Posts tagged: songwriting

“Better Off” in 2013

A friend from Eastern Washington (who goes by the nickname “Puck”) recently sent me a touching post, thanking me for a certain song that lifted his spirits, and sharing one of his own, thusly inspired.

Whenever I perform at Hogan’s Pub in Clarkston, (usually w/ Scott Cargill & 7 Devils) Puck requests my 12-year old break-up song “Better Off Without You.” I wrote it a dozen years ago — a paradox of anger & levity — and it got me through a difficult time. (It was cheekily deemed “the greatest break-up song ever” by a Eugene Weekly writer.) Here is a version from my former “Alternative Rock” incarnation (from Pollyanna Loves Cassandra):

The song seems to have helped my friend see the hard times through. That is the best news a songwriter can get. And, even better, Puck paid it forward by writing a similarly-themed tune “Better Off.” He graciously allows me to repost his video here:

As much as we performing/recording artists strive to get good reviews from the press, nothing gratifies like finding out that a fellow human being has been emotionally affected by the work we do. And even better, that someone would be inspired to put their own creativity to work and keep the collective torch burning.

Artists work for real human beings, not just Entertainment Biz entities.

Thank you, Puck. Keep up the good work. See you in April to celebrate happier times.

Here is the live acoustic version from the 2001 A Stealthy Portion, featuring Elisabeth Babcock on cello. (It was selected for Michelle Malone’s compilation of independent artists):

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 loves Spring Standards

I have a new favorite band. And that’s saying a lot, because I haven’t used the phrase “favorite band” since Portishead nearly a decade ago.

The Spring Standards got under my skin last night at splendid small venue in Ventura called Zoey’s Cafe. If I had a band for Yellow House , The Spring Standards would be the Yellow House players. A drumless trio, two dudes trading guitars and bass, and a woman on piano, xylophone and melodica. They all sing. And the lyrics they sing make your heart hurt.
Two slightly inaccurate samples from memory: “Say it/Say the words I see behind your eyes/If it’s not hard to say/then it’s a lie.”
And: “Bending backwards for you honey/I’ll be the one to hold your sad salt eyes/There’ll be nothing left of my honey/But it’s alright.
Yeah, I was moved. In fact I think I heard myself say, “That was the most moving set of music I’ve heard in years.” Read more »

Story-Behind-the-Song (Underground Debutante)

Leona Laurie, music blogger extraordinaire, has a new forum called “Backstory.” (Actually, it’s her old “Story-Behind-the-Song” re-outfitted.)

I am honored to be featured for the second time. This time I reminisce about the opening single from my 2005 release John Shipe & The Blue Rebekahs.

Best New Bands–BackStory

Shipe Review in UK

I just got a favorable review in the UK, written by Paul Kerr for Americana UK. A lucid review that proves he gave Yellow House an honest handful of listenings.

Two things stand out which please me: First, he cites the pop/rock song “Promises” as one of the better songs on the CD. Other reviews either ignored it, or mentioned it in passing as “stylistic meandering” that veers away from the tidy semi-acoustic stuff on the rest of CD.

Second, he describes the writing as “naive and innocent.” This sounds like a slight, but I think he meant it in a good way. Plus, I think of such naivete as kind of a writer’s victory. I had been honing the writer’s skill of making a distinction between author and the character who is speaking. Previously, some Shipe tunes would be saturated with too much awareness. I wanted the Yellow House characters to speak from specific points-of-view, limited to the experiences portrayed in each song, while broader and deeper meanings would go un-said. In other words: more story-telling, and less poetic, emotional philosophizing (Not to mention all the dark cynical impulses that accompany all that agonized deep-thinking.)

The paradox is just how much work it takes to become so “naive and innocent.” (In the same way that Picasso spent 60 years learning how to paint like a child.)