As they were wrapping up production on their upcoming record, Liquid Exorcist, the guys from Rusty Shipp and their manager, Joy, had a Skype call with staff writer Nicole Marie Vacca about the story behind their latest project, how they prepare for their live shows, and the brotherhood that comes with being part of a band...
AJ Newton: Craigslist.
Elijah Apperson: Exciting, I know.
Andrew "Speedy" Speed: Yeah, I legitimately got on Craigslist one day. I needed some extra cash, so I was looking for gig jobs that I could do in a weekend. Like, "Oh, we need some manual labor," and I can make 200 bucks on a weekend. And then I saw "award winning rock band needs a bassist," and I was like, "Well, I'm a bassist! Let me see what it's about." And the stars kind of aligned there.
Russ T. Shipp: It totally paid off, he's made a least 20 bucks at this point.
AJ: All jokes aside, I thank God for Speedy every day.
Russ: Me too.
Speedy: I listened to a lot of punk and prog rock growing up. Rush and Coheed [and Cambria] are the two main bands that I listened to. Elijah's all over the place with his music tastes.
Elijah: Yeah, my style is a mix of the band Lotus, Children of Bodom and Metallica.
Russ: But most of the time he plays bluegrass. And he makes dubstep music. He's all over the place.
AJ: Eli is multitalented.
Speedy: What about you, AJ?
AJ: I grew up listening to The Beatles, and then I transitioned to ACDC, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and probably from age 15 on it was dcTalk-
Elijah: What about you, Rusty?
Russ: My influences were starting with The Beach Boys and instrumental surf rock growing up, as well as this band called dcTalk, which blew my mind, and then after that, when I was a little older, I was allowed to listen to this band called The Beatles, once I was old enough to be able to handle all those "vulgar" lyrics. [*Nicole laughs*] My mom was strict. She ran a tight ship, which is where I get it from, gentlemen. But then after the dcTalk era, I got into MxPx hardcore, and I loved their grungy punk influence. So then, the songs that I write are kind of a combination of the Beach Boys, Beatles, 60's influence, with the elements of dcTalk, which, in my opinion, wrote the greatest quality of songs I've ever heard, and then combined with the raw, aggressive, grungy punk element like MxPx. So all that combined is where the songs from Rusty Shipp come from.
Russ: Well, it needs to sound more *nautical.* Like, you know, like, nautical.
Speedy: What makes it sound nautical, though?
Russ: Um, probably the nauticalness of it. In all seriousness, it needs to sound more underwater and more oceanic, so with this new record, we tried to make it sound more underwater, and more ambient and atmospheric. It sounds like you're actually moving through water at certain points. There's more of a distinct, clear surf rock sound, and more emphasis on a surf beat on the drums, reverb on the vocals and guitar, stuff like that. Also, I should say with the lyric content, we tried to make a strong push. It's a concept record, so the whole record takes place basically under the sea. All that combined is, I think, a step up in the nautical realm from Mortal Ghost.
Joy Soleil: Also, when you make up the genre, you can make up the rules as you go.
AJ: I think what's nice is that it's a genre that's open for interpretation. With a song like "SS Naronic," it's straight-forward hard rock. It's like grunge rock, in my opinion. And then you have a lot of the stuff we put on the new record, like Rusty said, [which] has that atypical surf beat to it. You got a lot of rhymthic notation going on there with extra reverb. So it does sound like something watery, it does sound like something Dick Dale would have introduced at some point. That's the fun thing about it, the experimentation of what we're trying to do.
Russ: Eli jumping around. That's it!
Elijah: Yeah, all that youthful energy.
Joy: It's actually all in the hair. There's no energy except in the hair.
Speedy: AJ doesn't get to answer this question because he's sitting down all show.
Joy: Yeah, what kind of energy does he bring?
AJ: I just try to break a stick and chuck it somewhere.
Speedy: Sometimes at me.
Russ: I don't feel like we ever get really winded. We just keep going. Sometimes we have to take a water swig break, but other than that, we just keep rocking and rolling.
AJ: I think what helps is when we rehearse, we rehearse close to the same energy that we're going to go live, and usually we do that for three hours. We have pretty long rehearsals. We try to over-prepare. We have a 45-minute or hour long set, we're leaving everything on the stage.
Speedy: Normally, when you watch us play a show, we've already played every song on our list multiple times that week, on top of doing all the other stuff we have to do.
