Posts tagged: Ehren Ebbage

Meet TC Ragstix

For the past couple years, I’ve had a casual, informal writing partnership with a friend I made in California named TC Ragstix. Through my well-advertised dryspell, he has been almost as encouraging as Ehren Ebbage.

Looking over the material I’ve eked out over that wretched stretch, I dare say that some of it is my (our) best work. (Believe or not, this often happens to artists during their worst creative droughts. They keep poking and digging, seemingly without any inspiration, despising the execution of every stroke. Finally they step back and look at what’s there: “Hey! That’s not half bad!.”)

TC’s contribution is substantial enough that I will be sharing writing credit on my 2013 release (whenever that happens — hopefully before 2014).

I credit TC for getting me unstuck when it comes to creating absurd, fun characters. He said: “Don’t be afraid that humor is gonna overshadow whatever serious stuff you’re talking about.”

Me: “Yeah, but I don’t to write novelty songs.”

TC: “If you do it right, your songs will be more meaningful. You disarm the listener by creating something fun, and then you melt their hearts, or you hit ’em the gut… or maybe you just wanna make them think.”

He went on to say, “What is wrong with you Northwesterners, always so deep and meaningful… All that grey wet weather?”

When I ran these thoughts by Ehren Ebbage, he nodded: “Humor has always been a part of your work, Shipe. You didn’t already know that?”

No, I didn’t know that. But now that he’s mentioned it, I’m thinking of “Imitation Man,” “Villain,” “Honky Tonk Romans,” “Another Disaster,” “Junkies on Film,” “What Right Do We Have to Fall in Love,” “American Wisdom,” “Livin’ in Exile,” and “Better Off Without You,” “Surfin’ the Shock Wave.”

But what’s really funny is that, in every one of those songs, I was being deadly serious, broaching subjects that i find profound and unsettling, if not downright dark. It seems like every time I dive into stuff that affects me most deeply, at my best, humor naturally arises.

It reminds me of what Bruno Kirby said about acting in comedy: “You can’t really play a result (comic effect)… I just play the character’s point of view…”

The humor comes from fully and sincerely embodying a characters value system and all of its associations. The humor is almost unintentional, which is the best kind of comedy.

Anyway, I am convicted into sharing songwriting credit, even though he doesn’t want it. If it weren’t for him, my live solo acoustic sets wouldn’t be kickin’ forward with “Jesus,” “Beast is Back,” “The Decider,” “A Drinkin’ Man” (he preached me into playing on ukulele). Oh, and “Pit Bull Rescue Woman” which was originally the brainchild of John Grimshaw.

Shipe song among “Best of 2011” in region

My new year kicks off nicely with a boost from the Eugene Register Guard (specifically, musical writer Serena Markstrom) who lists “Hard to Believe” as one of the Best Local Songs of 2011.

It’s my simplest, rootsiest country tune off Villain. A broken-hearted country lament in the classic male/female duet style. I credit my duet partner Halie Loren for putting it over the top, and producer Ehren Ebbage and guitarist Al Toribio for injecting just the right amount of twang.

Now, if I can find someone to help me shop the tune around Nashville, I will pay such a person handsomely in foot massages, grilled cheese sandwiches, and untold royalty percentages.

Unreleased Shipe relic found on web

So, I did a Soundcloud search for myself, to see how my cloud was coming up. It didn’t. Jess Elaine Edwards’ cloud came up. That’s odd, I thought. Who is Jess Elaine Edwards?

Upon closer look, I see my song–a lullaby called “When I Am King.”

Ah yes, I remember. From the Plug-Pulled Pollyanna Sessions (circa 2000). It was the first aborted attempt to record Pollyanna Loves Cassandra at Supernatural Sound in Oregon City. It was going to be my most ambitious project to date, recorded in one of the best studios I’d ever seen in my life. Alas, we were too raw as a lineup. After laying down basic tracks for nearly half the album, producer Mike Davis said, “I don’t get the feeling we’re making a good album here.”

So we pulled the plug. And we hit road to sharpen up (revisting the gargantuan project in 2002). We did, however, get a nice demo of this particular song, with the help of Isaac Szymanczyk on keys, and a budding teenage diva named Jessica Lageson.

“When I am King” is favorite amongst Shipe fans. But I rarely perform it. When I double-bill with a fine female singer, I try to rope her into doing a duet with me: Shannon Curtis or Jessica Plotkin (who plays viola on the official recorded version).

As lovely as this song can be, I don’t feel that I’ve gotten it right yet. The official recorded version, on Cassandra, features Stephanie Schneiderman. You can listen here and compare the two versions.

