Kevin Gibson tends to preface his answers to interview questions with a nervous laugh, the kind made by junior high school kids when they're caught getting away with something. And, in a way, he has.
Gibson's Chicago-based band Tub Ring is four albums into a career that defies most modern music conventions. The vocalist and lyricist, who's referred to his band's music as "orchestral punk," has introduced a musical style with few antecedents and perhaps even fewer contemporaries.
While Gibson can shift back and forth from a cool croon to a shredding scream as deftly as Mike Patton of Mr. Bungle (whose guitarist, Trey Spruance, produced the group's Drake Equation album), Tub Ring's repertoire is generally more punkish and less novelty-driven. Recent songs like "Killers in Love" shift from melodic sections ("Ooh aah / Kisses that taste like sugar") to explosive unrestrained choruses ("Right now / Hands in the air right now / Let's take a trip downtown / Bury the dead / Face to the ground").
"I'll give you a little trade secret," says Gibson. "When I play live, it sounds like I'm really belting out a crazy scream. But I've kind of figured out how, without really pushing it, to make my falsetto sound like a scream just by making it a little more scratchy. And I tell you, if we've been on tour for a while and my voice gets a little rough, I'll be screaming more live, because that's actually easier on my voice than singing every note perfectly."
Of course, Gibson is required to do the latter on the band's cover of Queen's "Flash Gordon," a current concert favorite.
"For a long time, we would do whatever popular pop song was out," he says. "We would cover Avril Lavigne or Justin Timberlake, which is fun to do for, like, one tour and then drop it. But I think we look at the Queen cover as being more serious you know, something we can maybe do for two tours instead of just one.
"And of course, that was great news for me when Rob, our keyboardist, came up with the idea to do "Flash Gordon.' I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, let's do a Freddy Mercury song, no pressure on me or anything.'"
Not everyone appreciates Tub Ring's eclecticism. During an Indianapolis gig, one clever promoter thought it would be good to have the band headline a touring hardcore package.
"I have nothing against their music," says Gibson, "but I'm not dumb enough to think that we're gonna go over great with straight-edge hardcore people."
Once onstage, the band became the target for a series of increasingly blunt objects, including a barstool and a RockBox amplifier. According to Gibson, after a guitar and keyboard were broken, Tub Ring's bassist went looking for the attackers and was promptly head-butted in the face by Black My Heart's lead singer, sending his teeth through his lip.
"It was kind of a sucker punch," notes Gibson who, when asked, says he hasn't been in a fight since junior high. "You know what's really funny? During the one fight in my life, I actually head-butted somebody. But I felt bad about it right away."