Brian: I appreciate Go-Go because a lot of bands are like, "Oh, you can dance to this", or, "Let me see some dancing." They're like, "No, let's just make a song and tell you what to do. Everybody with a cup to the floor right now." I really appreciate that, it's so good. I love it. Chip, congratulations on your win and thanks for coming and being a guest as a result of all that car dancing man.
Chip Py: All right, I'm excited to be here.
Brian: This is such a treat. Now, let me give you a proper introduction here. On DC Music Rocks, we're shining a spotlight on the great songs, artists, and incredible people behind the DC region's music scene.
Chip Py is a local DC photographer who has been photo documenting the DC music scene for 15 years across a wide genre of music scenes including punk, roots rock, rockabilly, and Go-Go. He's best known for his work in Go-Go as one of Chuck Brown's official photographers. His work with Chuck Brown can be seen on Chuck's final album cover and the Chuck Brown Park.
For the last three years, Chip has been producing a video podcast from his overgrown 100% organic backyard garden, which he calls the Yarden. Each week in the late spring and early summer, Chip invites different local musical acts from all over to grill and groove in The Yarden, which he records into 30 minute video programs that includes interviews and the live performance.
Often the guests from different genres are brought together for the shows. In the last three seasons he's produced 27 episodes and has 71 musicians that have now performed in The Yarden.
That video of course, I'm not going to hold it out on you. I'm going to have the link to his winning car dance video, will be included with this episode so you can check him out doing his thing in his car too.
Chip Py: It's one of my finest moments.
Brian: Chip, I appreciate you. I've heard about you for so long in the scene now with the different things you're doing and being involved in the different genres, and what you do in it. Basically for me, it's an honor to have you here. Thanks for being here.
Chip Py: Thank you.
Brian: What is it do you feel that makes the Locally Grown DC thing that you're doing, what makes it special?
Chip Py: What does make it special? I don't know that there's anything else like it. I'm certain there's other little, people have music shows and stuff like that, but nobody has the backdrop of The Yarden.
I'm not really a videographer, I'm a photographer. I'm also a gardener, everything except for the tree in the corner in that garden, in that Yarden, was planted by me. What I actually enjoy doing about it creatively photographic wise is working the bands and the artists into the growth that I have in the garden in The Yarden.
Each morning before the show, "Hey, I put the chicken on", because I do feed them and then walk around The Yarden and figure out how I'm going to compose each band and get the angles and the shots going so that it has a different kind of look every year.
Some people have walked in and gone, "Oh, I didn't know it was so small." It's just an average sized yard in Silver Spring, but they've seen multi different angles from it. That's what I as a photographer bring.
As a DC music person, I have relationships with many bands that I've worked with so that I can feel comfortable asking them to come perform in The Yarden. Getting this things off the ground was a crazy idea, and I'm fortunate that the first five people said, "Yeah, that's a great idea."
Brian: Absolutely, getting them in there. Talk a little bit too about the photography stuff. You were mentioning at one point about the multiple genres, we brought up the different genres. Talk about photography and multiple genres.
Chip Py: First of all, my video skills are nil compared to a lot of videographers out there. Most of my shows I've shot with just simply a one camera mic. I'm adding a second camera this year, so that's going to be fun. That'll increase my video skills.
I tell people I'm a photographer, I'm a still photographer. That's what I enjoy and I'm a huge music fan. If I can catch your groove, I can capture your groove. If I can catch your groove, I can capture your groove in almost any lighting situation.
Most of the bands that I shoot, when I walk into the venue, when any photographer walks in there, we'll walk in and go, "I can't shoot in this venue, there's no lights." There's nothing coming in. One of the places I've been shooting rockabilly is Hank Dietle's Tavern, which recently burnt down. Hank Dietle's Tavern has been there for 100 years.
Brian: Oh no. What part of the city is that?
Chip Py: Rockville, Maryland. Right across from White Flint Mall, where White Flint Mall used to be is where Hank Dietle's used to be. There is a movement to save Hank Dietle's. We have raised money and Hank Dietle's will rise again.
The only light in there is the lights off the pinball machines, pinball machines and a Miller Light sign. They've pushed the pool table out of the way, so that's the light that I have to work with in there.
I don't throw a strobe on and simply let it simply blast the whole light. When I do use a strobe, and I often use a strobe, I'm bouncing it off of something and using it as a fill flash. If you're a photographer and understand it, you have to utilize part of the light in the room, it's just a little bit of what you give it.
When I was photographing Go-Go, because most of the Go-Gos were played in venues where there were absolutely no stage lighting. I was able to bounce light off using fill flash, I actually used pieces of plastic from a milk carton that I strapped to the top of my strobe. Meter the light in the room, back off, close the aperture a bit, bring it down for a little bit of light in there.
Brian: Now there's different genres too. What made you jump from the different genres? How'd that come about?
Chip Py: I had been shooting a lot of the roots rock and the punk rock bands in DC because that was the music scene that I was into.
Brian: When was that?
Chip Py: I went digital '03. In college I was shooting, I remember I was shooting the [inaudible 00:06:36] bands that came around East Carolina University where I was. The Bad Checks, and I'll remember the name in a minute.
Brian: That's all right.
Chip Py: What I started doing probably about seven or eight years ago, I started wondering why I was doing this. I came to the conclusion that I was creating a collection of what the DC music scene is, what it is at the time in which I'm shooting.
I knew that of the whole DC scene, there was this thing called Go-Go. As a white guy from DC, I didn't know anything about Go-Go other than Chuck Brown. In order to have my collection complete, I wanted to have some pictures of Chuck Brown.
