behalf of the former Primer Minister who had been deposed and is currently living in exile. Although protests are a regular aspect of Thailand, this one dragged on without any resolution, and finally led to an explosion of violence in May 2010. “I listened to gunshots and grenade explosions every day and saw my local jogging route become part of an urban war zone with sections barricaded by tires and barbed wire. Word spread of mercenary snipers firing on innocent civilians and foreign press correspondents. I was warned to stay away from windows and to not leave home,” recalls Gibbons. “Cobras in the Bushes” paints a vivid picture of the environment during the recording process: “This ain’t the land of smiles that I know / As the bullets they crack / And grenades they explode / The skyline turns black / As the smoke it just chokes out the charm.”
“I’m promiscuous as a musician,” says Gibbons, who prefers to follow a path much like Ryan Adams or Ben Harper, who have spent much of their careers collaborating with an array of instrumentalists to discover what’s out there and how their own music can grow. Gibbons has shared the stage with many established acts including Katie Herzig, Gregory Alan Isakov, Eric Hutchinson, Robert Francis, and Sharon Little. Gibbons is currently fresh off a 27 date US national release tour and will be hitting the road again later this year.
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