If there is one avatar that has managed to lodge itself in our collective consciousness in the post-war decades, it is that of the lone troubadour, a guitar slung across his midriff, his neck craned, leaning into the microphone, alone in the spotlight. He cuts the lonesome figure of a self-sufficient man walking a path different to those around him. He shuns the herd instinct, his future forever about to be made and by his own hand too. He’s closer to the edge than most and he likes it out there.
Just ask Alex Lipinski, who, with his new album ‘Alex’ – a punchy 10-track record seared in folk, Americana and Blighty attitude – has engaged the production expertise of the much sought after Anton Newcombe.
“I met Anton in Los Angeles when I was gigging with Bonehead [of Oasis] a couple of years ago,” says Alex, out back in a Camden beer garden. “He’d seen a live YouTube performance of me playing and so he contacted me, saying he wanted to be involved with my next record. So from the get-go, it was, for him, a need to capture the songs as he saw me perform them live, in their most raw, naked, natural form. I went over to Berlin on my own first so we could feel each other out. It took a while for Anton and myself to envision the record properly.”
Newcombe, the native Californian who is now a long-term denizen of Berlin, has said in the past that music has been his “personal salvation”. As a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, producer and founder of cult band The Brian Jonestown Massacre, he inhabits a realm held sacred by recording artists and live performers by dint of the fact that he refuses to compromise, investing his talent and energy in the perfection of a personal ethos.
Having worked with The Dandy Warhols, The Quarter After and The High Dials, he is admired by a unique global coterie of performers, Lipinski included: “I went over to his studio in Berlin with my brother and did everything live, singing into a big old microphone. There was no click track. Anton wanted to capture the live performance in the same vein as an old Sixties folk record, including all the little mistakes, which we left in. So in eight hours we managed to record 11 songs.”
By owning his own studio, Newcombe is now self sufficient and has the time – being in the studio six days a week – to treat what he does as a job. He’s either working on his own projects or putting out artists he likes, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music.
“Anton puts a huge amount of care into his work. It was a shot in the arm to work with him. He’s a straight ahead guy and on a different wavelength to other people. He’s tuned slightly differently, a sort of Brian Wilson-esque figure. I respected him enough to accept his suggestions, and he left me to my own devices. We added minimal overdubs afterwards, but the nucleus of the album are those original 11 recordings. The character of the songs were there from the start.”
Lipinski’s evolving sound owes something of a melodic debt to the Gallagher siblings; call it a generational influence. He has recorded with Bonehead (Paul Arthurs) on ‘Phoneys & The Freaks’ (2014) and more recently has supported The Family Silver. Lipinski, today, is surrounded by top flight talent that has helped, in one sense, to make ‘Alex’ very much a British record that melds an island attitude with cherished Americana.
Such transatlanticism is hard to shake, but then again, who would want to? “I’d been listening to a lot of Townes Van Zandt, Jackson C Frank and ‘Nebraska’ by Springsteen, so there’s a lot of Americana in the album’s overall sound. My brother sings harmonies on it, so it also has that Simon and Garfunkel vibe too.”
At times, Lipinski’s voice soars like a young Roy Orbison, at others he can float like Jackson Browne, but it is all his own. He knows what a hook is and goes looking for it in each song, not permitting any padding to make its way into his set. Whatever it is a performer requires to be able to hush a crowd and make it stop and listen, Lipinski has it. Perhaps it’s a poise or, more accurately, a naturalism which is impossible to fake.
On songs like ‘Carolyn’, ‘Going Nowhere Fast’, ‘Come On People’ and ’Sophie’s Song’, it is possible to hear a man in his element, emboldened by the sound of his own voice and a slowly dawning awareness of just how good he is, and might yet be.
“I’ve had some of these songs for two or three years, and some of them are much younger. They’re biographical in parts and others are more socially conscious.” He says his subconscious is working in a different way now, which is of little surprise given that he has never shirked the rigours of the live circuit and is eminently aware of what it takes to write, record and play live.
“I knew when I began playing live that I was not remotely interested in anything other than music. I’ve been gigging since I was 15, in pubs and clubs, so I’ve always had that work ethic. It was like an apprenticeship. I’ve always known it was hard work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Photo by Tess Parks