Adam Gibson is a Sydney writer, performer, lyricist, musician, journalist and artist whose work covers music, songs, spoken word storytelling, installation art, performance works, sculpting, video work, painting and photography… It is fundamentally “Australian landscape-based”, being influenced by the land and travel and the sense of being “in” and/or part of different environments, and the stories of the people who inhabit such land, with Australian stories and language and vernacular turn of phrase being very important.
He performs regularly with his band The Aerial Maps, after several years playing with The Ark-Ark Birds, that band having released their second album, ‘Cities of Spinifex’ in 2017. This followed on from the 2015 album ‘Australia Restless’ and two albums with The Aerial Maps, plus earlier releases with Modern Giant.
A new Aerial Maps album will be released in late 2019 or early 2020, while a compilation of Adam’s work will be released hopefully in late 2019 also, due to be released by Coolin’ By Sounds records. Very exciting.
Adam has performed and/or exhibited in many venues, galleries and spaces around Australia, China and Finland and was twice an artist in residence at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland. His first novel manuscript was shortlisted for the Australian-Vogel Award, he has published three books of poetry, and the Aerial Maps’ first album won the 2010 Overland Poetry Festival Best Spoken Word Release, 2005-2010. He likes raging and long walks on moonlit beaches. And surfing. Blah blah blah. Etc.
Time flies when you’re in lockdown, hey? Days turn into nights turn into days again. Weird but, in Australia at least, it’s cope-with-able. But the passing of the days does do one thing – it means the release of my new compilation comes ever closer. In fact, to my incredible surprise, it’s now just a week or so until the beast is released.
Friday, May 29, to be precise.
Very exciting. Very good. Can’t wait.
Thinking about this release, I have been musing on the question a lot of people have asked over the years – how did I come to do “spoken word” based stuff with music, in the form that I have developed? I guess it’s just “one of those things”, but over the years there have been key points along the way that have given me insights and guided me along this kind of odd path… Which brings me to a particular story…
In 1991, myself and my brother Simon, plus a group of surfing friends from Bondi, set out for our first big trip overseas, hitting the road for our essential rites of passage journey out into the Big Wide World, without our parents and bursting with the possibilities of youth and the equal possibilities the world may have on offer for us.
Above: Me with the Bondi fellas in California in the Summer of ’91
First stop was California, where several of our friends were competing on the ASP world surfing tour. Some of the guys, Will and Ben Webber among others, were chancing their arms in the trials of the big major pro events while some of the girls, Pauline Menzcer and Prue Jefferies to be specific, were breaking into the ranks of the main events and doing well.
Our ragged group from Bondi went along for the ride, not so much as support crew but more as partying buddies and generally friends living our version of life to the absolute fullest, with surfing and music central and fundamental to everything (then as now, of course).
My brother Simon had gone over a few weeks before me as I was then working as a reporter on Sydney newspapers and couldn’t leave when he did. Thus, I flew to LA alone, excited by everything and anything, a wiry little fella in Stussy pants and wearing a Big Audio Dynamite baseball cap, heading into fabled land of America, to California, to the Gates of the West, to the great neon-lit mythical night, of Kerouac and freeways and stories and legends.
Things didn’t get off to a fantastic start. There being no mobile phones then, I had arranged for Simon to pick me up at some seemingly random spot out front of the terminal at LAX. I arrived in late afternoon and found what I felt to be the designated spot and I waited for him to arrive to pick me up. And I waited. And waited. He was driving up to LA from the beachside town of Del Mar, about a 1.5-hour drive south on Freeway 101. With no way of contacting each other, I just sat there and was getting increasingly concerned as night began to fall and pick-up trucks full of massive scary dudes rolled on by, eyeing me like the innocent victim I most certainly was.
After about 3 hours, Simon did eventually arrive in a massive old Dodge van, rattling at every joint and the back full of old surfboards and wetsuits and god knows what. After several “WHERE THE FUCK WERE YA’s??”, we were soon on our way back down towards Del Mar. A massive album of the era was “Green Thoughts” by the Smithereens and I recall that that was playing on the cassette player as we headed down the mythic American freeway, the big old American Chevys and Cadillacs and huge road wagons sailing on by as the road shone white in that seemingly specific Californian fashion.
