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Interview – Graphic Fiction Heroes’ Chris Gibbs, December 2012

| 3 January 2013 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Originally published in edited form in Xpress Magazine, December 2012

On the eve of the release of GRAPHIC FICTION HEROES debut album, I sat down for a long chat with singer/guitarist/main songwriter Chris Gibbs, covering the new album, and delving deep into Chris’ musical journey from childhood to now.  Along the way a portrait develops – Gibbs is a man who lives and breathes music, it’s his passion, you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he excitedly talks about bands who have influenced him, or the meanings behind songs he’s written.

The other thing you’ll learn is that Chris has a whole bunch of words inside that he wants to get out – they tumble from his lips at a hundred miles an hour.  Strap yourself in and try to keep up…

Graphic Fiction Heroes 3

Chris Gibbs by Nic Di Rosso


Hi Chris!  Thanks for your time today…

Hi, how are you doing?

So, Graphic Fiction Heroes have got a new album to launch, Who Will Save Us Now? What can we expect musically and lyrically from the album?

Well, you know what? We almost had a concept album on our hands. If you listen to the lyrical content of songs like the opener, Too Highly Strung, the album closer Poor Middle Class White Boy Blues, and a few points in between – First and Last is another great example – all of those songs, if you read between the lines (and some of them are quite obvious!), are actually music industry songs.

First and Last is a perfect example, well, the second part of the first verse, ‘played more bars than I can remember, you’re probably thinking I should spend a lot less time in them’. Things like that, and that’s basically my story about how, for better or for worse, you’ve chosen your path. You do miss out on a lot of other people’s lives because of that, because when everyone else is socialising, you’re working. I was reflecting on all of the important things that my friends have done over the years that I haven’t been able to attend due to work – because they work days, I work nights. That’s what you choose if you’re going to have this sort of lifestyle.

Too Highly Strung, has a line that says, ‘ain’t no welcoming parade, until we make good on the promises we made’. And that was a reflection upon me thinking about when you’re young and you’re a teenager just starting out playing guitar, you’re telling all your mates that you’re going to be famous, and you’re going to do this and that. I guess that’s a reflection on me saying that as an adult musician, you realise that those goals that you set are never achievable. If you’re serious about what you’re doing, you’re constantly looking for that perfection; and that thing that you can say, that ultimately you’re proud of. So the promise that you made, I guess is the promise I made to myself, to constantly strive for better playing, better song writing, better releases, and things like that.

So there’s a lot of reflection on the album about, where have I come from musically? Where am I going, musically? We realised, when I started writing the album with Matt Ferguson, and Gareth Hughes, the way we wrote it was… We’d come in, and ’cause I had quite a lot of songs ready to roll, most of the album I specifically didn’t finish songs until I was writing with the guys to bring them in as songwriters. And then other songs were suggested by other members of the band, and then some ended up being written just by me. We started talking about it, going, wow, there’s a lot about us as musicians, and me as a musician on this record – even when it’s in the disguise of something else on the album. So we thought, have we got a concept album here? Is this about the journey of an actual band? Should we be writing in fact about the journey of a group of musicians called Graphic Fiction Heroes? But in the end we decided, let’s just hint at that.

Because I think launching a new band name, and an album, technically a début album for this band, and making it a concept record as well… I think was probably going to be a bit too much, not only for us to take on, but maybe a bit too much for [other] people to take on and accept. I think if you’re going to do a concept album, it’s a lot more planning, a lot more talking about how it’s going to come together. So there’s some conceptual ideas there, but not quite the concept album idea that could have developed, had we gone a different road.

People can expect to hear songs about the human condition. I write lyrics that are quite literal, and then have a second layer that you can look at. And because many of these lyrics are co-written, songs like When in Rome, and songs like The Scene, they were lyrically generated by Matt Ferguson. He’s sort of come at things from a different angle, and then I would react to what he was saying. I’d say, oh man, wouldn’t it be excellent if this was framed in this sort of way? And we’d sort of feed off each other like that. I hadn’t co-written with anyone since Kingpin, and Kingpin stopped writing as a unit in 2005.  I’ve been writing songs by myself for close to six years by the time we decided to take this project on, so it was a good learning experience for me to be open to other people’s ideas as well.

