“Music is a language that people connect with on a deeper level than they do with words. It’s an innate form of communication that is unique to the human species. Music makes us feel something—it conjures emotions and memories.” – Bryan Gibson
Bryan Gibson grew up playing baseball, riding BMX bikes, and exploring the woods of the quaint town of Orangeburg, SC. It wasn’t until fourteen years after his birth on New Year’s Eve that he picked up a guitar and tried his hand at a set of strings. That was also the year his grandmother Gibson passed away—the first major death in his life. “Up until that time, I hadn’t really been exposed to mortality,” says Bryan. “I was nowhere near being able to grasp the idea that this all wasn’t forever. But after my grandmother’s death, music was the only thing that made sense to me.”
After playing in a handful of local cover bands with friends, Bryan joined the high school orchestra and randomly selected the instrument that, unbeknownst at the time, would drive his musical career: the cello. “I initially chose cello because I thought it would help me learn more about guitar,” he says. “I didn’t really read music, and I never even bothered to take lessons.” Approaching graduation, his high school orchestra teacher arranged a private audition for the professor of cello at the University of South Carolina—which Bryan, having no prior formal cello training, properly tanked. After being highly discouraged to pursue any music related major in college, Bryan requested a chance to study the cello privately and later perform a formal audition for the school. So after a short two months of intensive study, he re-auditioned, this time completely blowing the board away, and earning a music scholarship to the University of South Carolina’s School of Music.
“Because I initially learned to play without notation—just by listening—I have really good musical memory,” Bryan says. He can hear something played once and play it back on any given instrument. But he jokes, “My memory otherwise is just terrible.”
During college Bryan formed the band I Nine with singer Carmen Keigans and guitarist Brian Whitman. After graduation, in 2004, the band moved to Atlanta, where they all lived in a one-bedroom apartment with bassist and mutual childhood friend, Matthew Heath. They played whatever gigs they could get. Six months later, their music struck a nerve with industry veteran Clive Davis, who signed them on the spot with his label J Records. It was with Clive that they recorded their debut album, Heavy Weighs the King. Later that year, the band got a call from Oscar-winning filmmaker Cameron Crowe asking I Nine to play a song in his upcoming feature Elizabethtown. For four years, Bryan and the band recorded, wrote, and produced songs with folks like Chad Kroeger (Nickleback), Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera), Kevin Griffin (Sugarland, Train), and producers Brian Howes (Hinder, Puddle of Mudd) and Nathaniel Kunkel (Lyle Lovett, James Taylor), before separating in late 2008.
He later began performing with The Black Jacket Symphony, a concert experience that recreates classic albums, such as Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV and The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in a live setting. “When we did Led Zeppelin IV, I had never really delved into Jimmy Page’s mind in such detail,” Bryan says. “But the note-for-note album approach to these performances really encourages you get to know the artists and their creative sensibilities on a very intimate level. This has shaped me in many immeasurable ways, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to perform with Black Jacket.”
Bryan now tours with other artists, produces, writes, and composes string arrangements. He has toured as a multi-instrumentalist with Aslyn, Chris Cornell, Jay Clifford (Jump, Little Children), Matisyahu, Owen Beverly, and Tim Brantley. In 2013, he produced and mixed Matisyahu’s “Spark Seeker: Acoustic Sessions (Live).” And he has arranged strings for Ed Roland and for Teddy Geiger. He recently toured for 3 years, accompanying the late Chris Cornell, on the #HigherTruth world tour. He is currently arranging strings for an upcoming Collective Soul album, and producing several yet to be announced projects, including a new collaboration with an Israeli singer-songwriter.
“Cello is extremely versatile,” Bryan says. “It delivers the closest thing to the sound of a human voice. You can make a deeper emotional connection with an instrument like that because it’s feels so familiar. It’s real and authentic. It’s human.”
And that versatility with an unwavering value of the influence of the human hand has become Bryan’s calling card.