Brian Gibson"It’s nice to work on something where you’re not competing with anybody that you know."
Despite the fact that most of what he creates is loud and exciting, Brian Gibson works pretty quietly. Based in Providence Rhode Island since the mid-nineties, Gibson is best known as the base player for the noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt, and lesser known for his work with groups like Black Dice, Wizardzz as well as his animated series / shit-destroying live band Barkley's Barnyard Critters. His most recent project is Thumper, a terrifyingly addictive video game in development for the past 3 years, showing Gibson's continued labor to create new experiences that transcend expectations.
Where are you from?
Were you an arty high school kid?
No. I was weird but I wasn’t arty. I didn’t fit in. There were some Goth kids, jocks, some academic superstars, art kids, and all these other groups. I wasn’t a part of any of them. There were a couple of other kids that were like me and we wore vague button-down collared shirts and were really nondescript. No style. I thought I was going to go into biology.
Were you into music?
My grandfather bought me a bass guitar when I was a sophomore in high school. I got really into that and started playing with my brother who played drums. By my senior year I was playing shows with my brother and going out to see some shows. There wasn’t much going on in Burlington that was that great. I was really excited anytime I got a chance to see any live music. If I was walking down the street and there was some fusion jazz band playing at a bar or something, I’d be like, “That’s crazy… live music… I can’t believe it. It’s so loud” I wasn’t very discriminating in high school.
How did you decide to go to RISD?
I think it just dawned on me around my junior year in high school. I’m the youngest in my family. All of my older siblings went to Yale. They were academic people and I wasn’t as strong academically as they were. I found it hard to pay attention in class. I was realizing that art was the one thing I really enjoyed doing. I saw that my brother’s friend Dare went to RISD and thought he was a really cool guy. He had a cool name too. I actually work with him now.
What did you study when you came to RISD?
Painting, illustration. I wanted to do animation.
What kind of animations were you into?
I liked Ralph Bakshi movies a lot in high school. Do you know this movie Wizards? He did some crazy stuff with live action and animation combined. He did the animated Lord of the Rings. It has all this rotoscope stuff where they film live actionand then drew over it. It creates a really bizarre unnatural feeling. He made some terrible movies too.
How did you meet Brian Chippendale?
I met Brian Chippendale in my freshman year. I think I saw him playing at a party. He was playing drums in a room by himself.
Just by Himself?
Maybe there were two people sitting on the floor in that room with their heads between their knees and hands covering their ears.
Was he a really good drummer back then?
Yeah, and I was interested in finding a good drummer to play with. At that point my opinion was that a really good drummer made a band. When I arrived at RISD I asked my brother's friend Dare about drummers. He said Brian Chippendale was the best drummer in Providence.
Were you seeing local acts when you moved there?
Yeah. Six Finger Satellite and Hydrogen Terrors were a huge thing when I came to Providence. I saw them a few times when I first moved here and it really made an impression. I think Providence also went through a big transformation after Boredoms came through in like 1994. They played Lupos. It was a really good show. Yoshimi was screaming super high pitch as she was wailing on the high hat and this guy was playing funk guitar and the singer was jumping around. He had a clean white t-shirt on and short hair, conservative looking, but he was swinging around in the rafters and doing flips and stuff. The band at the time was so ridiculous, they were playing songs from the record Pop Tatari, and it felt like the Muppets band. It was just totally insane, really exciting. So many people in Providence cite that show as a personal turning point.
When you and Brian started playing, was it immediately called Lightning Bolt?
We had a few conversations about what we should be called. The only other name I remember was Frog and Toad.
If I heard early Lightning Bolt would I recognize it?
Maybe not. It was slower. More nineties. Brian has always been the same level of drummer but he’s gotten faster and faster.I wasn’t using all the pedals I’m using now to make it super blown out and distorted so it had a cleaner feel to it. It was a bit rhythmically and sonically funkier.
Did you change your playing around Brian Chippendale's drumming?
After a while I started to get really into the way he was playing the kick drum. I started following it more directly, and tried to build a whole form around that. That—pounding kick matched with distorted bass—to me became a defining quality of Lightning Bolt.
What was your first show?
The first show we played as a two piece was at Carr House, which is this coffee shop on RISD campus. We brought in a bunch of TVs with static and put red cellophane over them and turned out the lights so the room had this deep dark red glow to it.