Elijah: You do get a big rush of adrenaline when you're getting on stage, so that always just sticks with you. You don't get tired until an hour or two afterwards, maybe more.
Speedy: I agree with that, and it's immediate too.
Elijah: You can't play a show and then go to sleep.
AJ: Usually if we have a late show, I'm up 'til three or four in the morning, because it just takes me that long to get amped down.
Russ: One time, we were playing a show with a band whose lead singer was a mannequin with a TV for a face, and on the TV was a video of a guy singing. It was pretty insane. They're called Those Manic Seas, which were actually produced by Darren King from Mutemath. Our bass player at the time, Dustin, he was rocking out so hard, he almost knocked their lead singer off the stage.
Speedy: Wait-Dustin, who was who offstage, almost knocked-
Russ: No, they had the mannequin onstage while we were performing. Like, "What's up with this big mannequin over here?" So he's rocking out, it was his first show, and he almost knocked their lead singer off the stage… What else has happened? I think pretty much every single show, there's somebody who comes up to me, and they're like, "Kurt Cobaaaain!"
Russ: One time, there was this guy, he came up to me rocking out and singing, and he comes up to me with his phone and it has this picture of Kurt Cobain on it and he just holds it up to my face. *Everyone laughs*
AJ: The one thing we keep hearing at the end of a show from people who have listened to our album and then see us live is "You guys sound so much better live." I take it as a compliment, because that means our live show is good, that they had fun.
Russ: Weird stories on the stage-we've played with some really weird bands, like the band who had a bucket full of blood and dumped it on the audience.
Russ: It wasn't real blood, it was fake blood.
Joy: It was like, wear your rain jackets!
Russ: But still, they didn't really appreciate getting their clothes stained with fake blood.
Joy: The same show as the blood dumping, there was a band dressed up in spandex wrestling outfits, and they handed out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during their set.
Speedy: "Tip of My Tongue."
Eli: For me, it's "Crack Baby," because I have to look at the slide the entire time. Pretty boring performance for me, because with the slide you don't have a fret so you have to be right on it or else you're off.
AJ: It used to be "Sinking Scarabs" because the rhythm of it is so intricate. When I first joined the band with Rusty, I think we worked on it together for a month solid because I play differently than the old drummer who recorded it. For a while, that song scared the heck out of me, but it became one of my favorites to play live.
Russ: I'm going to agree with Speedy and say "Tip of My Tongue," because seriously, those chord progressions are insane. It's not like playing all open chords, for me I'm just playing all bar chords, so it's literally just going first fret, seventh fret, third fret, twelfth fret, fifteenth fret, it's just like all over the whole board.
Speedy: Stop thinking in numbers, man! It's shapes!
Russ: Yeah, it's so many chords, it's so diverse, all the different chords. It's the only song that I can't look at the audience and still play. I have to look down at the guitar while I'm singing and playing.
Speedy: I think the only song that I actually had an issue with that we play live is actually not a Rusty Shipp song, it's a cover song that we do-we play "Wipeout." I just have an issue with one of the transitions in the song. I get it right live probably once per song.
Russ: Man, good question.
Joy: It's between "Devil Jonah" and "Show Me How to Live."
Russ: "Show Me How to Live" is brutal.
Speedy: We actually did a show recently where Rusty's voice was messed up, so I did a lot of the vocals. As someone who normally doesn't do those vocals, and Rusty does have a higher range than me, I'd say that "Devil Jonah" is harder than "Show Me How to Live."
Russ: "Hotel Bible."
AJ: We've practiced it, we've just never played it live.
Russ: So, to answer your question, no, except "The Lighthouse" because it's acoustic, a lot of times there's just never really an opportunity for that. We did play it live once, and we tried getting AJ and our bass player at the time to play it with me, and it was alright.
AJ: It was a car crash, let's just call it what it really is. After that, I was like, never again. That's one of those songs that's only meant for Rusty's voice and an acoustic guitar.
Russ: I think when our band gets to a point where we're playing longer sets, like sets that are longer than an hour, then I'd probably throw in "Lighthouse," just to break up the flow and incorporate some more diversity into it with an acoustic song. We're just not there for the shows we're typically playing right now.
Russ: No! Don't give up hope. Hold fast to hope!
