Don’t you ever wish things were different?
One of my personal hangups in life is a stupid amount of worry over whether people like me. Like, I’ll have a routine interaction, and then spend way too much energy over-analyzing it to find out if the thing I said sounded weird to the other person. If you got mulligans in life like you do in golf, I’d push hard to get an unlimited supply.
All that to say – a lot of the time, yeah, I wish things were different. Most of the time, there’s nothing I can do to change the fact that they’re not.
If you feel that way, too, take some comfort in this: you’re definitely not alone.
Terry Gibbs has been there, too. Operating under the name Nimbus Cloud, Terry makes music that he describes as “electric surf rock with a psychedelic pop feel” – and, honestly, that’s a pretty good summation of the sound. The harmonies are lush and blooming, the drums are driving on the downbeats, and the descending chords strut with the energy of the 60s. It feels instantly familiar and still fresh. Think Beach Boys from the future, or The Beatles with a humming electric sheen.
And yet, in the midst of all that energy, the songs resonate with feelings of utterly relatable angst and discontent. On “If Things Were Different”, the title phrase is completed with “then I’d feel right.” It’s a hopeful enough thought.
But it’s only a dream, and Nimbus Cloud knows it. In reality, you don’t get mulligans. Things aren’t different. When you’re lying awake at night reliving things the way you wish they’d gone, all you can do is try to let them go and fall asleep.
The good news is that music can help you make peace with the things you can’t change. And there’s something about Nimbus Cloud’s music – something about the way classic sounds shape the present, about the way the lyrics slice through the energy of the music, about the way it makes you feel – that makes progress seem possible.
So, go listen to Nimbus Cloud’s infectious psychedelic energy on “If Things Were Different,” and come back to dive into his songwriting process.
Who knows? Things may not be different. But maybe by the end, you’ll be changed.
When did you start writing songs? How’d you get into it?
Terry: I started writing songs around spring 2013. Well, I should say that’s when I started making actual music. My friend who is into making hip-hop beats, gave me a copy of a music production program. 2013, was the year I graduated so that summer I taught myself how to use it by making all these instrumental songs based around loops. The next year, I bought a guitar and drums and slowly started to add that to what I was doing.
What is your favorite thing about songwriting?
I would say, just being able to express a thought or emotion in a really fulfilling way. I don’t think I could stop writing songs if I wanted to now. Music is really strange that way, it can evoke really profound emotion without even having words.
Why do you write songs? What’s your goal when you write a song?
I write usually to get a feeling or thought out of my head and make it more tangible. It helps to convey the thoughts with a song to better understand where my head is at. The goal, is usually to fully express those feelings or thoughts I’m having and ultimately, have someone else be able to relate to them when they hear it.
What’s the hardest thing about writing for you?
Hmm… Probably writing the lyrics. Sometimes it hard to articulate what I want to convey without getting caught up in some rhyming scheme. Now, I try to remind myself the concept or idea matters most and I don’t need to make everything rhyme or sound like a Dr. Seuss book ha.
You’ve got a super interesting sound that feels like a throwback while still sounding fresh. How did you find your “cloud-surf” style?
That’s a nice compliment, thank you! This style came really easily for me actually. I had goals of how I wanted it to sound from the beginning, at least from a songwriting standpoint. I knew I wanted to write something rhythmic and jangly, so most of the songs have a medium to fast tempo. The songs reminded me of surf rock, which makes sense because I do listen to a lot of The Beach Boys’ songs. Especially at the time of writing those songs.
How do you think current listening formats (streaming, etc.) impact songwriting?
I honestly don’t know. For me, it doesn’t really affect or impact me at all. When I write a song, one of the last things I think about is other people hearing it. I do love that streaming makes it so easy for people to listen to the music though.
What is your favorite song of all time, and why?
The answer to that changes every so often, but I would probably say “Music To Walk Home By” by Tame Impala. There’s not a day that goes by since that became my favorite song, that I don’t wish I wrote it. It’s perfect. The chord progressions flow into each other so seamlessly, the drums are so full of life, the way the song has so many different sections like a prog song but feels memorable like a pop song and the lyrics are really great too, very relatable.
I could go on and on haha.
What makes music / a song good?