I’d love to hear this song given a complete makeover by some hitmaking machine–pop, country, or R & B.

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Shipe CD tracking done/ L.A.

At long last, Ehren Ebbage and I have finished with the tracking for the new album.

Ebbage is off to L.A. to do the mixing. Release is scheduled for the Winter. But soon, I’ll be trickling out a handful of samples as they become presentable, offering a free download or two.

As the 12-week surge of adrenaline recedes slowly from my veins, I get back to the more even pace of rehearsal, booking, promotion, and gigging. Not to mention the CD artwork and publicity. (I’m excited to begin working with Green Light Go, a company of robust stature.)

At the outset of this recording, I confess I was in no condition to make an album. On the heels of a dry spell, re-entering civilization from Yellowstone life, and fighting off a medical issue, I had trouble slipping into my imagination and flowing with ideas. But Ebbage, producer extraordinaire with a great bedside manner, convinced me that there were a dozen gems amongst my latest 31-song batch, then he hauled my ass up to Crossroads Productions

From there, we kept moving forward until the damn fine thing was done. And I feel certain that it’s going to be the best so far the Shipester.

Ebbage and the musicians below, I thank deeply; for they are truly responsible, not just for this album, but for getting me through tough personal times:

Sean Peterson (bass)

Kevin Powell (drums)

Mike Walker (organ, piano, accordion)

Al Toribio (guitar)

Alice Blankenship (violin)

Amy Danziger (cello)

Tim McLaughlin (trumpet)

Johnny Clay (vocals)

And the Feel Good Singers: Mike Last, Jerry-Groove Abelin & Brendan McCloud

Shipe & Ebbage at work on the New Album

This morning, I’m in Seattle, with my bestest music buddy Ehren Ebbage, about to go into the studio for our 3rd of 4 stretches of work on the new Shipe album.

It remains untitled, but finally comes into creative focus as I understand where this material comes from, and who the character (or set of characters) is that makes this album. One of the songs is called “Love Belongs to Everyone,” which could turn out to be a title cut. But I’m afraid it won’t do, because it’s one of those “means-the-opposite-of-what-it-says” lines, which nobody will get until they listen to the song a few times.

And besides, an album of that title, judged by the title alone, will be easy to dismiss at first as a lazy collection of hippy, one-world, one-love musical platitudes. To that, I say, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?”

Ha… If only that was what I actually had to say. (The song itself is as dark as any I’ve written, featuring a highly disturbed character. But at least the chorus is uplifting… uh… in a kind of mournful way… You’ll have to hear it, I guess, and you’ll see what I mean.)

So, am I making another Sudden & Merciless Joy?

No, I’m not. But, yes, this album comes from a restless, worried place. It’s not the domestic placidity of Yellow House. After all, I was ungrounded, moving from Eugene to San Diego to Yellowstone and back to Eugene, enjoying life, but struggling to get leverage in my endeavors. I should have indulged in sunny California mellow melodies, and wide open Yellowstone Big Sky . But this guy went further inward than outward.

That said, I insist that he’s not so existential as SMJ. He’s more like the Blue Rebekah storyteller who lodges at Yellow House.

If that has you wondering how this album is going to sound, all I can say is, “me too.” I’m in the capable hands of Ebbage, and I trust him all the way. Together, we’ll make sure the whole thing makes a good damn bit of sense.

Shipe-Ebbage Chaos at Hogan’s w/ Cargill

Hard to describe what happens in Clarkston on the Hogan’s stage. I warned Ebbage; we wouldn’t be lulling them with our sensitive side. So we get help from Scott Cargill (Lucas) on mandolin, and Jim on Jembe and Ryan on bass (with whom we’ve never played a note.)

At Hogan’s, you’re tucked in a nook, behind giant speakers, on a stage deeper than it is wide. If you’re not loud and rowdy, the music can’t make it all the way to where everybody’s sitting.

We’ve never rehearsed. Scott, my dear Lewiston friend, practices on his own, and greets us with newly crafted mando parts. We just jam it out like street musicians. All bravado and energy. Plus, he calls out songs I don’t play often, from my older rock albums–“Jasmine,” “Crawlspace,” etc. Also, he’s a Renegade Saints fan, so we bust out Al Toribio’s “Letter Home,” Mike Walker’s “Delivered,” and Dave Coey’s “Tara.” He’s got all the hooks down.