But you can expect mature song writing, that hopefully makes you think about the lyrics, but at the same time it just fucking rocks out!

[Both Laugh]

That sounds like the best thing ever!  I listened to First and Last this morning, an acoustic version that’s available on the internet… and I really felt an immediate kinship with those lyrics.  Although you wrote it from the perspective of being in the music industry, it certainly rang true to me also having worked over 20 years as a chef. Working the nights, missing a lot of…

The sacrifices that you make.

…yeah, missing all the parties and all that sort of thing. Listening to your previous album, your solo album Little Empires. There are a lot of really honest, and raw personal lyrics on there as well. Do you feel that there has to be a certain kind of bravery involved with penning a lyric that’s so personal, and putting it out in the big wide scary world?

I think that there’s definitely a big part of that there. Because for me, definitely from experience, I have written songs in the past, and even songs on this album, that have actually struck a nerve with various people that are very close to me, because of what they are written about. I think that to me, that’s almost the benchmark, or the gauge of whether your song writing is in fact honest or not. Now, I’ve kind of approached my song writing in terms of a comic book reality, if you will. So I take the situation that was true, and make sure that I can try and apply that to other people. So on one hand you’ve got on the first record, on the Chris Gibbs record EMPIRE, you’ve got songs like Fragile, Fourth of July, both very personal songs. But I still have to write it so that someone who doesn’t know me personally, can get an idea and a sense of what I’m writing about because you’re writing a song for someone else to listen to.

So I guess what I try to do, is I try to be… the bravery aspect is saying, yeah well this happened to me, and this is a good message that other people could listen to and maybe relate to. But then I have to package it in such a way, in terms of the song, so that people can actually relate to it. If I made things super, super personal, I guess it would be like giving someone your diary and saying ‘here, read this’. But you might not connect with that, because it’s literally all about me then. So I try and write it so that people can go; ‘man that’s exactly like the time when this happened to me’, sort of thing.

Like I just did…

Graphic Fiction Heroes cover

Yeah! Exactly! With the chef thing, and First and Last. First and Last was written about me playing gigs in a lot of bars, over a lot of years. But it resonates with you because of the lifestyle that you chose. And that’s exactly what I try and aim for, even if the song is from my personal perspective, or I’m writing the song about someone else’s perspective, the themes are universal, the themes are an ‘us’ kind of thing. I guess the overall vibe that this record, and my other recordings have had is; this is stuff that all happens to all of us, what do you take from that?

Yeah! So with your style musically, it’s been compared variously to Cheap Trick, Enuff Z’Enuff, The Wildhearts, even a bit of Kiss. Bands with big melodies, big riffs, big choruses – I mean, that’s pretty nice company to be in really.

First record I ever got: Unmasked by KISS. Second record I ever got, actually these were all cassettes, I’ve still got them! Um, second record I ever got was Prince Charming, Adam and the Ants. So as a little kid obviously I was attracted to what the bands looked like, you see, they were essentially toys. Kiss actually had action figures! But behind all of that, if you go back and listen to the Prince Charming album, or go back and listen to the Unmasked album, that’s the blueprint for some pretty serious song writing.

Then from there it leads to Led Zep, and Deep Purple, and Cheap Trick. My dad was really good, he was an enthusiastic listener of music. So he made sure that my brother and I found out fairly early about Purple and Sabbath, and Zeppelin, and AC/DC and all of those bands that we got introduced to after you get over the initial fad aspect of bands like KISS that were dressed up as superheroes essentially, or characters!

