Todd Pipes [Interview]

Regular readers here at TWS will definitely notice that we have a HUGE soft spot for “90’s music”. I don’t really believe that this needs to be a genre or labeled as such. But, we just happen to be huge fans of some amazing pop and alternative (another weird name for a “genre”) artists who hit it big in the last decade of the 20th century, and are still going at it hard today. And today is no exception! Todd Pipes will be best known as one of the co-founders of the sensation group we know and love as Deep Blue Something. DBS became a world wide sensation in 1995 with the release of their hit single “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, a song that is a god damn staple for it’s time, and 22 years later, still hits us so damn hard with one of the most catchy choruses you will ever hear.

After a bit of a hiatus, Deep Blue Something came back to us in 2014! But, Todd Pipes has never slowed down, releasing a couple of solo records, producing other artists, and just constantly creating magic each and every time he picks up a guitar and puts his brain to paper, and makes our ears feel the magic. He is also a very delightful human being! So delightful in fact, he took some time out of his busy schedule to share a few words with us! Aren’t you guys just the luckiest god damn readers in the world? So let’s get to it! Ladies and Gentlemen, Todd Pipes!

When did you know that you wanted to be a musician for a living? When do you remember realizing this was to be your calling?

That’s easy: second grade. Three of us on the school bus had discovered KISS by way of some older kids talking. . . It was instantaneous. My mission was actually to somehow join KISS. It’s bizarre to think back on that; there being no transitional period of just liking music as a listener. I was immediately attracted to the bass as well. I realized pretty quickly that they’d be too old to be in a band with, so I was okay with moving ahead on my own. At this point, I started picking out the bass lines to Jeff Lorber’s Fusion album on a toy guitar I had. I remember my dad coming into my room as I was playing along to “Wizard Island” and asking me how I’d learned it. I also remember the look of concern on his face when he exited. Dave Brubeck’s Take Five album was big with me then too. . . Second grade was a big year.

The 90’s were a peculiar time for music, and left us with some of the best work to date, in my opinion. And Deep Blue Something was definitely a major player in the scene. In your personal opinion, what do you believe it is that set you guys apart from the numerous “alternative” acts that came about during this magical period?

I think that, for being so jangly, we had a particular melancholy aspect that made us different. Maybe it came from the overarching influence of the Smiths or the Jesus and Mary Chain; I’m not sure. Our use of the acoustic guitar came straight from Love and Rockets’ Earth, Sun, Moon album (a vibe Ash had already started in Bauhaus). It creates lots of sonic space where Toby could do his echoey lead guitar stuff. We were also definitely a lot less ‘bro-ish’ than the more grungey bands of the time, which was always funny to me—all the physical posturing of these dudes wearing camo-jorts and combat boots, and singing all ‘grrrrr and yerrrrrrllll,’ then you meet them. . .hilarious. . . and you feel like a giant. . .

When you finally had “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” wrapped up in what would be it’s final cut, did you instantly realize that you had a hit single on your hands? And what was it like to find yourself suddenly on top of the charts?

It was actually the first time we played it live. I’d written it one morning (we had a show that night), and we did our typical, “let’s run through the set before we load the gear” thing that we still do, and I asked if we could try a new one to see how it sounded. They agreed, and afterward someone suggested that we just go ahead and play it that night. We assumed there’d be the usual exodus to the bar that immediately follows when a band announces, “here’s a new one we just wrote,” but there wasn’t. We had a solid following by this time, and they connected with it right away. Everyone instinctively knew to jump up and down during the chorus, and I thought, “hmmm, this is interesting.”

As far as “suddenly finding ourselves on the charts,” it definitely wasn’t that way for us. It was a station by station, town by town, state by state, country by country STRUGGLE. Every program director told us that it didn’t fit their format. We played acoustic in so many conference rooms and office lobbies just to try to get them to spin it just one time. If we could get that one play, we’d top the requests and get full rotation on the station. It didn’t even matter where else the song was working . . . Ultimately, we’d literally conquered the world and the geniuses at the UK branch (of our own record company!!) told us, “the British charts are currently dominated by British bands, and you’re so American-sounding that we’re not going to release it—congratulations on your success elsewhere. . .” They were only forced to release it because everyone was buying German imports after they’d heard it on foreign radio which drifted across the English Channel. When we went number one, these same morons showed up backstage at Top of the Pops with a fruit-basket saying “funny ‘ow fings go, innit?” I had to be physically restrained.

