Spending time with local musician Jay Brook Lipe is akin to being in the center of a hurricane, with moments of calm serenity surrounded by frenetic energy and electricity.
As we sat down to lunch, Lipe strummed casually on his guitar (completely oblivious to whether that was acceptable to the restaurant staff and patrons) as he talked excitedly about last month’s mini-tour, where he was invited to open shows for legendary hardcore punk band Black Flag.
“The founding member of Black Flag, Greg Ginn, taking me under his wing and allowing me to open some shows for them is just amazing,” Lipe, who lives in Godfrey, says as he leans forward with a mixture of intensity and childlike awe.
During the first leg of this summer’s Victimology tour, Lipe opened shows in Chicago, Madison, Wis., and Lansing, Mich.
“When I perform, either with my group The Terrible 2’s or as a solo artist, I give everything I have in me to the stage,” he says. “This was the third time I have opened for Black Flag in Chicago and I saw a lot of the same people who had been to my performance the previous year. They were singing along to my songs, clapping their hands, shouting and carrying on. That was a great feeling.”
Just before the show at Reggies’ Rock Club in Chicago, Lipe had another brush with celebrity.
“The venue is divided into two different bars-one, a smaller, restaurant-style atmosphere, and the other a large stage open floor venue,” he says. “Black Flag was playing the larger venue, and (Doors guitarist) Robby Krieger was playing with the Mothers of Invention (Frank Zappa’s old band) at the other.
“Right before I was to perform, I was sitting in the dressing room and I could hear Robby upstairs finishing his set, playing an instrumental version of ‘Riders on the Storm.’ It gave me the right mindset to take the stage.
Black Flag crept out of the underground scene in California in the mid 1970s, fueled by bands like the Ramones, social rebellion, and a fanatically loyal fan base.When singer Henry Rollins joined in 1981, the band achieved both success and notoriety. Founding member and songwriter Ginn, who Rolling Stone magazine has named one of the top 100 influential guitar players of all time, has kept the group alive and aggressive through touring and his record label, SST Records.
Lipe’s history with Black Flag reaches back much further than this summer’s tour. In fact, it started at the very first concert Lipe attended.
“One of my biggest early influences in music is Greg Ginn,” he says. “The first time I ever saw him perform (with Black Flag) was back in 1984 at Mississippi Nights (in St. Louis). It completely changed the way I viewed musical expression for the rest of my life.”
Lipe had the chance to meet his idol years later when concert promoter Zack Rector asked him to open for the band at The Firebird in St. Louis in 2010.
“After our show together, Greg and his crew ended up coming back to my after party and crashed before heading up north the next morning to go back on tour,” he says. “In the summer of 2011, (Ginn) drove up from Austin, Texas, and we met at The Wakarusa Music Festival in the hills of Arkansas and hung out all weekend, listening to some great live music.”
Lipe also played several shows for the band in 2013, and helped organize a concert with Ginn at Spirits Lounge here in Alton, as well.
While on tour this year, Jay met up with Cinema Cinema (consisting of Ev and Paul, two cousins from the Bronx), who have been on the complete 2014 Black Flag summer tour.
“They are one of the most passionately innovative power duo acts in the world today,” Lipe says.
Black Flag’s current lineup also includes professional skateboarder and actor Mike Vallely on vocals, Brandon Pertzborn on drums, and Tyler Smith on bass.
“Mike is the only person who could truly take over as the front man for Black Flag and still keep all integrity intact,” Lipe said. “He has a powerful stage presence that draws the crowd in and keeps them on their toes ready to leap. Brandon and Tyler are just ferocious on drum and bass, and mixed with the driving force ofGreg’s original guitar work, the show is a must see for any fan of aggressive music.”
Aggressive music is Lipe’s mantra. His musical roots date back to an off-limit instrument that instantly intrigued him as a young boy.
“As early as I can remember, I have always had an infatuation with the bass guitar, loud music, and creative poetry,” he says. “When I was really young, my older brother Shawn found a 1961 electric upright Ampeg baby bass at a garage sale and bought it for $200. I was not allowed to touch it, and every time I did, I got in trouble with my parents. Shawn eventually moved to Tokyo to become an onstage kabuki shogun performance artist, and when he did, I would sneak that bass from the back of my parent’s closet and play it for hours…and nobody knew.
“Eventually, my brother Shawn needed some money, and that bass became my Christmas present from my parents, wrapped with a yellow bow around it. Today, I own around 17 different bass guitars, and have one in almost every room of my home. If I go a couple days without playing bass, I just don’t feel right.
Over the years, Lipe took his love for the bass, songwriting, and hardcore punk and carved out a reputation in the Greater Alton and St. Louis area, performing for many years with his band Ancient Chinese Secret. A recent performance by the group at a music festival in Perryville, Ill., won Lipe a recording contract.
He also has performed and toured with iconic funk group Parliament Funkadelic in the 1990s, as well as Crown Royal, Albert King’s touring rhythm guitar player, who invited him onstage with the Juke Joint All-Stars on famous Beale Street. Other appearances include the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, a tour of England with St. Louis punk band Scene of Irony, The Sundance Film Festival in Utah, and Widespread Panic’s “Panic in the Streets” after party in Athens, Ga.
Currently focused on his solo career, Lipe was selected in 2012 to record his first solo album at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., joining the ranks of such artists as Jakob Dylan, Chris Isaak, Grace Potter, and The Flaming Lips.
Crown Royal performed on Lipe’s CD, as well. The first pressing of his solo CD is sold out, and Lipe is waiting on a shipment of second pressing.
The first video from the album, “Time,” was filmed in Memphis, portraying his years living in the south.
See the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3Gi6AX4Xjw
“People,” filmed in St. Louis and Alton, mixes “both poverty and wealth, rich and poor, to show that everyone, no matter what status, should have compassion for common man,” Lipe says.
See the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqXzyCNvPFs
Lipe writes of his life and thought processes, of injustice, lost love, and “the emptiness of man when he is void of the understanding of creation.”
“I use a lot of metaphors and I lose any kind of filter in my writing,” he says. “I write rhythm from a bass player perspective, but I sing out of my soul.”
When it comes to getting his music out there, Lipe does it “old school,” following Black Flag’s example of self-promoted music and work with indie and do-it-yourself music labels…remaining in close touch with fans and hands on with the recording and producing process.
“As I get older, my songs get more intricate but the energy stays the same as when I first snuck out my brother’s bass,” he says. “I feel I am getting stronger as a singer and songwriter with each passing year.”
Lipe plans to spend his summer performing various events throughout the Midwest, including the GND Black River Music Festival in August, where he has been the headlining act for the last several years. He also plans to meet up with Black Flag this month (in Knoxville, Tenn., on July 14 and Springfield, Ill., on July 19) to see the shows, hang…and maybe jam.
“Black Flag has supported me and allowed me to perform my music to a wider audience,” he says. “Those guys are my brothers.”This fall will be dedicated to the recording of his second album.
As he fidgets in his chair, it is easy to see how the avid Harley-Davidson Fat Boy rider, long board skateboarder, and back country Colorado snowboarder cannot stay in one place too long. Constantly traveling, he says he uses his many experiences to fuel his music and his writing.
“There is nothing I am afraid to do,” he says emphatically, drawing the attention of a nearby table. “If it is something I have never done before, I am all in.”
Lipe also is the creator of Something Bigger than Yourself, an organization created to provide children in orphanages donated musical and sporting equipment, meals, and gift cards over the Christmas holiday. This December will mark the seventh year of the annual event.