I’m a sucker for a great melody, and the bands that I constantly re-visit, and the bands that I constantly resonate with, are bands that irrespective of their style, served the song. If you look at Rick Nielsen – one of my favourite guitarists – from Cheap Trick, a very straight down the line, simple guitar player. You can take so much of what he does, because he plays for the song, and I guess that’s always the thing. As a guitar player I try and bridge the gap between technical facility and writing and playing for the song. I’ve always tried to be the guy that’s going down the middle of that, so here’s what I can play, but it’s relevant to what I’m actually doing in this three and a half minute tune. That’s what I’m into. For me that’s a constant challenge, to try and do something that musically makes sense to the song that you’re writing.

Yeah, Enuff Z’Nuff were, in my mind, one of the most underrated bands in history. Their second album Strength… they get listed by American Rolling Stone Magazine, as ‘Band of the Year’, and ‘The band to Watch’. And then suddenly, no records sold, and now you can buy all of their stuff on iTunes from an independent label.


It’s criminal! It’s criminal that no one knows who these guys are! I always tell people, ‘you’ve heard them’, and they go, ‘no I haven’t’, and I say ‘yes you have because there’s five seconds of them in Jerry Maguire, at the Bucks Night!  It’s impossible to get a feel for the music because it took me ages, I knew about that for years, and it still took me ages to actually hear it.

But those sorts of bands: strong song writing! I think that’s why I’m constantly going back to Cheap Trick, to various eras of Kiss, to Enuff Z’Nuff, Joe Walsh. Just guys that really knew how to put a tune together.

Graphic Fiction Heroes by Nic Di Rosso

Your début solo album, Little Empires, which came out a couple of years ago, was at least 50% acoustic. Was it a conscious decision to make this more of a rock album?

Yeah it was, in fact it was also a conscious decision to make that one, half an acoustic album. The way that came about is… so that was recorded in 2008, or the demo’s came together in 2008, but the decision to make a solo album happened in the latter half of 2008. So you’ve got to realise the Kingpin thing [Chris’s former band Kingpin had ceased to function not long before this time] was still pretty raw. We’d supported Nickelback in 2006, and two years isn’t a lot of time, you can still kid yourself that there’s going to be a re-uniting and you’re gonna continue to do work. Not to mention [that we had] a finished, mastered album in the can, as it were, that never saw the light of day. So I guess I was kind of having meetings with the guys from Kingpin, and saying, ‘OK so you’re saying that when you get past this in your personal life, we’re going to get back together and start rehearsing again, and we’ll get this album out?’. And gradually it was starting to become less and less of a reality.

In the meantime I’d been earning a living as an acoustic performer. I was playing electrically as well, but there were a heap of acoustic gigs, and as a performer I was new to that market. And suddenly I was getting offered gigs left right and centre, interestingly enough from the singer of Kingpin, Frankie G, who had then formed a booking agency. There were these little places, like The Windsor in South Perth, and like The Saint on a Wednesday night, and things like that, and you could go in and perform all original acoustic slots. I suddenly went, you know what? I can actually stay in the game here, whilst we’re waiting for the Kingpin thing to happen. Then when I realised I was going to have to make my own record, I spoke to Frank about it, and he said; well you currently don’t have a band, but what you do have is a lot of acoustic gigs, and a lot of guys like Nathan Gaunt and Howie Morgan, and players like that, are going out and doing their cover shows, and basically playing mostly their own stuff. He said, it’s a real loophole in the market here, so I suggest that you make an album that has a percentage of acoustic material, so that when you sell it at gigs you’re not misrepresenting what the product is.

That makes sense.

Yeah! So it had the electric stuff to show what I’m really about, but it had enough acoustic material so that someone could go home and listen to Fourth of July, and go, ‘yeah this is what he played on the night’. With this album I was adamant that it was going to be a rock album… interestingly enough though, it’s interesting how you get conditioned, because even though I said, absolutely no acoustic tracks, the acoustic guitar itself shows up quite often on this record, [even though] it’s all electric recordings of course.

