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Shupp’s Simple Beauty
By LOU KING
Special to The Journal

by Jim Saah

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

— Lou King
(February 2nd, 2001)
Copyright © 2001 The Journal.  All rights reserved.

 

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Press

The Washington Post – ‘The Key’ To Success

Nightwatch
9:30 Club Pays Tribute to Image-Maker

By Eric Brace
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 2, 2001; Page WE06

WHEN the 9:30 club opened at 930 F St. NW on May 8, 1980, fliers announcing the event signaled the club’s eclectic and artistic side. They were designed by a young artist named Mark Holmes, and for the four years that he created posters, ads and monthly…

…‘THE KEY’ TO SUCCESS

What a great triple bill at IOTA on Saturday! Mike Shupp, Mark Helm and Scott McKnight. Each was in a prominent Washington band in the mid- to late ’80s (though none was the frontman). Each has been working solo for several years. Each has released an excellent new CD.

McKnight (who sometimes performs in my band) was in the Neighbors, Helm (then known as Mark Whiteis-Helm) was in Radio Blue and Mike Shupp was in Big Bang Theory, the only band of the three to have been signed to a major label (MCA), a deal that sadly went south soon after it was made.

Let’s check in with Shupp, whose next gig after Saturday is Feb. 17 at the Millennium Music Conference in Harrisonburg, Pa., where he hopes to grab some record executive’s ear and get a well-deserved record contract.

His release, “The Key,” is the second CD he’s put out under his name, and it’s as fine a slice of melodic rock and power-pop as I’ve heard recently. “It’s really just me and my drummer, Chris Zogby,” Shupp says. “He and I went to record with [former Washingtonian] Jeff Murphy at his studio in Zion, Ill., last year, and we did the whole thing there. I did the bass and all the guitars and vocals. We got to work really quickly like that, which was good, considering the tight budget I was on.”

This McLean boy played with Big Bang Theory from 1988 to 1992, then formed the bands Greenhouse and Nickel before deciding that his name alone said all that needed to be said. His first CD, 1997’s “October Sun,” was one of my favorites that year, and he promises the next one won’t be as long coming as “The Key” was. “I’ve already got an album’s worth of new stuff,” Shupp says, “and I want to start working on it sometime this summer.”

Meanwhile, he’s hired radio and media promoters to get the word out on “The Key,” and he’ll be playing around as much as possible with Zogby and current band mates guitarist Lee Wilhoit (who happens to be my housemate) and bassist Tony Flagg.

• To hear a free Sound Bite from “The Key,” call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8114. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)

— Eric Brace
( February 2nd, 2001 )
Copyright © 2001 The Washington Post All rights reserved

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Starpolish Critic’s Corner

A song (Keep Me Waiting) that owes its soul to Tom Petty and Cheap Trick runs the risk of sounding purely corny these days.  But Shupp, formerly of Big Bang Theory, has come up with a great chorus and truly passionate vocal delivery.  He’s leading a band that’s played together for four years and it shows in the seamless arrangement…

— Dave Marsh
Starpolish Critic’s Corner
(Rollingstone Editor, Creem Magazine Founder)
December 14th, 2000

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News

Free Show At Iota This Sat. Night

Iota Club & Cafe, Arlington, VA
Arlington, VA

We’ll be at IOTA club this Sat. night Oct. 30th.  We will go on first, starting very close to 9:30 p.m., so get there early, have a beer, relax!  Excellent area band Yuma House is on after us, and a third local act may still be announced…  IOTA club is in Arlington VA.  And, the night before, Fri. Oct 29th, will be a rare, acoustic, Big Bang Theory reunion of sorts, as Mike Shupp and Victoria Grace join Sam Spencer during his opening set for 24fps at the Metro Cafe in Wash. DC!

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“River To The Sea” In Soundtrack

“October Sun” closer “River to the Sea” had it’s big screen debut in the soundtrack to “Eat Me“, an independent feature film by Joe Talbott, at the Johns Hopkins Film Festival in Baltimore April 18.  The film was scored by my former bandmate (Big Bang Theory founder) Sam Spencer, and includes some great music by DC area artists.  The screening was a big success, and the film will hopefully secure a wide release in the coming months!

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Metro Connection, WAMU 88.5 FM

Metro Connection, WAMU 88.5 FM
Metro Connection
WAMU 88.5 FM

Mike Shupp was a member of Big Bang Theory, a local band whose new wave dance rock won them a major-label contract in the ’80’s.  Now he’s released his first solo album and it has a classic sound.  Songs like “Letter to Annette” are rooted in the pop rock tradition that suggests the Beatles, but actually begins with the early ’70’s group, Big Star.  [ music excerpt: Letter to Annette ]

The key word in that verse is “forget  As on so many power pop albums, notably those by fellow Washingtonian Tommy Keene, these simple songs are deepened by a sense of loss and regret.  Shupp’s album is called October Sun, a title that suggests the sadness of dwindling days and approaching winter.  In songs like “Right For You”, the warmth that’s receding is, of course, love.  [ music excerpt: Right For You ]

October Sun is not exactly a concept album, but most of these songs do share a mood.  They express the various reactions to the end of a romance, from denial, to acceptance, to defiance.  In one song, he insists that it’s “easier now”, but in the next, he’s demanded to know why someone is always trying to “prove me wrong  [ music excerpt: Prove Me Wrong ]

The arrangements on October Sun are constructed from the classic power pop elements of melody, harmony, and jangly guitar.  Still, Shupp hasn’t entirely forsaken the groove of his previous band.  One of the album’s most striking songs, “Pictures”, combines an earthy beat with a heavenly chorus.  Shupp’s lyrics sometimes seem a little too wistful, but songs like this show that there’s still plenty of life in the bass line.  [ music excerpt: Pictures ]

– by Mark Jenkins