Our dreams of America had been fuelled by a mix of Western movies and giant general visions of Hollywood, all the glamour and clamour of the past two centuries, the great myth-making of Kerouac and Burroughs and Springsteen, capturing a thrilling version of a lives being played out on that “huge unbelievable bulge” of land, as Kerouac called it. These visions were also imbued with a “coming to America” sensibility, captured in legendary tropes by the Clash with their collision of imagery that borrowed heavily from American legends and myths and found form in a swaggering militaristic and kind of outlaw visual imagery, something I always think was embedded in Joe Strummer’s mind from his early years as a diplomat’s son and bought into wholly by the rest of the Clash, Mick Jones’ natural swagger and Paul Simonon’s movie-star looks dovetailing perfectly with the sense of possibility that “America” seemed to offer.
All this was swirling through my head as we headed south to Del Mar, a place where we took up residence for a month or so in a chaotic and legendary surfers’ house known widely as The Dog Pound. Inhabited by a hardcore Californian surf crew of epic partying prowess, us group of Aussies soon became known as “the farken convicts” and we fully embraced the lifestyle on offer – surf missions up and down the Californian coast, even over to Mexico, where Tijuana offered us perfect waves and even more perfect post-surf beers and tacos. We had kegs on the beach and attended chic parties at places such as Rancho Santa Fe, at a house where apparently the pool scene from the movie “Cocoon” had been filmed, and we discovered an array of nightclubs and bars and other general mayhem, including, if memory serves, attending a gig by Aussie band the Divinyls at a venue called The Belly Up, the band high on their chart success of the song “I Touch Myself”.
This was a formative time in my life, everything was pouring in. Music, surf, sun, girls from UCLA who knew a thing or two about a thing or two… All of this was having a profound influence on me, all the possibilities of the world were showing themselves under the smoggy Californian sun and I sought every day to try to write down my experiences to somehow capture all these scenes I was experiencing.
At the time we were all heavily influenced by The Clash but in these particular years were hugely also influenced by Mick Jones’ later band, Big Audio Dynamite. A band I still don’t feel is given enough credit, their albums were absolutely massive for me and all of my friends. What appealed to me greatly was the “cut-up” nature of their lyrics and songs, like a visionary widescreen panorama was being presented in every song and being complemented by their use of samples and bits of mashed up sound. This in turn gave me the idea that lyrics and words didn’t necessarily have to be linear in their form to create a version of “art”. What I felt I had been writing prior to this were “poems”, for want of a better word, but BAD injected a very flexible attitude, and gave me the idea that maybe these things I was writing could be lyrics? But how to deliver them? How to get them into a form of song?
My brother and most of my friends had dabbled in bands for years but I knew pretty early on that I most definitely NOT A SINGER. You’re born with some things and you’re not born with others… But I was also a firm believer in Kerouac’s line, “Something you feel will find its own form”. So I knew that I was “feeling” something and I also knew that I would one day find a “form” for that to be expressed. Just right at that point, in the California Summer of ’91, I didn’t yet know what that form might be.
After over a month in California, being pretty much loose the entire time, it was time to fly on to Europe, where the Euro leg of the world surf tour was soon to be kicking off. My brother and I flew from LA to London with Pauline Menzcer and Prue Jefferies, doing the long haul flight and having a version of the time of our lives. Pauline later went on to win the women’s world surfing title, while Prue had a good few years in the Top 10 female surfing ratings. We arrived in London and a formative couple of months was had by everyone, us buying a van and travelling, surfing and partying all the way down the coast of France, across Spain and down to Portugal, living a version of “on the road” life that my old mate Jack K would’ve been proud of.
Above: “Living our best lives” haha. Summer of ’91 in France
But after a couple of months it was time for me to head back towards home; work was beckoning and I guess I thought I might have to get some sort of “career” going. So thus I left my brother in the south of Portugal and flew back to London, inching my way back towards home. Spending a few days in London before flying back the way we came via LA, I happened to pop into a HMV music store on Piccadilly Circus. It was here that I came to browse the racks and came across a CASSETTE of Tom Waits’ album “The Heart of Saturday Night”. I’d previously vaguely heard of Tom and recalled someone describing him as “the musical Jack Kerouac”. (!) For that description alone of course I was going to buy it, so thus I did, and armed with a Walkman and a remaining sense of excitement about the world, I jumped on a plane the next day back towards LA.
