Q & A: Josh Lippi

If there is something I take away from Josh Lippi and The Overtimers’ latest EP In Quarantine it’s that music is so much fucking better with friends. 

Most musicians can probably attest to the fact that making music with friends is part of the reason they ever wanted to play music in the first place, let alone create a band. Those first musical memories are centered around trading CD’s and tapes (and now playlists?) back and forth and late night listening sessions to albums that end up being drunk impromptu sing alongs and jams. In those situations, of course those albums become your favorites and those friends become your closest.

Lippi is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and Sacramento native who has spent close to 20 years playing in bands (Lee Bob and The Truth, The Parks), working for other musicians in sessions (Alice Walker, BLKTOP Project) and touring across the globe as a hired gun (K.Flay, Tommy Guerrero, Darondo). That’s a lot of time and energy making music and doing something he loves. It’s also a lot of time and energy playing other people’s music, sleeping alone in hotel rooms and traveling around with people who are probably more colleagues than compadres.

It’s why Lippi wanted to strip away the pretenses and production and release In Quarantine, an EP made for friends by friends. The musician’s band The Overtimers is really just a moniker for himself, as he’s the one usually playing and recording all the parts on those records. This time he wanted his band to actually play with him and he enlisted some of his closest and most trusted friends from his Sacramento roots and California travels to share some time with him and play some stripped-down, blues-inspired rock and roll, just how they used to before the years of bright lights and late nights. 

Photo Credit: Amanda Lopez

The EP is a sweet little musical conversation between friends and the music reflects that intimate comfort and energy of musical friendships. “High West Gold” is a tender ode to the road written on the road with longtime friend and collaborator Steve Wyreman. “Lost Days” has a subtle spark to it in the acoustic bond between Lippi and one of his L.A. favorites Kyle Tkatch. “Blues Stay Away from Me” shares Wryeman and Lippi’s love for blues standards and “Sitting In Limbo” is as honest a song about this past year as you can get, sung with oldest friend and mentor Lee Bob. The record epitomizes the ritual of playing music with your friends just because you want to.

Lippi began quarantine by releasing another stripped down record that highlighted his friendship and ongoing musical conversation with guitarist, artist and skateboarder Tommy Guerrero. The two skipped town for five days into the majestic expanse of Joshua Tree, California and recorded a meditative helix of desert tunes called Singing Sands. As Los Days the duo can focus on their sonic rapport without the distractions of expectations and exultations and they’ve already recorded a follow-up that is hopefully on its way sometime later this year.

At this point in his life Lippi is excited to lower the musical stakes and raise the musical bonds. He’s back in Sacramento after 18 years away and he’s connecting with the people who he’s been playing with from the very beginning. In Quarantine is a fantastic snapshot of Lippi’s priorities right now as he understands playing to no one in a basement with a friend is way better than playing to everyone by yourself on the world’s biggest stages.

“To be honest I just want to play with my friends. I’ve spent the last 10 years touring pretty hard with different people and the year off was a silver lining to be able to be in one place and do a lot more recording with other artists. I’m definitely looking forward to playing but I’m almost more stoked to play a local dive bar and just chill versus getting on a bus and doing laps.”

The following is a conversation with Josh Lippi. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Two people who have been pretty constant in your life musically are Steve Wyreman and Lee Bob, who are both on In Quarantine. What are the ways y’all complement each other?

I grew up in Sacramento with Lee Bob. Lee Bob was kind of a really early big brother and mentor to me and my crew. We were playing bars when we were 14 and 15 and he was a young Sacramento songwriter we were playing with who hipped us to all this great music. As we grew up we kept jamming together. Then I linked up with Steve Wyreman and a bunch of Bay Area musicians and Lee Bob was kind of like family. Everybody I play with is like family to me, we have a special connection musically and as friends from what we’ve grown up together doing. 

Lee Bob, Steve and I started Lee Bob and The Truth around 2015 or so. Steve and I do a lot of session work and hired gun touring work. He’d been in L.A. where he’d been on a crazy amount of sessions and was kind of fed up with the record industry world and politics. Steve comes from a blues guitar tradition and Lee Bob comes from this modern day troubadour type thing. I told them they needed to work together.

Photo Credit: Amanda Lopez

For the songs that ended up making the cut for the EP, what qualities made them right for this record?

These albums are really a snapshot in time or a chapter in a book to me, they represent certain eras of my life or my involvement. A lot of time I’ll do everything in the span of the year, but it’s really these short five or six days of banging it out and being in the moment of what that is. Prior to this EP I was living in Sacramento again and staying at Lee Bob’s house where I did The Sacramento EP, which was very much this idea of being back in Sac after having moved away 18 years ago. It was a reflection of growing up there and the records we used to like and listen to, more singer-songwriter style. 

