Memphis-based indie rock band Blvck Hippie released one of the catchiest Memphis-made songs in recent memory a little over one year ago, in January 2019.
“Hotel Lobby,” from the Blvck Hippie EP, opens with a drum shuffle followed by a descending bass line; when the piano and whining guitars hit, it’s already obvious the band has neo-soul arrangements on lockdown. And it just gets better from there.
Blvck Hippie, fronted by Josh Shaw, 24, has toured in support of the EP, undergone multiple lineup changes, and is currently working on new material. After seeing the new lineup at work at a concert at the Lamplighter Lounge, I called Shaw, who was cooking vegan pasta sauce at the time, to find out what was in store for Blvck Hippie.
The band will perform at Philly’s Got-You-Covered Fest in Cooper-Young on Saturday, January 25th, and at Pagan Mom House with Sun Not Yellow, Madd Well, Wednesday, January 29th, at 8 p.m. But that’s not all that Blvck Hippie has up its sleeve.
It’s no understatement to say that Shaw has immersed himself in music of late. He works at the School of Rock performance academy and is studying recording at the University of Memphis. He already has a music industry degree from Lambuth University. Of course, that’s when he’s not writing, recording, rehearsing, and performing with Blvck Hippie, a band that grew out of Shaw’s solo shows and demo tapes.
“Toward the end of my senior year of college I started being a little more open with sharing the music I’d been writing,” Shaw says. “I was pretty private about it at first, recording a lot in my room and in the studio on campus and keeping it to myself.”
So, after spending some time in Toronto, Canada, with his brother, Shaw decided to double down on making music. He moved back to Memphis from Jackson and bought some new gear. “I got a better electric guitar and a looper pedal,” he says.
After being booked at a festival, Shaw put together a band. “I decided January of 2018, that whole year was going to be only band shows,” he explains. Of course, the band would need a name. “I was a very weird, eccentric child, so my mom used to call me her little black hippie,” Shaw explains. He says he thought, “So I’ll just use that.”
With a name and a full roster, Blvck Hippie released its self-titled EP on January 1, 2019. That four-song example of indie-pop perfection was recorded at Young Avenue Sound with Calvin Lauber, and for a year, the band toured and played locally in support of it.
In addition to the excellent arrangements, the EP, along with the rest of Blvck Hippie’s music, is characterized by Shaw’s open and honest lyrics. Just as the songwriter who used to record in his room had struggled taking his songs public, he was unsure about being so open in his songwriting. But he had taken strength from the art of confessional songwriters when he needed it, and he was inspired by their example. “If I’m that open and honest, then I can help somebody else who might be going through a rough time,” Shaw says.
Blvck Hippie faced a new challenge when Blake Galloway, the band’s second guitarist, moved to Colorado. Shaw explains, “After losing a band member who was one of the founding members [I had to] reevaluate everything and [say], ‘What is it about us that I like? And what is it about us that can change and improve?’”
Shaw continues: “Every time somebody leaves, you feel like, ‘Aw, man, why did I even let this person into my heart? I should have just stayed solo.’ But I decided to embrace it as much as I can. Writing, arranging, recording — I do all the cooking of it, but if you don’t allow other people to throw seasoning in it, you might end up with a bland dish and not know it because you’re the only one who tasted it.”
For the moment, the band is a trio — guitar, bass, and drums, but plans are in the works to add keyboards, trumpet, and euphonium. “Once everything hits the fan, you have to sit down and figure out why you’re still doing this,” Shaw says, explaining that he decided forced lineup changes were, from one perspective, just an excuse to build on what he likes in the group.
The two upcoming house concerts are on par for Blvck Hippie’s indie (as in “independent”) aesthetic. Shaw says he has made merchandise at his parents house, and the band’s self-titled EP was self-funded as well. “It’s something that’s done out of necessity,” Shaw admits. There are benefits, though, to an indie approach. “It’s a culture that embraces the different and weird,” Shaw says. “So you just automatically feel comfortable no matter what happens. You’re like, ‘Hey, I know this is an intimate setting and everybody’s here just to enjoy the experience. If I break a string, if I sing the wrong note, everything’s okay.’”
Blvck Hippie performs at Philly’s Got-You-Covered Fest at 1054 Philadelphia Street in Cooper-Young on Saturday, January 25th, at 8 p.m.; and at Pagan Mom House with Sun Not Yellow, Madd Well, Wednesday, January 29th, at 8 p.m.