And on that flight, I slipped the cassette into the Walkman … and it’s actually true to say my life changed. Tom Waits suddenly gave me a whole new world, a whole new vision, a whole new way of seeing everything. The memories of recent times in California came flooding back, Tom on that album capturing an incredible impression of California and America in general, the great Saturday night of the country, connecting with the legendary lyrical set-pieces of Kerouac in “On the Road”, describing Denver in the evening or San Francisco in the early hours. He was writing about the world that he knew in an incredibly powerful and poetic fashion, nostalgia wrapped with tenderness wrapped with the power of the “warm narcotic American night”, to produce a thrilling apparition to this boy from Bondi Beach.
I arrived back in LA late in the evening and my immediate mission was to find a hire car and drive to a family friend’s home in Thousand Oaks, a satellite town about 80km north of LA. I ended up at a backlot parking lot somewhere behind LAX where a proprietor was amazingly willing to cheaply rent a car to this callow youth from Australia who had fuck-all idea of how out of his depth he was or how the hell he was going to find his way to Thousand Oaks. But rent the car I did and I was soon off, heading north on the 101 in California.
And of course I slipped the Tom Waits’ cassette into the tape deck. And then, suddenly, it all made sense. It all connected. And the song that did that specifically was “Diamonds on my Windshield”. This was a jazz-inflected spoken word jam, Tom skit-scatting about himself driving on the 101, about how “the East goes east the 5 goes north, merging exits back and forth, you see the sign, cross the line, and signalling with a blink, the radio’s gone off the air and it gives you time to think.” This was a thunderstruck moment because I realised that this was essentially a SPOKEN WORD vocal, Tom just telling his story and getting all the info in there, with the music propelling everything along, framing his narrative in a beautiful way, removing the need for specific “singing” and yet still being one of the most affecting “songs” I’d ever heard.
Wow, bang, kerboom. There it was. There was the “form” I’d been looking for suddenly right before my ears. This all quickly coalesced, it all quickly made sense. I could see a path unfold before me. I wasn’t going to be a conventional singer, but I sure as hell was going to write “songs”. It took me several years and many and varied false starts and dead ends and cul de sacs, but over the next decade I did eventually find my own road – the great myths of the American night, and one of their greatest poets, having inspired me to find my own form of that. Supplanting the neon lights of America with (initially) the bug-buzzing lights of Australia, I felt as though I had found my path … and here I am, almost 30 years later, still on it.
Details on the new release are here:
Massive news, the biggest news. HUGE NEWS…
After several years of working towards this, it can finally be revealed that a compilation of my “songs” from Modern Giant, The Aerial Maps and the Ark-Ark Birds is being released by Brisbane’s Coolin’ By Sound Records.
More details to come, but here is an interview I did with erstwhile English journo Frank Roberts from onenodemusic about the whole shebang.
There’s a name for this feeling … they just haven’t named it yet
By Frank Roberts
It’s a hot and smoky Sydney afternoon, the sun a grazed orange scrape through the thick gauze of smoke, illuminating a dust-coated Bondi Beach in an eerie gloom that seems to presage the end of the world, if not today then at least sometime soon, in Australia’s recent Black Summer. The smoke wafts in strong-smelling waves of burnt land and eucalypt, the westerly winds carrying to the urban zones a reminder of the wide, burning land “out there” in Australia. For a Brit visiting these sunny shores “Down Under”, it’s certainly not the usual January day one is accustomed to.
But it seems like an absolutely perfectly appropriate day thus to interview Adam Gibson, the Sydney lyricist and songwriter who for almost two decades has sought to evoke a true sense of this space and distance of Australia in his work. Carving out a unique and lauded underground niche with his spoken-sung tales of the lives and landscape of Australia with bands The Aerial Maps, the Ark-Ark Birds and Modern Giant, Adam has created a comprehensive body of work that warrants extensive exploration.
It may be stretching an analogy a little too far, but just like that wind that brings the smoke to the masses, giving a reminder of the vast land stretching from sea to shining sea, Adam’s work seeks to capture a version of an essential Australia and articulate that in a distinctive fashion to urban-and-beyond audiences. Parcelling his ideas, stories and images in a form of song, over the course of several albums with those several bands, he has presented a vision of the nation in the fashion on par with some of Australia’s best writers, think White, Carey, Liddiard, Cave or Grenville.
