It rains for about half the year in Eliot’s hometown, Tacoma, Washington. Los Angeles is lucky if it gets a tenth of that. With friends and family on his mind, Eliot recorded during the blazing Los Angeles summer. Laying down a bedrock of notorious breakbeats under his signature Sequential Circuits and Korg MS-20 leads, Eliot has created an impeccable beat record that also serves as an autobiographical chronicle of love, longing and a soulful testament to the love for his hometown. Eliot’s instrumentals pour forth more emotion than most modern-day crooners, and his beats are on par with today’s best producers. Listening to his record automatically transports you to a crowded California freeway, with the wheels pointed north. It begins with dry desert leanings, and before long the rain starts to drip on the windshield, giving way to a full on finger-snapping downpour.
As someone whose creativity is directly aligned with his environment, the California climate proved a fickle muse for Eliot. “Tacoma just rains all year round,” he said. But a blistering summer alone in his apartment enabled him to see his home in a different light. Tacoma took on new meanings, as the attitudes of a small working-class city slammed up against the expensive ennui of Los Angeles. With images of home tucked into the back of his mind, the album took on a life of its own.
He moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and brought the cats and dogs with him. A usually barren city, the winter of 2005 would go down in history as one of the wettest winters on record, helping to bridge memories of Tacoma with his new experiences in LA. Eliot hunkered himself down in the studio and even when it was time to rest, he cuddled up to a temporary bed made of bubble wrap and cardboard that once housed his gear. “But it doesn’t feel like a sob story,” Eliot jokes. “I moved here to do music full time and I knew I just had to do it, make it work.” New Year’s Eve he resolved to quit his coffeehouse job, devoting himself full-time to music. Already an energetic self-promoter and disciplined producer, Eliot wanted to act on his day job daydreaming.
“For me, Los Angeles is a temporary place. This is where I am physically, but emotionally, my mind isn’t here,” he says of his current home. He sees LA as a place of opportunity, and his previous homes of Chicago and Tacoma were bubbles. “I didn’t want to get trapped in a local scene with a false sense of popularity.” The irony is that Eliot never received recognition in Chicago until he moved away. “Now they’re willing to take me seriously, because I’m not always around.”
Eliot previously spent three years in Chicago, where he cut his teeth in the club scene and was schooled in electronic music. Diving headlong into the culture, he started work on a record. He was fortunate enough to get his material into the hands of Scott Herren, also known as Prefuse 73 (Warp Records) and Savath+Savalas (Hefty Records). Scott flipped for it and it was pressed verbatim on the Eastern Developments label in November of 2004. Prior to its official release, Eliot was selling it over eBay and pushing it on kids after small club dates. Recorded in his tiny Chicago apartment while Eliot was still searching for his musical identity, the eponymous LP was his first step toward what would become his signature sound on Tacoma Mockingbird.
The music has elements of electro, soul, disco, funk, hip-hop and a myriad of other influences. “The lead single, ‘Rap Tight,’ is like a rock song,” says Eliot. “I wrote the first half really quickly, in about half an hour. Then I went back to it, adding the electro beat so there’s a lot more going on.”
“The People” has a nice bounce to it, and the beat on “Spit Rap” is incredible. The drums fill the room, opening up with a nasty ‘70s snare before boiling over into synth madness. Eliot covers a lot of ground while sticking to the same atmosphere, which is nice. The record rewards the listener with new sounds each time, creating a deep, fulfilling experience. Eliot wanted to create a record that sounds great in the car, in the home, in headphones and blasting over the PA.
His search for new sounds ultimately led him to old ones, with familiar favorites of the hip-hop world. “I’m part of the younger generation, meaning I don’t dig for breaks,” he says. “So many producers have already done the work, and there’s still plenty of life left in these breaks.” Instead of spending hours sifting through record stacks with dusty fingers and cramped knees, Eliot chose some of the most well-known breaks around. His challenge was to bring them new life and context. “I wanted to get rid of the connotations associated with each sample.” Adding in layers of synth and the occasional MPC sample stab, Eliot created his own sound. Very few of the synthesizer lines were sequenced, as Eliot played each piece live. The resulting unique sound blends live energy with soulful breaks – a sound that has become Eliot Lipp’s fingerprint.
“This record has much more character. It has my personality,” he says, adding that he worked hard to create a classic electro sound. But rather than make it all track suits, breakdancing, and camp, he brought it into the twenty-first century. “I gave myself an assignment,” he says. “I wanted to see how much I could get out of just synth and breaks. I’d get sick of the sounds and give up sometimes, but I had so much on my mind it was impossible to ignore. With all these feelings about missing home, my girlfriend back in Chicago, my friends back in Tacoma, I just returned to the music. The moods I ended up creating remind me of how I felt at the time.”
On Tacoma Mockingbird, Eliot constantly wrestles with idea of home. “Tacoma is like the Oakland of the Pacific Northwest,” he says. “People openly talk shit about it. It’s small, with a different personality of any other city. It’s made up of working class regular folk, and while it’s always refreshing when you hang out up there, I couldn’t have done music if I stayed in Tacoma. It’s a nice place to visit but a bad place to be a musician.”
“Growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave, and moved to San Francisco the minute I turned 18. There wasn’t shit to do in Tacoma except get into trouble. I knew that other things had to be going on outside. Lots of people get trapped there, and the suicide rate is depressingly high. But on the other hand, the folks there talk more openly about deeper issues. They’re much more used to dealing with feelings out in the open, and there’s nothing superficial about it.”
Eliot wanted to translate that honesty and emotion into his record, keeping the feelings out in the open. And while he was confident with the new material, Eliot battled with ego versus modesty while recording, eventually finding a perfect balance. “This record is just so much more me. The first record had me playing by the rules and giving nods to those who came before. Tacoma Mockingbird is my record.”
It took him one full year to record Tacoma Mockingbird, with the album finally mastered in late summer in Arizona. Ever the perfectionist, Eliot was still tweaking the mix on the way out to the desert until he was convinced it was done. Still residing in Los Angeles, and playing live as often as possible, Eliot is still settling into his home. With the release of Tacoma Mockingbird, Eliot is anxious about the new adventures the will bring forth. Here comes the rain.