When you see a guy standing alone onstage, next to a pair of connected steel pipes and wearing a top hat, you might be a bit taken aback. Mike Silverman — the one-man act called That 1 Guy — is completely aware of how he looks.
“Where did that thing come from?” he asked, characterizing the response someone might give to the instrument he constructed himself.
He calls it the Magic Pipe. Silverman creates various sounds by plucking, slapping or bowing the two strings on the pipe, and then he produces percussion by beating on the steel pipe itself. He knows what people might be thinking: “Why the hell is this guy doing this?” But this seemingly random, industrial-looking instrument is the culmination of a fairly linear process.
A classically trained bassist, Silverman started experimenting as a one-man band in the mid-’90s with two distinct projects. In one of them, he would play a double bass, which he ran through loops and effects, resulting in an ambient sound. In contrast, his other project was more song-oriented, using a one-string electric bass and an old drum machine.
“The magic pipe was almost a way to combine those two worlds,” he said.
Looking for something that would allow him to expand his aggressive, rhythm-heavy bass style with structured songs, he began conceptualizing the Magic Pipe in 1999. After receiving a $10,000 estimate from a professional instrument builder, a friend suggested Silverman build it himself. Silverman built a rough, very heavy version of the Magic Pipe, combining a basic knowledge of signal pads, electricity and soldering with help from a guitar player friend who was also an electrical engineer.
Having just finished recording his fifth album as That 1 Guy, Silverman’s sound has fully evolved from the minimalist rock songs he created with his one-string bass and drum machine to something larger.
Part of this has to do with his recording process. He recorded his early albums live in studio. Now, with the help of studio engineer Billy Hume, he pays more attention to the details.
“I think it’s my best work,” Silverman said.
He even surprises himself with how traditionalist he has become with his songwriting.
“Wow, it really has a verse, a chorus, a verse and then it has a solo in the middle,” he said about one of his favorite tracks on the new album. “It’s kind of a ridiculous idea because everything I do is a solo. I mean, I’m playing by myself.”
Silverman remains confident that his evolution as an artist has been for the best.
“I feel like I’m really looking at the songs and I’m really looking at the bigger picture in terms of where all the little parts fit into the big picture,” he said. “It’s been interesting.”