By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Gibberish.
Picking apart the sounds of Gibberish and penning them to paper is a bit like attempting to speak the band’s namesake. It all ends up falling apart and swirling together in a nonsensical medley of goo.
But it’s sticky in a beautiful, this-is-going-to-take-repeated-listening-to-absorb kind of way. For proof throw on a pair of headphones and drift off to their debut album, Winter Coat. Drum loops bend, twist, and crackle; swinging pendulums cast echoes and distortions off of a landscape that seems to shift before the ears have time to catch up.
It’s hard to tell what’s organic and what isn’t when everything is generated to be equal parts foreign. Jangling guitars bleed into synthesizers slowly rising out of the mix. Even the singing sounds like it could have been beamed to Earth from a distant planet. Reverb spanked vocal chords mutate faster than chameleons performing a striptease.
So where exactly are these bizarre sounds coming from?
Perhaps not where you might expect–it appears as though the aliens landed somewhere in the backcountry of Northwest Arkansas, close to a town called Fayetteville.
Yet it’s not entirely fair to give extra-terrestrials credit for Gibberish’s remarkable debut record. The real hat goes off to Derek and Lorie Bromley. You might have heard the married couple before under the moniker “monsterheart,” but it was really just a brief stint on the way to their tried-and-true project.
What’s really remarkable is the veracity with which Gibberish came together: an astounding two months before the release of Winter Coat.
“The biggest thing is that we were both tired of the music we were making,” Derek tells BTR. “It was straightforward singer songwriter stuff. So instead we decided to flip it upside down.”
Quite literally: instead of setting out to write a song with a conventional guitar melody or vocal line, the Bromley duo will concoct a rhythmic transfusion first. Derek will sit behind the kit and pound out something sample-worthy–which the two will then proceed to affect until a warped undulation is achieved.
Listening to Gibberish, it becomes clear that the real cosmic meat and potatoes are the many rhythms achieved in tandem. In this sense, as Derek explains, the vocals and guitars are simply an afterthought.
Crafting soundscapes like these requires the perfect balance between intent and spontaneous energy flow. The beginning of the songwriting process, however, is always malleable. Derek will begin by setting his phone to record and placing it in one corner of the room. The couple then assembles a rhythmic loop and jams along.
The real layering begins after the initial explosion of creation. What should be sampled and looped, what shouldn’t; what should be affected and what should remain dry… ultimately, each decision still serves a greater vision of abstraction that the Bromleys are certain of.
“Our biggest goal when writing music is not to create something that people can hum along to,” says Derek. “If eventually you can hum along to it that’s great, but it’s more about transporting you to a certain mental place.”
Which is exactly what it does. This isn’t to say, however, that the music drifts too far out into space. Derek was raised playing both guitar and drums; Lorie has been a student of classical piano for years. At its core, there’s far more to meet the ears than just “straight-trance-synth-stuff.”
Constructing each song is just like starting over again. While Winter Coat sounds uniform in sonic entirety, individual songs required their own treatment and process. What worked for one wouldn’t necessarily work for the next.
Take the drums, for instance. Perhaps the most meticulously arranged aspect of the album, the Bromleys recruited friend and drum aficionado Jack Katze to play on three of the songs. Ben Smith played on another. The musicians spent hours tinkering with the placement of microphones to ensure the proper dynamics were established. At one point they even moved the kit to an abandoned breezeway–the only place they could capture the texture of reverb that they were searching for.
The vocals were another story. While the married couple had all the time in the world to record their debut album (they live in a house together in the countryside), sometimes imposing a deadline guaranteed the preservation of energy. When the duo wanted to achieve a soulful, whimsical melody in the vocals, Derek would tell Lorie that they only had two tries to get it right.
“Making this record, we went one of two routes,” says Derek. “We either slaved over a song, beating it into a mechanism, or it was completely off the cuff in one or two takes.”
To hear the rest of our interview with Gibberish, tune into this week’s episode of Discovery Corner.
Or interpret the band for yourself by clicking here.