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Alex Lipinski - Interview

  by Lisa Torem

published: 5 / 11 / 2010

Alex Lipinski - Interview


Young London-based singer-songwriter Alex Lipinski talks to Lisa Torem about his family's wide musical background and his just released debut solo album, 'Lonesome Train'

On a photograph from his debut recording, 'Lonesome Train', Weston-Super-Mare’s most versatile performer, Alex Lipinski, sits cross-legged on a wooden bench. As the singer-songwriter-guitarist gazes into a mysterious distance, the folds of his denim jacket and the sheen of his leather boots glisten with light. His youthful face belies a mature intensity. You ain’t seen nothing yet. The talented 22 year-old has already figured out that when it comes to writing, the devil is in the details. But his voice also conveys great depth. Whether that instrument is wrenched with defiance or crackling with vulnerability, Lipinski poignantly delivers a song. ‘Grey Skies’ features that voice rising longingly above slightly ajar rhythms, ‘When Will I Be Home’ drips with angst and ‘All of The Teasers’, a straight-ahead ballad, is undeniably sincere. Arrangement-wise, ‘Is This Love?’ borders the chain-saw chugging of Cash and ‘I Wish You Were Here’ builds to a frenzied choral and percussive pitch. Lipinski took on London, his current home, with unbridled passion. Thrilled to be discovering the nooks and crannies that drew his idols, he threw himself completely into the hard work his craft demanded. Lipinski’s schedule, whether performing solo, with his sibling Adam as a duo or performing or touring with a full-band is truly mind-boggling. Luckily, Pennyblackmusic was able to grab this busy singer-songwriter's attention before the next show… PB: Alex, you moved from Weston-Super-Mare to London in 2007 to perform. How would you describe those early days? Exhilarating, Frightening? AL: The early days when first moving to London from a small seaside town like Weston-Super-Mare was exciting. There was no feeling of being frightened, just an eagerness to get out and perform. I knew why I had moved to London – to perform, to be noticed, to be heard. I was under no illusion what I needed to do. When I first moved I didn’t really know anyone involved in the London music scene and, therefore I simply started going to acoustic nights all across London and playing two or three songs. Gigs started to follow off the back of this. PB: Your sister is a jazz singer and you also perform in a duo with your brother, Adam, who is also a singer/songwriter/guitarist. In fact, I heard you performing harmonies on ‘Born To Love You.’ You guys sound like the Everly Brothers. How do you account for the fact that there are so many musical siblings in the family? Also, why do you and Adam perform separately? Why not perform together with each of you taking on a solo portion? AL: I grew up in a very musical family. Being the youngest of four siblings with an eight-year gap - Teresa is 36, Ryszard is 34 and Adam is 31 - I inherited all their musical tastes. The people most accountable for this musical upbringing are my parents. Neither my mother nor father can play an instrument, but, however, their love of music has been passed on to all of us. All I can remember listening to in our home when growing up was the Beatles and Elvis Presley, which for me was the perfect way to start my musical education! My dad had a lot of vinyl records he bought when growing up in the 50s and 60s, so I would listen to a lot of rock ‘n’ roll records, namely Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers and Little Richard. Teresa is a great singer, who leans more towards folk than jazz. Adam, is a singer/songwriter and one whose musical knowledge I have learned from, and my oldest brother Ryszard who is in the Royal Navy also plays guitar and has a good voice. It’s weird that all of us play an instrument and neither of our parents can. Having an Irish mother could, however, help, as her side of the family is very musical indeed! My grandmother on my father’s side also plays the piano. Adam and I generally perform together. For the last six years I have been extensively performing together with him, mainly across the south west of England. Adam plays lead guitar and sings harmonies in the Alex Lipinski Band and we play a lot of gigs as an acoustic duo, performing original songs as well as a few covers. I play a lot of solo shows in London and he is based in the south west of England, so it is not always possible to perform together as he also has a lot of gigs. We have been compared to the Everly Brothers previously and also the Finn Brothers, who are one of our influences. Our vocals fit great together, and it feels completely natural performing with him. Maybe it’s a brotherly thing. PB: You toured in Philadelphia with Jim Boggia and also New