CHUCK is the nom de plume of Charles Griffin Gibson, a musician from New York City. He specialises in catchy laptop pop and wistful lyrics that explore the minutiae of modern life and wriggle in the iron jaws of nostalgia. His voice is nasal and annoying, but in that strangely satisfying way, like Jeff Mangum or Alec Ounsworth from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Gibson has a whole host of albums and EPs available on his Bandcamp page, but don’t worry if you’re only hearing about him now, because Old Money Records – a newly-minted imprint of the consistently excellent Audio Antihero label – have just put out a collection called My Band is a Computer. Made up of thirteen tracks recorded over the past five years or so, it’s a great introduction to the CHUCK universe and a very worthwhile listen if you like your indie pop to be sad, achy, and stuck with one foot in the past.

Charles was kind enough to answer a few questions about this new collection for God is in the TV – read on to find out why he stopped recording under his own name, what he’s hoping to achieve with My Band is a Computer, and what exactly goes on inside that wistful songwriting brain of his.

Hey Charles! How’s life treating you?

Hello! Life is treating me pretty good at the moment. I’m editing a TV show about survivalists self-documenting extended solo trips out in the woods with only 10 items. I’m getting married in a few weeks. I’m working on a feature-length screenplay. And I’ve been putting together this record with Audio Antihero! I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s all fun stuff I care about.

Why, after releasing a few albums under your own name, did you switch to a nigh-ungoogleable stage name like CHUCK?

I know the googleability crossed my mind when I picked it, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything better. CHUCK seemed right. After releasing my first three records as Charles Griffin Gibson, I was feeling like my full birth name was a little stuffy, and also it was projecting the idea that everything in my songs was autobiographical. I wanted the freedom to write songs about different things and not have it immediately trace back to me as an individual.

I thought CHUCK was still personal, because that’s what my friends call me, but also very American and guttural and simple. It’s more fitting for a band name. People won’t be able to find every scrap of press I’ve done, but I think they can locate my Bandcamp pretty easily!

My Band is a Computer is made up of 13 different tracks taken from the various albums and EPs you’ve recorded over the last few years. In spite of this, the whole thing flows together really nicely and feels like a single, cohesive work – how did you decide which tracks to include and which order to put them in?

Well, Jamie from Audio Antihero sent me an email out of the blue one day with this idea. We had corresponded a little bit in the past because he heard my stuff through the band Frog, who are close friends of mine and on his label. He already had 13 tracks in mind, and I came back to him with a few changes, and then we met in the middle with what is now the final tracklist. It was pretty simple to be honest.

I’m really happy to hear that you think it has a flow. The songs bring up so many memories from different parts of my life, so it’s hard to be objective on how cohesive they are together.

The artwork for this release is a photo of you submerged in a swimming pool. What is this wonderfully summery image supposed to represent?

Well, I had previously done a photoshoot where I tried to recreate the cover for No Jacket Required by Phil Collins, but we decided that – since this album is introducing me to a new audience –
it might be a little confusing. I thought it was really funny, but if you’re a person who has no idea who I am, you might see it and not know what to think.

Audio Antihero suggested something brighter and more eye-catching. I had a vacation planned with a bunch of friends at a pool house in upstate New York, and I thought I could figure something new out there. My best friend Charlie Rubin is a photographer, so I suggested we just shoot some stuff around the pool. Eventually he kept telling me to go underwater, because he’s an artist and he’s weird and that’s what he saw as interesting at the time.

After we were done shooting, it was clear he was on to something and those shots were special for some reason. To me, it works because it matches the morose humor that plays around in my lyrics. It’s like when you go swimming with your friends and you play dead in the pool as a goof. Everyone does that, right?

Quite a few of these songs seem to be preoccupied with turning back time and trying to return to how things used to be. Would you say that you yourself are particularly preoccupied with the past?

Even though I’m currently happy and excited to be doing what I’m doing, I’m very prone to intense bouts of nostalgia. As you get older, life becomes more like a business. You spend more time managing things like your body, your time, your career and your relationships. Simply put, shit gets more complicated. So it’s only natural to pine for a time when you really didn’t have to worry about anything important. I’m too busy to get into random trouble like I used to.
What period of your life would you most like to go back to, given the opportunity?