What I didn't know was how lively, because Rare Essence is not the only band, there are hundreds of people who play Go-Go in this city. They're not in front of you, you can't go and open the city paper and see where to go see them. It's an underground scene, which the fact that people who know Go-Go know where Go-Go is.
It's not played at music venues, oftentimes it's played in restaurants and bars where the promoters come in and rent the place out for the evening.
Brian: If it's your first time going to a Go-Go show, you've got any tips or advice on somebody who's never been to a Go-Go show?
Chip Py: Yeah, my advice is go.
Brian: That was so profound. While they're at it, when they go, dancing? Is it feel welcome, is it a welcoming environment? What makes people stay away?
Chip Py: I had friends tell me that as a white guy I shouldn't go to Go-Gos. Literally, I just walked into the La Fontaine Bleue on night with my camera and said I was there because the Bela Dona band was playing.
I knew that Sweet Cherie was Chuck Brown's keyboard player. In order to get to Chuck Brown I had to show him something. Showing him pictures of the Nighthawks and the Slickee Boys wasn't going to mean anything, so I had to develop some Go-Go cred.
I went and shot the bands that Chuck Brown band members had, so that I could bring something relevant to Chuck and his manager Tom Goldfogle. I did that and within several months I was one of Chuck's official photographers and photographed the last year of his life.
Tom Goldfogle, when I've told that story before, has told me that they weren't looking at my photographic skills. I was like, "Oh, you weren't?" He told me they were trying to figure out if I was cool enough to hang out with them. At first I was disappointed, but then I thought, "Is that a better compliment?" It's a compliment nonetheless, but I like to think that it was my photo skills. Now I also like to think that it was cool.
One of the things about the Chuck Brown scene, the people around Chuck Brown, is that everybody's cool. It's a very family scene back there. Chuck, when he was alive, there was a large number of people on the guest list. Those folks are the Go-Go family.
Brian: Got it, that family vibe. You've talked a lot about photography and some of the stuff you're doing, what do you do in your personal time outside of Locally Grown, and the music stuff, and the job thing? Do you have other hobbies too?
Chip Py: Yeah. I'm a fisherman, I'm a picker.
Brian: A picker, what does that mean?
Chip Py: Ever see the show American Pickers?
Brian: If I haven't, what does that mean?
Chip Py: It's a show on History Channel where two guys drive around in a truck through the countryside buying antiques out of barns and sell them and flip them for cash.
Brian: Okay, I'm following you.
Chip Py: My father was a picker. Part of the way in which I make my living is I do work for Harmony Rocket Estate Sales where we, when somebody passes away, we go in the house and sell dead's peoples stuff real quick for cheap.
I have a dog. I love my dog, go to the dog park. Thrift store, I go to the thrift store, I love thrifting.
Brian: What's your dog's name? What kind of dog is it?
Chip Py: My dog's name is Bebop.
Brian: Awesome. Imagine that, you're a music guy and you named your dog Bebop.
Chip Py: When I first found out that the definition of bebop was when people started soloing when they wanted to, how they wanted to, and all the time. I said, "I have to have a dog named Bebop."
When I went to the pound after my dog Pepper had died and saw Bebop, which is the dog that has every different type of breed inside that dog depending on how you look at it.
Brian: A good mutt, huh?
Chip Py: That is Bebop.
Brian: That is Bebop, that's amazing. One favorite question that I love to ask; if you could offer one piece of advice, what would it be?
Chip Py: One piece of advice for photographers?
Brian: In general, you only get time for one.
Chip Py: I'll tell you what I've got. What I like about my show is that it crosses genres. If you're a rockabilly guy, go to a Go-Go show. If you're a Go-Go person, go to a punk show. We have so many different music scenes in DC and nobody seems to cross through the genres.
What I like about where my camera and where my show takes me is that every time I get to go find out about something new that we have right here in DC, right inside the Beltway, there's so much here and there's so much to explore.
A lot of the people stay right within their genres and have their five, six, seven, maybe ten bands that they listen to. Jump out of your genre, that's what I say.
Brian: I love it, and it's so true. On DC Music Rocks we've got the local music calendar, which is all the genres. On the show we cover a swath of all across the genres, so I hope you do check out. We've tried to put it in one place so you can find it, but I hope you check out more genres. That's such a good point.
Chip Py: You want to see some genres that are outside of your genre, go to locallygrowndc.com.
Brian: There it is. You lead me right into my final question, you're brilliant sir. If they want to find out more about you and the cool stuff you're doing, locallygrowndc.com.
Chip Py: Locallygrowndc.com.
Brian: Anywhere else that you tend to do a lot? Are you social media or other things?
Chip Py: Do we have time to talk about, inside Locally Grown I did an episode called Funk Up the Grass. Can we talk about that now or should we?
Brian: If we've got a minute, we got to jump back into some music here. Talk quickly about it if you can.
Chip Py: One of the episodes I did, I put together an episode called Funk Up The Grass where I brought in four bluegrass musicians and three funk musicians. They arrived at my house and had to create five bluegrass songs with a funky beat to them. Not only did they have to create them, then we had to perform them in The Yarden.
The city paper did an article about it. It's interesting because everybody thinks they're different, but you put people in the room with music involved and it really brings people together. It's how you can really celebrate your differences and create something unique.
Brian: That's it. That's locallygrowndc.com. Look at the episodes and the name of the episode again is?
Chip Py: Funk Up The Grass.
Brian: Funk Up The Grass.
Chip Py: I also had an alt-country band, Ty Braddock's alt-country band and I brought in the Go-Go singer Mz Laydee. They hit some old country songs with a soulful flavor to it.