There’s a pretty solid chance the name That 1 Guy does not ring a bell with you. That’s okay. You’re not alone. But you should get real familiar real fast as the remarkable one-man-band artist is strumming up a real name for himself across the country.
That 1 Guy (a much better stage name than his birth name, Mike Silverman) play his shows on three different unique, homemade instruments designed and built all by himself, and, admittedly, a little help from some NASA minds. Attendees can expect to see That 1 Guy perform on his “Magic Pipe,” “Magic Boot,” and “Magic Saw.”
Photo- Courtesy of That 1 Guy’s website, Photo by Oliver Oswald
In our must read in-depth interview, Silverman sheds some light on what it means to be a true independent artist. From embracing a real DIY attitude, breaking free of limitations, and enjoying the creative process, he has a lot to say, and some great advice for aspiring musicians and really anyone with a passion. Read the story below to find answers to some of the most pressing issues like, will there be a future tour sponsored by Home Depot? How does one get a hold of an aeronautical engineer? And, of course, where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Tri State Indie: So you’re in Pittsburgh right now, correct?
That 1 Guy: I am, yeah.
TSI: And this is night four, and if my math serves me correctly, you’re doing 42 different shows by about the middle of March?
T1G: Yes. (laughs) That’s exactly right.
TSI: That just sounds like a crazy schedule. It won’t even be three months into the year and you’ll have already performed almost 50 times. You do so much touring throughout the year, how can you keep yourself sane out there on the road?
T1G: You know, the weirdest part is I feel like I’m most stable when I’m touring. I feel like it’s because I’ve been doing it for so long and I have a real routine when I’m traveling and when I’m getting to gigs. There’s so much to do each day, I do my shows, I’m always working on ideas. I think I do my best when I’m challenged and have a lot to do. When I get home, that’s when I have to work on bigger ideas, bigger plans and that’s when it’s difficult for me. But when I’m out there playing, I love to play, so it keeps me in the zone.
TSI: How many versions of the pipe have their been and which one are you using now?
T1G: Let’s see, technically there’s been 3. I’m on version 3. I call this version 3.2 because I’ve redone the main sections of the pipe – I’ve changed the materials of the playing surfaces actually twice. But the actual version is definitely 3. The very first version I made 100% myself just out of plumbing pipe and duct tape and wires and then the second one was the exact same design approach but I had a machinist help me with the more intricates. We ended up custom fabricating a bunch of it.
TSI: Right, you worked with former NASA guys, right?
T1G: Yeah, the machinist I worked with had done a bunch of work on the Phoenix Mars Lander and then he actually introduced me to the wiring guy, the electrician, who did a lot of wiring for the Phoenix, and he helped me with the wiring of the instrument because that was another upgrade I had been wanting to do but it was a little out of my range of expertise. I used to have 50 wires coming off of this thing but he made a big multi-cable where everything plugs into just one. The machinist was just incredible.
It took us a while to do number 2. And I don’t necessarily consider that one a success. We were trying to sort of mimic the design of the one I made out of plumbing pipe and make it way more functional than it was and it kind of came up short in a number of different ways so number 3 was basically an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and that is the current one I’m on. I love this one, it plays great.
TSI: And you worked with the same guys on this one as you did number 2?
TSI: How exactly did you get hooked up with a guy from NASA anyway?
T1G: I was really lucky, my brother’s wife’s brother works for NASA and Boeing. He knew Danny (the machinist) and I was actually just kind of just putting the word out that I was looking for some help. And I didn’t even know specifically what I was looking for. I just knew I wanted to take this a little further than I could myself. And Danny’s name came up because he’s a world class machinist in aerospace, but he’s also an artist, a painter, a musician, so maybe he could be one of these sciences guys that you could kind of get creative with. And Danny was really a creative thinker and helped come up with some good solutions to some of these problems I was having
TSI: Now you once said you felt restricted by your traditional instruments and the double bass you had been playing. Do you remember a point in time when you had that realization, when you felt those traditional instruments were not what you wanted to work with anymore?
