A Fun Ride: Chatting with Voodoo Planet

An Interview with Voodoo Planet. I think it was my good friend Scoopski who initially alerted me to the rocking goodness of Voodoo Planet. Hailing from Desoto, Missouri, they’ve been making music since 2010, blending intelligent lyrics with a rootsy sensibility that strikes me as landing somewhere between the Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds and the fuzzy garage rock some of my favorite #Tweetcore bands like Magic Cobra and Thee Rakevines. I’m also struck by the historic sensibility of their lyrics. Their latest offering, “Bewitched,” is about Bridget Bishop, the first person executed in the Salem witch trials, and their song “Radium Girls” is about women who suffered radiation poisoning after working in factories where they painted watch dials with luminous paint. Curious to learn more, I dropped them a line.

You’ve been making music since 2010. How have you managed to keep the band going for so long?

It’s been a fun ride; we’re all good friends and have the willingness to change / grow. It helps that Voodoo Planet doesn’t have a singular style, we’ve always embraced an “anything goes” philosophy as far as the music we create. We spent a significant time in the beginning as an all-instrumental band and gradually branched out into vocals. 

What’s the scene like in Desoto? Do you get to play out much?

There are a significant variety of original bands in nearby towns, and we’re outside St. Louis, which has a healthy music scene. KDHX FM, the independent station, supports independent music, as does the Lindenwood University station, 89.1 The Wood. We haven’t played out since the pandemic, but are getting an itch to do so, possibly this summer.

Your Twitter bio includes a quotation from Brian Eno: “Every collaboration helps you grow.”How does collaboration fit into the way you make music?

A band is a fantastic collaboration when everyone supports one another. We love the idea of guest musicians and vocalists and would welcome it. Often, it takes the music in a direction that never would have occurred to you.

Is Brian Eno an influence?

For me, very much so. His attitude toward creativity and making music, that “inspired-amateur” approach, went against the grain of the “virtuoso rock musician” that was so prevalent in the early ’70s. Technically, many trained musicians may have turned up their noses at his lack of chops, but he created/popularized an entire genre of music – ambient. I find his Oblique Strategies approach inspiring, at times embracing chance can take a dead-end and turn it into something entirely new. 

Who are some of your other influences?

Each band member has varied tastes, with some overlap. For me, there are those influences that stick around permanently more or less, and then things you embrace for a bit, absorb and then move on. Your comparisons to the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo and fuzzed-out garage rock are appreciated, that’s a favorite album of mine and garage rock is in our DNA. 

Songwriting-wise, definitely Beatles, Neil Finn, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and Jeff Tweedy, and it’d be silly to not include Bob Dylan. I’ve had plenty of flirtations with older blues (pre-1960s), surf music, Garage Rock, West African guitar music (Ali Farka Toure, etc), and roots / Americana styles. 

You recorded your 2017 EP Bookstore Sessions In a bookstore. What’s the story there? 

Up until the end of 2022, my wife and I owned an indie bookstore for 25 years. Books make great sound absorbing/baffling, and coves in the sections are like little sound booths. We were able to spread out and make as much noise as needed. Also plenty of reading for bathroom breaks!

I’ve mentioned your 2020 album Ripsnorters to a few people, and before they even hear the music, they love the title. What’s a ripsnorter, and how did you settle on that title for your album?

Pretty sure I came up with that one. It’s one of those great old-timey words that are very evocative, especially when combined with the album cover (created by my son and youngest daughter). Ripsnorters sounds funny and maybe a little mysterious, I guess the variety of songs on the record and the idea that they could all result in a Ripsnorting-good listening session appeals to me!

Some of your songs touch on some of the otherwise unsung figures of history. What draws you to them? You’ve written specifically about women in history. In addition to songs about Bridget Bishop and the radium girls, there’s also “Lizzie Didn’t Do It,” which is about Lizzie Borden. Why are these stories in particular worth passing down in the form of a song? Why do they matter?

Most of our songs tend to be “about something” in particular, as opposed to abstractions like love, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with that type of songwriting, but thus far we don’t feel like we would bring anything new to the table in that mode. 