The only thing a song needs to do to be good is make the listener feel something or be memorable or relatable. If a song makes you feel something beyond just a surface level, then it’s good. Even if other people don’t like the same song, no one can take away how it makes you feel.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a songwriter?
To be honest with yourself when writing and to go with your gut. The initial feeling you have when making a song is the strongest representation of the pure feelings you have about it. Even if you change the song’s words around, that initial feeling when writing or recording it, should shine through.
How do you write? Do you start with lyrics / melody? Chorus or verse?
Every song is different, but I usually start with chords or a melody in mind. I usually separate songs into guitar songs or piano songs, in terms of what I’m writing on. I also usually will write the verse or intro of the song first, but I have written choruses first, mistakenly thinking it was meant to be a verse.
How do you write a melody?
There’s no specific way I’ll write a melody. Sometimes the lyrics I start singing to the song will be the main melody or I’ll listen to the song over and over and think of a melody to go over the chords. Sometimes the melody comes first and I’ll have to make the appropriate chords to go underneath it.
One thing that’s certain though, is I always try to come up with the most natural sounding melody for the song or one that feels like it fits perfectly with the other elements in the song.
How do you write lyrics?
Writing lyrics can come with the song’s inception or way after the skeleton of the song is figured out. I have a theme, idea or topic in mind and I try to go for something that fulfills the feeling I want to get across. I save lines or lyrics into a notepad app on my phone as I think of them. Sometimes I’ll completely rewrite the lyrics because it didn’t feel right or the song was heading in a direction that didn’t make much sense.
Would you rather write on personal experiences or general themes, and which approach comes more easily?
Definitely personal experiences. The trick I think, is to make the lyrics just vague enough so the listener can relate to the song and it doesn’t sound super specific to just me or the songwriter.
Do you put more emphasis on lyrics or sound? And which would you consider more important?
Naturally, I put a lot more emphasis on sound, probably because I started off making instrumental music. But I definitely think in my current songwriting phases, they are both equally important. Everyone hears things differently, so I think focusing on both the sound and the lyrics to have a great synergy is the best option.
What emotions, thoughts, feelings do you want your music to inspire?
I think I’ve always just wanted people to find some kind of relatability in the music I make. Whatever the topic may be, I hope there’s something in the song the listener can relate to or have something of significance they latch on to. I want people to hear the songs and think “ Hey, this guy gets it” or “This is what I’m going through”.
Do you write with your final sound in mind, or do you write acoustically and translate the song to that?
I’ve always written songs with a sound in mind but it really comes down to the idea. Like I said, I divide songs in my head between guitar songs or piano songs. Regardless of what I write to create the song though, I always think of final sound and arrangement. It’s very rare to hear me do stripped down or bare sounding songs because I’m always thinking of production or the recording of the song itself.
Do you carve out intentional time to write, or do ideas come to you spontaneously?
I’ve never had a solid structure. Mostly it’s been spontaneous or I’ll see my guitar and pick it up and strum until something of worth comes out. Sometimes I’ll be at work and have an idea and think “ Crap! I’ll have to try and remember this until I get off and go home.” But if the idea of the song is strong enough or memorable to me, I usually don’t forget it.
Do you tend to start a song with a main goal or idea and write to that, or ad lib and shape the main idea along the way?
Since most of my ideas come spontaneously, I just make it up as I go along. At some point in the process, I’ll attach a phrase or an idea to the music since, the music itself always comes first. That’s what usually becomes what the song is centered around, then I’ll focus more on giving the song a structure with verses or choruses or a bridge or something.
What role does production play in your writing?
Production always plays a huge role. I don’t record a song unless I know what I want to aim for production wise. If the song is a guitar based idea, that will shape the writing completely. If I write on piano or a synth patch, the song will sound different because I can play more chords on piano than guitar.
I also used to make songs based around loops, and the production of the sounds I made would completely shape the direction of the song. I’ve recently been trying to figure out a way to combine those methods into a perfect blend. To write a song on an instrument but approach it like writing on the computer.
Let’s dive into “If Things Were Different”. What was the first part of the song to be written?
Definitely the chords. I like descending riffs, so that was what I was going for in that one. That’s a Beatles influence for sure, going from a major chord straight to a minor chord or making a descending melody.
