Local singer-songwriter Ferrill Gibbs is familiar with the spontaneity of creativity. For years, he committed a catalog of original songs to memory before almost giving up on music and forgetting them altogether.
But in 2011, he felt compelled enough to bring some of them to life and record his debut album, “Phase Separation.”
Last year, he returned with new material on his second collection, “Significant Trees.” This summer, he’s preparing to release a third EP, “Insurmountable Things.”
Gibbs’ musical influences began with his two older sisters. He cites his older sister as a poetic muse who influenced his lyrical composition. Her vocal excellence was a major factor in Gibbs’ desire to pursue a music career.
“She was singing Whitney Houston songs back when Whitney Houston was big and could bring a stadium to its feet,” Gibbs said. “I remember when I was 7 or 8 thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I wanna do that.’”
Gibbs’ sisters ignited a creative spark that began to burn brighter. As a teenager, Gibbs began mentally composing songs while working as a bag boy at Food World. As he quietly loaded groceries and collected buggies, his mind would be weaving together lyrics and melodies. But Gibbs faced a major obstacle to bringing these songs to life: He didn’t know how to play an instrument.
Resolving to teach himself guitar, he began performing the songs he’d previously only imagined. With no luck joining or forming a band, he decided to record his songs alone.
“When you go in [the studio], you’re your own band, and you get to dictate how it goes and dictate when [the engineer] pushes the button,” Gibbs said. “Recording was the only realistic way for me to lay something down. I was auditioning for bands and trying to go that route, and I never made it. Most auditions I would go to were a ‘No.’”
Living in Athens, Georgia around the time he began to compose songs, he met producer Tom Lewis, whose reputation as a producer/engineer grew through his work at Studio 1093. Lewis had a habit of making friends with local musicians as well as bands that passed through the storied college town.
When Gibbs decided to record “Phase Separation,” Lewis recruited accomplished session artists such as Robby Handley (bass) and Marlon Patton (drums), who were both known for their work with Larkin Poe and Lera Lynn. Lewis also connected Gibbs with keyboardist/guitarist Jay Gonzalez (Drive-By Truckers) and guitarist Davis Causey (Randall Bramblett/Shawn Mullins). While Gibbs never performed the tracks live, “Phase Separation” was well-received online.
Three years later, Gibbs began work on “Significant Trees,” returning to the studio with Lewis. Once again, Handley and Patton decided to lend their creative efforts, and Lewis invited Dan Nettles to arrange songs and provide guitar. Keyboardist JoJo Glidewell (of Montreal) also joined the lineup. Gibbs began to see them as the perfect support, both in talent and attitude.
“It took a couple of albums to realize they were putting love into it and enjoying it,” Gibbs explained. “You don’t want to take all these songs that mean something to you and then get into the studio with a bunch of guys who are just thinking about a payday. I could tell after a while that they believed in it and enjoyed it.” “Insurmountable Things,” his new, five-track EP, shows Gibbs still loves and enjoys songwriting.
Beginning with the upbeat and driving rhythm of “Onward,” the listener is quickly reminded of Gibbs’ talents as a composer, with impeccable instrumentation and lyrical prowess. “Onward” is followed by the heartfelt vibes of the ballads “Fire and Ice” and “A Night of Serious Drinking.” The album’s title track is steeped in poetry while the final track, “We the Listening,” brings holiday visions in the middle of summer with an alt. rock take on the Christmas blues.
For “Insurmountable Things,” Gibbs brought Glidewell, Handley and Nettles, a lineup that provides natural accompaniment. But while he’s been busy in the studio, Gibbs has only twice performed live.
As far as catching a live performance, Gibbs said he’s working to schedule an upcoming episode of Catt Sirten’s “Live from Radio Avalon” on 92ZEW. Otherwise, he said he’s quite satisfied with the recordings alone.
“I record for my life,” Gibbs said. “I don’t know if I’m going back. I don’t know if I’ll have another song.”