By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Two generations of rippers come together on one album.
Somewhere between experimental and avant-garde jazz, guitarist Mark Shippy (U.S. Maple) and violinist Alex Cunningham dropped a DIY-styled collaborative LP entitled ‘Ghost Note’ via Personal Archives this past June, recommended for those who like Harry Pussy, Leroy Jenkins and Polly Bradfield.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with Shippy/Cunningham about ‘Ghost Note’ and more.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mark Shippy – I was very sad not to be playing out in physical spaces with other people around and was very worried about friends’ venues and so on, though I worked throughout the pandemic period and I enjoyed the public transit not being so crowded.
Alex Cunningham – Like a lot of people, the pandemic was a very isolating period of time for me. I definitely missed being able to play music with others. Looking back on the year, I’m extremely grateful that my family and friends were able to stay healthy and safe, for the most part.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Mark Shippy – This past year, my life partner and I started doing Randonautica, an app for the phone which sends you to random coordinates near you, based on whether you are walking or driving. One day, it sent us to Menards, where we found a cheap badminton set that we can play in our apartment. The cats love it!
Alex Cunningham – A lot of the spots I’d go to when I needed a break in the past weren’t an option this year, so I really dug deep into catching up on music listening and film and whatnot as a means of escape. Consistently playing violin at home filled that void this year as well.
Music Bugle – What directly inspired your collaborative material?
Mark Shippy – There’s a great early 1970s made-for-television series called “Ghost Story” – later titled “Circle Of Fear,” which was produced by William Castle and brilliantly hosted by Sebastian Cabot. Like “Night Gallery,” ABC’s “The Sixth Sense” short series, Boris Karloff’s “Thriller” and “Kolchak: Tales of A Night Stalker,” the rotating weekly “NBC Sunday Night Mystery Movie” – i.e. Columbo, etc.. It’s been very inspirational.
Alex Cunningham – Two days before we recorded ‘Ghost Note,’ Mark and I went to Laclede’s Landing Wax Museum in St. Louis. It is an extremely bizarre, eerie, completely run-down wax museum. None of the wax figures have had any upkeep whatsoever. Most of the figures are missing fingers, there’s sawdust everywhere and some of the figures are just leaning against the wall. The experience was hugely influential in providing the proper headspace for recording the album.
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge lately?
Mark Shippy – My biggest challenge is finishing things and also keeping up with regular practice, while still being diligent about “what not to do” when playing – or composing.
Alex Cunningham – I’ve been slowly, but surely working on some new solo compositions. That has been a very slow-moving, trial-and-error experience.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Mark Shippy – Been listening to a lot of different stuff, trying to listen to new stuff as well, but lately, have been returning to Lalo Schifrin, Basil Kirchin and Quincy Jones’ action-suspense-drama themes and various weird lounge – i.e. Doug Duke, etc, etc..
Alex Cunningham – Recently, I’ve been listening to new music by Terms, a great new guitar and drums duo featuring my friend Chris Trull and drummer Danny Piechocki. They are extremely math-y and dissonant and wonderful. In terms of older stuff, I’ve been enjoying music by Elizabeth Cotten, Irene Schweizer, Jean Ritchie, Joe McPhee, The Raincoats, Unwound and Impulse-era Archie Shepp, to name a few.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for by the end of 2021?
Mark Shippy – I hope that people continue to strive to be themselves and continue towards strangeness and beauty in a real, artistic/unfettered manner and I hope that our beloved venues come fully back to life, of course.
Alex Cunningham – I’m hoping to be able to collaborate with more musicians.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Mark Shippy – It depends. If musicians or artists depend solely on social media and don’t really care much about the actual content or quality versus “just getting it out there!” – then, I think the actual art suffers. We are pretty reliant on social media, but I think for a lot of serious artists, it’s more for promoting and providing “listening stations” than a real – or “very good” format, with some exceptions – i.e. visual, mixed media/ ARG, etc..
Alex Cunningham – I don’t have much to say on this that hasn’t been said a million times before but, yes, of course there have been positive aspects of social media in music, like connecting niche music communities regardless of geography, providing resources for DIY touring, the ability to organize events online, etc.. On the flip side, social media encourages musicians and artists to view their work as “content” – i.e. feeling the need to create work just to have new fodder for “likes” rather than creating art for art’s sake – and it definitely encourages shorter attention spans – and naturally, I don’t think that any positive effect that social media has had on music can outweigh the massive negative effects that social media has had on people and culture as a whole.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Mark Shippy – I have two favorite quotes, actually. One is pretty “old-hat” by now – and that is Picasso’s “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” Another is fairly new – “Don’t be a doodie-head!!!” from Mister Boogieman.
Alex Cunningham – “Who can say where the road goes? Where the day flows? Only time,” from Enya.
Music Bugle – What’s something that people might be surprised to know about you?
Mark Shippy – No one could be “surprised,” because no one that I “hang out with” knows me. I worked in factories and ran around every type of urban environment in my youth, as well as hanging out in gravel pits, while “being from” the northwest suburbs. I lobbied and protested superfund allowances for years, etc, as well as fighting for educationalism versus academicianism re: outside of the purely artistic spectrum. I talk to tons of people on the street, from all walks of life, every day. Also, I love riding every kind of motorcycle – including off-road, but you will probably never “see me” riding a motorcycle.
Alex Cunningham – I’m pretty much an open book, except for the fact that I am a world-class juggler.
Music Bugle – What has been your proudest accomplishment?
Mark Shippy – I’m honestly very happy with all the stuff I’ve done so far and “extremely happy” with what Alex and I are putting out as a duo this year, but, uh-oh, here comes another “old-hat” thing to say – I’m hoping that my “proudest accomplishment” is yet to come!
Alex Cunningham – I feel lucky to be able to consistently record and release music for an audience that gets what I am doing. I love the music that Mark and I made in the last year and look forward to making more!
*Photo Credit – Tess Childress*