Did Brian have the mask with microphone at the beginning?
I can't remember when Brian started using the mask. Maybe right after Hisham. We had Hisham Baroocha singing for us in the beginning for the first couple of years.
I didn’t know that. What did it sound like?
Kind of like Can? Japanese chanting sounding stuff. He had a delay pedal and he was singing a bunch of stuff and then swirling it around with his delay pedal. Just being pretty psychedelic and free-form.
Wasn't Hisham in Black Dice? What was Lightning Bolt’s relationship to that band?
Well, I was playing drums with them in the beginning.
I didn’t know that either. They were like a hardcore band at the beginning right?
When I started playing with those guys it was the first time they had been in a band and they didn’t really know what they wanted to do. There were some vague goals but we were really just screwing around. I actually think the whole hardcore thing was a kind of funny joke for Bjorn and those guys. None of us could decide if it was serious or not. It was not exactly in character, but the shows became really rowdy and fun so we embraced it. We wanted to do something crazy as friends and I think pulling off anything was really satisfying for us at that point.
Was Fort Thunder happening at this point already?
Yeah. They must have all started around ’95. I moved in ‘97. I was only there for like a year. I actually got really bummed out when I was living there.
Because I was broke and Brian and I were having a really rough band relationship at that point. I was going through my equipment, just blowing it up over and over again and having to buy speakers and cabinets. I just didn’t have any money. I was working serving coffee to people on College Hill and felt totally stuck. I mean, Fort Thunder was a cool place but...
How did you participate?
I did some comics in Paper Rodeo for Barkely’s Barnyard Critters, but I wasn’t really a big participant. I was kind of an outsider there. Barkley’s Barnyard Critters came out of me wanting to do something with a bunch of friends that I had that were outside that Fort Thunder group. I wanted to do something that was just fun times with friends. The creative identity at Fort Thunder was very apocalyptic. I never identified with that.
How exactly did Barkley’s Barnyard Critters start?
Me and a bunch of my friends were drunk at a party and I just started doing the Barkley voice. I was acting like McGruff, telling everyone not to do drugs. It was just some weird, retarded party scenario where the next day everyone was like, oh, it was really funny when you were being that dog. . At some point later my friends Joe Bradley and Warren Bennett wanted to start a band called Barkley’s Dog House Blues Band. A band with animals—something really stupid that would be fun. Everybody in the band came up with their own animal personas. Warren instantly had this really perfect character for Brockton the vulture that he could do a voice for and everything. Joe was Charlotte the sheep. Everybody knew exactly what they were supposed to be. That band came together perfectly.
Were you guys shit destroyers from the beginning when you played?
Not really. We always wanted to create this really theatrical thing, not the rowdy, screwing-things-up, making-a-mess thing. But we never practiced enough. We never quite put together the crazy drama that we wanted for the show, so we just became animals having a good time. That’s why shit always gets destroyed.
How did it become a cartoon?
I started drawing that stuff when I was in New York around 2000. I got to this point where I wanted to make an animation and put together stories with those characters. Like, “This is what Barkley would look like... This is what Brockton would look like…” The way I drew everything wasn’t really endorsed by anyone else in the band. I just really wanted to do more with the characters.
Did you do all the voices yourself?
Initially I was getting everybody who played the characters to do their voices. For all the YouTube stuff I’m doing now I do all the voices because it’s easier.
I want to get back to Lightining Bolt. When I looked you up on Wikipedia there were some very specific things about the stringing of your bass.
When I started playing with Brian, I was just playing a normal unmodified bass and it was really fun, but when we listened to the recordings it didn’t have that much dynamic range—particularly with the pitch. It was all low and hard to hear melodies. I added a Banjo string to get the range of pitch that a full band typically gets with a guitar and a bass.
Why a Banjo string?
Banjo strings are longer than guitar strings so they fit on the bass, which is longer. I wanted to add something that was accessible and had a really high range. Otherwise just bass to me is too limiting. I like being stripped down and limited as a band and not having a lot of options, but I didn’t like how gray everything sounded without having that crisp, bright, high note in there. Later I got a Whammy Pedal too. Sometimes I’ll use the whammy pedal and the banjo string together to get a super piercing high pitch.