Portland singer-songwriter Laura Gibson left for New York’s Hunter College in 2014 to start an MFA program in creative fiction. It was a significant move for an artist who is deeply connected to the local music scene, and whose songs often seemed to be drawn from the rural west, imbued with a quiet longing for home and closeness. Her last album was named for LaGrande, Oregon, with songs set in an old hotel on the edge of town.

When Gibson moved to New York, she also wrote the beginnings of a song on a train ride east. The song is named for the Amtrak Empire Builder route which runs from Portland to Chicago, through the Columbia Gorge, Glacier Park and the prairie lands of North Dakota and Minnesota. (She also documented one such trip with a remarkable video made on her iPhone.)

Gibson’s new record, Empire Builder, is full of songs about the ambivalence and uncertainty that go with leaving someplace or someone behind. In the chorus of “Empire Builder” she sings, “..Hurry up and lose me, hurry up and find me again.”

We recorded Laura Gibson, accompanied by Sean Ogilvie, on the Amtrak Empire Builder train going east from Portland in April.

Gibson begins her tour next week in the midwest. She plays in Washington state in Spokane and Bellingham June 8-9, and at Mississippi Studios in Portland Friday, July 23.


Audio recording: Zack Carver-Gustin
Mixes: Steven Kray
Videographers: Nate Sjol, Jerad Walker
Producer: David Christensen