That 1 Guy
“Funky Bean,” “Buttmachine,” Mustaches and Laser beams. It reads like a page out of a Dr. Seuss book, but for Mike Silverman, better known as That 1 Guy, it is just the reality he was searching for.
At 150-200 live shows each year people gather to see his mad scientist at work, curiously watching as That 1 Guy plugs an electric chord into the heel of a cowboy boot and transforms it into an instrument. He howls and the audience joins him like a pack of coyotes. They even chime in for the song “Weasel Pot Pie,” offering rhymes to finish a line about “cinnamon scones”: Twilight Zones? Al Capones? Frank Stallones? That 1 Guy laughs and offers the grin of a Cheshire cat. Here is a man who loves his job.
Silverman’s back story is not dissimilar to other musicians: he grew up a music geek, influenced by his jazz musician father, and enrolled in San Francisco Conservatory of Music before joining the jazz scene himself as a sought-after percussive bassist. This is where the similarities end, though, and where That 1 Guy began. “In my case, being a bass player, I just felt very restricted by the instrument itself,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to sound different and have my own sound. I was headed that way on the bass, but for me to fully realize what I was hearing in my head sonically I was going to have to do it my way.”
That 1 Guy set off on his own, challenging the idea of what a one-man band can and should be. Rather than altering and adding on to the bass, he started from scratch, conceptualizing and creating the Magic Pipe. Standing at seven-feet-tall, the collection of swiveling pipes, metal gears, bass strings and electronic buttons forms the shape of a harp, but is played like a futuristic gutbucket.
With his curious instrument, creative performances and abundant talent, That 1 Guy soon caught the attention of promoters around the world and began touring heavily, wowing crowds at Big Day Out, Glastonbury, Monterrey Jazz Festival, Lowlands, Wakarusa and numerous other festivals. In 2007 he joined Guns ‘N’ Roses guitarist Buckethead on an American tour before headlining his own “Mustaches and Laser Beams” tour through North America.
Despite a demanding tour schedule, That 1 Guy has no plans on slowing down in 2010. His latest album PACKS A WALLOP! brings a new dimension to his work, thanks to new sounds and a new partnership with famed sound engineer Billy Hume (Nelly, Shop Boyz, Ying Yang Twins). Recorded at Hume’s studio in Atlanta, GA, PACKS A WALLOP! stretches That 1 Guy’s soundscapes further than ever, seamlessly combining hard-hitting rock (“Modern Man”), swampy blues (“Step Into Striped Light”) and electronic groove (“Funk Bean”). Hume’s influence brings greater depth to the low frequencies and heavy beats. “I’m really proud of what we did with the album,” says That 1 Guy. “It sounds closer to what I’ve been trying to do sonically since I started.”
This accomplishment required a new creative process. Whereas his last two albums, The Moon is Disgusting (2006) and Songs in the Key of Beotch (2000, re-released in 2004) were created from songs that he had already performed, That 1 Guy went into The Zone with nothing but ideas, sleeping on a mattress upstairs so he could sneak in to the studio whenever he felt inspired. “I went in there with zero – nothing finished – and I lived at the studio for a month. It was really hard work, really long days, and I forced myself to craft some stuff.” The spontaneity, coupled with a tight window for completing the album, made all the difference.
“Human beings do our best work when we’re challenged and pushed up against the wall,” That 1 Guy explains. “By nature, we’re hunters and gathers, spending each day looking for next meal. It’s easy to be lazy when you don’t have to come up with something creative right away.”
His creativity continues with a new tour in support of PACKS A WALLOP! Along with the Magic Pipe, expect to see the Magic Saw and Magic Flute, as well as magic tricks. “I had never seen a magic show until about two years ago,” That 1 Guy confesses. “I had no interest in it—but now I just love it. I’m like a twelve-year-old,” incorporating magic tricks seamlessly into live performances, even using a playing card in place of a traditional pick. “So much of my music has miraculous qualities to it because it’s hard to tell what’s going on. There are lots of slights of hand and sonic misdirection. It feels like I was meant to do magic.”
Strange? Perhaps. But as Billboard noted, “In the case of Mike Silverman’s slamming, futuristic funk act… the normal rules of biology just don’t apply.” It suits That 1 Guy just fine.
“I like being my own person,” he says. “I didn’t set out to be a weirdo but I’m starting to embrace it.”
A Boy and his Tuba
Brian Wolff first discovered the tuba at a music store in Austin, Texas. It was the summer of 1994, one of the hottest July’s on record. And Wolff, whether deranged by the heat or the instruments sumptuous curves and shiny bell, knew instantly and inexplicably that he would dedicate the rest of his life to the pursuit of Tuba Stardom.
Knowing little of the tuba itself, he had few preconceived notions of the tuba’s roll in music and thus was under the impression that, as a creator of sound, the tuba had no limitations at all. Wolff quickly dove in, starting a band with old friend Tony Nozero. They called themselves Just Drums and Tuba. Soon they added a guitar player and summarily dropped the “Just” from their name.
The band developed a visceral blend of old brass and new electronics, and toured the world extensively with Cake, Primus, Ani DiFranco among many others, building a fierce underground following in the process. But as over 50% of the marriages in the United States are wont to do, Drums and Tuba eventually packed it in and went their separate ways. Determined to strike out on his own in pursuit of the aforementioned Tuba Stardom, Wolff conceived of a solo act appropriately entitled “Wolff.”
He returned to New York and barricaded the door to his apartment, emerging only after he had perfected a solo electronic tuba rock show whereby all sounds were produced by, with, through, and on the tuba, created live by banging, beat-boxing or singing through it, and playing in a conventional manner. With the use of loop pedals, Wolff was able to tie all these disparate sounds together, forming music that was both out there (somewhere) and yet rooted in traditional song structures and strong melodies.
Soon enough, Wolff was joined by drummer Steve Garofano (Triple Delight and Vic Thrill), recently displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. As a duo, Garofano and Wolff made an instantaneous connection, carving out a sound somewhere between rock and dance music, with Garofano’s drums countering Wolff’s Tuba-centric loops. The two have honed their sound at delirious late-night shows at Pianos every Friday and Saturday.
Wolff’s friend David Harris once said there was a mythical brass ceiling in the sky that dictated how big a star you could become when you dedicate your life to playing the tuba. In this prophecy, Wolff would some day wrestle with those demons in the sky, shattering that brass ceiling. Not coincidentally, Wolff’s new album, recorded by the legendary Paul Mahajan and Mark Ephraim (TV on the Radio, The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s) is entitled The Brass Ceiling.