Art Pop with a Jazzy Edge

By Mackenzie Kristjon

Pip writes art-pop songs that have a uniquely jazzy inflection. The chords he chooses are harmonically rich and push the melodies almost into Joni Mitchell territory. This sound is on clear display in his latest album Chopper which became available earlier this year. 

I first met Pip opening for him at the old Homegrown Hamilton on King William. At that time, I was struck by the complexity and sophistication of his song writing. It seemed to me that at times, I could close my eyes and I was on a riverboat floating down the Mississippi with a summer sling or some other such cocktail. I was definitely feeling a relaxing vacation vibe. 

Since then, I’ve run into Pip all over the place in Hamilton, including on top of Jackson Square. 

The last six albums by Pip are arranged in two sets of three by production styles. The first three have backing bands and more “production” elements while the latest three focus on a more intimate sound with Pip crooning and fretting away on his acoustic guitar. The most extreme differences happen sequentially on the album. Pip gives us the almost anthemic “6n5” followed by what is easily my favourite track: “Distorted conjuration at sea”. 

In this last one, he is recording on what sounds like old cassette recorders using really vintage sounds to present a suite of moods about a fisherman swimming in a sea of humanity. This is right out of the Velvet Underground or an old Sebadoh album. Very cool. 

Pip has spent a lot of time in Asia. Here is what he had to say about that: “In Asia I learned many things. Musically, not so much, except about traditional Korean, Thai and Lao music. These things don’t really play into my own composing, but I think trying to communicate with audiences that don’t speak English adds something to your arsenal in the long run. You find other ways of being expressive, and put more into the performance aspect of it. It’s also humbling. Why should they listen?” 

Another thing from living abroad – I started to listen to more jazz-world fusion. There’s not much of that in Thailand, so I may be a pioneer one day when we go back. Also, the bassline to almost every Isaan country song is the one stolen from Black Magic Woman! 

“In Korea I had a five-piece band that played the hotel circuit up and down the peninsula. We did half my tunes and half vocal jazz standards. I’m sure there’s an influence there – maybe being more daring with vocal melody intervals.” 

Pip’s use of daring melodic is on eminent display through his last few records. In our conversation, I learned that he is launching his next album sometime in the fall that is tentatively entitled “Twenty-Four” as it will be his 24th solo record. His second of the year! 

When asked about how prolific he has been, Pip replied: “This year is not average – I’ve written about 35 songs. Normal would be about half that. I play the new tunes live and if they survive that they end up on the next album, every two years or so, but this year I’ve been on a tear. I also played a number of festivals, including the International Village B.I.A Winterfest, Barton Village Festival, and five gigs on top of Jackson square (125 songs!). 

“I write because if I don’t, I get into a bad space. I guess I’m an artist. But my standards are very high, and I play almost exclusively original songs. The people who like it, really like it.” 

To experience Pip’s music, visit metroPhilmusic.bandcamp.com.