Most musicians, when initially taking up their primary instrument of choice, are drawn to some romantic notion that the object invokes. The guitar, for instance, is generally viewed as modern music’s iconic and defining instrument. But for Galen Kipar, however, it was just a tool to achieve a grander vision.
“Composition was always the biggest thing for me,” recalls Kipar. “The guitar was just the instrument that was there, sort of a means to that end.”
As soon as the young Kipar could play chords well and make smooth transitions between them, he began trying to add more. Writing and incorporating parts for vocals and harmonica, he soon achieved a level of proficiency in all three. For the next decade, Kipar would hone this skill, crafting honest, accessible music that manages to explore unexpected sonic textures and thematic directions.
Kipar’s first forays into live music were in his hometown of Augusta, Ga., where he was a regular on the local-music scene and helped to create events like the Greater Augusta Songwriter series. In 2001, Kipar left Augusta to attend Brevard College, an experience that caused him to re-examine his musical direction.
“It was when I went back to school that I learned how much it was that I really didn’t know,” Kipar admits. “Before I went back to school, the songs I wrote were still the standard verse-chorus-verse. Since then it’s evolved into something more complex.”
With a firm understanding of folk songcraft already in place, he began to incorporate those “more complex” elements into his music. In his 2006 solo album, Change, hints of jazz, soul, world music and 20th-century classical were already becoming commonplace. He soon formed a band, the Galen Kipar Project, which released its debut, Why It’s Needed, in 2007. That album presented his music on an entirely new scale, with lush instrumentation complementing an unexpectedly soulful collection of songs. But, it was also an understandably complicated undertaking, and for his next recording project Kipar opted for something more intimate.
The result is Paper Sailer, a project Kipar says he approached quite differently from his previous recordings. Backed by violist Camilla Delk and Dobro player Aaron Ballance, the album shies away from studio trickery and postproduction (except for a handful of tastefully executed overdubs), instead focusing on the performance.
“The lineup for this album is just the acoustic trio,” Kipar says. “We recorded a live set with the three of us straight to a reel-to-reel tape. The live set never even touched a computer at all.”
The simple combination of classical guitar, viola and Dobro—as well as Delk’s occasional accompanying vocals—is remarkably effective, giving the recording a simple, almost elegant feel.
“We were intentionally going for less-is-more,” Kipar says. In a way, the album’s recording echoes Kipars’ lyrics in the song “Still Time,” and in particular, this line: “All the clutter is gone and I am glad.”
If there is a central theme to Paper Sailer, it is water. Not in the maritime sense—although Kipar does admit to spending “a lot of time on the water” during the album’s writing last winter—but more in the sense of free-flowing fluid motion.
“For me, musical composition is the study of movement, and the movement of water is ultimate freedom,” Kipar explains. “It’s bound by nothing but gravity and the presence of land. Not much else.”
By extension, the titular sailer (used in the sense of a thing that sails, rather than a person who works on a boat) seems to be a metaphor for anything brave and fragile on that boundless sea of possibility. (Or maybe it just sounds nice.)
The group will be taking their own voyage soon, touring regionally in support of the album’s release. Although the trio of Kipar, Delk and Ballance will be at the core of each performance, Kipar expects that the shows will regularly feature guest performers, potentially filling out the lineup significantly.
“If folks come to the shows and we can afford to keep everyone paid, then hopefully we’ll be able to keep more people on.” As to the high volume of his musical output—three full-length albums in as many years—Kipar quips, “Well I’ve tried to crank them out since I’m done with school. That way I don’t feel so bad about my student loan.”
[David Cole is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
who: Galen Kipar Project, with Nikki Talley, Ian Thomas and “nude” performance art by Sara Bailey
what: CD-release party for Paper Sailer
where: Grey Eagle
when: Thursday, May 15. 8:30 p.m. ($7. www.thegreyeagle.com or 232-5800)