The acoustic EP was kind of like part B to The Sacramento EP. I moved to L.A. right before the pandemic and it make sense to me to do something quarantine related since I’m stuck at home. But then I hadn’t done anything with live performances for the Overtimers as a full band and I wanted to do something real chill and acoustic and live since there was no live music. 

It was a challenge to sing it and record it in one take and make sure it was cool. I felt like this whole pandemic for me was a good time to take a breath and strip away the bullshit of the day to day grind and think about what’s important. For me, a good song is a good song and playing a song with a friend is what it is all about. It’s not this massively produced huge budgeted thing. I just want to play good songs with my friends. 

How’d you cross paths with Tommy Guerrero?

I was playing with another band and opened up for him. We connected, he’d come to my shows and I’d go to his. Then in 2014 he was doing a European tour and his bass player got hurt and called me and asked me if I wanted to go on a tour of Europe in two weeks. I said, hell yeah. That kicked off me playing with him and ever since then we’ve been super tight. 

I played with him on his live stuff and he had already had this supergroup with BLKTOP Project with these rad musicians who are also skateboard legends: Ray Barbee, Chuck Treece, Matt Rodriguez and Tommy. Matt is from Sacramento too so I’ve known Matt a long time. I started playing for Tommy and Ray and they decided to do another one together called Concrete Jungle and sort of became an added member to that crew.  

You are obviously a colleague of Tommy’s and there is shared musical comfort and conversation you’ve had with one another. With the Los Days records, was there a conversation about what y’all were hoping to get out of the recording or was it pretty intuitive and established about what you’ll do on the record? 

It’s a little bit of both. Singing Sands wasn’t really planned, there wasn’t a lot of thought put into it. I had planned on going to my buddy’s house out there in Yucca Valley that is completely off the grid. I told him I was going to go out there and take some guitars and get off the grid for a second and he was down to go. So we brought guitars and recording stuff and started playing and after a few days we knew we had an album if we knocked out a few songs. It really happened organically and totally driven by the atmosphere of the geography and the solitude. 

He and I have a real strong musical connection in having played for him for so many years. I know his style and share a lot about what we like in music and we both come from a self-taught and DIY aesthetic. We’re not afraid to just do weird stuff and actually enjoy going outside the box more and creating a mood with the music. 

Los Days has been rad because it just happened and we just went back and recorded another album, same house. Everything is written and recorded within that space of five or six days, on the spot. That desert landscape certainly sets the tone and we try to keep that in mind. If we are having a hard time we just look out the window and if whatever you are playing is vibing with what you are staring at then you are in the right ballpark. 

You are in the special position of having worked with both Tommy Guerrero and Ray Barbee, who are both massively creative in skateboarding, photography and music. Considering those similarities, how are they unique to you in both playing with them and how they approach their music? 

I definitely nerd out that I’m even friends with these guys because I grew up skateboarding and watching them and have been fans of them my whole life as well. I’m constantly wondering how I snuck into these guys’ bands. They are both very inspiring to me not only creatively but as humans. They are both so rad and creative who are constantly driven, while being good dudes.

Ray is so positive and lights up a room and Tommy is so endlessly creative in so many different mediums.

There is a different vision of the world that I think skateboarders have because it’s like creativity in real time. You are constantly seeing things a different way than people do when you see a stair or a rail or a bump and you see what is possible for tricks you can do on that thing, which it wasn’t designed for. They bring that attitude to everything. They constantly want to change and evolve and do different things. It’s been the coolest thing ever to be involved in making music with those things. 

Darondo is another legend you’ve had the pleasure of playing with. How’d you get linked up with him? 

He’s another dude I’m grateful I got to spend time with, he’s passed on now. I was playing with Nino Mochella who was also on Ubiquity Records and they’re the ones who re-released his old records. Darondo ended up calling up Nino and said that he liked his recent record and I was already a fan of Darondo from way back in the day when someone had slipped me a hand-burned CD with Darondo written on it. So I found out he was calling my buddy and I wanted to know what the deal was, if we could call him or get him to come out and jam. 

He was living in Sacramento at the time and we were living in San Francisco and he took the Amtrak out and we learned all his tunes and he had a blast. We kind of brought him out of retirement and we were his band for the last few years of his life. We did South By Southwest and this big blues and roots festival up in Canada. 

I even wrote a couple songs for him and did a 7” called “Silver Cloud Time Machine.” My crew in the Bay Area was this rhythm section called The Park and we’d back up different artists and we did some new songs with Darondo. We did this song “2012” about the Mayan calendar. We called him the godfather of The Park and we had a lot of fun times with him. I used to crash at his house in Elk Grove. He was a trip. 

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