A big part of putting your stamp on the national music landscape is in creating something unique, that makes you stand out from the pack. Some people do that through their image, their voice or simply through their music. That 1 Guy has made his mark with those, but it's also his instrument that makes a lot of people take notice.
He calls it the "Magic Pipe." It's a homemade pair of steel pipes that have been electronically rigged to include a dozen or so triggers for sound effects and samples. It also has two orchestral bass strings on it — one for the low end, and one for higher ranged notes. Once you see it, you'll know there's nothing else like it.
"One of the main ideas was trying to see how much music I could make on one instrument — an exercise in minimalism," Mike Silverman, aka That 1 Guy, says by phone from a tour stop in Orlando. "It's been good for me. I've had to force myself to focus on technique. It was initially supposed to be a one-string instrument. It was meant to be a way to force myself into the place I wanted to be as That 1 Guy."
Silverman started out as a bass player, but eventually decided to try and create an instrument that could help him to create the songs and noises he had in his head. He created That 1 Guy with the idea of a one-man band in mind. He took the percussion style that he was using on the double-bass and incorporated that into what he now plays today.
"The Magic Pipe does so many things that the bass could never do," Silverman says. "It's really challenging — it's so much more difficult to do what I do on this instrument than the bass, but at the same time, it's more rewarding because it's capable of so much more. I took my technique and found a tool that is able to exploit that technique to its fullest potential."
Silverman started the initial evolution of what would become the Magic Pipe by modifying his double bass until it was down to one string and had triggers all over the body. That made it to one gig in 1998. He completed his first version of the Pipe in 1999, and it's been fine-tuned since then.
"I'm pretty happy with where it is and right now most of the modifications are in the details," he says. "There's lots of refinement with wiring. It's harder to see the evolution of it now."
The Pipe that Silverman uses now is "Version 3.0," he says, and it makes him nervous that there's only one of them. Though some people might panic under the pressure of wiring or something going wrong during a set, he prefers to see it as a challenge to become resourceful to get through a show however he can.
While the Magic Pipe dominates his music, he sometimes writes songs without it. Silverman says he lets concepts and ideas evolve in his head just to "see where my mind takes it." He's also found a way to incorporate magic into his live performance — plucking strings with a playing card and getting the card to levitate around the pipe — offering even more of a visual aspect.
As a bass player, Silverman was always performing with other people and created his monicker to be a one-man project, but that hasn't stopped him from collaborations. He released an album with guitarist Buckethead, and says he hopes to do more with the eccentric artist in the future.
"I'm hoping that me and Buckethead will do another album at some point," Silverman says. "I did a lot of jamming with some percussionists at a festival and that opened my mind to a lot of other possibilities."
As for his own music, it's as unique as you'd expect with a one-of-a-kind instrument. Humorous lyrics, lots of looping and layering — it's no surprise that the name Dr. Seuss is often brought up in combination with That 1 Guy.
"As an influence, it's a big one on me," Silverman says. "I always liked the feel and look of it and the characters. It seems like an instrument he would draw — a weird, big pipe freak-out thing that doesn't really belong anywhere. It's completely out of the norm and removed from any real reference point. It's in its own world — it begins in a familiar place but ends on another planet."
That 1 Guy
With Duende Mountain Duo. $10-$12. Feb. 24. 8 p.m. Neighborhood Theatre. www.neighborhoodtheatre.com