How would you articulate the main theme of the song?
The main theme is wanting things in your life to be different, but being unable to actually be in a situation where you can make change happen.
A line from the second verse struck me:
I feel the sun shining down on my head
And oh, I’d rather it rain instead.
What do you mean by that, and where did the idea come from?
The line is basically describing my mood at the time of writing the song, it was spring or summer when I wrote it so the weather was warm and sunny but my mood wasn’t. I’m the type of person that prefers rainy weather, maybe because I was born in spring, I honestly don’t know.
That’s a part of the reason I use the name Nimbus Cloud, it just fits where my headspace is and who I am.
Is this about a specific relationship or story, or more of a general feeling?
The song is really more of a general feeling about my life at the time. There are specific things that only I would know, but the way I wrote it you’d never be able to tell.
It’s almost like an inside joke to myself, minus the joke.
I felt frustrated and fed up with my life at the time, but couldn’t do anything to make things move along faster or change. That’s probably the best I can sum it up.
Did you write this for another person, for yourself, or for an audience?
I find that most songs I write are unintentionally for myself. I wrote this song just to get the feelings out of my head, and only when listening back to it, I thought, “Wow is this how I really feel?” Songwriting is really therapeutic in that way, it unveiled feelings I couldn’t express any other way.
You told me earlier that there was a time gap between writing and recording the song. Did the meaning of the song change or stay the same for you over that time?
The song rings true, somewhat to this day. I like for songs to capture my feelings at the time but also have elements that feel timeless.
What’s your favorite part of the song (lyrically or musically)?
Musically it would have to be the way the chords descend and the melodic rhythm of the drums and bass. The way they change during the chorus, I thought was interesting at the time. Lyrically, probably just how honest I’m allowing myself to be. Even though it’s just vague enough, it still feels like letting yourself be emotionally naked, if that makes sense ha.
What do you want listeners to take away from this song?
I want the listeners to feel the energy of the guitar but the contrast of the way I sing the lyrics. The guitar and drums are fast paced, but the way I sing it, really isn’t. It’s a nice contrast, and I think it helps you pay attention to the little details, in both the lyrics and the music.
When did you know the song was finished?
I know a song is finished when I listen back to the recording and realize that it sounds like I should just leave it alone. There’s a point where I just realize with every song, that I should stop adding layers because it would ruin the mood or focus of the song. I was going to add synths to the song at one point but thought, that would be too much.
Any details you’d like to share on the recording or production process?
I started with the chords when writing it. I wrote it on acoustic guitar and translated it to electric guitar, because most of the songs on the CloudSurfing project I wanted to think of as electric surf rock with a psychedelic pop feel.
Then I think I sung guide vocals to help me figure out how I wanted the drums to fit, although the drum idea came pretty early with the song’s inception when I imagined how the final song would sound. Then I added another electric guitar playing the chords and then did the bass. The lead guitar melody actually didn’t come until after the bass, which is rare for me because the bass is usually the last thing I record.
I read that during recording Sgt Pepper, Paul McCartney would record the bass as one of the last overdubs to make it feel more melodic and fit the song better. I’ve been doing it that way ever since I read that, I also always double track the vocals to give it a more full, shimmering sound.
Last question: what’s next for you in terms of upcoming music / shows?
I’m always recording or writing songs. It’s a necessity at this point. I’ve made projects every year since 2013. I’ve only released two short EPs for people to actually hear. Those EPs were combined to be the first thing I put out on a label this year, a bit of milestone for me.
Currently, I’m almost at the end of a new album, I started writing it at the same time as CloudSurfing so around mid 2016, but the songs go in more of an acoustic direction and the pace of the songs vary a lot more. I like to think of it as my modern take on Rubber Soul or Revolver. I’ve been thinking about it and changing the tracklist around, for well over a year, just trying to get the perfect combination of songs that flow into each other.
As for shows, at this point I’ve never performed live, I’ve always thought of my music as a recording project. But it is something I think is very necessary and I really want to do it. I’ve been asked to perform live before, and never had the time or confidence to do it. Now I’m with a booking company/agency so I’m hoping my first show comes this year. I just have to get a setlist together, a part of me wants to write songs separate from the recording to specifically perform live.
I think it’ll be really fun whenever it does happen!
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