Russ: My secret signal, like when I want AJ to go into that sick drumbeat he always does, I just point at him until he plays it. Right, AJ?
AJ: That's like the "on" switch. He just stares at me.
Russ: I just point at AJ, and he's like, "Why are you pointing at me?" And I'm like, "Do it!"
Eli: Rusty's signals are not secret at all. *Everyone laughs*
AJ: Or, if he wants me to play faster, he'll just sort of wave his hand in a rotary fashion.
Speedy: If he wants you to slow down, that's when he does the hand-from-top-to-bottom thing.
Russ: So it's pretty secret, it's not common sense at all.
AJ: But, like with our show, we're just kind of feeling things out. We like to be organic when we're onstage and do whatever feels right and fun in that moment. So it's nice, because in a way Rusty's kind of playing conductor, and then there's other times where Speedy and I are playing conductor because we'll just do a jam session or we'll start something in between songs, and that's usually when Rusty may be tuning or doing something else, and then Eli might be tuning and then everybody jumps in and we just kind of go with the flow.
Russ: We just started trying to play shows on the fly, where we don't have a set list, and we're forced to kind of feel each other out, and just feel the vibe and signal to each other. We did that a month ago as practice, for the specific purpose of being able to communicate. I want to do more stuff like that, because I feel like that plunges us into figuring out how to do things live, and it's really good practice for us communicating as a band while we can't talk.
Speedy: I feel like out of all the band members, me and AJ are locked in the most with that whole telepathy thing right now.
Eli: Me and Rusty are just in space world for the show. The best signal for me was before Speedy was in the band, we were operating as a three-piece, and on "Davy Jones" I forgot to go to the clean part, and I just look up and [Russ] is standing right in front of me. Remember that? You're staring at me and distortion goes off and it's clean, and it wasn't secret at all.
Speedy: You should have just stepped on his pedal.
Eli: But at the same time, message communicated.
Russ: Or the best one, Eli starts in playing the intro for "Crack Baby," I walk over to him, and put my finger on his fretboard because he was playing the wrong fret.
Eli: Because I started off on the wrong key! *laughs*
Russ: And I was like, shaking my head, like, "No, that's not how the song starts." And he just wasn't picking up so eventually I just had to walk over and put my finger on the right fret.
Russ: It's The Beatles, Nicole. The beetles in Egypt. And they are sinking. Ok, seriously, though. This song is basically as deep as you want it to be, or as superficial as you want it to be. So I'm going to go the deep route and not say how I actually came up with this song, because it's really not exciting. But, sinking scarabs. A scarab is a mythical, supernatural creature, from the Middle East. So I had this song "Sinking Scarabs," which is a Middle Eastern style song, very much about the reliance on the supernatural. So I felt like the scarab was a good symbol of something supernatural and Middle Eastern. And sinking, I just liked the imagery of a person sinking in the ocean and having to rely on God for survival because all their means of survival are shot. That is the deep meaning. The shallow meaning is that I was swimming at Virginia Beach and I was in an inner tube, and I look next to me and there was a beetle sinking in the ocean waves. *Everyone laughs* This is how this song was really written. The reality is, when I saw the sinking scarab, so to speak, sinking in the ocean, I said, "Sinking scarabs in the ocean, slowly…" Not exactly, but I did say the words "sinking scarabs."
Russ: What am I supposed to do, scoop it out of the ocean and ruin my song inspiration? *Everyone laughs*
Russ: In 1948, they found this string of sea mines off the American coast. The coast guard discovered these sea mines and they didn't know where they came from. They were trying to track down the sea mines and figure out if there was a map for where these came from and who put them here. They couldn't figure out where they came from or who put them where, or how many of them there were. As they were trying to figure this out, people were dying from colliding with these sea mines. Eventually, the CIA got involved, and they were able to trace the sea mines back to the source, which was a secret factory that was actually underwater in a cavern, and it was pumping out these sea mines into the ocean. So that's kind of what inspired this concept record of Liquid Exorcist.
Speedy: You hit the nail on the head.
Russ: You hit the nail in my hand. *laughs* Yes, it's basically what you said. Like, when a body collides with a mine, it kills the body and releases the spirit, like a liquid exorcist would, but it's liquid in the sense that these are sea mines and it's all taking place underwater. So it's basically a liquid exorcism taking place.
