The Rise Of Gibbz: New Releases, Kickstarter Campaign, Independent Work + More [Interview]
Electropop singer and producer Mike Gibney, aka Gibbz, has recently completed working on his full-length album, Above Water. With a history of starting out in the scene with studio work as a music engineer and advancing to working on tour with crews such as Gramatik, Lettuce, Break Science, and Exmag, Gibbz has evolved into a rising electropop musician with the right amount of humor, confidence, and humble charm — a charisma that is successfully delivered to both his music and live performances.
Sensible Reason had to chance to speak with Gibney about his current musical endeavors — where the musician shared the stories behind his recent success, musical influences, new album, and his recent Kickstarter Campaign for the new album.
SR: Where are you from originally?
GIBBZ: I’m originally from Bohemia, a town in Long Island, NY.
SR: How’d you like growing up on Long Island?
GIBBZ: It was… interesting. It’s a beautiful place and I definitely missed it when I left, but I don’t think I would live there again. It’s definitely an island!
SR: Where do you reside currently?
GIBBZ: I live in Brooklyn right now, I love it. I’ve been here for seven years; before that I was in Boston where I attended Berklee College of Music.
SR: Can you describe your history with music and music production before you started the Gibbz project?
GIBBZ: In high school I did a lot of theater and writing for choirs, along with a lot of singing. I then decided I could probably make more money if I was doing studio work — which was a terrible decision.
SR: You didn’t like the studio work?
GIBBZ: Well, I did like it, but there truthfully is no money to be made. I went to college and spent all my non-existent money in loans. The actual work itself was great. I really love being in the studio — playing records, recording bands and engineering – but there’s no way to survive with it. The artists we were recording can barely survive, so how [are] those recording them supposed to survive?
SR: How did that situation lead you to get into the scene at Lowtemp‘s label and Gramatik?
GIBBZ: I started out with Lowtemp, but I’m not with them anymore. When I started musical engineering, I wanted to make some extra money so I started engineering on the road with other bands like Lettuce – bands who were real family-type acts. It was hard work.
SR: Why was it hard for you?
GIBBZ: Well, for a little while it was just me driving the truck and taking on multiple tasks. Taking all the gear, setting it up, doing sound. It was a really rough job but it was also a really good music lesson for me. I learned so much about music genres like pocket and groove just from listening to them every night and being around them.
SR: It seems like you can really immerse yourself in the culture when you’re living that way on tour and working with them everyday.
GIBBZ: Yeah, I mean I didn’t really have a choice but to learn all about those really deep funk pockets. From there on, I was doing sound on tour for Break Science, which led me to meet Gramatik. Break Science seemed to had liked me a lot – probably because I was loud and obnoxious and a heavy drinker. So, eventually on the bus, I would be a few drinks in and start singing. Everyone would always make beats together, like the people of Exmag before they were actually Exmag. It kind of just worked out. We all started making music in the back of the tour bus when we weren’t performing.
SR: Would you say that played a huge part in inspiring you to produce your current music?
GIBBZ: Definitely. The whole concept of stopping everything I was doing, especially 5 years into my music engineering job, was really scary. Just to stop and start over as an artist. [The inspiration] was a lot of the Exmag guys really pushing me and saying, “You have to do this! You should be making music!” The guys would see me writing all the time and doing nothing with it. Turns out that I was writing things that they thought were pretty catchy. So it seemed to make sense that I just say “f*ck it” and do something of my own with music.
SR: Who and what inspired you to produce music of the electronic-pop genre?
GIBBZ: It really started when I listened to a lot of Break Bot mix tapes – he’s a Parisian electro artist. I’m actually playing with him on New Year’s Eve, which is really freaking me out because I’m one of his biggest fans. I’m losing my mind about it. So yeah, Break Bot influenced me a lot as well as Daft Punk and some newer French tunes like Cherokee. Listening to Branx totally changed me — it showed me things I had no idea existed yet and was so amazingly well done. A lot of his music is instrumental, so I thought, I could do something like that and be able to add lines and verses onto it to and make pop songs in order to reach a broader audience. So far it’s been doing alright!
SR: Describe your creative process when producing a track.
GIBBZ: Well, I’m loop-based. I find some basic drum sounds and loop some drums with some bass, and then loop some keys with some guitar and other sounds. I’ll make two or three sections from these loops and then start seeing different things over it. When I write certain chord progressions, certain words come to mind. So from that, they’ll be a main key word and everything else will be written around that main key word.
SR: How do you discover what the key word is?
GIBBZ: It kind of happens phonetically. Like, there’s a certain word that sounds really good to me at the time, maybe it’s frequency based? I’m not real sure what it is but there is always a key word. When I wrote Tilt Mode, the key word was “meantime”.
SR: What’s your favorite aspect about performing live shows?
