By Megan Wadding, January 2018 Issue.
What began with a break-up poem at an open mic in Boulder, Colo., in 1999 has led to kicking off an international tour, a book release and a seventh full-length album – all in just the first month of 2018 alone – for Andrea Gibson.
The award-winning spoken word artist released their 16-track album HEY GALAXY Jan. 12, published their pocket-sized collection of poetry Take Me With You Jan. 23 and hit the road on a 40-city tour.
As part of the tour, which will be making stops in Phoenix March 30 and in Flagstaff March 31, Gibson will recite pieces both solo and with musical accompaniment from the new album along with a few catalog pieces. Chastity Brown will open all shows.
Echo caught up with Gibson to find out more about their thoughts on the spoken word movement, how storytelling can help people express their truths and connect with society as a whole and here’s what they had to say:
Echo: What is it like to attend a spoken word performance? How is it different from other types of shows and in what ways?
Gibson: It is in a really emotional experience to go to a spoken word show, so I think that it has to be changing culture. To be in a room with somebody that is being that personable with you, and you’re looking the artist in the eye and the artist is looking you in the eye. It is just a really powerful experience.
Echo: What is it about individuals sharing their stories/words face to face that is so important and relevant?
Gibson: The spoken word movement has been growing so much that I am certain that it has to be influencing the whole culture and connecting the political with the personal, but also by giving people permission to tell the – maybe – harder truths of their lives in a more vulnerable way. It also gives us, culturally, maybe a new experience of listening and also of being present and just sitting with somebody else’s emotion.
Echo: In your estimation, what role does spoken word play in the fight for justice and advocacy – in general and also with concern to visibility for marginalized communities?
Gibson: It is one of the few art forms where you have somebody sort of telling empowered or vulnerable stories about their own lives that connect to a greater political issue. It’s so powerful to be [a] witness to those types of stories. I think our minds, at least in this culture, don’t change very quickly or easily … art is the vehicle in which our minds can be changed and our hearts can be changed in an instant.
There are poems on the new album that are pretty heavy in terms of queerness, like the poem about the massacre in Orlando, but there is also a lot of “Ok, so, in spite of …” anything that is trying to hold us down, what beauty can we make of our lives we are and what joy can we find. I think that joy is a radical thing right now, especially for a marginalized people. I think to be radicalizing our joy because it is hard-fought right now, and to be creating communities where we are sort of encouraging and backing … each other, is so important. I just think [spoken word] is an amazing vehicle for lifting up the voices of marginalized people.
Echo: What drew you personally into the world of the spoken word?
Gibson: It’s so powerful, as a queer artist, for me, to tell stories in, and be in, the space where people are listening. Maybe we are all sort of seeing the ways that our lives connect even if we are still called strangers.
Echo: Tell me about one of you most profound moments as an audience member of spoken word performance? What was the subject matter and how did it affect you?
Gibson: There have been so many instances where I’ll go to the spoken word show and I’ll just be weeping about how my mind has changed so much on a single issue in just a few moments, or I have been inspired me to action. It could be a cause that someone is speaking about, or I hear a poem that personalizes something so much that I am walking out of the show that night trying to brainstorm ways I can be active or do something.
Echo: Do you think spoken word is growing and becoming even more of a vehicle for not only the telling of stories, but also as a way to change things and influence the society we live in?
Gibson: It is growing so much. It used to be that if you went to a poetry reading, most of the people in the audience were poets, so it’s really different from, for example, from going to a concert. I remember years ago, thinking it would be really beautiful if spoken word got so popular that people who weren’t necessarily poets for coming to the shows. And that is actually happening. Poets are filling up to rock clubs and big theaters with really high energy shows. It’s not your typical sort of poetry reading where it is really quiet. It is very interactive. It is yelling and booing and crying and laughing.
I remember a few years ago when I started touring more rock clubs, the audience was standing, and I remember thinking, ‘Who stands to hear poetry?’ People get rowdy in a really positive way when you’re talking about sort of political things, and in some ways it’s sort of like you are a protest for a political rally. It’s sort of feels that way when people are standing. It has that sort of energy.
Echo: What can we expect from the show? What do you want to see attendees walk away with?
Gibson: The topics that I’ll be talking about on stage are so varied. I never go a show without reading a few love poems. Well, some are heartbreak plans. There will be a ton of feminism and I’ll be reading poems about police brutality, mental health, mental illness, specifically within the queer community. I want to be writing and speaking poems about celebrating the queer experience.
Echo: What are your goals for this tour?
Gibson: I have a lot of goals for the tour. It’s the longest tour I’ve done in a while and I’ve been touring for a number of years. You know that quote where they say, ‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable’? I want to do that. It is important for me to have people leave a show feeling like the truth’s been told, but not like the hard truth like what we’ve been waking up to every day this year. I love when people leave the show wanting to be active or create art. I like thinking of art as sort of a domino [effect] of goodness.
Echo: Can you tell us about where the name for your album and tour came from? Hey Galaxy.
Gibson: There is a secret meaning behind it, but I don’t know. I guess for me, it was speaking to our curiosity, our wonder, like how wide can we stretch our minds and take it all in, and then at the same time, take sort of a galactic experience of beauty, of awe, like what we get from even just looking up at the night sky. We’ve also put a lot of energy into the stage design, so it is sort of going to be a galactic experience for the audience and I think it is going to be pretty beautiful.
Echo: Congrats on your book, Take Me With You. What was the process of compiling this collection like?
Gibson: I had this idea of having a book that was small, that somebody could carry around. You know how we carry our cell phones around with us? Lately, I open my phone all the time to awful news stories and for the rest of the day I am struggling to keep some help in my chest.… So I wanted to make the book that was positive and affirming and would be small enough for somebody to take with them. It is a book about trying to combat the sense that we are alone in whatever is happening in the world right now. It is something that could be comforting, although there are also some pieces in there that could rile you up. I collaborated with an amazing artist, Aceda Coleman, she illustrated it.
Echo: Will you be performing pieces from the book at your shows on this tour?
Gibson: The pieces in the book are very short, like a page might have only three lines and illustrated, but some of the pieces in the book are also intermingled throughout the show. It is wild having two things come out at once. We weren’t quite sure how that was going to work and it was definitely a lot of stress putting it all together. But it was great having it all come together.
Connect with Andrea Gibson
Andrea Gibson “HEY GALAXY” Tour
• 7: 30 p.m. March 30 (doors open at 7 p.m.)
308 N. Second Ave., Phoenix
• 8 p.m. March 31 (doors open at 7 p.m.)
15 W. Aspen Ave., Flagstaff