We got a book at the store about Lizzie Borden. It fascinated me that even back in those days, she had supporters that protested that she was innocent, to the point of wearing buttons with “Lizzie Didn’t Do It!” on them, but she was pretty much found guilty in the court of public opinion, which still occurs today, and living in a small town, people can be judgemental of other folks without knowing the whole story. Same with Radium Girls, that a company could be so cavalier with the health and safety of their employees to sell a product with a dangerous component – still happens today. 

Unfortunately, these horrible events often harm those without a voice, economic means, or power to defend themselves. If a song can bring attention to a historical event, that’s all the better.

Patrick (Myers, VP drummer) wrote “The Ship,” about a once modern and mighty battleship that was found abandoned and thought it was a perfect metaphor for the way some folks are treated, and “Bewitched” about Bridget Bishop, a real person persecuted by her peers. 

Any plans for a follow-up to“Bewitched”?

No immediate plans for a follow-up, that story ended rather unpleasantly! 

Fair point.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to respond to your thoughtful questions. Before last year, Twitter was unknown to me, but Brian (The Brian Jin) got me interested, and I’m blown away at all the encouragement offered by so many unsigned artists, including you, Marc! Many indie artists produce such a high caliber of work, and it elevates all of us to support one another.

I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Man Myth Legend: An Interview with Russell T. Shipp of Rusty Shipp

Once again, I have Jeff Archuleta’s Eclectic Music Lover blog to thank for alerting me to the subject of this week’s interview, Russell T. Shipp of the “nautical rock’n’roll band” Rusty Shipp! Jeff offered some incredibly insightful commentary on the music of Rusty Shipp back in December, praising (among other things) the act’s “dark, immersive sound, unforgettable melodies, electrifying guitar work, and Shipp’s vibrant tenor vocals.” When I checked it out, the music was as Jeff had promised, and the album art was equally impressive, so I reached out to set up an interview…

So your name is Russell T. Shipp. Did that make calling the act “Rusty Shipp” a no-brainer? Or did you try other names before settling on Rusty Shipp?

When I moved to Nashville (from D.C.) I started going by “Rusty Shipp” as a funny way to make it easier for people I met to remember me. When we were first starting this band we were throwing around different band names, but different friends of mine and even the band members themselves said, “How can you go with any other name than Rusty Shipp? It’s already the perfect band name.”  So it just stuck.

While we’re on the subject, and just out of curiosity, you changed Russ T. to Rusty, but you kept to both P’s in “Shipp.” Was that a conscious decision?

Yes. We were originally thinking of calling it Rusty Ship, and it just being a funny thing that someone in the band was actually called Rusty Shipp, but then I thought that adding the extra “P” made the band name instantly more attractive and thought-provoking. Instantly you make people think about the band name: “Why the extra ‘P’? Could it possibly be someone’s name? That would be hilarious! Or maybe it’s just an artistic way of spelling “ship” for some deep reason…. I want look into this band.”  At least that was the hope, and it’s actually turned out to be that way, which is really cool, and constantly validating our decision to go with the extra “p.”

I’m also curious about how your sense of identity might be tied up in the band. Is it ever difficult to separate Russ T. Shipp from Rusty Shipp?

It is sometimes. Partially because it’s my name, and my friends in Nashville do mostly call me “Rusty Shipp,” so anytime I hear the band name I’m hearing the same name that I’m known by around town. But also, because as the founder, frontman, voice, and main songwriter of the band, it really is hard to separate me from the music, because it’s such a huge part of my life. My whole life revolves around these concept albums and songs, with their lyrics, music, and message, and the mission of the band. It’s certainly not a hobby; it’s a life mission I’m planning on pursuing till the day I die, and so in many ways my life is literally Rusty Shipp.

Can you talk a little bit about the cover of your album Dark Side of the Ocean? Who did the art, and what does it depict? How does that relate to the themes of the album?

The artwork of “Dark Side” and the two previous albums “Liquid Exorcist” and “Mortal Ghost” were all done by the one-and-only Hein Zaymaan – a local Nashville artist. He’s actually my favorite artist. When a friend of mine first showed me his artwork I instantly was captivated by it and reached out to him. It’s been a great working relationship so far, and he is as much of a dreamer and world-builder as I am.

