Empire Builder is named for the Amtrak route Laura Gibson took while moving from Portland, Oregon to New York City in the summer of 2014. It wasn’t the easy start she was hoping for – not only did she leave behind a very full life but immediately upon arrival Gibson broke her foot and barely left her 5th floor apartment for the first two months. Then, on March 26, 2015, her East Village building burned to the ground in a horrific gas explosion which killed two people and left many homeless. She escaped unharmed but lost everything: all identification, eyeglasses, musical instruments, years of notebooks and every word she had written in response to her move. She spent the next few months rebuilding her life and all the while rewriting the lyrics she had lost. It is no surprise that Empire Builder stands as her most personal record to date.
Equally raw and focused Empire Builder is a huge leap forward for Gibson as a songwriter – the album captures a life blown open, an individual mid-transformation. Gibson gathered a stellar band of old friends to complement her songs: guitarist/bassist Dave Depper (Death Cab for Cutie,Menomena), drummer/ percussionist Dan Hunt (Neko Case) and composer/violinist Peter Broderick. Other contributors include Nate Query of the Decemberists and vocalist Alela Diane. Gibson co-produced the record with John Askew (The Dodos, Neko Case), spending her school breaks in his home studio and in Broderick’s studio on the Oregon Coast.
Empire Builder grapples with independence, womanhood, solitude, connection and aloneness. Amidst trauma, loss and recovery, she rediscovered songwriting as a means of understanding her own life and choices. If Gibson has a thesis, it’s perhaps within the final words of the title track: “Hurry up and lose me / Hurry up and find me again.” With clear-eyed honesty, urgency and warmth, Empire Builder succeeds in capturing the moment between loss and rediscovery.
Today she shares the video for “Two Kids” with Ghettoblaster. This is what she said about it:
“I’ve known and loved Ben and his work for years. As luck would have it, our paths crossed right when I was looking to make the video for ‘Two Kids.’ I didn’t want anything too precious, or too right on the nose. Ben suggested this combination of track and field, and surrealism. The lyrics dwell in a very concrete, narrative world, so I was thrilled to have it visually represented in a weird/goofy/surreal world. Also, I did track in high school and college, and am still a runner, so immediately loved the setting.
“I had no idea I would end up dancing so much. I rarely get the opportunity to be ridiculous on camera. It was a big, scrappy group effort (they patched those costumes together last-minutely, with things they had on-hand). One of the most fun days I’ve had this year. Huge thanks to Ben and Scandinavia for pulling it off.
“‘Two Kids’ arose from a challenge I gave myself: to write a love song that was the pure ‘I’ll lose myself for you’ kind of love song. Every song I’ve ever written has something to do with love, but generally it’s the difficulty of love I feel compelled to explore. Writing about myself, a women, in this particular moment and culture, I found I was shying away from those love sentiments that might be taken needy or weak or co-dependent, avoiding wide-eyed naivety, and always writing from the perspective of wise observer. But that feeling, “I would give up everything for this person” is a real thing, isn’t it? Just as true as any more considered perspective on love. At first it didn’t seem to fit among the other songs on the record, all of which speak to the idea that love is complicated. But at times, love can be quite simple, and in the end “Two Kids” seemed to complete whatever it was I was trying to say.”
Ben Fee, who has directed recent videos by Band of Horses, the Lumineers, Sally Fields, A$AP Rocky, Aesop Rock (http://benfee.com) said:
“I’ve known and loved Laura for years. She’s a great friend, and someone whose art I appreciate so much. Some weeks ago she was breezing through Oakland and mentioned needing a video for her upcoming single, ‘Two Kids.’
“I wanted something that’s very literal, abstract and weird at the same time. I also wanted to embrace the name, and the way it made me feel. Laura’s music has always been emotionally complex—driven with momentum and mood into very unique places. So I felt our video should be as complex and multi-layered as her music. Once I knew Laura was on board for being in the video, I wanted to showcase a side of her that not so many people get to see. She’s a great dancer, and I felt the world should know! As for high school tracks: Kids that age are going through such weird things with their bodies, so I wanted to see things that were visually as odd as what kids kinda feel at that point. Hooray for hormones n costumes!”
(Catch Laura Gibson live:
Tuesday, September 20 at Bleu Lezard – Lausanne, Switzerland
Wednesday, September 21 at MuzClub – Nurnberg, Germany
Thursday, September 22 at Bi Nuu – Berlin, Germany
Friday, September 23 at Brotfabrik – Frankfurt, Germany
Saturday, September 24 at Reeperbahn Fest – Hamburg, Germany
Sunday, September 25 at Atlas – Aarhus, Denmark
Tuesday, September 27 at Pustervik – Gothenburg, Sweden
Wednesday, September 28 at John Dee – Oslo, Norway
Thursday, September 29 at Majeriet – Lund, Sweden
Friday, September 30 at Beta – Copenhagen, Denmark
Saturday, October 1 at Glocksee – Hannover, Germany
Sunday, October 2 at Botanique Rontinde – Brussels, Belgium
Wednesday, October 26 at Club Congress – Tuscon, AZ *
Friday, October 28 at Paper Tiger – San Antonio, TX *
Saturday, October 29 at Mohawk – Austin, TX *
Sunday, October 30 at White Oak Music Hall – Houston, TX *
Tuesday, November 1 at One Eyed Jack’s – New Orleans, LA *
Wednesday, November 2 at Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA *)