Column 107 — Matt Whipkey loses his anonymity…

Category: Blog — @ 1:23 pm December 27, 2006

I’m shifting some things around. The Year in Review article will appear tomorrow to give me a little more time to put it all together. Instead, here’s this week’s column, about our old friend Matt Whipkey who I’ve been covering for more than six years, all the way back to when I panned his solo EP, The Innocence, which I called a “collection of overwrought coffee-shop folk.” He’ll never forgive me for it. He went on to front The Movies, before forming Anonymous American, a band that’s released at least two albums, including last year’s Lonely Town. Now Whipkey has separated himself from the band — in name only — for the release of their new CD, Don’t Be Late. That separation actually began on Lonely Town, an EP that featured three AA tracks and three Whipkey solo tracks. Still, the name remained intact until now. Whipkey explains it all below, and it makes sense.

Column 107: Leggo My Ego
Matt Whipkey no longer anonymous.
Omaha’s favorite high-flying beer-bottle Americana rock ‘n’ roll experience, Anonymous American, has changed its name to Matt Whipkey and Anonymous American. This change prompted one person to rename the band Ego and The Maniacs.

Whipkey, who has been performing either solo or as a frontman for almost a decade, is aware of his reputation for enjoying his own music. He laughed off the “Ego and The Maniacs” comment (only to ask, moments later, who said it), admitting that there was a time when the label fit like a pair of tight slacks.
“I plead guilty to being an asshole and over-arrogant in the past,” he said over coffee at Caffeine Dreams. “But I don’t feel that way now. There are people I meet nowadays who (afterward) I say, ‘I hope I wasn’t like that.'” He wisely wouldn’t say who those people are.

Fact is, you have to have a certain amount of ego to be a musician, singer-songwriter or front man (or, for that matter, a music columnist/critic). How else would anyone have the balls to stand up in front of a crowd and sing little stories, hoping that their message will “touch your life”? Bravado is a necessity.

Whipkey, of course, agrees. “It takes a certain amount of ego to ask people to pay money to hear your music, but you can take it past that.”

So it seems. Whipkey said the band’s name change, which will appear on their new record, has more to do with logistics than ego. Turns out that the rest of his band have lives of their own. Guitarist Corey Weber and his wife had a baby a few weeks ago. Drummer Wayne Brekke recently got engaged, while bassist Bobby Carrig is trying to finish up his degree. Their busy schedules, however, aren’t stopping Whipkey from promoting their new album with a three-week West Coast tour — as a solo artist.

“After The Movies (Whipkey’s former band), I didn’t want to make a record and have the band break up again,” he said. “We’re still very much a band. We still get along. We still play together. But now I can have an album, go on the road, and not confuse the bookers and the audience when I try to sell a CD that doesn’t have my name on it.”

The new record, Don’t Be Late, easily is the poppiest thing Whipkey has produced with any band. Songs like the bouncy “CTA,” his duet with blues-rock diva and girlfriend Sarah Benck “Don’t Be Late for the Rest of Your Life,” and the Christmas love song “Here With Me” are slick, three-minute rockers with a hint of John Hiatt twang. They’re also somewhat removed from the usual over-the-top let’s-get-this-party-started vibe of his live show.

“I went out of my way to not be bombastic,” Whipkey said of the new record. “It’s great that certain people enjoy that aspect, but I wanted to make a record that was well-crafted. When you see us live, we don’t have three background harmonies, we don’t have a piano or organ player. The beauty of making a record is you can do things you can’t do on stage.”

Or used to be able to do. A bizarre accident Oct. 20 nearly ended Whipkey’s guitar-playing career when he accidentally severed the tendon of his left index finger with a pair of scissors. After surgery, Whipkey underwent three weeks of physical therapy at Midwest Orthopedic. He says he still struggles to play an F chord, which is in all of his songs.

“What used to be automatic I have to think about, and that’s kind of weird,” he said. “I’m not going to live forever. I’m mortal. In retrospect, there are worse injuries that can occur to a person. It’s just the fact that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I could always go home and play guitar. When I couldn’t do that, it was pretty maddening.”

And humbling. Whipkey said stabbing himself also cut away at his self-esteem. “But before it happened, I was already losing some of that ego, stepping down from my high horse, thinking I’m the best thing ever. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people won’t like what I want to do.”

Still, Whipkey couldn’t help himself. Before the interview ended, he pointed out that he’d love to pursue a career as a song writer for other artists. The caveat: “I could do the songs better than any artist could perform them. I guess I have an ego because it’s true. We’re a great band and I write fantastic songs. Sorry.”

Now that’s the Whipkey we know and love.

Whipkey and the band are celebrating the release of Don’t Be Late Saturday night at Sokol Underground with Sarah Benck and The Robbers. $7, 9 p.m.

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