T1G: Definitely. The upright bass is a really strange instrument and I’d been studying that thing real seriously since I was about 10. It was funny because I went to the conservatory of music [in San Francisco] and there was a master bass player who came in from Italy and he was the first person I had ever heard word it like this, he said the upright bass is an instrument of compromises. There’s a lot of difficulty with just the design, the way it’s played, what you’re trying to do with classical music is you have to overcome a lot of hurdles with it that aren’t there on say the cello and such and then when it comes to jazz and amplifying the instrument, it’s actually very difficult.
It has a beautiful sound, it’s an amazing instrument, and I always thought of the pluses to it but I did notice, after he said, because I had been fighting a lot of the technical limitations of the instrument. Like I wanted to get it louder and bigger sounding. I wanted to do a lot of things that were really difficult to do and it came to a point where I had actually built my one man band with the upright bass and I had a gig where everything was impossible to control. I wanted to get more sound going and everything was feeding back and as much work as I put in to trying to control the sound I just couldn’t. So I realized, you know what, I think I know what I want to do with this thing and I don’t think this instrument is going to be able to do it.
It was a very utilitarian decision. It wasn’t purely artistic. It really was, I need this to do something it can’t do. I’m going to have to try to figure out how to do that. It’s a very good way to approach almost anything actually. I think – looking for real world solutions to the real world problems you have, what is your specific instrument or whatever you’re working through. Because that way you can ask the questions that will lead to the real specific answers that you’re looking for. And I told this to a kid the other night. He said, I want to build an instrument and asked me for advice. I told him, do what I did. Try to think of what you wish – start with your current instrument you have, and try to decide what you wish it could do that it can’t do. And make it do that. Build it on to it, modify it, whatever you have to do. That’s really what I did.
TSI: When you had that realization that you’d hit your limits with that instrument and you had to create your own, was that frightening, exciting, both?
T1G: Oh absolutely. All those things. First and foremost I wasn’t an instrument builder and I didn’t really have a desire to be, per se. I really wanted to play. My actual first attempts of any kind of customizing was going to a real instrument builder. This was back when I was living in San Francisco. There was a phenomenal luthier out there who builds these beautiful custom made guitars and basses and I met with him. He’s a really nice guy, really smart guy, real inventive. And I met with him and he loved the idea. But then he’s a serious instrument builder and he’s talking about $10,000 or more. And I’m 22 at the time thinking, well jeeze I don’t have this kind of bread. Not that I have that now either but it was one of those things where I realized wow, this is such a commitment to an idea that I actually feel pretty strongly about but it’s very undeveloped, as is the case with a lot of my ideas.
I start with really broad concepts and I don’t really see detail in any of them. I think that’s the stuff that kind of gets hashed out as you work through it. Which I like – I like that process, that journey. And it was funny because the guitar player in my band at the time was an electrical engineer as well. I told him about the idea and he said why don’t you just build it yourself? How hard could it be? And it hadn’t even crossed my mind. And I was like well… probably pretty hard for me, specifically, because I’ve never done something like this. But he’s right. If I build it myself I have nothing really to lose and if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out. I won’t be out $10,000 on something that may not even be in the ballpark of what I’m trying to do.
So that was when I started searching for easy solutions to these problems. I’m not a woodworker and I know instrument builders and these guys work on this stuff for 30 years before they make anything good. It’s such a lifelong craft and art to do that and I don’t want to learn to plain a finger board or find a perfect piece of wood or any of that. So I just found this pipe initially and was like wow this just comes right off the shelf and it’s ready to roll. It’s perfectly straight, you know and that’s when it got really fun. I started looking for stuff that was already made and ready to use and kind of just ready to go and with that criteria I had my eyes open and just lookin and goin for it.