York. Do you find the American club scene similar to the British scene? AL: From my own personal experience there was not a great deal of difference, apart from the fact that my British accent made me sound more exotic! The venues I played in were similar to the venues I was playing in the UK at the time. My songs appeared to travel well and the music was well received by the audiences. PB: I was surprised to hear that ‘Lonesome Train’ was your debut album.It is exceptionally sophisticated musically, very diverse and focused. It features many vocal styles. How did you select musicians for the project and how much influence did you have in the production? AL: Thank you for your comments, I’m glad you enjoyed the album! The musicians were selected through people I had played with before, and also a couple of musicians who I had heard about. I had a clear idea and vision in my mind for what sound I wanted to create, but, however, I needed to transfer this onto the record. I had played with the drummer, Tim Price, and bass guitarist, Tim Sweet, for a while before the album was recorded so they were my obvious choices for the rhythm section. Adam would feature on vocal harmonies. For the pedal steel, co-producer Tony Hobden recommended a Bristol-based player, Bob Dixon. I contacted Bob, went to his house and jammed for a couple of hours and signed him up without hesitation! The violin and cello players were also local musicians who I had seen play and knew they would be suitable for my music. Kerry Skidmore, who played, Cello, also played on Adam’s album. I flew my sister in from Krakow in Poland where she lives to record harmonies on ‘When Will I Be Home’. Similar to Adam, our vocals sit together well and she is also one of my favorite female vocalists. The trumpet player on ‘I Think You Know’ was Gary Alesbrook. He is another Bristol-based musician and has been playing with Kasabian for the last two years. Two other musicians who played lead guitar on one track each were Shane Roynon, who plays lead guitar on ‘Lonesome Train', and Cliff Moore, who features on the hidden track ‘Take Your Time’. Cliff is brother of Gary Moore. I would rehearse individually with each musician, before entering the studio. Due to the budget I had, I couldn’t afford to take much more time than needed in the studio. Therefore everyone was fully rehearsed and ready to record when their time came to put their parts down. I suppose it was kind of like putting parts of a jigsaw together. Myself and Tony Hobden co-produced the album. Tony is a highly skilled studio recording engineer, and we had worked together previously. I told him what sound I wanted to create and he would work together in order to achieve it. I gave him a couple of examples before we recorded. For example I wanted the drums to have a ‘roomy’ feel to them, therefore I played him ‘Come Pick Me Up’ from Ryan Adams’ ‘Heartbreaker’ album, and a song from Ray LaMontagne’s ‘Trouble’. He controlled from the mixing desk and I would tell him what I wanted the recordings to sound like. Ideas were always open to suggestion – he might suggest a different microphone or trying something different and we would sometimes attempt different ideas. It was very democratic, mixing my vision of what I wanted the recordings to sound like with his studio experience. Ultimately though I would make the final decision. So it was basically a co-production. PB: There is an exuberant outro at the end of the opening song, 'I Think You Know'. Can you tell me about the players who contributed and how that energy was created? AL: The players who contributed to the end of 'I Think You Know' consisted of myself, Tim Price and Tim Sweet. I was singing, playing guitars and harmonica, whilst Tim Price and Tim Sweet were playing drums and bass guitar. The drums and bass guitar were recorded together, and all their parts for the album were recorded in one day. They recorded in the same room together and I would be in the same room playing rhythm guitar and singing as a guide to them. It was the first day of recording and ‘I Think You Know’ was the first song we recorded so there was a lot of energy flying round the room at the time. I would also conduct to the drummer if I wanted more dynamics or any other direction needed. I think it was imperative for us to all be in the same room together, and the energy created by this can be heard on the album. PB: Will a follow-up album zero in on a particular theme or style? AL: I’m not trying to think too much about a particular style for the next album at the moment. The important thing is making sure they are good songs. A few of the new songs I have written have continued in the same direction and theme as 'Lonesome Train'. There are also a few new songs that take a slightly different direction, building upon the nucleus of the ‘Lonesome Train’ sound and