The latest album—a goth/synth-pop endeavor—from the “Brooklyn band that refuses to die” is both a result of change and inspired by it, as Gavin Dunaway explores the sensation of suddenly feeling new to, and awkward in, one’s own life
The subject line of the email I received from Gavin Dunaway in mid-September offered me a friendly greeting from the “Brooklyn band that refuses to die”—but just because Libel has survived, it certainly doesn’t mean it’s stayed the same.
Since the first album was released in 2009, the project has shifted, evolved. Naturally and inevitably, just like we, as people, all do.
But beyond life developments simply affecting the structure, style and schedule of Libel—the amount of music written, genres explored and shows played—it’s the concept of change itself, along with the uncomfortable feelings it inspires, that has served as the primary subject explored in Gavin Dunaway’s recent songwriting, existing not just as the backdrop against which his music is made but the idea upon which an entire album is based.
That album is Imposter—out today! And ahead of the release, Gavin shared thoughts on the record and the personal and professional life events that led to its inception:
“I’ve had a lot of big changes in my life over the past few years. I became a father, I made a significant career change, and my music took a hard left turn toward electronic. Suddenly, I felt super awkward in so many aspects of my life—I was drowning in imposter syndrome, and the only way to wade through was… to embrace it. So the tracks on the album really explore that gnawing sense of being an imposter in your own life—something I think most of us can relate to. And maybe it’s the advanced years talking, but I think that sensation gets stronger with age, as we drift further from our young, stubborn selves. (‘Death Cult’ is the outlier here—it’s about religious fanaticism and politics.)”
In addition to sharing the shifting circumstances and accompanying growing pains that informed Imposter, Gavin also explained the ways in which this record is new terrain and shared the musical influences he pulled from to create the record’s six original songs, all of which the artist wrote, performed, recorded, and produced himself.
“Musically, Libel’s pandemic release All Alone With My Clone was my first go-round with drum machines and lots of synths. I was really inspired by ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ by Nine Inch Nails, but as I started putting new songs together, I dug into other influences, much of it ’70s and ’80s. Gary Numan’s ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was super inspiring, but I also wanted to indulge in krautrock. ‘Death Cult’ and ‘Tick’ revolve around almost Devo-esque arpeggiators, with layers of synths and guitars cushioning their crushing tempos. Pillowy pads—I love those! I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan, so I couldn’t resist creating billowing synth fogs on ‘What’s in Your Heart’ and ‘Pure.’ Yup, there’s a lot of Depeche Mode and Sisters of Mercy hanging around as well—I guess I was yearning for those teenage goth days.”
Gavin also sent over some thoughts on each of the record’s tracks, which dive into monogamy and manipulation, freedom and forgiveness, aging and the apocalypse.
Plus, a Joy Division cover, just for kicks.
IMPOSTER—TRACK BY TRACK
“I’m feeling the creeping of Father Time (‘running out of quarters to play’) and contemplating what I’ve actually accomplished. The stress of years and responsibilities are taking their toll. But have I blindly accepted the status quo and instead of pursuing a bolder path? I tell myself, ‘There’s no shame in this’—but it feels like I should strive for something more. If only I knew what… or how.”
[Fun note: All artwork for the video above is by Gavin’s four-year-old daughter, Tallulah Dunaway.]
“I’m very freaked out about Evangelical Christians obsessed with the end of the world, and the political leaders (cough, Republicans) they circle around. Inch by inch, they’re drawing all of us into their death cult. (‘Who cares about climate change—Jesus is coming!’)”
“What’s In Your Heart”
“I was thinking of two lost souls meeting in a dark club. But the ambiguousness of the speaker is on purpose—is he trying to take advantage of a sad young thing for an easy score, or does he see a connection and want something more? Is it a song about manipulation (does he lie when he says, “I won’t mess you round”?) or are we witnessing the birth of new love? My guess is that the speaker himself doesn’t know.”
“I have a tendency to be very verbose on the lyric front, so I forced myself to write a song with… Two lines. I’ve always tried to be playful with ideas of romance and monogamy—embracing love yet relinquishing freedom. So what about the idea of a lover as a tick? The excitement of courtship turns into the banal grind of a relationship…”
“Yeah, it’s a song about getting married, feeling like a new person, and being forgiven for all your previous mistakes and missteps. I get schmaltzy too, you know.”
“Probably my favorite Joy Division song. Years ago, I concocted an interesting way to play it on acoustic that captured the root notes while mimicking the lead guitar. I always thought it would sound gorgeous with a magnificent, Mogwai-esque build.”
Now that you’ve listened to the record, don’t miss the opp to hear it liiiiiive when the band returns (after a five-year hiatus) for a RELEASE/REUNION SHOW at Pianos with A Very Special Episode, Kissed by an Animal, and Shooting Star Press on 10/6. Grab your tickets here.
Follow Libel at @libelmusic, buy music on Bandcamp and add the songs to your Spotify playlists!
Feature image provided by the artist.