[M]ike Shupp, “The Key.” Savvy pop from a guy with great songwriting and singing chops. To record the guitar-heavy “The Key,” Shupp made a pilgrimage to Zion, Il, to record with Jeff Murphy, a member of the legendary Shoes. Something good must have rubbed off.
Shupp’s Simple Beauty
By LOU KING
Special to The Journal
Some of us may lament the fact that the pure American power pop song is fast becoming an endangered species. It’s hard to see how anyone could get inspired by what passes for “pop” these days, aside from Ritalin-addicted and ferociously brand-loyal pre-teens.
Has everyone forgotten the simple beauty of a couple of loud guitars and a catchy chorus?
Falls Church, Va. native Mike Shupp has not forgotten, thankfully, and his recent album “The Key” is proof that all is not lost.
Shupp may be familiar to local music fans from his days with Big Bang Theory in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which came tantalizingly close to getting a big break before things fell apart.
Although the band did sign with MCA, the record company dragged its feet in getting out the product, and that took a toll on the group.
“We had been really focused on getting a deal, and then we just waited and waited for the album to get released,” said Shupp in a recent phone interview. “We were almost out of gas when we signed, anyway, but we stuck it out for about another year.”
After Big Bang Theory finally called it quits, Shupp continued on undaunted, focusing his energies on songwriting. His first solo album, “October Sun,” came out in 1997, and the song “A Little Fun” was even included on a Spanish compilation of U.S. power pop.
He also continued playing showcases and festivals in hopes of making some useful contacts.
When he started planning to record his second album, those gigs paid off when the organizer of a Harrisburg, Pa. music-industry showcase suggested he give Jeff Murphy, a founding member of pure pop masters The Shoes, a call about producing some tracks.
“I had never really heard their stuff, but I had heard about them, definitely,” Shupp said. “I just decided, ‘I need to pursue this,’ so I called him and told him what I was trying to do.”
Eventually, with songs in tow, Shupp and drummer Chris Zogby made their way out to Murphy’s homemade studio in Zion, Ill., halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. Murphy quickly took more than a passing interest in Shupp’s songs, looking for ways to make them sound great in a limited amount of time.
“My goal was to come out of there with an album, and we recorded this thing very quickly,” Shupp said. “Jeff really knew what he wanted as far as sonics. We spent 12 eight-hour days doing all the tracking and mixing. Jeff likes to keep the working hours pretty regular, and we really got a lot done that way.”
The result is a rocking and emotional gem, full of robust, hummable harmonies and multitracked guitars. Right out of the box, the album comes at the listener like a wall of rocking bliss, with tuneful rockers like “Stranded” and “Keep Me Waiting” mixed with more hypnotic and lush numbers like “The Key” and “My Life.”
The next step for Shupp is to get the album out to the masses. Even though he admits his brand of rock might not be trendy these days, he’s not about to let that get him down.
“For me, it’s all about the song,” Shupp said. “It’s the marriage of the lyric and the melody. I think any time you have that, the music will always endure.
“I think it’s great that some of these new bands, like SR-71 and Marvelous 3, are getting signed. That stuff is all melodic and guitar-driven. It’s guitar pop. I think this kind of music is never going to go away, no matter what’s going on with the music industry.”
Mike Shupp celebrates the release of “The Key” tomorrow at IOTA Cafe, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. Shupp, who did all the singing and played guitar and bass on “The Key,” and drummer Zogby, will be joined by guitarist Lee Wilhoit and bassist Tony Flagg. For more information on Shupp, visit his Web site at www.mikeshupp.com
Three years ago, Mike Shupp released his first solo album, a solid set of made-in-Virginia pop-rock. For its follow-up, Shupp traveled to Illinois, where he recorded with producer Jeff Murphy, whose Shoes helped define power-pop. Although Murphy’s contribution may not have been crucial – Shupp wrote the songs and played all the instruments except the drums – “The Key” shimmers even more appealingly than its predecessor.
Shupp was a member of Big Bang Theory, a local dance-rock band, but as a solo performer he’s abandoned funky rhythms in favor of such folk-rock mainstays as ringing guitars, high harmonies and heartbroken lyrics. He’s even appropriated the title of a classic Records tune, “Starry Eyes,” for one of his own songs. As such titles suggest, “The Key” doesn’t bust any precedents. But such buoyant songs as “Head on Straight” and “Right Through Me” compare well to the work of Shupp’s models.
Produced by Jeff Murphy of Shoes and featuring the sharp, crisp guitar sound of that band, Shupp’s voice sounds very similar to Matthew Sweet and this strong batch of crunchy and sweet guitar-driven power pop is what purists look for… A consistently enjoyable and most recommended release!”
BIG NEWS—drummer Chris Zogby and Mike have just completed work on the new full-length CD “The Key,” produced, engineered, and mixed by (the) Shoes’ Jeff Murphy (Material Issue producer, including “Valerie Loves Me”), with a release date scheduled October 7th, 2000. The record was recorded and mixed in just two weeks, Dec. 6th – 18th, at Short Order Recorder, in Zion, IL, (see session photos) just north of Chicago. Chris handled the drums and percussion, Mike played guitars, bass, and vocals. Watch this space in the coming weeks for MP3s and Real Audio clips. Advance orders available here.