"One day I'll have a show of my own" 

“One day, I’ll have a show of my own.”

It’s the first line in the refrain of “The Reason Why,” the lead-off track on Andrew Philip Tipton’s latest “produced” album – but it’s much more than that.

If anything, it’s an apt (no pun intended) mantra for this fringe singer/songwriter who grew up in California, Oklahoma, and Florida, and lived briefly here in Savannah.

That was before he moved to The Big Apple in search of fame, fortune, love, and – oh yeah – a degree in illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Tipton – who notes that as a senior, he was voted “Most Unique” in his high school class – says he became interested in a wide variety of music through his parent’s record collections.

“My dad is a really cool guy,” he says.

“He’s an air traffic controller, and a Sunday school teacher. He used to be in a folk rock band at church. Through him, I found great old music like Black Sabbath, Peter Frampton and Led Zeppelin.”

“My mom, on the other hand, turned me on to Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell.”

It’s that dichotomy between the hard rocking machismo of ‘70s hescher counterculture and the lighter, more introspective singer/songwriter movement epitomized by Simon and Mitchell that helps one understand the odd (and fairly bewitching) style that Tipton calls his own.

A late bloomer to performing, Tipton only began to play guitar in 2002.

“As soon as I started driving,” he says, “I started obsessing over weird music. I remember pissing off my friends, because for an entire summer all I would listen to was Laurie Anderson's United States.”

His was hardly the musical diet of most American teenagers.

“In high school, I listened to a lot of Bjork, Radiohead, Tom Waits, Cibo Matto, Velvet Underground, Einsturzende Neubauten, Cocteau Twins, Low, Tricky, Rasputina, and Sonic Youth.”

After the weight of constant schoolwork was lifted, he realized he had an opportunity to try his hand at creating memorable and lasting music of his own.

“I moved to Savannah literally the day after I graduated. That summer I spent a lot of time by myself, making really bad electronic songs on my computer. I also started learning guitar chords.”

However, rehearsing at home, and getting up in front of the general public are two very different things, as he would soon realize.

“I’m aware that I have a weird voice,” he admits. “For singing and for talking. At first I wouldn’t sing for anyone. The thought made me sick to my stomach.”

Eventually, he summoned up the nerve to sing in front of a few friends. Now he calls live performance his “greatest romance,” and laughs at an early critique of his vocal skills which described him as sounding like a 50-year-old female smoker.

“One day, I was just singing by myself and thought, ‘Hey, this is what god gave me. It might be weird, but its mine. Nobody else has it.’ It causes confusion. People on the phone think I’m a woman.”

It was around this time that Tipton began giving out low-budget, home-made CD-Rs of the songs that made up his fledgling stage show. He also began to play occasionally at The Sentient Bean Coffeehouse, one of the few local venues for adventurous songwriters in our area.

His sets were attended mostly by friends and family, and he felt lost and adrift in Savannah’s notoriously disjointed live music scene – one which has rarely supported idiosyncratic solo artists. After a brief meeting with one of his heroes – Brill Building songwriting legend Carole King – he decided to pull up stakes and head straight for New York City.

“For some reason, hearing her was the last straw,” he recalls. “I needed to move somewhere that I could be around other like-minded musicians, make contacts, build a reputation, and practice! Above all else, I needed people to accept that fact that I have a deeply affected voice......and enjoy it for what it is.”

So, what exactly is it?

Well, it’s hard to say. His vocal mannerisms vary wildly from song to song. One minute he’s up close and essentially whispering in the listener’s ear, free of affectation, and as direct and unfettered as can be imagined. This approach could almost be considered as melodic spoken word. However, he’s also prone to bellow, sneer and hack with a guttural wail that owes a pronounced debt to one of his acknowledged influences, the surrealist diner nighthawk Tom Waits.

Once again, it’s this embracement of two seemingly conflicting styles that could be seen as Tipton’s trademark.

When asked how he reconciles his love for fringe artists with his love for some mainstream pop divas, he replies, “I admire people like Tom Waits because he tries new things, and he’s honest.”

“On the other hand, I love Madonna. I think because she is so powerful. If she wanted to, I think she could have her backup dancers executed.”

Although he failed to generate much of a buzz while living here, since moving to New York City, he’s played almost constantly, and is slowly earning a devoted following of regulars who catch his show several times a week.

Of course, that may have something to do with the location of his regular gig.

He plays the Lorimer Street subway station several times a week, and in the few months since he’s been there, he’s given away over 1,000 CDs, most of them in exchange for donations (since selling merchandise is not allowed).

“I have a nice cult of people who miss trains to hear me sing,” he says with pride.

He’s also recognized on the street. “I was at Walgreens at Union square, and this British girl says, ‘Oh! Your the boy from Lorimer Station! We think you’re fabulous!’”

Tipton makes about $150 a week in tips, which helps to keep him afloat while he goes to school, and his two latest releases (the stylized and heavily-produced Feign, and the stripped down, live-at-home Just Like Lorimer) are as memorable and catchy as any indie release you’ll hear this year from anyone – established or not.

Tipton has high hopes for his future in the music business, and while they may sound silly to those who think they “know better,” the naivete inherent in even speaking them out loud may go quite a ways toward helping the singer accomplish even some of his lofty goals.

“I want to rule the world,” he says, without a discernible trace of irony.

“I want to be David Bowie circa 1973. I want to be Madonna circa 1983. I want to be Nirvana circa 1993. I want to be Brittany Spears circa 2003.”

And yet, at the same time, he admits that his voice, his lyrics, and his image aren’t tailor-made for the general public. But that’s fine with him. Because they’re damn near perfect for New York City.

“The people up here just crave the odd side of life, as long as its honest. Irony is very old fashioned. People don’t like my music because its odd, they like it because its real.”

And just in case there was any doubt that Andrew Philip Tipton will at some point receive his 15 minutes of fame, even that seems all but erased when he mentions that former MTV VJ (and heavy metal “singer”) Jesse Camp regularly stops by his gigs to hang out and chat.

“Collaborating hasn’t come up,” says Andrew, “but it could happen, for sure.”

“Oddly enough, I bought his album when it came out. I was only, like, 14.” w

Andrew Philip Tipton plays The Sentient Bean Saturday night at 8 pm. The show is open to ALL AGES.


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Jim Reed

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