South African born Philadelphia-based musician, Andrew Lipke, released his third offering, Motherpearl & Dynamitelate last year, through DrexelUniversity’s student-run label, MAD Dragon Records (Ryko/WEA). Motherpearl & Dynamite is the follow up to Lipke’s 2007 MAD Dragon Records debut, The Way Home. and marks a new chapter in Lipke’s artistic development. Motherpearl & Dynamite showcases Lipke’s powerful ly tuneful vocals and highly melodic writing with some of the most ambitious, edgey setting this side of T-Bone Burnette and the release continues to pull in positive press response.
South African-born, Philadelphia-bred singer/songwriter Andrew Lipke returns with his second full-length CD, showcasing exquisite taste utilizing acoustic instrumentation and a hearty alto voice that effortlessly glides into falsetto, drawing glowing comparisons to artists from John Mayer to Jeff Buckley. While Lipke’s romantic songwriting displays admirable precision, what really shines here are the arrangements, which incorporate tasteful flourishes of twangy pedal steel or sonorous cello that enhance every track. Lipke even manages to resurrect Neil Young’s Utopian hippie anthem “After The Goldrush” through sheer conviction and rapturous singing (so what if the lyrics about silver spaceships make no sense?) Like his Mad Dragon Records compatriot Matt Duke, Lipke’s a sterling representation of Philly’s strong singer/songwriter scene. I bet there are some mad open mics in Fishtown these days. – Jim Testa/JerseyBeat.com 1/6/09
At an early age, South African born Andrew Lipke relocated to the states and found his way to Philadelphia backed by a music composition scholarship. After releasing two albums to critical acclaim, Lipke recently released his latest effort “Motherpearl and Dynamite.” We had the chance to talk with Andrew about the album, his involvement in every aspect of the album, working with Mad Dragon Records, a label run by Drexel University, songwriting, and more. 1. You are originally from South Africa and migrated at an early age to the states. What did you learn in those early years of change in your life that you have been able to carry with you into your music career?
Well I’m not sure if it counts as “learning” anything in the pedagogical sense of the word, but I quickly learned that music is inside me, is always with me, and can’t ever be taken from me – assuming I maintain my health/sanity. I was always singing and losing myself in whatever music was happening around me or inside me, and it always made me feel light, positive, ambitious, and optimistic. I guess I instinctively learned that music was the greatest thing. The only way I think South Africa helped with that realization was that it seems those who are in great hardship make some of the most jubilant, joyous, and infectious music ever, and there were many under a great deal of hardship when I lived in South Africa, although my young mind didn’t think things could be any other way.
2. Why did you ultimately decide that Philadelphia was the place for you to pursue your music and what has it been able to offer you that living anywhere else wouldn’t have?
I got into The University of The Arts with a bit of a scholarship in music composition and all the other schools I was applying to I was doing so for an education degree. I’ve always wanted to be a composer ever since I was very young, and the idea of studying “music composition” in the big city of Philadelphia was irresistible to an ambitious precocious 18 year old musician.
3. For someone that hasn’t heard you music yet, what can they expect to hear when they hit play on “Motherpearl and Dynamite?”
They can expect to hear the music I’m making right now. I don’t really know what more specific to say. The exact same music can sound so different to various people…I would suggest people don’t expect anything and see where the sounds take them.
4. For your longtime fans, what will they hear on this album that is similar and different when they compare it to your past efforts “The Way Home” and “Ghosts?”
The other two records were in a way preparation for this one….I needed to learn how to engineer in order to produce the sounds that are on “motherpearl & dynamite”. I needed the freedom to explore all my ideas, and also I needed the input and collaboration of people I respected….this is is still my music, my songs, my voice, just more developed, more assured, and more “me”.
5. For the release of “Motherpearl and Dynamite” you moved over to Mad Dragon Records, a label run by Drexel University. Can you tell people about the label, how it’s run, and why you chose to go that route for your new album?
