Interview: "7 Years" - Merritt Gibson
As someone who has experienced the disintegration of a long-standing friendship, ‘7 Years’ is particularly poignant. For you, at what point did hope of reconciliation fade into the realization that this is now life?
Merritt: It took some time for that realization to set in, mainly because there was seemingly no catalyzing event for the disintegration. All of a sudden, this friend started ignoring me and trying to humiliate me in front of our other friends. The silver lining was that I developed closer relationships with other friends - connections that are strong to this day.
How has growing up in New York and Boston influenced your musical sound and worldview?
Merritt: I think of these cities as being very sophisticated, cultured, and dynamic - there is so much going on, in all walks of life, and you can just get swept up in the movement and ideas. I like to make my songs sound emotionally sophisticated - in other words, not just elevated by surface level elements, like scenery and descriptions, but by the juxtaposition of feelings and deep dives into psyches. I want my songs to say, I feel this way, and this counterintuitive way, and both things can be true. I love putting themes that are traditionally more literary or cinematic into my songs. And musically, both cities have such a wide range of music being made that it is easy to take in the influences and chart your own musical path.
In terms of worldview, both cities place a heavy emphasis on dreams, hard work, and accomplishment. I spend almost all of my time working towards my goals in music, whether that’s writing new songs, working with producers to create and fine-tune the mixes, or creating promotional assets. Growing up in these cities, I definitely inherited a strong and focused kind of work ethic.
What was it like studying at the University of Virginia and what are some of your favorite memories from that time?
Merritt: I really loved studying at UVA because it felt like there were endless possibilities and opportunities. I’ve always loved learning - there’s a quote out there that essentially says “to live is to love and to learn,” and I agree. There were a lot of opportunities for my areas of study, history and public policy. My favorite memories are moments with friends, just the living that happens between cracks in daily schedules. UVA’s emphasis on social life, its “work hard, play hard” attitude, gave me plenty of fodder for songwriting.
Music-wise, I released my first album my first year and performed my first headlining show at Coupe’s in Charlottesville. I spent much of the next few years developing my songwriting in the claustrophobic practice rooms in the basement of UVA’s Old Cabell Hall.
Did you find that relocating to Nashville after school has sparked different layers of creativity and inspiration for your art?
Merritt: It definitely did - the past couple years have been like when someone goes abroad and gets fluent in a language, but for me it was musical immersion in a city that revolves around my craft. It’s such an open and collaborative place - people are so generous with their advice and time. I actually launched my music career in Nashville, recording an album there (Eyes On Us) with Mitch Dane at Sputnik Sound when I was 17. I’ve continued to evolve my songwriting and musical style, but I remain proud of my high school album.
I’ve found the most inspiration from observing different styles of production. I’ve worked with different producers in Nashville over the last couple of years to figure out exactly what my sound should be, what is most true to myself and to my writing. And for the first time, I put together a backing band for myself. It’s so exciting to develop my songs for live concerts, and I love seeing the creativity each band member brings to the table. We also just have a lot of fun together.
What is your process for writing lyrics, what are some things you need or rituals/habits you have around your creation process?
Merritt: It’s different every time! I usually write the lyrics and music at the same time, though. I improvise vocally over a chord pattern with filler lyrics that pop in my head, then shape the words and melody together. I usually write by myself, and the luxury there is time and flexibility. In a co-write, you need to get everything done within a few hours. When writing alone, you can write as long as inspiration is there, then take a break and come back to it. I sometimes get my best ideas when I’m doing something completely unrelated to music - I open my Notes app and write new lyrics to add later.
If you could spend 15 minutes with any artist, past or present, who would it be and what would you discuss?
Merritt: It would definitely be Taylor Swift. She taught me how to write a song - I remember dissecting her lyrics in a notebook when I was 13. I’d talk to her about the craft of songwriting - where she draws inspiration, how she develops a song through the production process, whether her melodies usually come in inspired, feeling-oriented ways or whether she consciously constructs them with music theory in mind. Mostly, I’d like to bond over the incredible feeling of songwriting and how it’s guided us both in life.
Interviewed By Vanessa Siebrass