Nick Pipitone – “Thiensville”(Q&A)

“Thiensville” is an epic saga based on the partially and possibly sort of true and not so true stories of one middle aged man’s life in a quaint village in southeastern Wisconsin.

“Thiensville” will be released on CD soon. Keep an eye on the Kool Kat Musik webshop.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Nick Pipitone.

How did this record come together?

About 4 years ago I had an idea to write an album about my town, Thiensville. It probably occurred to me while listening to The Kinks “Village Green Preservation Society” — an album about weird places and characters and things that happen in a small community. Originally, I wanted it to be stylistically like The Kinks but the way I write and the way I record I had to let that go and just be myself. I’m clearly not Ray Davies. So I started writing lyrics with more of a concept album approach — “Century Estates” for example is the name of my subdivision which was created in the 60s — it was probably considered luxurious living for the time, hence the line “It was top of the line in ’69.” All the songs are based on something in Thiensville; Skippy’s is a restaurant; “The Gathering” is a nod to a concert that happens every year in the local park called “Gathering on the Green.” “The Prime Minister” is a breakfast restaurant — I reimagined the Prime Minister as a real person who is in charge of making pancakes. That felt very Kinks to me. And there are personal songs about my life in Thiensville filling it out — life in the suburbs, owning a home, having a family — they are all important facets of the story too. On the CD there is a bonus track called “Rummage on Madero” which is a song about rummage sales and town gossip. The title came from a small homemade sign I saw on my street that literally just had those three words on it. I wanted to write about rummage sales because I’m not sure anyone has ever written about rummage sales. Maybe someday someone will discover my album and make “Thiensville — The Musical.” 

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

It’s fairly simple to get heard when you pass your album to a few friends — and it’s nice to know a guy like Ray Gianchetti at Kool Kat Records who believes in the music and gives it a larger audience. I don’t make music with the delusions that somehow it’s going to catch on magically and reach millions of people. It’s something I made that I’m happy with and that’s good enough for me. The process of making it is much harder, especially since it’s an undertaking I took on by myself. The entire album was played and recorded and mixed by me — which made it very difficult and time-consuming. So recording it was more difficult than getting it heard. It helps to have a little studio in your basement, which gives you the luxury to try things. You can be eating lunch and get an idea for a guitar part and can be recording it before you’ve digested your sandwich. I’m constantly trying things. Mixing was the hardest part. I had asked a friend to mix it for me and that just wasn’t meant to be. Then late last year I was writing some songs for a friend who does music licensing and that went really well. Looking over his shoulder and taking pointers from him helped me gain some confidence around mixing. Then I just went for it. You find yourself going from the computer, mixing it down, to another computer to listen to it, then your car, taking notes, then making adjustments, and repeating that process until you’re finished with it. You can lose your mind doing that, but it’s worth it. The album isn’t perfect, and I’m limited by what my computer can do. But I’m happy with the results. 

Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?

The Grays – Ro Sham bo

The Honeydogs – 10,000 Years

Fountains of Wayne – Utopia Parkway

Aimee Mann – Bachelor #2

The Beatles – Abbey Road

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

While I’m not sure any of these songs are “hits” — I do believe in the art of songwriting, in communicating an idea to an audience, in telling a story that people can relate to and sing along with. I think all my songs do that. I think there is definitely a “way” to write a song — and that “way” is embodied by the great songwriters of all time — Gershwin, Cole Porter, Lennon/McCartney, Bacharach, Carole King, Ray Davies, Elton John, etc. and then carried on by people like Mike Viola, Chris Collingwood & Adam Schlesinger, Difford & Tilbrook, Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird, Father John Misty and a bunch of others. I think that’s your textbook if you want to write songs. I feel like there is a little bit of a songwriting crisis — you rarely hear a perfectly crafted pop song — a song that has a superior melodic structure that actually communicates a tangible message that has a universal appeal — like Coldplay’s “Fix You”  or Adele’s “Someone Like You” (which was co-written by Dan Wilson). I actually think Father John Misty’s song “Please Don’t Die” was on an old Dusty Springfield record in another life. It’s that good. And for a lot of songs you have to be able to strip away the trappings of modern production to get to the root of it. Consider when Fountains of Wayne recorded Britney Spears, “Hit Me Baby One More Time” — it magically stripped away the 90s dance production and showed that it’s actually a great song. 

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Elvis Costello – because he’s a legend and probably my greatest influence.

Mike Viola – because I just love his stylistic approach to making songs and it would be great to be a fly on the wall during that process. His song “The Sound of My Own Voice” is one of the greatest songs of my lifetime.

Fiona Apple – because I am just ridiculously fascinated by her music and would love to know her insane process. Her music is so honest — to get to that point would be incredible. I just have a ton of respect for her.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s