“It is a perfect day, yes, I guess,” muses Adam over a beer at his seaside local, the North Bondi RSL. “The plumes of smoke and the ash coming across the entire urban distance of Sydney do provide a real reminder that there is all that land ‘out there’.”
Indeed, says Adam, the idea of that distance has always been a driving force behind his writing.
“I remember hearing an interview with Rob Hirst from Midnight Oil way back I think when I was in my early 20s,” Gibson says, “And he was saying that we grow up in Australia, most of us by the coast in the cities and towns, and whilst we might not outright acknowledge it, we have this real sense of all that land being out there over our shoulders. For me that articulated an idea I had already felt at that point and became a central idea behind all of my writing.”
And, as is made clear on the new “best-of” release compiling 16 songs from across his three main bands, ideas are at the core of everything he writes. That album, titled There’s a Name for this Feeling, released by Brisbane’s Coolin’ By Sound records, is a sweeping cross-section of Adam’s work over the period of time since around the year 2000, containing some resolute underground favourites as the far-reaching ‘On the Punt’ along with hidden gems such as ‘New York ’54’ and ‘London Still Exists’.
Covering vast terrain in terms of physical landscape – Adam is an ardent traveller and the tenets of distance, space and place are vital parts of his work – and also in terms of psychological terrain, this comprehensive compilation is a terrific entrée to his work. Full of a restless yearning and a searching for something, sort of like an Australian Sal Paradise in Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, there is always the sense of allure in the distance, a sense of salvation that comes from the road. And the end location is in itself not that important, it’s that journey in which the gold lies.
“I’m not sure why but I’ve always felt the lure of the road,” Gibson says. “I’ve always been fascinated by new places and the possibilities that they present, both in terms of wanting to personally discover them and also just in terms of knowing they ‘exist’, and their names and associated resonance making an impact on me.”
That leads to one of the noticeable key aspects of his work – the willingness to “namecheck” a wide array of place and location names, firmly rooting the work in a “real world” that people can connect to but also perhaps elevating what would otherwise be uncelebrated places to places worthy of being celebrated in art and/or song.
“For me that comes from Kerouac or Springsteen ‘naming names’, celebrating the places that are dear to them or even places which are mythic to them,” he says.
“People like that celebrate these great North American places and we can easily forget that they’re actually just celebrating the places they know and are familiar with. Early on, that struck me as something I wanted to do with my own work, but by naming the places that were important or integral to my life. And being Australian, those places were initially very much Australian places. Port Macquarie, the streets of Sydney, towns in far North Queensland and stuff.”
The other notable aspect of the songs is that, well, they’re not exactly “songs” anyway. Adam delivers his words in a sort of plain-spoken spoken word. Whilst syncopated with the music on occasion and often set within conventional verse-chorus structures, it is Adam’s spoken word style that sets things apart. Ably supported by an array of musical talent over the years, from key mainstay his brother Simon, plus such luminaries as the sadly departed Simon Holmes of the Hummingbirds, Sean Kennedy, Gynia Favot, guitarist Andy Meehan, pianist Tim Byron and latterly Alannah Russack, also from the Hummingbirds, and Peter Fenton, from lauded Aussie band Crow, what is presented is a rich palette of sounds which serves to underline, enhance and capture Adam’s ideas and words in a perfect manner.
There’s a Name for this Feeling is an incredible listen. Despite the songs coming from disparate albums over the course of almost two decades, there is a remarkable coherence about the work and certainly no sense of any of the tracks “dating” badly, either content-wise or sonically in terms of recording. Interestingly tracklisted not by chronological order but rather by theme and context – by what Adam describes as “what songs sounded right next to each other” – the release is a very coherent work. Indeed as an introduction to Adam Gibson, it presents as a singular and very strong “first album”.
Adam’s musical influences are also plain to hear … he doesn’t shy away from naming the names of the bands he loves and in turn the influence of these bands is evident in the music. From touches of The Triffids to hints of Midnight Oil and The Hummingbirds, this is an intriguing collection. Distilling a version and a vision of life “Down Under”, it is a unique and oftentimes deeply affecting suite of songs, deserving now of a wider audience around the world.