I was surprised, you know, when you’re looking for something… not specifically but it is very specific, but you don’t necessarily know what it is… you just open your eyes to that thing and then you started seeing it. You’re like oh wow, that can do this, and that can do this. I was shocked about how many off the shelf pieces were perfectly taylor made to what I was ready to do. And these were like pipe clamps and pipe repair ties and mostly plumbing stuff, pipe elbows and things. They were almost kind of perfect. I had to modify them all a little bit but not as much as I would’ve thought. And I didn’t have any tools. I had to go out and buy a bunch of tools and just sort of figure my way through stuff. I took the long way a bunch of times. Like a couple of things would take me like four days, but if I would’ve had the right tool or brought it to a friend who had the right tool it would’ve taken me like 10 minutes. A lot of that kind of stuff happened. But, you know, that’s how you learn.
TSI: Sounds like that kind of mindset took influenced the way you see a lot of things.
T1G: It changed me forever. I look at everything that way now. I still love – I mean the first couple months of the building process wasn’t me building at all, it was literally just walking up and down the aisles of the home depot. And that place is organized in such a weird way. The departments all over lap and it just doesn’t really make any sense to me. Nothing against the folks that work there, but on the whole I find when I ask people for help there they say, “well what’s it for.” (laughs) The always ask me what it’s for because they want to send you to the right department. And I’m like, I can’t say what it’s for because it just doesn’t apply to any department (laughs). So I found the best thing to do is literally walk every single aisle and look at every single shelf and I just start stumbling onto things and like you were just saying, I’d see things and think, you know this wouldn’t even really be for the instrument but I could use it for this other thing I have in mind. I can attach this to this other part of my rig and make this other thing happen and I just start buying things you just know you’re going to use at some point.
TSI: You should call them up and see if they’ll do the That 1 Guy Sponsored by Home Depot U.S. Tour.
T1G: Oh we’ve thought about it, actually. I actually really think it’s a great company and I still spend a ton of time there.
TSI: You mentioned one time the importance of not being a slave to your instrument, do you ever see a time in the future where you may yourself outgrow your magic pipe and feeling limited by it?
T1G: Yeah, I do at some point to be honest. It’s more about modifying though. But there is this acoustic version of what I’m trying to do that I’d like to try soon. It’s actually about three albums away because I have this album cycle planned. But I do like this idea of kind of pushing myself beyond the instrument itself. I love the instrument and what it can do and it’s the perfect instrument for what I’m trying to make and it keeps developing and growing with me so I’m far from exhausting it. I thought I had at a certain point exhausted a lot of the sounds, early on, and then actually when I rebuilt it and broadening the electronics parts I could do I realized there were just a million things I could do and a million possibilities.
But I do like the idea of keeping an open mind and trying different things. And it’s really about the musicianship more than anything, it’s about my ideas and what I’m trying to do as a musician, but it’s not about the instrument per se, that’s just the tool I’m using for now.
TSI: So tell me more about this album cycle.
T1G: I’m doing these four albums following the alchemical seasons, so the one I just put out is the water album. The next one will be air, that’ll be kind of an outer space album, then the one after that is supposed to be fire and I think I’m gonna make that sort of a magic themed album. And then the last one is supposed to be earth and that’s gonna be the acoustic, sort of organic record if you will. I’ve got some ideas, again, just really rough concepts more than anything but for me that’s the best place to start because a lot of the details start to manifest themselves as I really get into it and make it happen.
TSI: One last thing – if everything goes exactly the way you want it go – 10 years from now, what are you doing?
T1G: Man that’s a weird one… (laughs) You know… I can’t even say. I don’t even know. I was actually working with a manager about three years ago that thought we were supposed to plan out all this stuff and my career and have goals and I kind of came to this point where I just love the adventure and seeing where it’s going to take me and I think that anything is possible especially if you put 100% of your heart into what you’re doing. I think your path will take you to places you’ve never even dreamed of and that’s what I’m hoping for so I’m not even sure what that looks like.
We’d like to thank That 1 Guy for his time and cannot wait to see him take over MilkBoy Philly on Sunday night. For tickets click here and make sure to check out more music and videos from That 1 Guy and don’t forget to check him out on Facebook!