As we grow up, nostalgia tends to be a recurring emotion which can simultaneously lift us up as well as drag us down. No matter where we are in life, hearing a certain song can instantly teleport us back to a specific memory. This is why, when playing around on the piano one day, Josh Shaw (lead guitar & vocalist of Blvck Hippie) was drawn to a combination of chords which reminded him of the music he would hear around the house as a child. From there, he had a starting point which he could build a song off of. Inspired by this nostalgic sound, Shaw wrote lyrics which, “…equate the childhood feeling of wanting to live up to expectations with the grown-up experience of never feeling like enough.” By melding these opposite ends of life into a song with an old-school sound, Blvck Hippie has successfully captured something equally special and unique with “Rhodes Ave.”
Starting off slightly disjointed and reminiscent of a jam session, the song doesn’t reveal its identity until thirty seconds in. Suddenly, the entire band locks into a groove which forces you to tap your feet along to the beat provided by drummer Casey Rittinger. On top of that beat is a bassline from Tyler “Chaucer” Marberry, which creatively glides up and down the fretboard. Underneath it all and holding everything together is a muddy and distorted rhythm guitar played by Matt Turner. While Josh Shaw provides lead accents and melodies on his guitar, his vocals shine through the mix as he compares childhood to adulthood. Relating the two, with occasional harmonies chiming in, Shaw sings, “The more I start to pay attention / The wallpaper looks the same.” With that, the song sets the listener off on a journey which continues to surprise and impress the further it goes.
We asked Shaw some questions about “Rhodes Ave.” and other topics:
When/how did you form as a band?
We started as a solo project I did out of my dorm room junior year of college. The original lineup of our full band came together in 2017 for a music festival that ended up getting cancelled.
Casey Rittinger has been in the band the longest aside from me. When our old drummer left in 2018 he recommended Casey from his middle school drumline days. Tyler Marberry joined the band two days before we went on our 2019 tour as an emergency bass replacement. Me and Mattie Turner have known each other from the music scene in Memphis. We reconnected at a protest we played this year and he asked if we wanted a rhythm guitar player.
How long have you each been playing your respective instruments?
Josh (lead guitar, vocals, frontman): guitar and singing for 5 years, classically trained piano player for 13 years
Mattie (rhythm guitar): guitar 16 years
Tyler (bass): bass for 3 years, guitar for 11
Casey (drums): 16 years
How did you come up with your name, Blvck Hippie?
Black Hippie is a nickname my mom gave me growing up. I was such an eccentric child, so she would call me her Little Black Hippie all the time. I added the “v” as an edgy 20 year old.
What inspires you the most to sit down and write a song?
It’s an outlet for my sadness. Sometimes I write after seeing a film or art that inspires me. It usually depends on the situation, I tend to write in quick manic bursts.
Which bands/artists influence you the most?
In terms of instrumentation I take a lot from the Strokes, Antlers, and Majesty Crush. I also pull from the hip hop I listened to growing up. When I was in high school Kanye West and Kid Cudi were always pushing the envelope creatively, which inspires me and drives me to make something different.
This song seems to borrow from multiple genres including jazz, alternative, and rock. Is this melding of genres intentional, or does it come as second nature when you play together?
Honestly it happens naturally when we all get together. We come from different inspirations and musical backgrounds also we all have really short attention spans. I come up with the bones of songs and then we get together to jam and everyone’s ideas and backgrounds meld together and pour out.
This song was originally demoed as part of a COVID relief fundraiser back in March. Re-recording it in Sun Studio months later, has your perspective on the song and its meaning changed? If so, how?
A little bit… When I first wrote it, there was a mad dash to finish the lyrics in time for that Bandcamp Friday. The longer we played it, the more I realized what I subconsciously meant. I was reminiscing about my first years growing up in my house and how I longed to still be the young kid I was there.
This song is named after the road you grew up on. What pushed you to title the track after that?
My first years experiencing jazz were in the house on that road, so as soon as I came up with the chord progression I thought of that house. I titled it before I wrote the lyrics and eventually it all came together.