Q&A: Kipper Gillespie – No Sunshine

I don’t know how to address the man who sits down ‘opposite’ me on Zoom. By his artist name Kipper Gillespie? By Donavan McBrien, the name he uses to reply to emails? Or by his Zoom screen name: Michael Scott? He’s rolling a cigarette, a white wall with two guitars behind him.

Michael Scott?

I forgot I even did that! Lockdown was a weird time. I was stuck in my old place in Farnham for like a month. I caught Covid, wrote a few songs, played lots of chess, and binge-watched The Office.

Don’t let the easy guitar and care-free whistling trick you into thinking everything is alright. As soon as Kipper starts singing, the end of lines punctuated by exhausted sighs, it’s clear something is very wrong with the world. The kids are far from alright, and Joey’s shouting at the neighbours again. 

Kipper hides the monotony behind a head-bobbing rhythm, snare drum sounding like “Twist and Shout” on a banana bread-fuelled lockdown. He’s captured the innocence of Lockdown 1.0, where waiting it out, while remaining sane, still seemed like an option. There’s something in the interspersed laughter and the appearance of a xylophone which could be the song shrugging its shoulders at the state of the world. 

Or have I completely misjudged the song?

Kipper: No – it’s definitely a lockdown song! I tried to do it in a way that wasn’t all “lockdown, lockdown.” I really hope people aren’t going to hear it and think: “Oh, of course it’s a lockdown song,” but we’re all suffering from it, so you can’t help but write down one or two things that are relevant to it, you know? And this was right at the beginning of it too, when it all really started kicking off, it was like, “Shit, this is actually a big deal now.” It just happened, subconsciously. I didn’t intend for it to be that way. 

How’s the mad year been for you? 

Kipper: For a little while it’ll all be good, and I’ll think “This is fine, I’m writing a lot,” and then for a month I won’t write anything. I’ve definitely progressed a lot since lockdown started because I’ve been writing and playing so much, and have been taking more time for it by neglecting things I should have been putting my time into. I also got signed to Big Richard Records this year. 

So, up and down. I appreciate what I’m doing more, and I appreciate the free time. It’s nice to have that space. It gives you artistic freedom too, because you don’t know where anything’s going to go. Who’s actually going to be interested in hearing your music in lockdown? So you end up just doing it out of your own urges.

Is that where “No Sunshine” came from?

Kipper: Yeah, from being alone and wanting to record something. I recorded a few songs during that time, all of them really energetic. With “No Sunshine,” I realised the repetition in the lyrics was significant, so I picked a line I liked and I recycled a riff I liked from a previous track and stuck it on there. Nothing too grand. That’s how I do most of the stuff, to be honest: find a key, find a riff, find another key, do the thing.

Dom [from Big Richard Records] played drums on the song, but the majority of it is me. It’s made me realise that a solo project is much more than just one person. I’m trying to incorporate like, Dom especially, with new tracks. There might be a guitar lick that he’s written that I’ve really liked and I’ll stick it on.

Is it Dom you’re lamenting the lack of ‘cool dude vibes’ with at the end?

Kipper: [Nods] I didn’t even know that was there! I feel like with future stuff there’ll be a lot of that – even if it’s just me swearing if I did something wrong, or kissing my teeth. I kind of like that personal touch.

Who is Joey?

Kipper: I can’t believe you asked that! [Laughs] The house I was living in at the time was in Farnham in Surrey, and I looked out the window and he was a bit angry, this Joey fella, because Joey was actually the drug dealer who lived on the street. So I saw him driving up the street and then he shouted at someone really angrily outside of his car, and he drove up and did a proper U-turn and he was kind of going in circles, and I thought it was relevant to the song. I haven’t even met the guy, I just know he’s the drug dealer.

How has your style been developing, musically?

Kipper: It’s hard to talk about how it’s changing. Lyrically I talk about the way we react to the world today. Since I started writing my own music, I’ve ended up going for a very consistent feeling: I’m obsessed with melancholy vibes and I don’t know why. I want my music to feel nostalgic to me. I reckon if it’s nostalgic to me it’ll be nostalgic to someone else.

The music I’ve been writing sounds like “Kipper Gillespie” so to speak, but I want to do it in an energetic, careless way. “No Sunshine” is probably the most energetic song I’ve written, and I’d like to write a similar one for any future release. My style is a lot more personal now, influenced by my Irish roots. I’m trying to incorporate some elements of folky stuff. It’s just a lot of dinky little riffs that are played on a few strings, that sort of thing. 

I’ve taken a lot from the late ’90s, while trying to modernise that sound. I’m not a huge fan of Weezer but I like what they did with the Blue Album. It captured a very coherent sound, which is what I’m trying to do. I want it to sound like it was just banged out in about twenty minutes. Like, whenever that happens it’s just lovely, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

I’ve recently begun starting songs off with bass or a keys melody. I realised that I dry up quite easily if I stick to just guitar, so I needed to break out of that. I would be playing a riff that sounded just like the last riff, ending up not liking it. I’m really bad for changing my mind, like, terrible! It’s good that I’m working on stuff now where I’m not changing my mind so much. I think it’s because I’m starting to find new ways to write.

…by changing up the creative process?

Kipper: By not being so stubborn. Of course there’s a sound or two that I want to capture and do it right, but I need to accept it’s not always going to happen. If it sounds good and the lyrics are saying something that’s relevant, then I’ll just go with it. A song can change just like that, and I’m starting to be a lot more comfortable with that too, so. 

An EP or an album having a few songs that line up really well and then one that sticks out like a sore thumb, that used to scare me quite a lot, but now I’m starting to think that actually may be a good thing. I do want to keep the style consistent, but if it does change for a brief moment, that’s not too big a deal, as long as I can turn it in the direction I want to go in. That’s the fun in it.

Do you also find lyrically that you need to break out of those ‘same spaces’?

Kipper: Definitely. I’ll write a couple of lines I’m happy with and then be like: “Nah nah, it’s not working,” then start again with a different track maybe a month later, and I’ll be reading through notes and things and just seeing what’s there, and then I’ll write a line and think “Oh that fits really well with this other line from a month ago.” It’s like a puzzle coming together really nicely. It’s scary when that happens. 

So, what’s next for Kipper?

Kipper: The dream is to release something, an EP, LP, whatever, that I’m really happy with. I’ve never had the chance to express myself in such a way, and there’s a bunch of stuff in the works.

After that, I’d love to gig and tour and just enjoy it. That’s all I want at the moment. I do think, you know, it’s coming. Live music will be one of the last things to come back, but when it does, man, we’ll be ready for it! We’ll be so ready for it.

A lot of the songs I’m doing at the moment are not as bouncy – like you can bop, and hopefully you can dance too – and they sound great to me on my own, but how will they hold up in a live situation? It’s a shame I haven’t had the chance to try that out yet. 

Any final thoughts?

Kipper: You know what they say: kill your darlings. I love “Living Space” but the reception it got from listeners was way more positive than my own response to it. People tell me it’s really great, and I think “I wish you could hear the other stuff that I’m working on.” Let’s hope it’ll be the same for this one.

Buy and stream Kipper Gillespie’s new song “No Sunshine” out everywhere on Big Richard Records.

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