Greg Gibbs

Greg Gibbs is home-recorder/songwriter from Chicago by way of Roswell, New Mexico. His new album, The Lights, follows two self-released progressive pop gems, Raincoat (2007) and Hemoglobin (2009).

Gibbs is the owner of Chicago Bagel Authority (“One of Chicago’s six serious sandwich shops,” according to Time Out Chicago) and food is one of the topics that he explores with wry (rye?) humor in his music. The Lights contains at least one such delectable ditty in the form of “Food Tastes Fine,” a sympathetic ode to friends with unfortunate dietary restrictions.

The Lights also explores such classic themes as self-preservation (the lovely, electro-acoustic “I Don’t Mind”) and the need for stability after the break-up of a relationship (the beautiful keyboard and guitar-driven “Campus Raygun”).

Gibbs’ music has been featured on Nation Public Radio, Comedy Central (.com) and he was named Soundcloud’s “Artist of the Day” in February 2011.

How do you describe your music to people?
Those who do comment say infectious, clever, catchy, imaginative, surprising, interesting, bizarre, absurd, ambitious. I get the feeling that the homespun, diverse and nontraditional approach I take on every level of pop writing is actually very divisive in generating opinions about my music. There are people who genuinely think it's genius and there are genuinely people who can't bear to listen to it from the first chord on. I know what it is like to hear and feel music, and both reactions make complete sense to me. I will be buying beers for the former after work.

Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.
I was an elementary school spaz. After school, I'd go home and literally pound on our piano for hours here and there. I was composing, but since I had no formal training, and was 8 years old, I had no way of retaining any of the information. I started carrying a cassette recorder around to capture my moments of inspiration. I would show up at sleepover parties with a Casio [keyboard] under one arm and the recorder under the other. "Let's make stuff!!" Cassettes became four track recorders, digital hard disk recorders, and eventually Apple computers. I added drum machines, guitars, synths, turntables, room noise and field recordings. I always just enjoyed recording. Over the years I've wrestled with how seriously I should actually take my musical hobby. In fact, I can almost chart my natural chemical psychological shifts by where in the spectrum that answer lays on a given day. It's obviously something I'm very passionate about doing, but for some reason it defaults to a very private and obscure place.

What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
I like creating things. For me, the creative urge generally comes from needing to resolve something, anything, in any medium. Creating music is my "go to" creative outlet. It's a chance for my psychological, temporal, kinesthetic and existential components to share the same floor. Each component pulls at the next, changing its meaning and its relevance. And still other times I write just to make myself laugh, skipping most of my brain all together. After creating music, eating spicy food is a close second.

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
It took me a long time to share my music with others. I guess I never really felt confident about putting myself out there. I've never had much of an interest in playing on a stage, which makes it difficult to put myself out there. In fact, I kinda dread it. On the rare occasions that I do play out, I do it for the challenge, but it always leaves me stressed and disappointed. I'm not a perfectionist about anything else - well, maybe pie making.

Even though I've owned Chicago Bagel Authority for 13 years, business challenges still pop up daily. The most important things for me are having goals, staying focused, and not getting worked up when problems arise. I go through periods of counting every penny followed by periods of managing from a distance. It's a natural ebb and flow.  Fortunately the business is strong enough that none of my mistakes have killed it... yet.

When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Roswell, New Mexico was not the most career-goal conducive atmosphere in the world. I never thought about it, nor was I encouraged to give it much thought. I was too busy asking questions like "why?", "how?", and "what for?". My parents were both educators. They always suggested that I find something I loved, and find a way to do it for life. I considered pursuing film scoring and engineering, but was still more engrossed in the existential arts - waiting for life to happen to me. If I could do it all over again, I'd probably pursue mechanical engineering or evolutionary psychology. My inner scientist hates making sandwiches and wiping down tables.

In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
I'm surrounded by musicians and people who love music. Chicago Bagel Authority is fortunate to be within earshot of The Old Town School of Folk Music. We get a steady flow of teachers and students who talk about and expose us to music daily. I also work with a number musicians and music lovers. Everyone is always talking about or listening to music. I'm exposed to new music on a daily basis. As a songwriter, learning to love the music of others is doubly rewarding since it's also a challenge to do better with your own music.

When I started sharing my music with others, I started making many new musician friends. My first band, The Lizards of Seitan, was actually started by a CBA customer and Old Town School guitar teacher. Jon Wall approached me one day and asked if I'd be willing to play shows. He put the band together. That was probably the most flattering thing anyone has ever said or done for my music.

What other artists out there do you love?
Frank Zappa won't come as a surprise to many. Deerhoof and Guided By Voices are up there. I think Animal Collective's "Merriweather Post Pavilion" might be my favorite pop album ever. I like the Beach Boys, The Books, The Curtains, Dirty Projectors, ELO, Prince, Joanna Newsom, Shugo Tokumaru, Sly & The Family Stone, Sun Kil Moon, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Sufjan Stevens, too. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti rocked 2010.

What does your future hold?
I'll be making more sandwiches, spending more time with friends, and hopefully finding time to make stuff. I'll be opening a second Chicago Bagel Authority soon, as well.