Actually “The Way Home…” was also released on MAD Dragon. The label is run like a regular record label, except there are college students involved and industry professionals supervising and instructing them.
6. On the album you chose to not only perform but also to produce, arrange, and engineer it as well. What did that amount of freedom offer you in the studio that working with outside people would not have?
It offered me an immeasurable amount of control and comfort…I was able to try ideas that took hours and hours and throw them out the window when they failed without anyone feeling like I wasted their time other than me. and I forgive myself very quickly. Also I didn’t have to put my musical ideas into words, I could just act with my hands on the sounds I wanted to get. I was also able to try any non-traditional recording/mixing technique I wanted without anyone saying “are you sure?” or “that’s not usually done like that you know!?” or “what are you f@ckin uts!?!?”
7. What approach did you take to your songwriting for this album that was different than you had in the past?
No difference, just practicing the craft….as I plan to do for the rest of my life. I think if the approach is nuanced, and always the same, the result will always be different.
8. Which one song from “Motherpearl and Dynamite” stands out as your personal favorite and why?
That keeps changing..originally it was “flesh & bone” because I really like the underlying themes of such a simple and disturbing idea – that painless group drowning would be a beautiful way to rejoin nature through death – and I also feel like I nailed the sonic feeling of “underwater” …it took me a really long time, but I’m very happy with the moment that the song dives below the surface….that’s why I named the record after the next line after that moment.
9. With a vast and diverse list of influences ranging from Mozart to Radiohead, how did you pull together your influences to create your sound early on and develop an overall unique style while at the same time offering something not too left of the dial mainstream?
I have no idea. I just make what I like, and like what I like. Right now I can’t for the life of me stop listening to Robert Johnson.
10. What advice can you offer to someone that is looking to break into the music industry?
Diversify. Try everything, love everything, don’t believe the hype.
Creative mastermind and Philadelphia native Andrew Lipke played a major role in his Mad Dragon Records release. Not only did he write every song (with one exception), he performed (along with The Prospects), produced and mixed Motherpearl and Dynamite.
The album begins with crispy acoustics on “On My Way,” which are later accompanied by simple piano and shakers, and closes with beautiful harmonies. Though most tracks run four minutes plus, Lipke keeps listeners engaged by utilizing different instruments and changing the tempos from song to song. “Get it Over With” is mellow and drags on a bit, but the pace picks up with the rock-infused “Sweet Changing Heart” and “The Barker Song,” which is slightly heavier with more electronic guitars than acoustic. While 6 minutes and 20 seconds can feel like forever for a song, “Mindgames” goes through different stages and changes within itself, making it bearable.
Though mostly folk-rock with banjos and the like, Motherpearl has classical undertones with violins and strings adding depth to the mix. For some bands, incorporating strings can be a rather ambitious endeavor, but Lipke pulls it off. A folk-orchestra sound can also go terribly wrong, but Iron and Wine and Calexico’s split, In the Reins, paved the way for Lipke to be successful with this. Furthermore, Sam Beam might want to consider taking Lipke on as tour support, since they also share similar vocal styles.
Another aspect of Motherpearl that cannot be ignored is the lyrics, which are often melancholy yet reassuring. On one of the key tracks, “Forgive and Forget,” Lipke croons about making mistakes in relationships, looking back and realizing he was wrong. He sings, “I hope we can do like that good book it says, forgive and forget.” but ultimately “all that remains is two empty hearts.” Though the content should make the listener sad, there is a faint glimmer of hopefulness that shines through.
“Flesh and Bone” also conveys this theme of hope. With bad things in the world, Lipke suggests that dreams are often a happy place to turn: “Stay inside your head my girl this world’s no place for you/ you are better off a dream. If you wanna go, just close yours eyes and don’t look back.” Along with the lyrics, the calming, lullaby-like “ooh”s at the song’s end capture the flowing feeling of a dream.
Lipke will not disappoint those who have come before him, and there is no doubt that he will fulfill the dream of many to have a promising musical future.