Markell Gibson Keeps Hiking Toward the Mountaintop

Markell Gibson
Markell Gibson Photo by Kerry Melonson, courtesy of Markell Gibson
Markell Gibson is nearing 10 years of performing music but like any other visionary he’s looking ahead, not back. He’s got a clear idea for where his career should be a decade from today.

“Ten years from now I just want to be in Shaolin monk clothes on top of a mountain and other songwriters have to climb a mountain to get to me if they want to learn how to write a song,” Gibson said. “That’s literally how I see myself, it’s not even me being arrogant. I’m literally going to do that. If you want to learn how to write a song you have to physically climb a mountain and I will be on top of the mountain waiting for you, and I will teach you how to write an amazing song.

“I’m going full Shaolin in 10 years,” he said.

That’s the sort of bold inventiveness Gibson’s fans have come to expect from him, first as leader of the Markell Gibson Band and, more recently, as Mercutio & the Constantines. Before he can teach others the mysteries of songwriting, he knows he has his own heights to scale. Keep reading and you’ll learn how he’s headed for the zenith by moving in levels of progression, taking the journey of a thousand miles a single step at a time.

The next step comes this week with Gardens, the latest release of music from Mercutio & the Constantines. Gibson is expected to showcase the new EP at a show Friday, March 10 at Bohemeo’s with a slew of locals supporting visiting acts Loolowningen & the Far East Idiots from Tokyo and New York City’s Many Many Girls.

“It’s like a four-track EP of newer songs, pretty much the newer songs that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years or so,” Gibson said of Gardens. “After that I’m going to be working on another album that I don’t really know the concept for yet but I’m definitely going to put another album out at the end of the year after that EP. That’s going to be all new stuff that’s never been heard.

“So, Gardens would be like the level two Markell and the new album later this year would be kind of the level three stuff where I’m going deep. I might start talking different languages, I might start writing in symbols. Who knows what’s going to come out? People are going to go, ‘Oh, this is the monster that we’ve been trying to contain. Either get this dude onstage so we can contain him or tell him to chill out because he’s really pulling out that thing that’s different, way different.'”

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Gibson is approaching 10 years as a performer
Photo by Jody Perry, courtesy of Markell Gibson
The key to Gibson’s music, as he tells it, is digging deeper into his mind, burrowing further to mine music treasures. He’s one of Houston’s more recognizable artists because he performs in traditional venues and also as a busker, posting up with his guitar on street corners after big concerts and sporting events. The point is to get the music to listeners.

Gibson hails from Third Ward. He said he got his first guitar when he was just nine years-old.

“My mom bought me this broken red guitar with flames on it, it was like an acoustic guitar,” he recalled. “I just started messing with it. I don’t know, I just couldn’t put it down. I just started making sounds and the combination of pressing the strings different ways, I automatically got that.

“I could not put it down, I was obsessed with the guitar,” he added and said harmonies and chords came to him naturally. “I’ve always been connected to music that way spiritually, very deep, like I’m here to bring that, that’s a part of my purpose.”

For Gibson, the guitar is an instrument in its truest sense, a vehicle which allows him to express his innermost thoughts to the world at-large, a machine that kills preconceptions. His music has been described as punk and folk punk. He considers that an honor though, he notes, it isn’t exact. He told how his songwriting started at level one in Third Ward.

“It’s a really magical place. It’s a place where there are a lot of people like me who are high-level questioners and who are skeptics of everything, who are just really, really smart Black people. A lot of ingenuity and making the best of your situation and just genius people, a lot of Black genius coming out of there that doesn’t get talked about enough and I just happen to be one of those people who, I spread my wings and I decided to jump off that cliff that is the Houston music world or just the music world all over the world.

“Every Black kid grows up in Third Ward around really amazing family and Black business and this sense (that) you can make anything happen,” he added, “but at the same time I always knew that I could take things a step further. I’ve always had that, I’ve always kept that with me.”

He didn’t pursue music in earnest until 2014, after he’d graduated high school. He told what “Level One” Gibson was like in those early days.

“It was like going to my girlfriend’s house and writing in a notebook, just writing in this purple notebook. Writing ‘Monsters in My Head,’ writing ‘Stellar,’ writing ‘City in the Clouds,’” he said, rattling off the songs that put him on Houston music’s radar. “Knowing that I had to jump, and I’m also at that point now, where I’m kind of at a level, I would say it’s like a level two, I have to jump again because I’ve reached a threshold, kind of reached a plateau where I have to evolve again. So, that’s an awesome, scary process.

