Place. Where you are when you create something makes an ineffable mark on your creation. This phenomenon is especially evident in my two favourite artistic outputs food and music. So, from the Mediterranean area, we get light flavourful foods like pasta, olive oil, marinated tomatoes. From New York, we get vocal disco-tinged house music a la Shelter. And from Tacoma, Washington, a small working class city where it rains for literally half the year, we get Eliot Lipp.
It's befitting that Lipp and I would meet over a cup of coffee given the weather and mood in Tacoma. Except Lipp's no longer in Tacoma, and for that matter, neither am I. We did share a figurative cuppa Joe, he from outside his relatively warm and sunny Los Angeles apartment and me 3000 miles away in semi-chilly-still-waiting-for-winter Atlanta.
"Tacoma Mockingbird," Lipp's second album courtesy of Hefty Records, immediately throws you back into the golden days of hip-hop, as each song rests on beats all too familiar. But it's just as evident that Eliot Lipp is onto something quite different than laying a few cool synth lines over beats. This 20-something Tacoma native brings his love of classic hip-hop and admiration for Prefuse 73 and DJ Shadow together to create an innovative derivation of instrumental hip-hop.
"I don't think of my music in terms of genre," says Lipp. "In Tacoma, there's not really a strong hip-hop scene, so I've never felt like I had to stick to any particular style. In other places, you have to sound like something. You kind of feel like you need to 'rep' where you're from, you know. Since I've lived in so many places, I'm not wedded to a particular sound. I haven't really had to follow 'rules' of hip-hop."
Those "rules" of hip-hop, so to speak, usually call for an MC or vocalist of some kind. I mean, isn't that a huge part of what hip-hop is about telling a story, relaying a concept, explaining a situation over a beat?
"Yeah, MCing is definitely a huge part of hip-hop and I felt like I needed to replace that energy in my music. I wanted to have the kind of energy that a vocalist would bring. It was kind of a chore though because that's a lot to handle. I've never been afraid to put emotion into my music, but not in an over-the-top way. And I felt with these songs, that I wanted each one to have its own story to tell. The songs are arranged so they flow and tell a story and keep your attention, even though they are instrumental."
It's no surprise that Lipp would be prone to rule-bending in his music. Tacoma is a short 45-minute drive from Seattle, Washington, birth-place of one of the most influential trends in rock music, Grunge. The industrial town's proximity to the home of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the first Starbucks made it a natural place through which the Seattle sound would filter.