An Interview with Matt Whipkey

penny park
The cover to Matt Whipkey’s newest album, Penny Park: Omaha, NE: Summer 1989, nominated for the OEAA Album of the Year award.

Matt Whipkey is a singer-songwriter and rock musician based out of Omaha who is nominated for the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Artist of the Year Award and whose latest album, Penny Park: Omaha, NE: Summer 1989, is up for Album of the Year.

Penny Park was appropriately released in the summer. The 21-song, double album aims to tell a story with four sides acting as chapters, as Whipkey explained it. The ‘story’ is based on true and fictional elements, but captures summer vibes that any listener can relate to.

Penny Park, a fictional character, and Peony Park, a once real place, act as mechanisms to personalize the greater concepts at hand, such as the transitioning from youth to adulthood and the inevitable quickness of that process and humans’ tendency to take youth for granted, which Whipkey says the album is largely about.

“With [this] record, there are lots of variants of sounds and styles but the overall theme was still very much pinned down in the title of the album—not just a season but a year,” Whipkey said. “We tried to use some of the equipment that would be used in 1989 to make those sounds and those tones to evoke that era. It was summer so we kept it upbeat. There are a lot of major keys. It was a conscious choice to make things kind of bright.”

An example of the band accessing the given era is their instrumental song, “High Heel and the Sneekers,” which features a 1989 digital drum machine that Whipkey borrowed from a friend and that was very much the sound of music at the end of the ‘80’s.

“In previous albums, I would specifically seek out a Hammond organ – a real organic organ; pretty timeless,” Whipkey said. “So for this record it was like, ‘No, let’s get a late ‘80’s rolling keyboard organ just to make it sound like more of the time.” Penny Park allows the band a theme which they can playfully match sounds and styles to in an experimental way different from their other music.

“Those sounds have even crept into modern recordings, too,” Whipkey says of twenty-year-old musical elements and techniques. “The nice thing with music and sounds and recordings [is that] it’s very typical for things that seemed really stupid ten years ago can sound enticing now. It’s hard to explain.”

As Whipkey said, he and the band were not just simulating a year with this album, but a season as well. The album captures summer through its choice of instruments and they way they are used along with full on melodies creating a light-hearted, fun, easy-going listen. Whipkey says that the sides of the album take you through parts of the season—the beginning of the first side recreating the feelings of the beginning of summer and the end of the album reflecting on the end of summer and the future.

“It fits the sunshine, sun-setting, summertime mood,” Whipkey said of Penny Park. “I like to think of music in terms of times of day to listen to it…But I think it’s upbeat, and I hate to use the term, but I think for certain people it [Penny Park] will be nostalgic. But I think for younger people it hopefully just feels like being young.” Although Whipkey speaks of listening to music in terms of times of day and even temperature of the day, he notes that the album was recorded in the winter and is still enjoyable in those cold months.

Overall, Matt Whipkey and his band call their music rock and roll. Though the term is broad, it encompasses the direction Matt and his band take whether it be something heavy or something low key with acoustic sounds and the use of a harmonica for instance.

“Mostly, I tell people that it’s fun,” Whipkey says of their sound. “If you come to see us [play live], we’re having a good time. We’re not standing there, staring at the wall. I do think the overall goal is to entertain people and to be an entertainer. I take that seriously.”

Penny Park: Omaha, NE: Summer 1989 is available at local record shops, Amazon, iTunes and Matt Whipkey’s website. The album also recently got accepted by Pandora. Whipkey frequents venues in Omaha and Lincoln. Whipkey is currently playing shows every Wednesday at The Lauter Tun in Omaha, a showcase called Whipkey Wednesdays featuring a different guest musician along with Whipkey every Wednesday. Read more here.

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