A pleasant surprise was how gorgeously Ebbage’s country side shined with the mandolin in there. Perhaps it wasn’t the best stage for his lullabies, but two-steppers like “Hurtin’ Me” and “The Way She Does It” sounded best of the entire tour. (I felt good on twangy lap steel, to boot.)

With the quasi-rhythm section, and Scott’s mad energy egging us on, why not have Ebbage play electric most of the night? His tone was so awesome, we just let him go off on long indulgent solos. (Did I mention that Scott’s right arm is a rhythmic machine? Sticking the groove while Ebbage shredded, especially on “Road Story.”

Speaking of “Road Story”, there were some devoted Jerry Joseph fans who called me out on my influences: “So, Shipe,” says this one dude, “Did you write ‘Road Story’ before or after Jerry Joseph’s ‘Drive?'”

“Okay, fine, you caught me,” I said. “Just for that, we’re gonna cover an actual J.J. song. Sit back down in your chair and soak up ‘World Will Turn.'” (Ebbage has gotten very good at thickening up our version with the electric… even without a rhythm section. I dare say we acquitted ourselves properly with that homage.)

But we pressed our luck. We should have stuck to the Miles Davis rule: Always leave them wanting more. Whether it be a musical passage, or a whole song, or a set, or an entire show, stop just short of topping out the tension by extending the climax. Restraint is key. For this Hogan’s show, the climax unmistakable; we were obviously done. But we were having too good a time to quit. As fatigue and one-Jager-shot-too-many kicked in, we ran the train of the rails. “These Days” took 15 minutes to get through three verses. I don’t think Ebbage knew what song we were playing, but he added some nice spacy notes, and the thing sort of went searching through the stratosphere–not the concise Jackson Brown song we’re familiar with. Last, and certainly least, “Crawlspace” turned into three and a half minutes of breakneck random chords.

Ah, well. That’s rock-n-roll for ya. I love it. That’s what makes it fun. You’re on stage, you’re in it together, and it ought to be a little risky. Like driving a car too fast around a curve.

John Shipe’s Musical Family Tree

I was born in the sixties, in Springfield, Missouri. The younger part of my childhood was spent there and in Kansas. I describe it thusly: Like many children of heartland Suburbia during the 70’s, I had no inkling that my country was smack dab in the middle of its longest war. I knew about kites, swimming holes, tadpoles, picnics, Big-wheels, Ultra Man, Mr. Rogers, baseball cards, the Moon-landing, and my grandparents’ farm in the country. I didn’t know about Viet Nam, political protests, Kent State, or Watergate. I did however learn about race, poverty & segregation when my school had an exchange program with another school from Kansas City. Also, my dad used to take me down to the YMCA to play basketball. Though my parents never talked politics (Mom=democrat/Dad=republican) there was one thing they agreed on: teach the kids by example, to treat people well, and that racism is a fraud.

I was born “John Shipe,” but my mom re-married early, and my name was changed to “Schwartzman.” By the time I was 9, my family was in the S.F. Bay Area. At 12, I tried to learn guitar. It didn’t take. Baseball and soccer came more easily than transcribed versions of “On Top of Old Smokey.” (However, I did learn the intro to Boston’s “More than a Feeling,” and the wicked riff from “Play that Funky Music.”)


We soon moved to the Portland area (Oregon). More baseball, more soccer & basketball. Finally, at age 17, I got a classical guitar for Christmas. (I was a Yes fan, so I thought a classical guitar would send me on the path to mastering pretentious British Art-rock.) At first, all I learned was a bunch of Church tunes. Then, for a high school English project (Lord of the Flies), I accompanied my friend Matt Emlen on his “Evil Nature of Mankind Blues.” It was my first blues solo. I shredded…cheddar. In May of that year, I played “Wild Thing” for Stephanie Tromley at the Prom Queen ceremony–with Matt, my friend Tod Kelly, and Mike Walker who would later join me in college forming bands like Mission District and The Renegade Saints.

In College, at the University of Oregon in Eugene–home of Ken Kesey–I read a lot of books by dead white males, took a lot of creative writing courses, and formed a band called The Couch Potatoes with Warren Dexter (whom I had known since I was 13). We played The Doors, Eric Clapton, Z.Z. Top, Beatles, et cetera et cetera. I sucked miserable ass, and so did Warren, but with great passion! Our first drummer, Matt Reynolds, was awfully skillful. (He would later do stints with both Mission District and The Renegade Saints.) Our second drummer, Doug Nary was good too. (I heard a rumor that he played on tour with Kenny G–probably backed him up on the classic smooth jazz hit, “The Note.”)

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