evolving. I wouldn’t want to make the exact same record twice. It will be exciting to see how the new songs develop. PB: ‘Goodbye Lullaby’ has a mournful intro. in which you play blues harp and guitar. The lyrics are very visceral: “My heart’s drowned in your potion/ Swimming in the deepest seas.” You admit, “sometimes it’s hard to be a man.” In this song, you sound like you’re drowning in emotion; perhaps overwhelmed by romantic love. Is this a personal reflection of what you’ve experienced? Why do you find the male experience of being involved romantically more challenging? AL: ‘Goodbye Lullaby’ is a personal song and the lyrics are based around the reflection of a particular experience. I wouldn’t say I find the male experience of being involved romantically more challenging than female, but I was simply writing the lyrics that were pouring out of me at the time, based on how I was feeling. PB: There’s a definite feel of classic British rock in some of your songs; for example, ‘Grey Skies.’ AL: A number of my musical influences can be heard on the album and this therefore contributes to the overall sound. Being influenced by British bands such as the Beatles, the Kinks and Oasis (as well as American acts), there is a British sound that can be heard on the record. ‘Grey Skies’ has been likened to Oasis previously, which I think is largely down to the dynamics of the song and the main vocal melody. Lyrically, the song has a dark theme. (a sense of struggle, a sense of being trapped both emotionally and physically) and I wanted this to be portrayed in the music. Therefore you can hear a lot of anger in the vocal, especially in the verse. In the chorus, there is almost a sigh of relief; the major chord and introduction of harmonies go hand in hand with the lyric “Shine a light”. The song is made up of drums, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, and an overdriven electric guitar that adds greater power to the sound. The use of clean strings adds to the dynamics and again this could maybe be likened to Oasis's or the Beatles use of strings. There is also a delay used on the vocal track, which created a kind of Lennon-esque feel to the sound. PB: Your voice has a very natural sound. There’s some Lennon, some Elvis, some Holly and your range reminds me of Roy Orbison. I know you perform Elvis covers when you perform live. What’s the trick behind developing an ear which can detect nuance in another performer’s style, but then going further to create your own vocal style? AL: I don’t think there is any trick behind it; I simply do what feels natural to me. I have been influenced by great vocalists such as Elvis, Lennon, McCartney and Roy Orbison, among many others. I don’t try to imitate them, as I want to have my own voice and stamp my own authority on a song. I, however, listen to what is great about these singers and try to use that to improve my own voice. The mentioned singers are going to have an impact on my voice and style as I have grown up listening to them. Listening to Elvis’s voice or John Lennon’s voice is an addiction for me. PB: Do you see yourself collaborating with other songwriters at any point? What is your current process for writing? Has a song ever appeared from out of nowhere? Al: I would definitely be interested in working with other songwriters. Myself and Adam have not yet written any songs together, which seems slightly odd, so maybe that will happen some time in the future. I write songs in various ways but the current process is that the music generally comes first. I usually sit down with an acoustic guitar or at the piano and just play. Sometimes I get a great idea and record it. Other times nothing may happen. I might be walking down the street and a melody will come into my head and I’ll record it into my phone. The lyrics have come first before, but normally the music comes first and the lyrics will follow. I normally also have to keep coming back to a song. Sometimes I can write a complete song in one sitting, however I generally have to go back to it to add lyrics, complete the structure, add a middle 8, etc. I have never had a song appear out of nowhere before. I have, however, heard a melody in my head and from then on adapted it and used it for a song. PB: Getting back to this musical Lipinski family when did you begin playing the guitar and did you have formal lessons? Was there any sibling rivalry in the household? Sometimes one sibling will declare an instrument their ow AL: I began to play the guitar when I was ten years old. Adam actually taught me my first six chords and then I learnt how to play ‘Wonderwall’. I took guitar lessons when I went to secondary school at the age of eleven. I was never involved in any sibling rivalry in the household when it came to music. There is an eight-year gap between Adam and I, whereas the gap between my other brothers