Hi there, here’s the clip to our new Aerial Maps song:
‘I’m So Bored With W*stfield’ …
This is the first new airing of an Aerial Maps song in a long time. It’s part of a selection of songs that will make up a new album, due to come out next year. Something of a departure from our usual tales of landscape, love and loss, we did it anyway. Hope you enjoy. Clip inspired by early Midnight Oil.
By Adam Gibson
I think we have witnessed the death of humility in recent years; the obliteration of a protective self-awareness that is actually good to retain. And in its place, we’ve seen the embrace of a complete shamelessness that exists without any awareness of the wisdom of actually retaining such self-limiting self-awareness.
A man who’s never ridden a surfboard in his life standing beside a famed surf break, having his photo taken, to the vicarious embarrassment of all the experienced surfers walking past; a woman who buys one drink at a supposedly hip bar and who clearly isn’t a professional model but nevertheless poses with said drink for 10 different photos in various poses of phonily serene “natural” self-reflection, while other patrons look on in embarrassment (or perhaps with kindred inspiration); three middle-aged women repeatedly doing “jumps” on a crowded beach with a concentration of effort that removes all joy and focusses the viewer’s mind on the just what purpose this action is serving if it isn’t at least fun to do in the first place, the entire beach watching.
These people themselves however don’t give a shit. And importantly, they don’t even THINK to give a shit. Such humility is dead, it’s goneski, out the window. See ya later.
Imagine calling YOURSELF an “influencer”?! Like, “Hi there, I’m an influencer.” Many people do now, regardless of how many people they influence or how little influence they have. For many of them, their whole raison d’être, their reason for being, is to supposedly “influence” other people by their actions on social media. And indeed they probably do influence other people – the 6 billion (approx.) other plonkers looking for inspiration, looking for belief, looking for an authentic version of themselves to create, indeed, looking for an influence to influence them. But the influencers influence them to do what exactly? Maybe it’s to get massive Botox duck lips and bolt-on boobs, like many of them? Maybe it’s to market their very being as a shopfront for sale, as if their blood is worth bottling, as if they have the golden ticket away from the universal plonker-dom of their audience?
The absolute shamelessness of it, the sheer fundamental wanker-dom of it…
There was a time when such phonies were eviscerated, when such pretence was vaporised by the very basic fact that most of these people were actually nothing but wannabes and fakes and desperate try-hards, the veneer so easy to see through as to render them basically easily branded as wankers or fuck-wits to be deservedly laughed at and pilloried without mercy. Especially in Australia, where they could be rendered insignificant by the simple call of “wanker”. Not any more.
The wanker is alive and flourishing with complete abandon. People actually WANT to be wankers. The wanker is celebrated. The wanker is King or Queen.
And whilst of course those with thousands of followers remain in their gilded Insta worlds getting freebies apparently all over the shop, those on the numerous rungs down from there are also emulating them in their own fashion, onward ever downward, ever more, till we get to the micro level of absolute nobodies carrying on like somebodies without any compunction whatsoever.
And now also of course if some plonker holds a surfboard at a beach and their photo is taken and that photo is posted on Instagram or wherever, they in-effect “become” a surfer; there is no need to learn how to actually surf – it’s already done. They are A Surfer for all intents and purposes in the eyes of the people who see and/or “like” that photo. And then those people who “like” that photo, if perchance they have the opportunity by a beach somewhere, will grab a board if possible and also become a “surfer” too … and onward we go.
Further, for example; you don’t even need to own or live in or even have any knowledge of an Art Deco building but by simply having a photo taken next to one and having that photo posted online, you can grab a bit of that Art Deco for yourself. That history, that resonance, that heritage and style becomes imprinted onto your spirit and it becomes a way of saying “this is me”. “This faded aqua is ME, this curvilinear line of building is a representation of my very essence.” And so it becomes so.
The same with, say, an old typewriter, something from the very dawn of known time, say around 1980, or an old car in a primary colour with chrome bumpers and “retro” lines that speak to something older and grander and more meaningful. All these and many more things can be instantly integrated into your own personal shopfront’s DNA, they can become an integral part of your very flesh and bone and brain and image. They can become you.