I think if I had to, I’d go back to my last two years of university. Right around ages 20-22. Things were real easy back then, man. I was going to film school in Philadelphia, working at a coffee shop, staying out all night, riding my bike around to clubs, and my rent was $400 a month. And I wasn’t even paying my rent! (Thanks Mom.)

Mary Anne, Joan, Emily, Mikey and Phoebe: are any of these characters based on people you know in real life?

Yes and no. Mary Anne is definitely about someone in particular. I had a really horrible breakup with this girl that I loved when I was younger, but I got over it. A few years later in New York, she floated back into my life and we were spending time together again. She was the personification of a freer time in my life that I was getting disconnected from because of my job and responsibilities and stuff. We tried to rekindle our romance, but it just didn’t work, and that seemed supremely sad to me at the time. The song is just a daydream about wanting to elope with her and go back to the days when we were in love and carefree. But I’m over it; I love my wife-to-be Janne!

Who are your personal musical idols?

Dan Bejar, Mark Kozelek, Kanye West, Alex G, R. Stevie Moore, Dev Hynes, Elliott Smith, MF Doom, Daniel Johnston, Anton Newcombe, Kevin Shields, Judee Sill…

What’s your favourite song on My Band is a Computer?

I like Phoebe’s Lips a lot, but I know it’s too long and weird for mainstream consumption. I just think the lyrics are really cutting, the chorus is powerful, and the overall vibe has that perfect balance of sad and funny. I worked on that song for maybe three years, so it also gives me a lot of pride to hear it finished. I could’ve easily given up on it many times. I wanted to do a music video where I’m playing the song at a prom and it’s really dramatic and ’90s, but it’s hard to pull that off on your own with no budget or label. I would need at least 150 teenage extras.
Are you concerned that the existence of this compilation might somehow diminish the value of the original releases from which its tracks are culled? That newcomers to the world of CHUCK will just check out My Band is a Computer and not bother going back to the albums and EPs from which it was Frankensteined?

That’s a good question! Every time I put an EP or LP out, I think to myself, this is the one. And I work hard and release it and wait. Friends say nice things. Maybe a blog posts a blurb about it. And then it’s radio silence from the rest of the world. I’m always emotionally let down, because I work really hard on these songs, but logically I don’t know what I’m expecting. I don’t really play live. I’m not part of the DIY community. I don’t make buzzy music videos. The music is pretty weird and off-kilter. My voice is annoying. The response I get is exactly what I deserve.

Having said that, every record is sort of like a dream I lay to rest. It’s behind me. I move onto the next thing. So I’m not worried about diminishing the value of those records, because they’re already in my rearview anyways. And I’m sure not everyone will get the compilation thing, but for those who do, boy are they in for a treat! I love discovering artists late in the game and having multiple records to listen to. It’s fun to hear a musician transform without having to wait years in between records. Jamie (Audio Antihero) initially referenced Hatful of Hollow when pitching me on this idea. That compilation is actually the first record I had by The Smiths, and I can remember playing it a lot, and then going back to the LPs the songs were pulled from and having fun discovering their original context. I love discovering artists who already have a catalogue. It’s like music archaeology.

So my philosophy on all of this is that I’m going to work as hard as possible on this record; I’m going to put my heart and soul into the interviews; I’m gonna play the social media game; and whatever the universe wants to do, it’ll do. I’ve already made the pizza, now people gotta decide if they wanna eat it or not.

Now that CHUCK: The Early Years are out of the way, when can us new fans – the ones for whom My Band is a Computer serves as an introduction – expect an album of all-new material? What do you have planned for your next record?

I have at least one more CHUCK record in me. Right now it’s called Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store. I think it’ll probably come out in Spring 2017. After that, I might retire as CHUCK and start a garage band in Norway. That’s where my wife is from and where we’ll probably end up moving soon. I’ll be sure to think of a more googleable name. The College Crybabies or Forever Street are two ideas I wrote down in a Google Doc.

My Band is a Computer is out now on Old Money Records. Buy it here:

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.