Rusty Shipp is an independent rock band from Nashville, TN. Fresh off the release of their sophomore album Liquid Exorcist, the band took some time to hang out with us and answer some questions about the new album, how the band came together, and their goals for the future.
We met at a Mexican restaurant next to The Pond in Franklin before a show. Russ was on a mission to find coffee, which would ultimately fail, but we eventually made time to chat for about a half hour. Following is our conversation with Rusty Shipp.
Let’s start out by having you introduce yourselves and tell us what your favorite Christmas cookie is.
AJ: I’m AJ Newton, and I play drums. My favorite Christmas cookie is a snickerdoodle. Cause they’re amazing.
Speedy: You stole mine, I have to come up with a new one!
Russ T: My name is Russ T. Shipp and I do lead vocals, a lot of the songwriting, and guitar. Tonight, I have a real hankering for coffee cookies, or maybe just any cookie that can be dipped in coffee. Or maybe no cookie and just coffee.
Speedy: I am Speedy, I’m the bassist, and my favorite…well, second favorite cookie is the gingerbread man. Actually, specifically, those little gingerbread windmill cookies.
What’s the story behind Rusty Shipp? How did you meet and become Rusty Shipp?
Russ T: Well, I started the band. I moved here from the DC area and wanted to get a rock band together in Nashville. I found some people, we threw around some band names, and Rusty Shipp stuck. Through various Craig’s List ads, we got the band together.
AJ: I met Russ about 3 years ago right after I moved to Nashville from Indiana through a Craig’s List ad. About 2 years ago, we did the same thing when we added Speedy.
Speedy: I was on the Craig’s List site looking for manual labor, weekend jobs, and found an ad that they needed a bass player for a rock band.
What’s the process like of bringing a member into the band?
AJ: The process is more professional than just a standard Craig’s List ad. For me, I found the ad and then had to fill out a job application, which goes over questions that you’d ask someone you are recruiting to join your family in the band. We meet for coffee to see if it’s a good fit personally, and then we play an audition to see if musically we are going to click. So it’s phases, but it has worked.
Rusty Shipp, the band name. Is it just from your name, Russ?
Russ T: It was originally based on my name, but it has taken on a life of its own with the nautical rock theme. It’s gradually taken on new meaning with the ship and whale sounds, and lyrically we talk about submarines, pirates, and ghosts.
What is Nautical Rock, and how does it compare to different flavors?
Speedy: Compared to other flavors, it is a bit saltier; it has a lot of flavor. What you’ll hear from our music is a lot of 90s grunge, lots of distortion stuff, but also mixed in at the same time surf rock from the 60s. Specifically, Russ’s idol.
Russ T: Dick Dale, he’s my favorite guitarist– the king of the surf guitar. He originated surf rock. You know, Nautical rock is… a lot of bands are saying, “hey we’re a rock band; well, we’re a hard rock band; we’re an indie rock band.” But the nautical one is more, “what is this?”
We’re not just an alternative rock band, there’s something that is significantly different. We have a distinct flare that is more obvious and notable. It’s oceanic, and we stand out from the spectrum and pack from all other rock bands.
AJ: I think especially with Liquid Exorcist, we wanted it be like you’ll see a movie reel in your head, you’re seeing this whole concept album come alive in your imagination. We’ve heard it a million times, and it’s pulling from our favorite roots. Dick Dale, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Audioslave, Rush. That’s the fun thing on this record, we’ve been compared to Rush, to Audioslave (because we covered it). I hear Queens of the Stone Age a lot. It’s fun because we put out our first single “Breaking Waves,” and we were told someone mistook it for an unreleased Nirvana song. So you can hear our roots, but also where we’re going.
Russ T: This album really was trying to hone in on the nautical rock sound. Which isn’t just one thing– it could be grungy or grittier 60s surf rock like “Detonator.” Or it sounds like “Breaking Waves,” darker and heavier. Or it sounds like “100 Voices.” There are different genres within the overall genre, which is kind of a good vehicle for our trajectory going forward.