But the interesting thing is, all around the world, millions of other people are also shamelessly having their photos taken with the same such objects and in the same or similar spots, in front of the same or similar Deco buildings or typewriters or in chic cafes that have an anchor painted on the wall which just screams “this is the spot to take a photo”, and these people are shamelessly, with that complete absence of self-awareness – or maybe a complete POSSESSION of such self-awareness – are integrating these things into their own worlds.
This begets that then this further begets that and onward we go, in a ever-circling circle, a never-ending loop of pastels and old typewriters and hazy lit old surfboards beside beaches and a Californian twilight glow that is equal parts Lana Del Rey, Father John Misty and Polaroid lo-fi chic, where a great deal of time (and perhaps money) is spent on making something look like no time or money was spent on it.
A million people with splish-splash doodle-like tattoos on their bodies, ‘grammed eagerly to enhance their individual brand, a ship’s anchor replacing the crucifix as the ultimate symbol of the new era, no need to learn how to play guitar, just sit on some old rustic steps and hold a random guitar, et voila, a rock-Star is Born.
I live in an Art Deco building and almost every day, increasingly, I see people taking photographs of it. It’s colour and lines just seem to possess the exact quality that qualifies it as an sign of perfect pitch for the times. A friend said she saw a young girl, maybe 10 years old, taking a photo of the building and my friend breezily asked, “Why are you photographing that building?” The little girl replied, her voice dripping with a powerful and condescending knowing – “Don’t you know? That’s the most Instagrammable building in Bondi.” And thus that little girl takes a bit of our building and puts it into her personal construction of identity.
There is an alley in District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City which leads to a now-overwhelmingly hipster craft beer bar. The alley is filled with itty-bitty drawings and “graffiti” that has been meticulously made to look as if done on the run, again perfectly meeting an aesthetic pitch point that makes it irresistible to social media aficionados. Every night that you go the bar, there are people standing there having their photos taken, shamelessly posing as if they’re the first ones ever to do so. They don’t even bother making it upstairs to the bar. Having your photo taken in the entrance of a cool bar is just as important, perhaps actually more important, than even going to the bar itself. And cheaper.
I know not where this is leading. I know not an answer, or even if I am posing a question. All I guess I am getting at is, I’m out. I hereby declare I don’t want to take in any more of this shit. This is a spiel that has unfolded in a stream-of-conscious manner. And no doubt I can be accused of having a “Well IN MY DAY, things were all different, these young’uns etc etc” attitude. Maybe so. In fact, I hope so…
But stuff it, this death of humility we’re seeing everywhere is truly bloody embarrassing. There’s a real joylessness to it, too. Like no-one seems to have actual real fun anymore, it’s just more important to be seen to be having fun.
Anyway, “in my day”, we called these people WANKERS. And we should do that again.
Today is gonna be the day that we reveal some great news. I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about this now (other than my fellow Aerial Maps) … You see, if I could talk (to you in person) I’d tell you how great this news is and that’s cos I know a place that we can go, that’s safe and warm and whilst I’m a big fan of the Great Indoors, on December 7th this year, that place is actually *outdoors* at the Berry Showgrounds … where the Aerial Maps are once again stoked to have been asked to play Australia’s best music festival, Fairgrounds.
The cryptic allusions above of course (rather clumsily) point to the fact that Liam Gallagher and the Lemonheads are but two of the many great acts also on the bill. We don’t know Liam personally (yet) but there are many cross-reference connections in the Maps to the Lemonheads, and what with the Sticker Club (Nic Dalton, Alison Galloway et al) also on the bill, the backstage fun could reach “peak Fairgrounds”. We may even let Liam and co. in on the fun. Kasey Chambers and the folks from Dope Lemon may even join us. Who knows?!? Who could forget last year’s memorable hangs with Billy Bragg and The Breeders?
Anyway. Hope to see some of you there. It’s the best day of the year, I promise, so try to get there when myself, Alannah Russack, Simon Gibson, Peter V Fenton Mark Hyland and (possibly) Safari Lee open proceedings as the Aerial Maps. It’s billed as “Adam Gibson & The Aerial Maps” but of course it’s a collective affair and I can’t do a thing without those guys, if you know what I mean.
Good things are ahead, time is unfolding in ways we didn’t foresee, but onward we go. Come along with us.