There’s always a certain grief that comes with the news that a musician is going to be stopping making music. There’s an assumption that somehow it is them giving up on their dreams, but in the case of CHUCK, the musical pseudonym of Charles Griffin Gibson, that’s not quite right. In his thirties, married, working a full-time job, for Charles, CHUCK and existing in the “music biz” that goes with it had become a long way removed from the path of his life.
CHUCK’s parting gift to the world is his new album, Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store. It is an album that manages to simultaneously sound weary and focused; in many ways it’s exactly the album Charles has always been trying to write. The songs on the record explore the world through its creators eyes; they grapple with the highs and lows of nine-to-five living, the shifting of youthful ideals into more pragmatic dreams and the constant feeling of never quite fitting into the city you call home. Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store is an album about trying, remaining optimistic and battling for the moments in life that make it all worthwhile; it’s not a miserable album, it’s just a real one.
Musically it’s as eclectic as ever; there’s the echo-drenched Modest Mouse stomp of Hudson, the Jeff Lewis-like anti-folk of New Yorker, and the noisy Oceans (brilliantly covered by label-mate Magana) which sounds almost like a lo-fi Explosions In The Sky. Perhaps it is Audio Antihero, the label who’ve put out Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store, that sum it up best, CHUCK is “a perfectly imperfect artist”, the ideal songwriter for a perfectly imperfect world.
Today is the day of CHUCK’s launch/farewell party at Secret Project Robot in Brooklyn with support from label-mates Magana, soft yes and Frog. Ahead of that show we chatted to Charles about his future plans, his advice for budding DIY musicians and why Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store is a fitting farewell to CHUCK.
FTR: For those who don’t know already, who is CHUCK?
CHUCK is the music of Charles Griffin Gibson, but with considerable support from Brooklyn musician Lou Waxman.
FTR: So your new album, Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store, is going to be your last (sob!) – do you think it’s a fitting way to say goodbye?
Yes! I’m very glad I finished this final batch of songs. A lot of these have been sitting around, half finished, for years, on a hard drive. If they stayed that way forever, I would be a little disappointed. Now that I released Franky, I can walk away feeling like I closed the door.
FTR: What can you tell us about the recording process of the album? Did you do anything differently from previous albums?
With my first proper record, Charles Griffin Gibson’s People, I was able to condense the process and make the whole LP within a month or two. As I’ve gotten older and life has gotten more demanding, I’ve lost the ability to focus on an album like that. Also, I’m more of a perfectionist with the production and whatnot. For those two reasons, the process has been more and more piecemeal with each record. This one was actually written, recorded and mixed over a four year period, which is why it’s called Frankenstein Songs. Some tracks have live drums from a studio in 2015, stems that Lou sent me in 2016, guitars from 3 years ago, vocals from last week etc. I’d work on some songs tirelessly for a week, and then I wouldn’t listen to them of it for months. It is definitely hard to stay motivated over a long period of time like that, but I find it’s beneficial to the music. You get good ideas when you have fresh ears.
FTR: What were you listening to when you wrote Frankenstein Songs For The Grocery Store? Have your influences changed over the years?
I go through waves and phases. My biggest influence and favorite band for the past 5 years has definitely been (Sandy) Alex G, but I think another big one is AJJ. I relate to their lyrics so much. “Getting Naked and Playing With Guns” and “Junkie Church” are really important songs to me. I also went through a little Liz Phair phase. “Go West” was in heavy rotation during some of my work on Frankenstein. Besides them, I listen to bands like Girlpool, Matt Cothran, Adult Mom, LVL UP, Peaer, Florist, Big Thief and Stephen Steinbrink. I’m not as good as any of them, but they all inspire me.
FTR: Why have you decided to step away from the music industry?
I would argue I was never IN the music industry lol. I just don’t wanna do it anymore. I don’t have time to write, record and practice. I don’t enjoy promoting my albums or playing live. I’m not controversial like a Father John Misty. I don’t have a sticky life narrative or an interesting background. I really love music and think it’s a special medium, but there’s other people who do it all better and whose voices need to be heard. I’m much more confident in my screenwriting and filmmaking I feel like my skills are growing in more meaningful ways in those fields.
FTR: What advice would you give someone just starting a DIY music career?
Start as young as possible, work as hard as you can, find an IRL community, be real with your lyrics, be humble, play live often and never take yourself too seriously.
FTR: Is it more difficult to make music in New York than it was in Massachusetts?
Well, I was born and raised in MA, but haven’t lived there since I was a kid. I never made any music there. I’ve only produced music in Philadelphia and in New York. When I was in Philly I was just poking around on GarageBand, so I wasn’t really releasing or promoting anything. I was in college then. My music career unfolded after I graduated, when I moved to NYC. I don’t have a basis for comparison, but I think it’s difficult to make music here. It’s so cramped and loud. It’s hard to record when you have a neighbor banging on your wall, telling you to shut up!
FTR: If someone new to your music wanted one song to define the CHUCK sound, which would you pick and why?
I would probably play “New Yorker” because it’s lively, I’m really happy with the production, and it’s funny, but thoughtful. It’s hard to look at your own work objectively, but I think “funny, but thoughtful” is one of my defining characteristics. I might play the original version of “Oceans” too.
FTR: What is your proudest musical achievement?
Frankenstein is, hands down, my proudest achievement. No matter what the reaction is, or how many people listen, I know how hard I worked on it over the last few years, and the fruit of that labor now tastes very sweet. I collaborated with a lot of other talented artists on the album art and music videos. I got it printed on vinyl. Seeing it out there reminds me of how far I’ve come with the music. I used to record into the onboard microphone of my laptop and print my own little CDR’s. Now I’m shipping vinyl out to Germany and doing interviews. I’m extremely proud of my discography and am going out smiling.
FTR: Do you have any regrets? Would you do anything different if you had your time over again?
I think I would have engaged more with a local scene at a younger age. Now I see how important an IRL creative community is to whatever you do. I’m sort of a loner, but now I seek out support and inspiration from like minded people. Connecting with other people is the point of art at the end of the day. I wish I knew that at 21.
FTR: Have you enjoyed the nonmusical aspects of the music industry? Photoshoots, video making that sort of thing?
The most fun thing is creating or contracting the artwork for the albums. The worst thing, is making the music videos. I’m comfortable in front of the camera, but something about faux performing your own music in public spaces is uncomfortable for me. So, I have this shame around my videos, because I can’t be as free as other performers can. I wanna make a video where I dance in the subway or something, but when it’s game time, I crumble under the pressure. We went to Times Square for the “New Yorker” video and I could barely strum the guitar I was so embarrassed. You can see how uncomfortable I am here. It’s something I need to work on. I really just like making the music and the art. If I could skip everything else I’d be fine with that haha.
FTR: Are you going to be touring this record? Have you enjoyed playing live?
I’m playing one show in Brooklyn at Secret Project Robot on Wednesday, September 6th. Doors at 8pm. $5 cover. It’s gonna be fun, but I don’t like playing live. I haven’t done it enough to enjoy it. I’m already nervous and it’s two weeks away! But, once I play, and the concert is over, I always feel great. It’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
FTR: What are you going to do with all your new found free time? What’s next for Charles Griffin Gibson?
I have a screenplay I need to finish about an American girl studying abroad in Italy, and I started work on a new experimental film about the body. My video editing career is also expanding and I’m getting more interesting documentary work, so I need to focus on that a little. Otherwise I’ll be chilling with my wife and traveling. I want to make less art and spend more quality time with loved ones.
Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store is out now via Audio Antihero. Click HERE for more information on CHUCK.