For 20 years, Mike Silverman, aka That 1 Guy, has toured the world with his custom one-of-a-kind instrument the Magic Pipe, which looks like a scrapyard cello Tom Waits would play in a post-apocalyptic jug band.
With strums, bangs, and slaps, Silverman can make the Magic Pipe—which is rigged up to pedals, processors and drums triggers—sound like totally different instruments from one song to the next.
“I was trying to create something that had an unlimited range,” Silverman explains. “Sometimes I’m trying to be a punk rock band. Other times I’m trying to be Bootsy Collins. Other times I want to be an orchestra. This tool makes all of that possible.”
Before becoming That 1 Guy in the late ’90s, Silverman played bass with various jazz outfits, led his own prog-outfit the Fabulous Hedgehogs, and started two extremely bizarre solo projects. Frustrated that slapping a double upright bass over a drum machine was too much for most audiences, he decided he no longer cared if anyone wanted to listen to him anymore—he’d go as far out musically as he could. In order to make the music he imagined, though, he’d need a totally new instrument. With that in mind, he designed the Magic Pipe.
“I built it out of plumbing pipes from Home Depot. The electronics were a lot of found objects, just modified. Stuff that I would order from Guitar Center,” Silverman says.
His music with That 1 Guy is a bizarre conglomeration of progressive-jazz, funky-pop and twisted Americana, but its mindboggling wide range blends with Silverman’s eccentric mind and surprisingly has created music slightly more accessible—with a dazzling, eye-popping one-man-band show performance element.
After a few years on the road, indie-folk singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco caught a glimpse of his act and took him on tour with her. She even released some of his music in the mid-2000s, when DiFranco was at the height of her popularity.
“You’re probably expressing yourself more honestly when you’re not trying to make somebody else happy. Ultimately that’s what your audience wants to hear. They don’t want to see you trying to get a record deal,” Silverman says. “It was a beautiful experience. Before that, no audience bigger than 40 or 80 people would ever see it. I had been slamming away at it for years and years and years. That was a major breakthrough.”
Other random opportunities fell in his lap shortly after. A writer from Showtime’s Weeds caught one of his sets and then licensed his funny, sort-of-hip-hop song “Butt Machine” for a scene in the show. They even put a music video for the song on the season’s DVD. Experimental guitarist Buckethead later took him on tour, and made an album with him, exposing That 1 Guy to his legion of loyal weirdo fans.
Silverman has upgraded his Magic Pipe a few times with the help of an aerospace engineer friend. He’s continuously amazed at new techniques he can use; for instance, he has a song where he strums it with a credit card. It sounds like a crazed mashup of funk bass, electro-pop, and heavy metal.
“This instrument was the way to take all this freaky technical stuff I was doing on the upright bass and allow me to do more with it, the best I can as a one-man orchestra,” Silverman says. “It ends up inspiring me to do stuff I never thought or imagined would be possible.”
To add to his already strange show, Silverman recently discovered magic. He moved to Las Vegas to be near the magic community, and has been studying closeup magic from a mentor in Vegas. Now he has a VIP pre-show for a smaller audience where he performs magic for them.
“It was really fun to start something new with a master, and it totally influenced my music. His specialty is close-up magic. That stuff is only really good for 10 people at a time. But it’s kind of the most powerful version of magic. The audience is three feet away and they’re watching these miracles happen in front of their eyes,” Silverman says.
That 1 Guy performs at 8:30pm on Sunday, Feb. 9, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $10/adv, $15/door. 479-1854.