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Gibson & Toutant spin together musical ephemera in latest album

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Photo courtesy of Libby Rodenbough.

In music duo Gibson & Toutant’s debut album “On The Green,” the Durham-based couple creates an unconventional combination: buzzing lo-fi sound and DIY American folk.  

Josephine McRobbie and Joseph O’Connell, the makeup of Gibson & Toutant, spun together the composition as the product of their married lives together and the friendships they’ve sustained with the other artists at their label, Sleepy Cat Records.

“On The Green,” which was released on March 22, is ambient and analog, like the buzzing of static on a television mistakenly left on, or the hum of cicadas at the dying end of summer. It toes the line between Western roots and synth sound.

It is an accumulation of work over the last couple of years, when the two started mixing and recording bits and pieces between their everyday life caring for their newborn and working amidst COVID-19. 

According to McRobbie and O’Connell, their musical process became a game of telephone.

“So we had three days where we wrote everything and that kind of consisted of us each writing some riffs or keyboard line or guitar line or bass line,” McRobbie said. “Then passing it to the other person, who would write some lyrics or flesh it out or add a chorus, and then passing it back.”

This “mishmash” of telekinetic composing can be heard on the album in songs like “Vicky’s Chimes” and “The Click,” which contain on-the-fly home recordings of fiddle, audio ephemera of background conversation, keyboard, guitar and more. The demos were created in the comfort of their home before being taken to the studio. 

“There would be times where I would walk in and Joe would be mixing some of the album — because he mixed most of it himself — and he'd be like, ‘Oh, this needs a little something’” McRobbie said.

Not only is “On The Green” the result of an unspoken, intimate understanding between two people, but McRobbie and O’Connell also pulled in some friends along the way, including — but not limited to — artists Libby Rodenbough and Joseph Decosimo.  

At the time the album was recorded, all of them lived in the same neighborhood. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed them closer together, cultivating a close bond that made their seesaw recording style easy. 

They’d create a foundation for each song, adding experimental, impromptu elements as ideas came to them — like the discordant ending to “Vicky’s Chimes” of drums, bass guitar and fiddle.

Rodenbough said that half of the battle of making music is non-verbal communication, and that already knowing the people you are working with allows for a meaningful and creative collaboration.

“It's nice if you're just working with people that you already have the years of established jokes and friendship and witnessing things in each other's lives, then you start from a foundation where you can just jump off and make things together, and it can be like a playground from the get-go," she said.

Rodenbough not only sang backup vocals and played fiddle and cello for “On The Green," but she also took the photos used for the album’s cover. At times she even babysat for the couple and Decosimo, who also had a newborn at the time. 

Decosimo, too, recalled the days spent running between recording in one room, to the makeshift daycare in the other. He said it was a down to earth kind of project — the work of a community. 

“There's just a collaborative nature going on,” Decosimo said. “I think that the project, in a lot of ways, is drawing on friendships that they have with folks around Durham and the area.”

Gibson & Toutant’s home-to-studio style is also inspired by McRobbie and O’Connell’s personal experiences with music, from playing in college bands to listening to their favorite bands, like the unplanned creativity of Indiana-based Red Queen Hypothesis.

Most importantly, it’s inspired by the two of them and their shared lives together. “On The Green” is about taking something small, like a hummed melody, and giving it an unexpected purpose. 

“Ultimately I think that's part of the enjoyment of making it, for both us and the people who are helping us,” O’Connell said. “We don't quite know where it's going and it's a little bit unpredictable and eccentric.”

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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