Ezra Lipp, Multi-Talented Bay Area Musician
We catch up with musician and drum artist before his upcoming shows in Fairfax and San Francisco.
ER: Hi Ezra! I really want to talk about your groovy dance moves, but let's start from the beginning. You majored in Music Performance and Jazz Studies at the University of Vermont. How'd your relationship with music begin?
EL: Music was definitely prominent in my family growing up. Both my parents were and still are big music lovers, and they took me to see rock and folk concerts when I was little, and played records and the radio all the time. Neither of them are trained musicians, but their parents and grandparents a few generations back were all involved with music professionally.
My grandfather, Stan Lipp, was a Cantor who sung at his synagogue as well as an AM radio talk show host and somewhat of a local celebrity in the Southeastern Massachusetts radio world. I can easily trace my being involved with music (as well as podcasting) to him. His father was also a Cantor and his mother was a professional pianist. On my mother's side we have Klezmer musicians, Catskill Mountain Music store owners, etc. So I guess my roots run deep. From as early as I can remember, I was forming "bands" and writing songs with my elementary school friends on the playground even before any of us had instruments. By the time middle school came and we could make sounds on real rock instruments, I was hooked.
At the time, I dug the Beatles and Aerosmith the most. I played drums throughout high school in jam bands and would go see music all the time – it was all a very organic love. I didn't really start to get disciplined about my craft until I got to college which was actually kind of late for most of my peers at the time, many of which had already been playing jazz or marching band in high school or earlier.
ER: You've traveled around the world studying percussion… can you share with us a crazy adventure story from abroad?
EL: I've been really fortunate to get to visit some of the places where a of a lot of the music is from, and that has been influential for me! Not sure if this counts as an adventure story, but one of my favorite memories from my three and a half months living in Ghana was when my college study abroad group visited this very rural village and watched, as well as participated, in a performance of some incredible local drummers.
After the performance I started playing tag with a few of the village kids. I’d chase them, and they would run from me with delight. Every so often I would pretend to collapse as if I had passed out, and they would all crowd around me until I shot up and began chasing them again. Somehow within a few minutes it grew from five or six kids (none of which spoke any English) to about 100 kids in the middle of this village. They were swarming around screaming and laughing. At the end of the afternoon I felt very joyous and alive.
ER: I've seen you with ALO, Sean Hayes, and Phil Lesh & Friends, but when I looked at your website, I was amazed by the extensive list of artists you've worked with. How does that happen? And how do you keep track of it all?
EL: I moved from Vermont to the Bay Area in 2006 and just organically started meeting people, attending concerts and playing gigs with various bands and artists. Fortunately, this area is so ripe with so much talent it wasn't long before my network widened with amazing musicians. I developed a reputation as a freelancer for being professional, doing my homework and knowing the material well, and you know… being awesome.
ER: You also have your own project, Magic in the Other. Now I get to talk about your dance moves! I had such a blast seeing you guys in concert. The only other musician I've seen get his groove on like you is Chris Wood, the bassist in The Wood Brothers. Is that a regular occurrence? How do you keep the beat going?
EL: First, I'll just say that any mention or comparison between me and Chris Wood is entirely flattering, as I grew up repeatedly seeing Chris's other band Medeski Martin & Wood and absolutely love those guys! Magic In The Other has been an excellent evolution for me that just came about in the last couple of years. In short, even though I was really enjoying myself as a freelance sideman, I felt like I wasn't always able to utilize my creativity to my full extent since I was so dependent on playing other people's gigs. I always dreamed about joining a band where I had a certain amount of creative freedom and input, but I hadn't ever really found that. One day at the end of 2016 when I was in a bit of a career funk, I had somewhat of an epiphany where it occurred to me that it was up to me to create it!
In retrospect it seems entirely obvious, but at the time it was a revelation for me. I called up my buddies Steve Adams (ALO, Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers) and Roger Riedlbauer (Jolie Holland) who I had both known and played with in different contexts for years (but who had never met themselves) and told them I was starting a band called Magic In The Other.
I booked a gig in Fairfax and asked if they would get together to rehearse and play the gig. They agreed, and in the meantime I got busy writing original material because I didn't want to present a cover band. It wasn't as if I had lots of material stockpiled from all the years, it was literally like, "Ok, I have a gig, I have players for this gig, I better start writing tunes!" Somehow by the stroke of luck (or my genius foresight?) it all worked out. The trio really clicked right away, and we've been going strong since then. We've been playing all around the bay as well as some regional tours over the last couple of years and some highlights like the 2018 High Sierra Music Festival. We crowdfunded nearly 20k to record our first record, What We Know Is Possible, which we released in September on vinyl, cd and all digital outlets, and we are heading back in the studio this spring.
The change from freelance drummer to band leader has been pretty monumental for me. I wear so many more hats now! I am the drummer as well as lead singer in the band. I also am booking the gigs, writing the music, organizing rehearsals, promoting and marketing, editing video, making sure everyone gets paid, etc. It's a lot of work but been super satisfying and thrilling every step of the way!
The dancing you saw at Camp Deep End last summer was something I do in one of our tunes, "Physical", which is a somewhat satirical dance/pop tune about getting more physical and less emotional with the music (much of our other material in contrast deals with real emotional stuff, mostly in a positive/hopeful way). I trigger a sampled drum loop in the middle of the tune and come out and show off my very idiosyncratic dance moves and get the crowd going. I love this part of the show and it's a fun song to play! My only concern is that I don't want to have to play this song every night and I don't want the whole dance routine to start to feel like a "shtick". My hope is to find some other way we can have this element in the set.
ER: You also have a podcast, "The Ezra Lipp Hour (More or Less)." How'd that come to be? And do you ever sleep?
EL: I do have a podcast where I do long form interviews/conversations with some of my favorite musicians. It came from the same place of wanting more creative output that I was in direct control of. There are many musician interview podcasts, but what makes this one a little unique is that it is musician to musician (rather than critic to musicians, or journalist to musician) which gives me a different perspective than some of the other podcasts in the same genre.
Plus, many of my guests I have relationships with that go back from playing music and running in the same circles. I love having long/deep conversations with people and feel naturally inclined for this. The response has been wonderful from musicians and music fans alike! It became a bit much for me to keep up last year with all of the other stuff I was doing so I put it on an unofficial hiatus though I am actually currently working on a "second season" which hopefully will start airing sometime in April or May.
I try to sleep as much as possible but the constant transition from Rock N' Roll life to family life with a 4-year-old can be tricky! Fortunately I have an amazing wife who loves, supports and understands me and helps facilitate my crazy work life while she holds down a full time job and is an exceptional mom. I am responsible for taking my son to pre-school and picking him up every day that I am home so the mid-week late night gigs can be challenging the next morning, but we make it work! I wish I could sleep more, but don't we all?
ER: What's next for Ezra Lipp?
EL: Well Magic In The Other has some spring shows coming up in Marin, SF, Santa Cruz, Nevada City, Chico, Winters, Crockett, Petaluma and more, as well as getting back into the studio soon! I also have been thoroughly enjoying playing with the band ALO for the past year which has been an amazing unexpected twist. I have been friends with those guys for a long time but didn't anticipate there'd be an opening for me to start touring with them.
We are heading to the Northwest this week as well as Winter Wondergrass in Tahoe in a couple of weeks, then Colorado, San Diego, Chico, High Sierra, Illinois, and more throughout the spring and summer and releasing a new EP soon. I also still freelance and play at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael somewhat regularly, as well as other gigs locally, regionally and do session work. I'm not often bored!