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Joseph Shipp Discusses His “Open Up (To Me)” Single, LP ‘Dig Deep,’ and Stage Fright

Singer-songwriter Joseph Shipp joins us to answer some questions about his new single “Open Up (To Me)” and forthcoming new album ‘Dig Deep.’

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Joseph Shipp, photo by Jake White
Joseph Shipp, photo by Jake White

This hasn’t been the prototypical path toward a songwriting career for Joseph Shipp, but it doesn’t matter how you got there, only that you did. Shipp is back with his new single “Open Up (To Me),” the first to come from his new album Dig Deep. It’s an uplifting song, encouraging listeners to embrace their true selves. If Shipp had not done that, he may not be enjoying the success he is currently garnering.

Shipp grew up learning instruments and being immersed in music. But he never got the point of actually being a recording artist. He had worked in brand design in Northern California for about six years. He and his wife decided it was time for a change, so they moved to Nashville, where Shipp had previously lived close to as a child. It was here where his musical career finally gained traction.

At age 40, Shipp released his debut album, Free, for a While, in October 2022. He has learned to evolve a lot in his life, and that’s been the driving force behind his musical endeavours. Shipp is pursuing a musical career only thanks to his enthusiastic curiosity and belief in himself. With Dig Deep due on October 4th, he aims to eliminate any doubt about his commitment to his art.

We wanted to know more about Joseph Shipp, the musician. So, we connected with him for questions about his musical influences, new material, writing process, and more.

How would you describe your own music?

Joseph Shipp: “I’m a singer-songwriter who makes heartfelt, raw, and honest alternative folk music. My songs tend toward the pop sensibilities of a Tom Petty song but also incorporate elements of alt-rock, freak-folk, and country. People have drawn comparisons to artists like Elliott Smith, Jason Molina, MJ Lenderman, and Mark Kozelek.”

Who are your biggest influences?

“My earliest musical influences came from my dad. He exposed me early in life to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and instrumentalists like Leo Kottke and George Winston. That stuff is rooted deep within me. I tend to gravitate to the musical sound of the ’70s. There’s something about that period that I really love.

“But I’ve always had an eclectic musical palette, and I find it fascinating what stuff seeps out into my own music. I have a tendency towards repetition and drone, which probably comes from my love of electronic and ambient music, but also Old Time fiddle tunes. I discovered The Chemical Brothers and Underworld when I was in high school, and it just blew my mind.

“Then I did a 180 in my 30s and went deep on Old Time Appalachian music and then songwriters like Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, and Gillian Welch which probably influenced my songwriting most directly. Most recently I’ve really been inspired by Adrianne Lenker, Twain, Flyte, and Hovvdy. The songwriting from those folks is just on a whole other level. They seem to have grown up inspired by the same music as me.”

Your new single “Open Up (To Me)” has just been released. Now that it is out, how do you feel about it, and what has been the response so far?

“Yeah, it feels great that this song is finally out. I wrote ‘Open Up (To Me)’ before the last show I played back in November of 2023, and my band and played an adolescent version of it at that show. It felt really great to play live. It’s maybe the only song that, after I wrote it I knew it’d be really fun live. It has sort of this immediacy to it, like a classic Tom Petty song.

“I’m curious how people will respond to this as the second single from the new album, though. The first single, ‘Dig Deep,’ introduced a sonic shift for me and was very well received. ‘Open Up (To Me)’ is a little more reminiscent of some of the folk-rock songs from my first record, but I really love it. It’s important for my art to have balance and range, and I think this song counters ‘Dig Deep.’”

Tell us more about “Open Up (To Me).” What was your experience of making it? What went on behind the scenes?

“‘Open Up (To Me)’ is a song I wrote during a School of Song workshop I took with Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats and Bonnie Light Horseman. I had never taken a songwriting class before, and I was trying to level up my skills. Around that same time, I started writing Morning Pages, a daily journaling practice from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

“One morning, I wrote the lines ‘setting up, moving around, shaking up, breaking down’ as I was working through a concept about what I think happens after death—some light morning material. At that moment, I paused to recognize how that sounded like a song. A few weeks later, I took that and wrote: ‘Open Up (To Me).’

