Grief and loss have inspired some of the finer albums in rock history. “Funeral” by the incredibly consistent Arcade Fire, the sublime “Soft Bulletin” by the envelope-pushing Flaming Lips and Neil Young’s classic “Tonight’s the Night” are each dark, depressing and delightful offerings written by recording artists at their emotional nadir.
“Goners” is an album full of melancholy and earnest songs written and recorded by the underrated Laura Gibson. The somber songs can be filed under alternative rock, which has become a misnomer. But Gibson’s work is truly left of center.
Gibson’s album, released in 2018, was written in the solitude and beauty of Everglades National Park. Gibson, a Portland resident, left the cloudy Pacific Northwest for sunny Florida in early 2017.
“It was just after the inauguration of Donald Trump, and so it was a pretty depressing time,” Gibson said by phone from her Portland home. “I was in such a beautiful place to get my head together after dealing what the nation was going through. It was surreal and amazing to be hiding away in the wilderness. There’s a lot of sorrow on the album, but I aimed for beauty.”
Mission accomplished. The production is baroque and satisfying. It’s a nice complement to Gibson’s writing, which has never been finer. Gibson’s decision to earn her MFA in writing at Hunter College in Manhattan from 2014 to 2016, has paid off. Her latest songs are provocative and rich in detail
“I like to learn as much as I can,” Gibson said. “I learned a lot in school and put some of that in play with this album. I get a lot of energy writing and making music. I like challenging myself.”
Gibson did that this time out by writing on the piano.
“The piano is not an instrument that I’ve spent a lot of time on so it wasn’t easy but sometimes not going the easy route is the best thing you can do,” she said. “I really enjoyed working with the piano on this album.”
Her goal in 2019 is to listen to more classical music.
“I think classical really opens me up,” she said. “I need that. I’m already thinking about what will inspire the next set of songs. I’m excited thinking about what the future holds.”
Before Gibson can focus on her next album, she must focus on her tour, which brings her back to Iowa City tonight (1/17).
“I love playing Iowa City since it has such an amazing literary history,” she said. “I absolutely adore (Iowa City novelist and essayist) Marilynne Robinson. I remember playing at Public Space One years ago; I ended up opening for the Happy Chromosomes. They were a high school band and all of their friends were there. I opened for Rufus Wainwright two years ago in Iowa City. Each of those shows had this magic quality. There is something about the middle of America. It’s inspiring.”
Gibson is moved by much of America. She said that her creativity level rises in towns like Iowa City.
“It’s different than what I experience day to day in Portland,” she said. “I’m lucky, since I get to live here and I enjoy what Portland offers, but I have the opportunity to see what else is out there in the rest of the country. There is great beauty in all of this country between here in Portland to Iowa City to the Everglades.”
Music is often stereotyped as a young person’s game but Gibson believes she’s improving with age.
“I feel that I’m getting deeper as I get older,” she said. “The more you know, the better you become as a songwriter. I believe that I’ll be better as a songwriter when I’m 75.
“That’s the cool thing about what I do. It only gets better from here. I have a lot of room to grow.”
WHAT: Laura Gibson
WHERE: The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 8 p.m. today (1/17)
TICKETS: $12 ages 19 and over, Icmill.com
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Lauragibsonmusic.com