Speedy: It's going to be a lot more nautical. Out of all the people in the band that made Mortal Ghost, there's one remaining member to make this album. So really, other than Rusty, it's not even the same band. That's probably the hugest difference, because with that difference you also have differences in playing styles and capabilities, but the writing itself is-I don't want to say it's not as hard, because there's still some hard rock vibes in there-it does take a different approach. There's a lot more of that classic surf vibe in it, and I think it mixes really well with some of the more Mortal Ghost-like riffs, those harder riffs.
Russ: Definitely more diverse, I would say.
Speedy: Yeah! I think it's a solid, equal blend.
Eli: On the Mortal Ghost record, the way it was done was more kind of like "hired hands," this record we all worked on the parts a lot. A lot of the things that I'm playing on this, we put a lot of time into. And although a lot was changed in the end with Stephen [Leiweke, their producer], which was for the better of the record, a lot of the extra stuff in the songs had more attention to detail. Mortal Ghost was a little simpler in the accompanying guitar parts. Speedy: Because we did have a different producer, different mixer-so I think the sound overall in the mix and the mastering of it is very different-a lot more geared towards our style of music in that a lot of those reverb-drenched guitars are a lot more crisp in our new music than before.
AJ: That and we brought Rusty's vocals a little more upfront [in the mix].
Russ: No, hopefully not.
Elijah: Preferably not, because the help right now would benefit us.
Speedy: But at the same time, independent bands can do a lot for themselves in today's world.
AJ: That's what I was going to say.
Russ: It would be nice to have the opportunity just to try it out, see what it would be like to be on a label, like a major label. We might not like it, but I would definitely like to at least try it. And then we'll put out a pop album, and go "been there, done that." And then we'll go back to making more nautical stuff.
AJ: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And I want to die on my drum set while we're doing a performance.
Russ: That would be epic.
AJ: It would be nice if at the end of our career, people looked back and said "They did something influential" and that "they moved the needle on creative rock."
Russ: I was actually talking to Kevin Max about this the other day. I was talking to him about what you want your legacy to be, with me, what I want my legacy to be. When I'm coming up with music, when I was thinking up stuff for Liquid Exorcist, I was kind of looking back at the end of my life and looking at the Rusty Shipp discography, like from the end of my life, and I was like, "What would be a really cool follow up to Mortal Ghost on a discography?" I thought Liquid Exorcist was a really cool step from Mortal Ghost. So that's kind of how I look at things. I want to get to the end of my life and look back on the Rusty Shipp discography and just see hit album, after hit album, after hit album. Honestly, I want it to be better quality than The Beatles, long-term, and I don't want us to have any dud albums or dud songs-even The Beatles had dud songs. I want to basically be as good or better than The Beatles as far as quality of songwriting. I want the songs to stand the test of time, like The Beatles' music did. I want people to still be listening to Rusty Shipp fifty years from now. And I want our music to reach as many people as humanly possible. I want millions of people to hear these melodies, these lyrics, and these guitar riffs and everything, and I want them to be touched, and blessed, and inspired, and empowered to be better people, to live better lives, and to have their state of existence and their suffering minimized through the medicine of Rusty Shipp music.
Speedy: Meanwhile, I was just gonna say that I just-
Speedy: I just want to be able to quit my day job. *everyone laughs*
AJ: I think that's across the board for us all.
Russ: Many times. Many a' lonely night. I've been pursuing getting this band together since I've been in Nashville, which was six years ago, and I have to say that it's only been a year of having a solid band. The other five years were years of pain and misery. And loneliness and suffering. For losing members, gaining members, Craigslist, going here trying to meet people, so yes, uncertain times, absolutely. In 2014, I was considering giving it all up because it had just gotten to a low point. I was like, I just don't think this is going to happen, because it was just so tumultuous. So, absolutely, many times it seemed like it was all in my head, and nothing more than in my head-nothing would come from it. So, yes.
Russ: In 2014, I was considering giving up being in a band and I was thinking of maybe changing my life to go towards a different direction, like maybe something with social work or doing something regarding some kind of Christian ministry or something, and I kind of gave up on music, and sometime around then is when I was actually approached by somebody who offered to sign the band to Valinor Records. So it actually was a record label, but the thing is, it was a record label that just got started. It was a guy who wanted to work with our band because he really liked us and believed in our music, and he wanted us to have a recording, so that jump started me to be like, "Ok, let's just keep doing this," and it was this guy-his name is Matt Isaacs. We kept going forward, and the band members kind of fell into place, and then we recorded the Hold Fast to Hope EP. Ever since then, it just kept getting better and progressing, step by step. Getting more and more towards a better, cohesive band, and I gradually got more and more passionate about it, and more and more confident about it, and more and more I believed in the band, that it was actually something good and worthwhile and I actually started to feel like it was my destiny.