“I recorded it with my friend, Andrew Goldring, who produced it. It was just the two of us, but we wanted it to sound like a full band playing live in the studio. Andrew was having a hard time getting the drums to sound locked in. So he decided to put me out in his garage and have me play the acoustic guitar and sing while he tracked drums live to me. That seemed to do the trick, and we built the rest of the track around that drum take.

“Another funny story during the recording is that we thought we would add a Nashville-tuned acoustic guitar, which is just a guitar strung with all the light strings from a twelve-string set. He started playing this guitar to the song, but I didn’t realize he was recording. I thought he was still auditioning for it. It sounded so good, and I yelled out, ‘Yeah!’ which you can hear in the final recording. We both thought it was hilarious, and it fit the loose vibe we were going with, so we made a conscious decision to leave it in. For me, it’s those little human elements of imperfection that increase the value of something. That’s the kind of art I am interested in making.”

Joseph Shipp “Open Up (To Me)” single artwork

Joseph Shipp “Open Up (To Me)” single artwork

What is your writing process like?

“I usually start with words first. A few words will pop into my head, which most often end up being the first line of verse one or part of the chorus. The rhythm of the words tells me where to go next.

“With this new record, I tried several different approaches to songwriting. I mentioned the School of Song class I took with Eric D. Johnson. But I also took another one with Adrianne Lenker, which was really fruitful. I wrote four songs in the workshop, and I put them all on the record.”

What do you like most about playing music?

“Music, and songwriting, in particular, is a form of expansion for me, a kind of spiritual practice. It allows me to connect with my subconscious and to some creative unconscious that no other form of self-expression seems to touch for me. Writing and performing my songs keeps me leaning into the edge of experience and pushes me to be a better person.”

Which do you enjoy the most: writing, recording, practicing, or playing live?

“Writing songs is the closest thing to magic I can think of, and it’s the biggest reason I keep doing this. For some songs, I’m just a channel of some idea awaiting to solidify, others are more like jigsaw puzzles and take a little more work, but however they come, it’s always amazing to me. I’ve created something out of seemingly nothing, and it’s the coolest thing I can think of.

“But I also love the studio, and that feels more like play than writing does for me. Hearing this little idea of a song become so expansive and energetic is incredibly rewarding.”

Do you ever get stage fright? What’s your solution for it?

“Oh yeah. It’s gotten better the more I do it, but it’s always there for me. Fear is an interesting thing. I came across this book called The Fear Book: Facing Fear Once and for All by Cheri Huber. It was a book Rick Rubin had recommended to another artist that I happened to catch wind of at the right time in my life. In it, the book talks about how fear doesn’t always have our back, and it usually holds us back from the things we need to do in order to grow. That helped change my relationship to fear. So, if I mess up on stage, it’s probably nothing I can’t recover from.

“I’m also a person who just needs to prepare as much as possible. I don’t want to ever look scripted on stage, but I have to really know my shit which gives me confidence that I won’t forget my lyrics or make a wrong chord change. I find that visualization helps me a lot with that, too.”

What are you still trying to figure out?

“I’m trying to learn how not to get so hung up on results and to just enjoy the ride more. I think it’s really easy for me, and a lot of other artists, to lose focus on what success looks like. If you make music from your heart and you love the thing you made, then that, for me, is a success. All the other stuff is out of my control. Obviously, I hope other people connect with the songs, too, but that’s ultimately not the reason I keep doing this.”

What’s next for you?

“My sophomore album, Dig Deep, is coming out on October 4th of this year. It was produced by my friend, Andrew Goldring, here in Nashville. Most of the songs were inspired by a journey of self-reflection and attunement to my intuition as an artist. I’m 42 this year, and what does it mean to make art in mid-life? My life has slowed down in many ways, but my personal growth hasn’t stopped one bit. This album is such a beautiful document of that process.

“Also, I pressed a limited run of records on recycled vinyl, which will go on pre-sale soon on my Bandcamp. A few more singles will be coming out, and I have a few shows booked in Nashville (08/29 and 10/05 at the Five Spot). I’m really excited to play these new songs out with a band.”

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