How much of the sounds are brought into the live performance?
AJ: We try to get as close as possible. We did our album release show and tried to get it 100%.
Speedy: We played the interludes because they are straight ambient sounds.
Russ T: Some of the sounds were played straight from my phone because they were straight ambient sounds.
What made you want to do a concept album?
Russ T (speaking to Speedy): That’s like your world.
Speedy: Yeah. Pink Floyd, Zepplin, Rush, pretty much anyone who has done a concept album I’ll listen to it.
AJ: Which is kind of fun because we’re in a singles release era, but we think there’s a whole world that’s starved for a binge-worthy album. They want to listen to something all the way through.
Speedy: If Netflix can make all these shows that are intertwined, talking the Marvel shows specifically, why can’t we make an album that is binge-worthy?
It’s a fun album to listen to the whole way through while having songs that stand on their own. It captures your attention.
Russ T: Thank you! That was intentional.
AJ: Each song should be able to stand on its own and have radio playability. Russ T is just an amazing lyricist. He paints lyrical photos in my head all the time. So he did a great job of that.
It’s fun with the interludes, like on “Minesweeper.” I see a mine sweeper submarine just chugging along through the water if you follow the bass line and everything. We had a great producer on this record, and that helped us too.
Russ T: I take being an artist very seriously, it’s the main thing I am trying to do with my life. My goal is to just keep trying to go one more level up the ladder and not go back. Our album Mortal Ghost got a lot of good acclaim, so I asked what could we do even better than our first album. And a concept album is something that is more ambitious and creative than Mortal Ghost.
Give us a cliff notes backstory of the album, the story.
Speedy: Here’s the elevator pitch version: people see a minefield. People show up. They die. It’s bad. Team gets sent in to fix it, figure it out. They also die. Everybody’s dead, but is it that terrible to be deceased?
Russ T: Right, exactly. One of the 100 voices.
AJ: That’s definitely the cliff notes!
That’s the real life story, but is there deeper meaning for you guys?
AJ: Lyrically, people might take something different from it, and we all take something different from each song we’ve written.
Russ T: I was trying to make something that was going to be thought provoking, that would either challenge somebody or encourage somebody, but in a way that would expand their minds. So it’s moving them beyond the physical terrain, gets them to stop, and puts an idea in their head to cause them to think about the afterlife or the spirit realm. A lot of what’s going on in this album is very much that. Just the name Liquid Exorcist, exorcism is the lyrical metaphor I am harping on. Specifically, it’s casting the body out of a state of warfare.
Speedy: In this case, it’s a human spirit being exorcised rather than an evil spirit.
Russ T: “100 Crosses” is about warfare, and it’s like casting a human spirit out instead of an evil spirit.
What do you want people to take away from your music or a show?
Speedy: Honestly for me, I want people to show up and have a good time at a show. But if they go home and listen to it more, that’s where they’ll pick up on the meaning.
AJ: I’ve viewed it as a show is more like your fellowship, and the common goal is to enjoy each other, rock out, and leave with positive vibes. There’s a lot of life stressors, and it takes an hour out of your life to come listen to a live band perform, and you might leave with a smile on your face.
Russ T: At the end of the day, for some people, our band is a form of entertainment. And at a base level, if it’s nothing more than that, I’m cool with that. Even if someone’s life is just minutely better than before, mission accomplished.
But also, I hope that people see something different about our band in our demeanor and in the lyrics, that they see something special about us, and it leaves them with a feeling of hope. Like that there’s something more to these guys than just being a rock band.
AJ: We’ve had several friends come up to us that said our music helped them get over this emotional thing they were going through, and that is our goal: to make music that has a healing element. Usually they get that from listening to it and peeling back the onion of meaning.
After the interview, Rusty Shipp performed a live show and their energy and passion for what they do was as visible and evident on stage as it was in the interview. If you haven’t had a chance to hear Liquid Exorcist yet, you can find it on Spotify and Apple Music.