On July 17, longtime Eugene singer-songwriter John Shipe will release “Love Ain’t Easy,” the first single off The Beast is Back, which is due out in the fall. That will be the folk-rock and Americana musician’s first new album in 10 years. Shipe’s new release is a double album, each half bearing a title of its own: “Hagiography” and “Involution,” words directly related to themes explored in the music, he says.
Hagiography, or the biography of a saint, has a secondary definition of any biographical work that’s overly generous to the subject, and throughout the record, Shipe seeks to bridge such divides by reckoning with his own true self.
On the sweetly raw piano ballad “My Daughter, My Love,” for instance, he tells the story of a father and daughter once close but now remote, recalling Loudon Wainwright’s great ode to parental uncertainty, “In C.”
“Love Ain’t Easy” is a gentle, contemplative Jackson Browne-influenced song, in which Shipe reflects upon the ups-and-downs of long-term relationships. “Sometimes love is the last you want to happen to you,” he sings over acoustic and slide guitar as well as a quietly humming organ. “Love ain’t easy,” he continues, “but I’m so glad that I love you.”
Elsewhere, Shipe aims to humanize our most sacred icons, including the son of God himself in the satirical, Balkan music-influenced “Jesus.” Then, with the slyly funny acoustic rock song “J. Edgar Hoover,” Shipe looks with sympathy upon what it must have been like for former FBI director Hoover to keep secret his long-rumored cross-dressing.
Though the truth behind this rumor is disputed, Shipe assumes it to be true, singing of what a relief it would have been if Hoover could have embraced his true identity in his own lifetime.
This emotional immediacy is new for Shipe. “I’ve always been sort of blocked from those kinds of vulnerable feelings until recently,” he tells me. “This album sort of chronicles unblocking,” he says, brought about by treatment for alcohol addiction.
“I think a lot of my material in the past is somewhat cold compared to this,” he continues. “This was the first time that I really felt fully immersed in all the vulnerabilities that I think a lot of people always have experienced.”
Produced by Tyler Fortier at his home studio in Eugene, the recording features several other well known local musicians, including Jerry Abelin on bass, formerly of Eugene indie folk-rock band The Stagger and Sway, Tim McLaughlin on horns and Mike Walker on organ and piano.
Walker played alongside Shipe in The Renegade Saints, the band with which Shipe first made his name performing for Eugene audiences in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Since then Shipe has remained active performing and recording under his own name in and around Eugene. He also scored a niche hit of sorts among pitbull advocates in 2004 with the song “Pit Bull Blues,” in defense of the often misunderstood dog breed.
Shipe credits the overall direction of the album to Fortier, who provided a lot of “sound-scaping,” he says, and also his old bandmate, Walker.
“He, more than anybody else, shaped the energy, the sound and the energy of the project,” Shipe says. “He changed it from a really intimate folk record to something a little bit louder and rowdier.”
As well as planning for the new record, Shipe is slowly returning to performing live this summer at local wineries and beer gardens. He’s among the most notable local musicians to do so mid-pandemic.
Following all the social distancing guidelines and safety precautions, Shipe calls the experience less than intimate, with audience members sitting far apart from one another. Overall, though, the reception has been great. “People are hungry for it,” Shipe says.
In addition to performing, Shipe will also help teach Music’s Edge Rock Camp for teens and children this summer, held at Oak Hill School, following all COVID-19 safety guidelines. ν
“Love Ain’t Easy,” available July 17 and The Beast is Back, out Sept. 27, will be available on Bandcamp, CD Baby and all major music streaming services. For more information about Music’s Edge Rock Camp, go to OakHillSchool.com or search Music’s Edge Rock Camp on Facebook.