First and Last, is heavily driven by acoustic guitar. Who Will Save Us Now? The title track, heavily driven by acoustic guitar. The opening track Highly Strung, acoustic guitar all the way through, and in the intro. AND a twelve string acoustic, which I’ve never put on a recording before, as part of the main riff. So I think what’s happened is, that I’m so used to hearing myself play acoustic now, that I’ve got to have it there somewhere.

Yeah, right!

But I wanted to break out the amps for this one, and I wanted to make sure that I had a full band playing on every single track, which is what we ended up with.

So the name Graphic Fiction Heroes, has led to some really cool artwork from Joey K at Redroom Design…


…Where did the name come from, and where did the concept for the artwork come from?

OK, Brilliant example of my brilliance…

[Both Laugh]

It’s a brilliant example of how practicality can lead to something quite inspired. And all that it is, is this. I was talking again, to Frank, saying I need an album, I need a band name. Because what happened is, the guys… Matt Ferguson and Gareth Hughes, who were the rhythm section for the solo record, had stood by me, had played a lot of shows with me. I sat them down to dinner one night and said, guys, I think that the next album should be under a band name, and I think that you guys should co-write with me. And I think that for all the work that you’ve done on the solo record which you don’t have much ownership over, this will give you some song writing ownership, and a band name will give us a little bit more unity.

So to take it that far, sort of thing, and they were really keen to do that. So it really came from necessity, where I spoke to Frank, and I said; what if I was to take the first letter of the surname of everyone involved, and start there? And he said, look band names are so hard, that’s a better start than just sitting there with a blank piece of paper. So Gibbs, Ferguson, Hughes, right? We had a G, F, H thing, and then all I had to do is find something that I liked. Some of the ones… there was something about Grand Finale Heartbeat… Frank came up with Game Face Harry, he said you could have this character, sort of thing… and there were a few things like that, that was all a little bit awkward. Then suddenly I went, fiction, I really like the sound of fiction. What’s in fiction? Heroes! And then all I needed was something to go with the ‘G’. And I actually got online and started looking around, and realised that the formal name for comic books is ‘Graphic Fiction’. Collectively that’s what it’s known as, and I thought Comic Book Heroes, what a great name for a band! And there was the movie Comic Book Villains, years ago, but that didn’t suit the thing. So Graphic Fiction Heroes became this thing, and I went, wow! The opportunity for developing this, in terms of the look if it, and the character based thing that you could do with it. So initially we had an idea of each member of the band would actually take on some sort of persona, but my other band beat me to the punch!

Bloody Axe Cane, came out at the same time as I was developing the idea of Graphic Fiction Heroes – I was asked to join Axe Cane. And they had four bloody characters sorted out, and the next thing you know they’ve got an EP, we’re all dressed up as, or drawn as monsters. I thought, if I do that, it’s going to make this one look like the poor cousin! So we had to go away from that idea, but we stuck with the comic book thing, we really stuck with the idea of…

Graphic Fiction Heroes logo

So are we going to see new stage costumes a la the CD cover?

Yeah! [laughter] The other thing we had to do, of course, was Gareth of course has moved on, and now lives in the UK, and has been replaced by Joe Southwell. So I thought, I really want to move away from things that personify the members of the band, including band photography on the actual album. Because what we’ve got here is a line up that’s sort of already moved on and I didn’t want to leave Joe out of it, because he’s taken on the role live. And I didn’t want to leave Gareth out of it, because he’s the song writing guy, and he’s on the record. So I needed it to become more of a universal thing. But yeah, it was literally G, F, H, what can I do to make this fit? And it was just…we just came up with something that was just so lucky. And then to have a guy like Joe Kapiteyn [Red Room Studios, who did the covert artwork] bring it to life, is just, you know the artwork great, and the artwork provides the direction. It’s like, we know where to go because of that, you know what I mean?

So the launch of the album, is on Sunday the ninth of December at The Paddo. What can punters expect?

Well, the first thing they can expect is that it’s a great line-up. Nathan Gaunt, God, I can remember doing gigs… Hey, here’s one for you! I can remember doing gigs with Nathan Gaunt at The Paddo In 1993, when The Paddo’s gigs were all in the restaurant area, and at 20:30 they would take out all the tables and chairs and build the stage, and put in a PA, and that’s the room that you played in.