I’m thrilled you like the artwork so much; it’s my favorite of the three album covers he’s done for us. It really captures the story-based concept of our album, which is about a soul that drowned and sunk to the bottom of the ocean where it met other sunken souls and was intercepted by a sea angel and taken to an ancient, underwater angelic kingdom ruled by the King of the Deep, aka, the Archangel of the Ocean.

As Jeff mentioned in his review, you describe Rusty Shipp as a “nautical rock’n’roll band.” How do nautical themes lend themselves to discussion of larger issues relevant to a more landlocked life?

GREAT question. I love artistic, imagery-rich, story-based concept albums for all the intrigue they have that pulls in the listener to the album and keeps them there. But to some degree the artistic images and themes of nautical, ocean imagery are surface level for something fun and entertaining to the audience. But I’m very passionate and mission-minded with using our songs to somehow make the world a better place through empowering, thought-provoking lyrics. So pretty much every song we have, while rich in oceanic imagery or relating to a concept story, will have some spiritual or philosophical message buried beneath all the talk of sea angels and the kraken, etc. Our song “Man Myth Legend” is a perfect example. While talking on the surface level about the storyline of sea angels debating about whether to go to the other side of the ocean where men live, the deeper subject matter is addressing the pandemic-era issues the world faced of people suddenly becoming entrenched deeper into the comfort zones of their political and demographic camps. It confronts the fears holding people back from going to the opposing camp to learn and hear from them.

What attracts you to nautical themes?

It was a slow process, but when you have a band called Rusty Shipp, it was only a matter of time before we thought it would be good to embrace the nautical vibe that “Rusty Shipp” naturally brings to mind. Year after year we went more “all in” with the themes, imagery, and lyrics, tweaking them to be more and more overtly nautical. That, and I am a big surf rock fan, and I thought the combination of grunge and surf was a unique combination that would make us stand out from the pack of rock bands.

Your song “What’s Kraken?” really caught my attention. It manages to maintain a somewhat dry sense of humor via wordplay while still addressing the serious issue of political division. Likewise, the invocation of the Kraken calls to mind some of the—I want to say melodrama—of the political rhetoric we’ve heard over the past five years or so. Can you talk about that song a bit?

Our fans have been begging us to do a song about the Kraken for years, and we wanted to finally have a more light-hearted, funny song to change up things from our typically serious, intense songs. But as the song developed, in true Rusty Shipp fashion, the lyrics started getting deeper and more intense. What started off as a fun song about the mythological sea beast, it became a song that examines reports through history of The Kraken, and compares them to modern day news and science reports that are likewise drawing skepticism and debate over the validity of the claims. The song digs into the pandemic-era experience we all went through of being confused about which authorities were telling the truth about what, who and what we can really trust.

What do you see as the relationship between music – or art more generally – and politics?

I think politics are just the order for how humans live within a certain society, and thus humans will express themselves musically about how they think their society should function. Politics has become a dirty, triggering word, and also has come to have a certain specific label and baggage attached to it, but I think actually “politics” is a lot more far-reaching and general of a term. Sure, people have disagreements about how society should function, but as with any form of human expression, if someone is expressing any opinion about life there is going to be someone that will disagree. Politics is inescapable in human life and therefore it’s an essential part of human expression. People can make it as triggering or natural as they choose.

You’ve covered a couple of well-known songs. For example, I know you’ve covered the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them.” What was behind the decision to cover those songs in particular?

I’m a HUGE Beatles fan and I’m in a grunge band. When I first heard “Helter Skelter” I thought it had all this pent-up raw energy that couldn’t be truly communicated with the recording technology of the time, and I brainstormed what an all-out, raw, grungy version would sound like if the Beatles had done it today. With “Us and Them,” I wanted to pick a song from “The Dark Side of the Moon” because our album was called “Dark Side of the Ocean” and I wanted to have an obvious reference to the Pink Floyd album to overtly tie it together, as well as make sure people didn’t think we were so naïve that we didn’t know there was a legendary album with a similar title. “Us and Them” was less famous than “Time” and “Money” and so it didn’t seem like a cliché cover song choice. And it actually worked out perfectly because the lyrics actually tie-in seamlessly with the themes of the album addressing the “us and them” factions the world was really falling into during the Pandemic. 

And how do you approach covering a song? I’m particularly curious about walking the line between staying true to the spirit of the song but also putting your own stamp on it.

