In my travels as a folk singer, I meet all kinds of musicians and artists. I am starting this series to focus on some of Utah’s creative types, to tell their stories and dive into why they create the art they do. Each month I will feature a different Utah musical act. I begin the series with J.P. Whipple and his band, Tycoon Machete.
It’s the middle of a fall Friday afternoon when I sit down with a barefoot man in a Salt Lake City bar. J.P. Whipple says “some of these supposed bigfoots might actually be Hobbit-type people who go into the woods and just never come back. I can see why they might do that.”
This would seem strange if you don’t know Whipple like I do. He is a vagabond, and though he has settled in Salt Lake City with a full time job, this man’s bare feet have taken him throughout the states and Europe.
Whipple has always been an artist, a musician primarily, though he also experiments with film and a variety of other mediums. He initially took to the guitar due to the freedom it gave him to travel and the way it accompanied his voice. He feels that the guitar is the best instrument for a troubadour. He started on a 1955 Kay archtop. It had a broken neck and was difficult to play, but it was a starting point. Whipple had already been experimenting with recording. He recounted to me that in his youth he had overdubbed his voice onto a tape of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Each stage of Whipple’s musical evolution has been shaped by the tools and experiences at hand. When he lived in a truck with only an acoustic guitar, his music took on more of a roots, blues, and folk feel. Now that he works full time, has a permanent residence, electricity and a synthesizer, his music has taken on a more electronic feel.
“I had a cauldron of steam, a sexual energy, an angst, and I needed a chimney to let it out. Music was that chimney for me,” he says, as he takes a sip of beer. He describes his current project, Tycoon Machete, as post modern narcissistic blues. It is a social commentary of what he views as a dystopian Trump era. Through Tycoon Machete, Whipple and his band seek to immerse the listener in a sonic and lyrical picture; to create a soundscape. Their video for Cult of me is a scathing indictment of the era we live in, a world of internet enabled self-worship.
Our conversation evolved into a discussion of the role of the self and identity in music. Whipple asks, “Is there a soul? No, There is not. There are only algorithms, stories we tell ourselves and others, identities, but they are not fixed.” Bob Dylan once said, “I can only be myself, whoever that is.” I think Whipple’s sentiment leans in the same direction.
Whipple believes that music allows the musician to relive a moment in time with each performance, to time travel, in a way. His musical intention is to show human nature in an ever more mechanized world.
To sum it up, Tycoon Machete exists, as Whipple says, “to alarm you that the paradigm is f****d.” §