The back room, where the gigs are now, that was closed, there was no service in there. It wasn’t until years later they rebuilt that area. So Nathan Gaunt was in a band called Thrive at the time, and my band Fool, used to do gigs with Thrive. So I played that far back with Nathan, so it makes sense for me to have him on this record launch. Also because See You Later Space Cowboy, his release from a couple of years ago; is an album that got heavy rotation in this household. In fact Nathan played, right out there [Gibbs points at his back yard], at my wedding reception, and we had our bridal dance to one of his songs. We’re big fans, so it was wicked to have him involved.

Ragdoll… doing all the right things, just a rad band.

Stone Circle, of course, those guys were responsible not only for getting the Chris Gibbs trio into the sort of rock market, because as you know with the first record, we largely played acoustic gigs. Stone Circle booked us for their Living for the Sunshine album launch, and that’s when we first really started to interact with those guys, and we’ve done a lot of work with them since. They were also responsible for booking the first ever gig that we played as Graphic Fiction Heroes at The Charles. So those guys… just really great guys to be around.

So first of all the line-up is fantastic, it’s going to keep us on our toes. Were going to need to be top of our game to match up to what those guys are going to deliver as part of their normal gigging routine. But what you’re going to get is songs like Too Highly Strung, and Poor Middle Class White Boy Blues. It will be the first time that they’ve been played live. They were two songs on the album that were actually studio songs, they’ve never been performed by the band. At the moment, never even been rehearsed by the band.

So, that all starts next week. You’ll see Craig Skelton from Stone Circle, he’s going to cover the piano parts in Another Day Like This for us. Because it’s a big piano driven song, we normally do that with just guitar, but we thought Craig’s gonna be there, and he’s very keen to play the part for us, so we’ll be having him up as a guest. You’ll see the band doing its best to represent what’s essentially a very heavily layered album, with just three guys. And that’s what I’ve always loved about live music, you know? The Police didn’t mind layering stuff, and they didn’t worry so much about how they were going to do it live. Yeah they occasionally had female backing vocals and stuff like that, but essentially, they worked out how to represent quite heavily layered songs towards the end of their career as a three piece. Rush, they go out and do it as a three piece.

A lot of people have listened to the album, especially in the early stages when you could see how many tracks were on my home studio. So dudes would come in and see that it’s getting up to track 40, and go, have you thought about how you’re going to do this live? But its two different animals, I make albums to sound like the best album I can make, and I put together bands to sound like the best band I could put together. I don’t worry about the fact that there might be a distance between those two, because we will play the songs in a way that represent the songs, and are faithful to them, but you get different versions. So I think you’ll get good representation of the album, but in a live way, with the energy that we bring to it live.

Cool, sounds good! So to wrap up, if you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording of any one album, what would you choose?

Wow! If I could magically go back in time and be part of the recording of any one album… You know, I actually think that it would probably be… [long pause]… I’d probably go back, if I could only say one, it would probably be Strength by Enuff Z’Nuff.


Because I think that at that point in time, when that band recorded that album, they were on the cusp of greatness, and the 90s conspired against them. It would have been excellent to see how they put that together, because you basically had a pop-metal band, on the first record that suddenly came out with these sprawling piano driven tunes within a year. So it would have been interesting to be there and go, wow, a second ago you guys were feeling, ‘Get high on a new thing’…and suddenly we’ve got Derek Frigo’s dad doing violin solos… How did we get to this point within a year?! That one!

Yeah, cool. And so finally, what does music mean to you?

Its … it’s the vibe…


…no, it’s just the vibe! I mean music, what can I say? I think the chorus from First and Last, is exactly that statement. ‘I always said it came first, that wasn’t the worst, I should have learnt from the past, it comes first, second, third and last. It’s my blessing and my curse’ – that’s what it comes down to.

Thanks for your time, Chris and good luck with the album!




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