I definitely want to re-imagine a legendary song to get to the core of what made it legendary in the first place, and then take that spirit, energy, and vision and either bring out more potential I feel is still left in it, or else take it into another direction that seems a natural progression for the song, to do an innovative and artistic re-working that will only garner greater appreciation for the genius of the original. I’m confident that we did that very well with the three covers we’ve done: “Helter Skelter,” “Show Me How To Live,” and “Us and Them.”

Like most bands, Rusty Shipp has undergone some personnel changes over the years. How have those changes influenced the sound of the band or contributed to the evolution of that sound?

It’s really interesting how the different band members give each album a unique sound. At the times in our band where it’s been mostly me doing guitar solos on the album, they tend to be simpler, riff-based solos, whereas with the different lead guitar players we’ve had they can be more bluesy or metal. I’d say the lead guitar work is probably the most notable. But also Jake Adams on Mortal Ghost had a really genius-level melodic writing for his bass parts in a way I’d never really heard and wouldn’t have though of. If I do the lead guitar or bass on a song, it’s going to be very much relating to the riffs in the song.

What’s on the horizon for Rusty Shipp?

I fully expect smooth sailing, recruiting new Shippmates to come aboard and sail with us into the sunset together to find our destinies, followed by some stormy gales, followed by some rescuing of men thrown overboard, followed by some more smooth sailing, and finally reaching our port destination in a distant kingdom we can help build into a place we can call our home. And also lots of artistic, innovative, creative, philosophically-provocative, life-transforming, empowering albums that get better and more ambitious, one by one.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

Everybody’s In a Big Hurry to Get Nowhere: A Conversation with Tim Cameron of Cameronoise

Tim Cameron has been aspiring to make noise since receiving a Beatles album at the age of four. Hence, it only makes sense that he should adopt a portmanteau of his surname plus “noise” in his stage name, Cameronoise. His latest album, the self-produced Racing to the Next Red Light offers a collection of six instrumental tracks influence by the styles of his classic rock favorites: the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and Booker T. and the MGs, to name just a few.

When did you have the epiphany to join your name with “noise”?

I’ve had the name in the back of my mind for a while, I think I got the idea from George Harrison’s publishing being under the name Harrisongs. I liked that wordplay when I first read that as a kid, so I came up with my own version.

Your new album is called Racing to the Next Red Light. What does it mean to you, and how does it relate to the music on the album?

I got the idea from observing the traffic around my neighbourhood. There’s a school crosswalk near my place, and just a block beyond that is a major intersection, which is always backed up in the mornings at rush hour. I’ve seen so many impatient drivers tear through the crosswalk only to be caught a few seconds later at the red light, so the phrase came to me from that. Everybody’s in a big hurry to get nowhere. As to how it relates to the album, there wasn’t any intentional connection, although maybe I’ll realize there was a subconscious connection later. For now it’s just a catchy phrase, and people have told me similar traffic madness stories about their own neighbourhoods after hearing the title.

How do you come up with titles for instrumentals? What’s the relationship between the music and the name you attach to it?

Some of the Cameronoise songs are re-workings of songs from my singer-songwriter days (as T.C. Folkpunk), so I kept the titles of those for anybody who’s followed me all this time. Other songs that are just melodies that never had lyrics are fair game as far as their titles. There’s an instrumental band called Atomic 7 (which grew out of Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet) and they’ve always had such great memorable titles for their songs. ‘You Ain’t Having Fun ’Til You’re Dialling 9-1-1’, or ‘Seven Stranded Castanets’. I have a notebook filled with similar goofy little turns of phrase, so I’ll refer to that when I need a title.

There’s definitely a classic rock sound to your music. What draws you to that style?

It’s not really intentional, I think it’s just what I heard a lot growing up, so it just gets repackaged when I work on a track. The whole “big plan” behind Cameronoise is that it’ll eventually cover all sorts of styles, just whatever I feel like at the time. Prepare yourselves for the birth of “Synth-Polka”!

Your music was featured in the Canadian indie film Love in the Sixth. How did that come about?