and sister was a lot smaller. I think my two brothers may have had an argument in the past about what they were playing on the cassette player! My brothers had a guitar each but usually played each other’s. I’m left handed so my guitar was definitely my own! PB: ‘All of The Teasers’ sounds markedly different, vocally, than many of the other cuts. Did this have to do with production or creating a certain feel? AL: It does have a slightly different vocal sound when you hear it against other songs on the album. This is due to the production. I wanted a very intimate sound between the singer and the listener, with the vocals at the front of the mix. There is delay on the vocal, in which I was aiming for a Lennon-esque style vocal, similar to that of ‘Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out’. The harmonies also sound very Beatles influenced. There was never any great intention of making it sound different to other cuts; I think the style of the song simply moves it that way. It may be the most British sounding song on the album, along with ‘I Think You Know’ and ‘Grey Skies’. PB: Which track off of ‘Lonesome Train’ do you consider most personal? The album has already generated a lot of positive acclaim, even though it seems to defy the mainstream marketplace. What I mean is that it could easily be marketed as Americana, rockabilly or even folk. Will that eclecticism work for or against you? AL: I think ‘Goodbye Lullaby’ and ‘When Will I Be Home’ are the two most personal songs on the album. They are both about personal experiences and I think they are the two most honest songs on the record. They are placed at tracks four and five on the album because I think they go hand in hand with each other. It’s true that you could market ‘Lonesome Train’ as a few different genres if you wanted to. It’s nice to see the positive acclaim it has already received from listeners. You’re right in saying that the album can be classed as Americana, rockabilly or folk. There are certain songs on the record that differ from each other slightly in style, but I don’t think they sound out of place on the same album. The production helps in bringing them together also. The main importance for me was having eleven good songs to record for the album. I think the mixture of influences on the album work together well and will only add interest to the listener. With a major label they want to class you as one set thing, a one trick pony - in order to appeal to a particular market. That’s fine if you want to sell your music to twelve year olds. They want all songs to be the same as each other. At my gigs, there have been people there who are seventeen years old and there have been people there who are sixty five years old. It’s really refreshing to see that my songs can appeal to all ages. I think ‘Lonesome Train’ has the potential to do that, due to the theme of the songs, they have universal meaning; love, relationships, where you are and where you want to get to. I think the mixture of influences will only raise more interest from listeners. I think the album has the potential to be equally successful in the UK as it would further a field such as the US, due to the musical styles on the album. PB: If you could co-write with a musician or two that have influenced you, which would you sit down with to write a smash hit? AL: Can I have more than two? Two songwriters I would love to work with are Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen. Both have had a huge influence on me. I saw Springsteen play five times in the last two years. They are the best shows I have ever witnessed and his back catalogue is phenomenal. The music he is bringing out today is as relevant as it ever was. And as for McCartney? Well, I don’t think I really need to say anything. The man is a genius. Oh, can I choose Dylan as well? PB: Why not? What are your future touring and recording plans? AL: I’ll be playing more solo shows in London and the rest of the UK up to and after Christmas, and into the New Year. I’ll also be playing with my band, the Alex Lipinski Band, whilst gigging with Adam. In March I have a few gigs in Italy, which includes a couple of shows in Florence, as well as a live radio show over there. I have also been cast by Geoff Emerick and Producer Stig Edgren to play Paul McCartney in a new Beatles show called ‘The Sessions – The Beatles at Abbey Road’ The show is a live reproduction of the Beatles' recording sessions at Abbey Road. It should kick off in Los Angeles around May/June 2011. Before that, we will be performing at Liverpool’s Echo Arena on December 9th as part of the ‘Lennon Remembered’ Concert. I’ll also be continuing to demo new songs and will hopefully be back in the studio before I head to the States. PB: That’s exciting news, Alex. Thank you so much.

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