Russ: Yep. All for you!
Elijah: Moving to Nashville and interning at a music studio turned me into an absolute monster, and luckily since meeting Rusty, I've kind of learned to understand the music industry and not get so evil about it. It's pretty dark stuff out there, and it's nice to be with a group of people that you don't feel like you have to be like that. Maybe with other entities that we have to deal with, but not them.
Joy: I love you, Eli!
Russ: Yeah, that's sweet, Eli! I love that.
Speedy: He's right-we're basically like a family.
Eli: We are.
Russ: Truth be told, after band practice, we text each other to let each other know we got home safely, and then say, "Alright, love you everybody, goodnight!" It's not an exaggeration, I'm actually not joking about that.
Speedy: AJ has a 30-40 minute drive home, he has the furthest drive out of everybody, so he's normally the first one to text "Hey, I made it home!"
Eli: And we enjoy the time with each other and we hang out outside of work, essentially. Which is nice, because I've been in other bands where it was definitely not that way.
Speedy: As far as me personally, I feel like being in this band specifically helps grow who I am creatively. There are other things that I like to do creatively. At heart I'm a storyteller, I like stories, I like story structure, I like studying it and I like making it. Just being around Rusty and all the stories that he wants to do, possibly in the future-spoilers-and his lyrical style, and talking with Eli and his knowledge, just on music, music theory, that makes me want to grow creatively in that aspect. Then talking with AJ-just talking with AJ. We're all a family, but I feel like me and AJ are brothers.
AJ: Aw, way to punch me in the feels.
Joy: Aw, now you have to let him know how much you hate him.
Speedy: Oh, I do hate him!
AJ: That's how you know it's like a true brotherly relationship right there. It's got that little hint of animosity. But I agree with what you said, Speedy, and I've told Rusty this a million times, because of how good he is as a songwriter, it has made me a better drummer. It has made me a better musician overall. When I first moved to Nashville, I think my wildest ambitions at that point in time, like two and half years ago, was "if I'm lucky, I'll get in a cover band, and I'll get to play a gig here and there." But I met Rusty a month right after I moved here, so immediately I had a Nashville family, and that's exactly, to agree with what everybody else has said, we are a family, and we get along great, we support each other, we foster the growth as musicians, so it's fun from a musician standpoint to see-especially in this new record-to see who can step up and bring what to the table, creatively. I think that's why we're all really, really proud of this album, because like Eli and Speedy were saying earlier, it's the longest we've been a full tilt band, and we've been working on the new songs since February of last year. So we put a lot of creative thought into every little bit of all these songs, not to say that wasn't there for Mortal Ghost, it's just that we've been a collective band throughout this whole process. So it was fun to mold and shape things in this. But it's helped me grow a heck of a lot. I'm ten times the drummer now because of this band than I ever was before I moved to Nashville.
Russ: I think that the band, it's really cool, because it gives me a sense of great purpose on earth, and I do feel a sense of destiny, and I feel like I'm part of something that's bigger than myself, that actually has an end goal, a destination. It's things like this that make me believe that I'm not alone in the world and that there is an outside guiding agent, God, who actually has a plan for my life, and actually wants His creations to do something big and ambitious and noble, and something amazing and beautiful. The fact that this band is evolving and progressing and reaching people and just getting bigger and better and stronger all the time, it's really exciting, and to me it gives credibility to the fact that I think human beings have unlimited potential, and really the sky is the limit, and God wants us to reach into our true potentials and just make the most amazing, beautiful things fathomable. So this band is just proof of that. For me personally, as an artist, but also I think it shows for human beings in general, it's pretty amazing. It reminds me of what human beings are capable of and it makes me excited for the unknown future that we're progressing towards, because it's kind of like we've got a blank canvas to work on, and it's really exciting, I'm really excited to see what comes from this band, and I really hope that this band redefines music, and we do new things that have never been done before in the history of music and rock music. That really excites me, and this band is an integral part of that excitement.
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