GIBBZ: There’s this weird feeling when you’re on stage, where everything can go wrong. I don’t really get nervous anymore. However, there’s definitely the thought that the performance could be terrible. Then there’s also this high I get when it’s not terrible – like this jolt of energy. And then I’m like, “Woah, everybody likes me! This is great!” I’m not sure if that could be a narcissism-type thing?
SR: You’re just responding to all the positive energy you’re receiving. That’s a good thing.
GIBBZ: I don’t know. But I’ve worked with artists where I’ve been behind the scenes, artists who get on stage and not do a good job because they’re tired and they’ve been on the road for so long, and they don’t care. I look at that and think, everyone bought a ticket to see you! And I feel terrible for them. All these people saved money to come see you. If people actually save money and come to see you on their own, I HAVE to give my 100%. It’s so crappy not to.
SR: What’s it like performing as a solo electronic act at big name festivals like the ones you’ve performed at this past summer like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Electric Forest.
GIBBZ: It’s definitely easier to play to a huge crowd at a festival, because they are one big mass. At festivals, I’m not thinking about what anyone is thinking of me. I basically come to the conclusion that this crowd of people is most likely having a good time. Also at festivals, there’s really no sound check or anything like that. You basically just get on stage and hope everything’s set up, then you look up and see this giant mass of fans that want to dance… and the fans all just start yelling usually pretty early before you’re even ready to play.
SR: What can we, as fans, expect from Gibbz in the near future?
GIBBZ: I’m doing a tour with Cherub in February. I’ll be playing mostly songs from the new record, which will be out in late February or early March. I’m going to try in April or May to do a little run with a band in my music, which should be fun. I’m not great at being in a band because I like to do everything myself.
SR: You’ve recently started a Kickstarter campaign. Can you summarize for us exactly what the campaign is for and how it will be helping you as a musician?
GIBBZ: I was actually really afraid to do the Kickstarter at first, because I had this feeling people didn’t really like me other than the songs they heard with Gramatik. So I was really nervous about it until my manager, who’s also my best friend, convinced me to just do it. I basically gave myself 30 days to raise $5,000, which would be used for distributing the record, merchandise, putting money into publicity, things like that. We started 2 weeks ago, and it’s now fully funded! We are now at 103% of funding. I really thought no one would put any money towards it. I thought maybe my parents. So now all this extra money can be put towards other things, expanding on the original ideas.
SR: Who is the campaign directed to? How can we help?
GIBBZ: It’s directed at anyone wiling to help out, and if you do, you get rewards. I have some really weird awards – like I was asking someone to shave my head and take bits of my hair and paste it to a picture of my face and frame it and give it to a supporter – which somebody bought. Then I have some basic rewards like T-shirts and getting the record in advance. Then fun ones like going on a mani-pedi date, renting a party bus for you and your friends, or blowing up a picture of your school photo and putting it above my headboard by my bed.
SR: Some of the rewards you give to those supporting the campaign are quite silly and hilarious, in a good way. Would you say the goofy nature of your prizes reflects you as a person?
GIBBZ: I’m absolutely not serious at all about most things. I find humor in everything and I think everyone else should as well. I mean, I take my music seriously but even with that I mess around with when I’m writing. I’m pretty laid back, and I think being ridiculous is being awesome. I’ve been on tour where stuff happens like the trailer lost a wheel or I haven’t slept for days, stuff like that. The only way to get through things like that is laugh.
SR: Why do you prefer to release your first debut album without the help of a big-name, corporate record label?
GIBBZ: While I was making the record, I realized that the record itself is not this super-party-anthem-electro-sounding album that corporate labels want. Instead, it was really a thoughtful song writing process I went through, and I think my new sound isn’t exactly what I’ve been doing previously. If I went to a big record label, they probably wouldn’t want that. They’d want the kind where I get f*cked up, fall asleep on the bus with marker on my face. They don’t want the “you’re in love” stuff. So I thought, hey, I’m better off doing it by myself.
SR: That’s a big decision on your part. It seems like being under a big record label, you would somehow lose your identity.
GIBBZ: I definitely think it’s easier to evolve as an artist without someone telling you how to evolve as an artist. I mean, that could change, I could totally sell out if I want to, but right now it seems to be the correct decision. I think I’m doing it for the right reasons. I think people will like the record, too. I put a lot of work into it and think it came out pretty damn good.
SR: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
GIBBZ: I’m going to be releasing a single fairly soon – before the Kickstarter is over. It’s called “Higher Than I’ve Ever Been” with Dominick from Big Gigantic. I’m really excited that I got him to play on it. Aside from the single, I’m really proud of the whole record. Everything is really thoughtful and has it’s own meaning. I took a lot of time writing each song, and I’m excited to see what people think of it.