“But when I first started, I had this undying need. I had just graduated high school and I felt I had to do this music thing,” he said. “I saw it in my mind even though it wasn’t reality yet. I saw myself on a stage, I saw people liking my music, I saw me being respected as a songwriter.”

Gibson’s been performing as Mercutio & the Constantines since 2016. It’s an apt moniker. Mercutio is the one Romeo and Juliet character able to traverse both houses, Montague and Capulet. Gibson traverses the subconscious and conscious worlds in music. The songs reflect on “the hurt, the happiness, the feeling of gratitude, all that stuff that comes from deep within me,” he said. They’re internal and personal but are sent by Mercutio into the world for others.

He describes his process as “writing from my subconscious, just freehand, writing a song like I would be writing a story in a novel, and sort of creating the song afterwards, constructing the song out of that story.

“It’s hard to do that. It’s not easy to go so deep within a trauma or deep within a fear or deep within a thought or love, the frequency of love, and push these frequencies forward. People may not even understand how deep I really went to get that until much later.”

He considers music important and empowering because it empowered him.

“Music is what saved me,” he said. “Words and me getting so into language, loving words and linguistics and language arts and literacy, literary arts, all this stuff inspired me to become the person I am today and completely shifted my reality from being just another Third Ward person that you might have never noticed if I wasn’t Markell the guitar player. You wouldn’t say, ‘Hey, what’s up regular Third Ward Black kid? What do you got going on today?’ No, I have this guitar so it creates this beautiful bridge essentially where people look at me like I’m more human.”

He's interested in humanity, even with its many flaws, flaws that are evident to him as a Black artist. Gibson aligns himself with other deep thinkers and innovators, most notably his friend and confidante Kerry Melonson, who will also perform at Friday night’s show. They’re both very outspoken on matters of race, society and music.

“I’m a lot more out there, I say some things that even Kerry thinks are out there, that’s how out there we are,” Gibson said. “A beautiful thing is we almost never agree with each other, we have two completely versions of out there so you’re gonna get something completely different from him, from me, it’s a totally different story.”

Like any master – Shaolin or otherwise – Gibson is interested in pushing people to their peak potential. If he’s outspoken, it’s because he feels some sense of duty to fellow artists, especially artists of color.

“I love that, I really really love that, I think that’s a really positive thing and I think the best thing about it is I’m not trying to be an advocate at all, I’m just saying what I believe, saying what pretty much any Black person from Third Ward would probably explain to you,” he said. “I just happen to be an artist and I just happen to be more public, I just happen to be in this music world, giving my opinion on the world from the view of a Black, Third Ward guy.

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Gibson's new EP, Gardens, releases Friday, March 10
Photo by Joshua Daniel Martinez, courtesy of Markell Gibson
“I’m still that guy. Just because I have a guitar doesn’t mean I’m like a dweeb now, like I’m just like, ‘Hey guys, what’s up? You know, whatever you guys want to do, I’m down to do it.’ No. I wasn’t raised like that, I’m sorry. I was raised to have values, I was raised in a family of women and strong men, I was raised in a family with LGBT people. I have to say what I believe in, not to tell people what to believe in, just for me personally to put myself in the right spaces.

“If you’re a Black artist, you’re going to see how important that is, to put yourself in the right spaces so that you don’t get used or exploited, especially if you’re really, really good and you’re Black. You’ve got to be really careful inside these spaces because they’re not what they seem.

“Sometimes America tends to have a sort of fetish with using incredible Black young artists,” he added, “squeezing all that juice out ‘til there’s nothing left. I’m just not available to do that with.”

“When I first started music I didn’t even know how to sing, or sing and play at the same time, or write music or memorize music. These are all things in 2014 that I taught myself how to do. I wanted to. I saw this vision so bad, that I would be this incredible music god who just spreads love everywhere,” he said. “That’s what I feel an artist is supposed to do and a visionary really does, they cross all these different barriers and that heals, it can help people come together, it does so much just in my life alone. But I know it’s going to do even more.”

That kind of thinking puts Gibson way ahead of others. When you catch up with him, he’ll be waiting at the mountaintop.

“I know it’s my mission to put these things out even if I don’t get anything back. That’s the thing, it’s all about love, it’s all about putting that love out and I don’t expect anything back from this.”

Mercutio & the Constantines performs songs from Gardens Friday, March 10 at Bohemeo’s, 708 Telephone. With CONCRÈTE MÈLANGE, Vivaldi's Green Jacket, Many Many Girls, Loolowningen & The Far East Idiots and KA. Doors at 6 p.m. for this all ages event, $15.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.