Deep Blue Something has recently regrouped, and released the wonderful Locust House EP on Kirtland Records. What was it like getting back into the saddle with the crew after a hiatus? Is it like old times again?

It has been exactly like old times. These are people I spent every waking moment with for years. It’s all of the in-jokes and codified language that you miss. And talking about gear—I’d forgotten how much we talk about gear. Kirk sent us a text a few days ago with a picture of this ultra-rare distortion pedal that he’d just acquired, and we were all, “ahhhhhh.” So much discussion of signal direction flow in cables, and pickup impedances, ohms and tubes. . . sometimes we even get around to writing songs and recording them. . .

In your personal opinion, what is the main difference between DBS’s work today as opposed to say, 20 years ago. What has time and experience granted you all as far as growth?

As with many things, when you can return to the starting point—the source, all of the unspoken reasons for starting all of this become clear. We’re all the way back to just doing it because we enjoy the processes involved in the creation of music. With the passing of all of those years, I’d also had simply forgotten what amazing musicians everyone is. At the time, I always thought of us as a single unit—a band. For some reason while doing the Locust House sessions, the focus was on everyone individually and the whole time I just kept thinking, “it was never this easy when I was producing other bands. . .”

How did Bass Propulsion Laboratories come about? And what are some projects you have had come out of it?

Simply put, one day my wife finally ventured upstairs (where all of the recording equipment that Toby and I had amassed over the years), and we’d taken over the whole place—mics and cables everywhere—drums in one room, guitar amps in other rooms, a control room—and she said, “this is our house! We live here. . .can’t y’all rent a space somewhere?!?!?!” I thought, “yes indeed.” It was named Bass Propulsion Laboratories because we lived near NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories when I was young. We ran it for years but closed it down a while back—we had everyone from Drowning Pool to DJ Shadow to Maren Morris in there . . . when she first started making records at BPL, she couldn’t even drive. Great times. I ended up building a small studio on our property, where I continue to do mastering projects. As I mentioned earlier, I love gear, and it’s all got to go somewhere. . . My son and his band are making a record in there now.

As you have watched the music world shift dramatically with the digital advancements that have taken place, what are your opinions on its state? What are some positives, as well as downsides, to the way the business has shifted since we moved into a streaming and digital download environment?

The idea that anyone can release a record to the world certainly seems positive, but the reality is that artists find difficulty in anyone ever hearing it. More than ever, artists are in competition for attention–to the point that they’re giving the music away. Everyone is now used to getting their music for free (through gifting, streaming, or stealing), so they don’t value it. I cherished the records I bought as a youth BECAUSE they cost me something. I had to do chores, save birthday money, etc just to be able to buy one, and then ride my bike miles and miles to the record store and back just to hear it. Every band was a personal investment, and because of that I stuck with the bands and their music. Music has now been relegated to commercials and background noise for video games. And yet things do manage to poke through somehow, and band comes along like Ghost. Somehow their music found its way to us from Sweden, and my whole family loves them.

So, what is next for you? You always seem to be gearing up for or in the middle of something cool, what can our readers look forward to in the near future?

DBS is currently writing and recording new stuff; I’ve got projects to mix and/or master. I may finally finish my PhD. . . I’d like to get a tour going.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Yesterday, my son mentioned something he was doing for a girl he’s started dating, and how it would earn him ‘brownie points’ with her. When he left the room, my daughter called me over to ask what exactly ‘brownie points’ were—suspecting there was some sort of merit-based ranking system involved with high-school dating of which she was unaware. I love innocence.

Check out the official video for Deep Blue Something’s 2015 single “Make Believe Off”:

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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