I was invited to a party on Easter weekend in 2014, a week before I was going in to the studio to record one of my Folkpunk albums. While I was there I bumped into another songwriting friend who had her guitar out, and she was also heading into the studio with a bunch of new tunes. So we passed her guitar back and forth playing our new songs to each other, and after we’d finished a woman (Jude Klassen, who I’d met earlier that evening) came up to me and said she loved my originals and wondered if I’d be interested in writing for a film she was going to start shooting in a couple of months. I jumped at the chance, of course. It played a few festivals, ended up on Amazon Prime, and Jude’s made another film since then, ‘Stupid For You’, which I also wrote a ton of music for.

You also acted in that film?

Well, I stood in front of a camera and said things that I’d memorized from a script, whether I was good enough to call it acting is another matter…

But yeah, Jude needed somebody to play one of the main characters, so I auditioned and got the part. And when I say auditioned, I mean she said “Can you act?” and I said “I think so”.

You played at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool in 2010. Can you talk a little bit about that experience? Or a lot, as I imagine there’s plenty to say about it!

That was mind blowing, to be standing on sacred ground with my guitar plugged in. The sound man, Jim, had been to Toronto a few times with a band that he was managing, so we had a whole bunch of Toronto friends in common, which was weird. I spent a couple of days walking around Liverpool and seeing landmarks that I’d heard of in biographies about the Beatles. Lime Street Station, the Adelphi Hotel, The Grapes pub… I was there for the International Pop Overthrow festival, which featured a mix of international and local acts, and the Liverpool bands were just incredible! There was a vague air of “This is Liverpool, our lads The Beatles invented powerpop and we’re defending the title” coming from those bands. Definitely something in the water there. Speaking of water, my hotel room was on the first floor and looked out at the Mersey, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I think  expected the river to be full of ships and to be a lot more active, so I spent the first couple of days thinking it was just some anonymous canal.

Your music was also featured in a German high school curriculum in 2007. How was it used? And did you get a chance to interact with the class at all?

I’d written a song called ‘American Dream’ which looked at our neighbours to the south through a Canadian perspective. It was fairly punked up, almost a companion piece to The Clash’s ‘I’m So Bored With The USA’. Somehow a high school teacher in Bonn, Germany found the song and emailed me to ask if she could use it as part of their studies on how American culture influenced the outside world. About two days before she contacted me, I’d become a daddy for the first time, so my world was completely upside down. I quickly emailed her back giving permission, but never found out too much more about the class. I did see a spike in sales of the song on the iTunes Europe store though, so I guess somebody liked it.

You produce your own music. Has this always been the case? How did you get into production?

It’s almost always been the case, yeah. I only got into production incrementally by default, first by recording little projects at home by myself on one of those old cassette 4-track machines, and then dubbing off a few copies for friends. Then going to a small studio in a friend’s living room with slightly better gear, and having 300 copies of that manufactured. And then a bigger studio, and more copies manufactured. Now I’m back to recording at home and not manufacturing anything, all of the releases are digital downloads only, so I’ve come full circle. I’ve worked with a couple of producers, but the results were mixed (no pun intended), so I tend to do it all myself, albeit with an occasional bit of inspiration from books or documentaries about famous recordings or studios that I stumble across.

Are all of the instruments live, or do you program some of them?

It’s a bit of both. Guitars, bass, harmonica and a lot of percussion things are live. The drum tracks are built up from scratch in the computer, partly because when it comes to playing drums, I’m mediocre, and mostly because I’m in an apartment. The keyboards are half-and-half, I play along with the bed tracks, but have to do a lot of editing because I’m pretty “meh” at playing keys too. Remember, I was a guitar toting singer-songwriter for years, that’s my excuse!

Do you have a particular approach to production?

I sort of went into the first Cameronoise album blindfolded and stumbling, but I’m starting to develop a bit of a production line mentality. I’m my own Berry Gordy! I try to put something a bit unique onto each song, like a trumpet riff or a weird jangly guitar in the background, so each song has some little sonic fingerprint to set it apart from the others on the album. I’m so amazed at what George Martin was able to accomplish with just four tracks that I kinda treat my software as if it has similar limitations built in, and I’m not allowed to fill a hundred tracks just because I can.

What’ on the horizon?

I’ve already started recording tracks for the next album, which I hope will be ready for release this July. So far I’m sticking with my plan to release a six song mini-album every six months. I sort of think of it as if I’m releasing side one in January, and side two in July.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thank you, Marc! I’m really glad we got a chance to do this.