With 2016 in the rearview, local music fans across the five boroughs are still looking to party like it’s 1999. Lucky for them ― and all of us, really ― Brooklyn’s own electro-pop standout GIBBZ has found that high we’ve all been chasing.
Meet Mike Gibney, the producer, songwriter and eclectic personality behind GIBBZ ― a soulful, gyrating alter ego capable of channeling filthy pop sensibilities of which The Purple One himself would approve. As a performer, Gibney has a trademark look and an electrifying presence that can keep a shindig swinging. But under the on-stage glam is a 29-year-old Long Island native and multi-instrumentalist with an ear for catchy hooks.
After a full year of successful collaborations, millions of Spotify streams, a Kickstarter-funded full length, and appearances at the biggest music festivals around the country, GIBBZ will be enjoying the new year by celebrating his latest EP release, Oh My God. But before he heads out on the road, he’ll be treating his hometown lovers to a special residency at the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg all month long.
We caught up with the suggestive crooner to hear all about his big plans for 2017.
Some of your fans might not be familiar with the fact that you’ve been in this game for quite some time working behind the scenes. On some of your earliest dates as a performer, you were still running the soundboard for all the acts you opened for. Tell me what it was like to put all your energy into a big set, just to run back to the soundboard right afterward and get to work.
Being able to play was a bit like a reward for me. A treat. I could step out of the shoes of the tour manager [or] engineer and, for a few moments, not be the babysitter. I could think about myself and what I was doing instead of everyone else I was responsible for [on tour]. There were times, as I would sing and then rush back to the soundboard, that people would want me to stop and talk to them. I couldn’t, and I felt really bad about it. The quick “K THANKS, SEEYA,” was impersonal, but necessary for me to do my main job.
You seem to have embraced being sort of an “anti-pop pop star.” To be frank, you don’t have the same look as, say, the modern-day pop artist. Does this ever make you feel like persona non grata, or have you been able to use this to your advantage in some way?
On most tours I’ve been on, there have been more than a few times that I get asked if I’m the bus driver. I don’t take offense to it, because bus drivers are generally awesome. But I get it. I’m a big dude who cusses a lot. I’ve got a face for radio. My teeth look like they’re running away from each other. It doesn’t bother me. I write some pretty great songs.
In one sentence, tell me how Mike Gibney is different from the persona of GIBBZ.
Gibbz don’t give a damn about anything.
On Above Water you were utilizing trumpets, saxophones, and horns much more than in your older material. They’re catchy, mellifluous hooks ― almost like another vocal melody. You’ve built on that with your latest single, “Oh My God”. What inspired that?
I have a lot of talented friends. Some of them are artists I used to work for. If I’m lucky enough to know some amazing horn players, I want to get them on my records. Dominic Lalli has seen me in every aspect of the business for years. Russ Liquid has been an amazing friend for years and we’ve seen some real shit together. Outside of being an insanely talented trumpet player, Eric Bloom does a really great Rick Moranis impression. I had to use these guys.
Why was “Bright Lights” chosen to be the first single from Oh My God?
I thought the build of the track from beginning to end was a great way to say I’m back with something new. It’s fast-paced and high energy. I wanted to have that exciting feeling to begin the EP and have it as my first single [from the release].
Any artists that you were listening to while writing Oh My God that fans of the genre might find surprising?
I’ve been pretty obsessed with Andy Shauf lately. We sound nothing like each other, but the way he builds a story through his lyrics are a huge inspiration for me. He’s pushed me to build more of a visual with my music. I think that comes through on “Oh My God” and “24/7.”
Which tracks are usually your favorites to work on: the sexy R&B bangers with the hot hook, or the pulsating guitar-driven pop anthems? “I Really Love You” comes to mind for the latter, which actually gives me an Elvis Costello vibe.
It all depends on the mood I’m in when I go into the studio. Sometimes I’m filled with energy and I want to make a guitar-driven song that reminds me of the music I grew up with. Sometimes I wanna be smooth. It all depends on the morning I wake up and what I was doing the night before.
So many of your lyrics have to do with sex, dancing, getting lost in the moment, and love. It’s all-out hedonism with a thick, unapologetic slice of romance. What is it about those elements that make for a good pop song?
All of those things, in my opinion, give us a feeling like no other. The sort of, “walking on air,” “cloud 9,” “nothing bad can happen” feeling. My goal is to recreate those moments and take you back to that feeling.
Tell me what it’s like to build your brand in 2017 as a musician living in a place as saturated as Brooklyn. Do you enjoy that aspect of the job as much as the creative process?
It’s difficult sticking out in Brooklyn. It’s the one place where my looks help, I think. The irony of a big dude in glasses singing R&B songs about having sex really draws attention. It’s the same reason why people walk around with waxed mustaches and top hats. It’s different, and they want different.
Which big pop hit of 2016 do you wish you had written?
The Childish Gambino song “Redbone” sounds like a song I would have written. Instantly I connected with it and everything I wanted to happen throughout the song happened. I’d love writing for that guy, but I’m pretty sure he’s got that covered.
And lastly, I have to ask, have you ever used any song ideas or melodies that may have popped into your head while you were doin’ the dirty?
I believe that a writer can draw inspiration from everywhere.
Disclosure: The author of this post is acquainted with the artist in question.