introduction by trevor elkin
In an almost Benjamin Buttonesque sequence of events, we’re saying goodbye to an artist we’ve barely got to know. It seems that we joined the story of the Brooklyn-via-Massachusets DIY supremo, Charles Griffin Gibson aka CHUCK, near at its end… who knew?
It’s just a little over a year since we first covered ‘My Band Is A Computer’, itself a retrospective collection of CHUCK tracks, chosen by label Audio AntiHero who have championed CHUCK’s music. Then earlier this year we hooked Gibson up for a conversation with one of the original doyens of art-punk self-sufficiency, Jad Fair, when CHUCK announced it would be the end of the road after one more album. That album, entitled ‘Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store’, was released last week and it is possibly CHUCK’s finest work to date (who knows what else he has stashed away?).
We spoke to Gibson to dig a bit more into the album – read on to learn how it all came together and of course, the reasons for calling it a day.
So this is it then, you’re definitely retiring from music?
I think so Trev, I think so. More specifically, it’s the end of CHUCK. If I record more music in the future, it will just be for fun. I don’t want it to be this hyper-personal thing anymore. I’d rather be anonymous and go by a band name and just share it with friends and family. My identity is too fragile for the music industry lol. My real home is film and television. I belong there.
When did you decide?
It was about a year and a half ago – after I had LASIK eye surgery. The recovery was brutal because I had PRK, so I was healing at home by myself for like a week. I tried to spend some time working on music, but I was in pain and my vision was all fucked up. I was trying to record this guitar part and I kept flubbing it because I had bandages on my face. That’s when I knew I was done. If I’m so busy that I have to make music while I’m supposed to be healing from a surgery, than I officially don’t have the time or space to do it anymore.
Why choose now, just as you’re getting attention for your music?
My friend said something once about how, if he ever got the success he thinks he wants from his music, he doesn’t even know what he’d do with it. That’s how I feel. I desperately want to be validated or celebrated or accepted, but also, I don’t think I could deal with the music industry on a more involved level. I’m a storyteller, not a musician. I like crafting songs in contained environments. I like recorded mediums. I like archiving. I’m not built for touring or becoming a part of the DIY scene or having a magnetic personality on camera. Also, I don’t feel like I can explore the ideas and themes I want to explore in music. I can better communicate in film and television.
How did you find writing the album knowing it would be the very last?
Frankenstein was hard to write at times, but the songs were made over a four year span, so it’s difficult to make a blanket statement about it. Some songs were easy to write (“Hudson, “Oceans”), and others were challenging. But, for the hard ones, they weren’t difficult to write because I knew it would be my last album. It was more that, it’s been a bitch to stay motivated in the Tr**p years. There’s been so much bullshit in the air and online because of him. It makes me wanna be quiet and leave the smallest internet footprint as possible. It’s challenging to write dumb little songs in the face of such confusion and evil and chaos.
What’s the story behind the album’s title?
Well, first and foremost, I have a habit of giving things un-Googleable titles and names. I was determined to break that cycle here, which I think I did haha. The phrase “Frankenstein songs” got stuck in my head a few years ago. It has different meanings for me. Firstly, these songs are built from disjointed parts I’ve recorded and edited over a series of years. They are Frankenstein creatures. Also, they are songs written by a Frankenstein.
So you’re Frankenstein, the Monster or maybe one of the others – Robert Walton – self-educated, loner, slightly mad… perhaps?
Frankenstein – that’s me. I feel like a monster physically because I’ve had several medical procedures in the last 5 years. I had LASIK for my eyes, a nose surgery to fix my deviated septum, and other cosmetic things I’m kinda embarrassed about. These operations feel, on some level, like deep assaults on the human body. Modern science fighting God. I think on that from time to time. I also always have a weird unexplainable medical thing going on. Spots on my foot, eye twitches, clogged ears etc. Right now it’s a lingering Chalazion. I feel like I’m part man, part doctor, part medical creation. Oh and I find the grocery store to be an almost spiritual safe haven from the complexities of life.
What I like most about the album is that there is a lot of love, and not really a single song which hates on anything – for sure there’s disappointment or rejection, but never hate. What do you think?
I mean, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a little hater in me. We live in a hater era. I get jealous and spiteful and hate on things as much as the next person. Like most behaviors, it has to do with confidence. It gives people a sense of identity to point at someone else’s and say that it’s wrong or it sucks. It’s empowering. In my weak moments I hate on stuff, but I keep it off the record. I try to stay positive online and in any format that can be played back. I used to talk shit on Twitter, but not so much anymore. Honestly, I would’ve explored darker things on this album had it not been for Tr**p. The election made me want to escape into Frankenstein Songs and make it a little universe without rejection, hate or fear. Those elements poke out a little bit, but I think it’s counterbalanced by humor and heart.
You’ve always had vivid characters feature in your songs (like Becky, Caroline…), but I want to know how much they also represent a part of yourself?
It varies. I’m usually writing exaggerated or comedic versions of myself. “New Yorker” and “Happy Birthday” are portraits of me at like 25. “Becky” is me now. The particulars in that song, and the emotions, are straight from my heart. I regularly feel like I’m caught in a maze of small pleasures and indecisions and daydreams and failures. With “Caroline” I was trying something a bit different. The song was inspired by Zizek’s reading of Titanic. It’s about a cultured person dating (and sucking the life out of) an uncultured person. Staying with them, but looking down upon them. I feel like I’ve been on both sides of that coin. But, I think if you listen to that song, it doesn’t sound that dark. It just seems like a love song. I was going for the biting humour of Randy Newman in that track, but I don’t know if I went far enough with it.
As a DIY artist, looking back what would you say were the rewarding and inspirational things about doing it all yourself?
Well, I do have to first give a shout out to two people who have helped me immensely. Jamie with Audio AntiHero has put a lot of time and energy into supporting my music for the last few years. Also, Lou Waxman has been an invaluable resource. He’s a friend who plays drums and horns on Frankenstein. He sings lead vocals on a few songs as well.
The most rewarding and inspirational part of making DIY music is the feeling of accomplishment you get when you figure stuff out on your own. I love, maybe to a fault, being self-sufficient on creative projects. It’s empowering. I like the intimacy of discovering noises or stumbling upon edits that change the track of a song on my own. No studio. No engineer. It’s fun to feel like you can create stuff on your own terms.
And the most frustrating?
The most frustrating part is releasing the music. When you do it all (mostly) yourself and the music is being made under your name, you take the response you get very personally. At least I do. I put my heart and soul into every record and I work tirelessly on every song and I’m proud of the universe I’ve created. But when no one is interested, it’s not just like they’re rejecting the music, it’s like they’re rejecting ME. As a child of divorce, that cuts right to my motherfucking core. That’s another aspect of my retirement as CHUCK.
Finally, would you do it all again?
I think I would, even though I feel like I failed at music. It’s all relative though. I’m sure some people see me as a success story. I outlasted a lot of my peers. But I think I coulda gotten bigger and better if I put myself out there a little more. I never really played live or became part of a IRL community. I didn’t make enough video content or whatever. I am, and always have been, an outsider. I like creating my little projects and universes in private. Even though this sounds like I’m being a downer, I actually feel great about moving on. I’m just tough on myself, which I think is a good thing. I’m glad I pushed myself so hard at a medium other than film. It’s actually made me a better and more patient video editor. It rounded me out. You gain perspective from failing at something. You learn about yourself.
So with that, I bid you adieu. Catch ya in the funny pages.
Chuck’s new album is out now – buy it here