Every Thursday and Friday night on Trees Café in Granville Street in downtown Vancouver, local musical greats sing and play their hearts out on a very intimate live music stage. Musician John Pippus rounds up the talent for these evenings of coffeehouse revelry and occasionally takes a spot on stage himself to entertain the caffeinated masses with his blues-acoustic style.
We caught up with John last week as he made an appearance on stage alongside Beth Leonard, on a night that also featured Short of Able and The Tree Shepherds. We thought it was time to find out what inspires John’s music and his thoughts on Vancouver’s music scene.
You’ve just released your third full-length album, “Wrapped Up In The Blues”. How has your music evolved and where is it headed?
The more I write, record, and promote my albums, the more I understand how to do it. Simple, but true. I know what works and what doesn’t, what shortcuts to take (and what shortcuts NOT to take). And along the way I’ve developed a network of people who I can call on to help me make my songs be all they can be.
Any time I write I song, I still wonder how I did it. That never changes. The ‘birthing’ process remains a mystery. But once I have a good start on a melody and some sketched-in lyrics, I have a better idea of how to finish it, and by finishing, I mean the whole process of writing, capturing a well-recorded version in the studio, and finally getting it heard in a sea of music that’s available now to consumers and industry folks alike.
Where it’s headed I don’t really know. I’m still looking for a major placement, either with an established act, or on a TV/film soundtrack. That’s my current goal.
What’s different about the local music scene in Vancouver?
I’m only familiar, to some degree, with the music scenes in Nashville, Seattle, and Toronto. Compared to those three cities, Vancouver has fewer places to play. Nashville is a whole different animal of course. That city is like immersion school for singer/songwriters. Everyone, it seems, is connected with songwriting in one way or another. There’s more happening in Toronto and Seattle from what I can see. The scene is more established and Toronto, particularly, is more business-minded.
Vancouver is big on the DJ/club scene. For singer/songwriters, there are a handful of venues to play on Main St., Broadway, and 4th Ave. A few downtown, and that’s about it. Most are noisy. Trees is one of the few exceptions where a performer can expect to be heard by an attentive audience.
What’s the experience like performing close-up with a coffee-house audience?
You can see their faces. You can tell who is listening, and of those, who is really getting into the particular song you’re playing. It’s daunting in a way, making eye contact is not usually what you do when you’re in a dimly-lit bar with a mass of stage lights shining on you. In a coffee house setting, a more intimate, personal exchange takes place. When the place is dead quiet, (other than the hiss and banging of the espresso machine of course!), and you know they’re with you, it’s the best feeling I know. I would rather play to six attentive people, than dozens of noisy bar patrons. I’ve experienced both, and I know I’m not the only performer who would say that, in spite of what the pay difference might be.
What’s your most memorable experience performing or listening to a performance at Trees’ music nights?
Last week comes to mind. Listening to the four-piece band called The Tree Shepherds. The lyrics and groove reminded me, at times, of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album, and of Bob Dylan’s best work, and they just created so many musical moments that I was really floored. We’ve had Dan Mangan play there. Hannah Georgas. International finger picking champion Don Alder, to name a few notables. I would say about 10 per cent of the acts that play there are in that special group of super-talented performers who you know will go on to bigger things.
Which local music acts that have inspired your own musical development?
I’m inspired by the acts that take chances musically. Either in the words or in the music. I like quirkiness, when it works. And when it doesn’t work, well that’s not the end of the world. I respect the acts that take themselves seriously too. By that I mean they’ve taken the time to develop their own sound, and they’ve worked on the business side of things too. They have professionally produced CDs, they have put together extensive touring schedules, and they’ve learned how to create music that can really touch me.