Analogue Music | Andy Zipf

Andy Zipf

By Matt Conner

It took 10 albums for Andy Zipf to go all-in.

Throughout the course of his career, Andy Zipf has always been known for his authentic lyrical approach but it wasn't until this album, How to Make a Paper Airplane, that the veteran artist says he refused to hold back. No matter the topic or how difficult the subject matter and resulting emotions might be, it was all fair game in the writing and recording process for this tenth album.

It's a remarkable journey for a recording process that was never meant to be—that is, until it was. Encouraged by friends to make something more of some personal songs, Paper Airplane is a resonant album featuring the beautiful musical flourishes of some stellar guests like Jay Bellerose (Robert Plant), Jennifer Condos (Ray LaMontagne), Dennis Crouch (Emmylou Harris) and Tyler Chester (Andrew Bird).

We recently asked Zipf to tell us more about the journey to album ten and what made the lyrical terrain so hard to traverse this time around.

Analogue: I want to dive into the substance of the album, but the place to start seems to be the title: How to Make a Paper Airplane. What makes that the banner to place over this set of songs?

Andy Zipf: The iPhone demo for that song dates back to January 2, 2019. My family and I had just moved to Jacksonville, Florida from the Washington, D.C. area the previous summer. I think it must’ve been a rainy day because we were hunkered down inside, and I decided to make a paper airplane for my then three-year-old son. It was the first time I had done that with him. He threw it down the little hallway, into the kitchenette, and all over the apartment. It was one of those moments where you tell yourself, “Remember this.”

So, I had the idea for a song almost right away, and I sang a few seconds of the melody that came to me into my phone. I had already written what would become track 1, “Everything is Fine. I’m ok. How are you?”, before coming to Jacksonville, but only after writing “How to Make a Paper Airplane” did I realize I was making another album.

Analogue: So glad you actually brought up that first song, because it’s such a striking way into the album itself. Why that statement and sentiment up front?

Andy: I wrote “Everything Is Fine…” after some texts and conversations with friends. Occasionally, I’d be honest, but most of the time, when asked, “Hey, how are you?”, I’d reply. “I’m good. You?”

I had just become a father, and that previously unknown reservoir of emotions was made known to me. I felt like my world just expanded seven times, and this innate sense of duty, commitment, and just a new kind of inexplicable love took over me. I needed to provide for my family in a better way—more stability. It is hard to even say this aloud, but the income from my music alone could not do that.

I tinkered with the lyrics of the song for a few weeks and wrote several different verses, mostly about normal, daily rhythms. I was trying to find moments of beauty and hope in these small, maybe overlooked places. I also lived—live—in my thoughts a lot. The last verse: '5 am making scrambled eggs, in the corner of a kitchen in a second-story condo, so tired, more than half asleep, I sip a cold coffee and my thoughts get to wanderin', man I really want to scream out loud, what have you been doing with your life, what’s your purpose? I gotta get myself together, man. I gotta find some contentment in the ordinary rhythms…Everything is fine.' I’m speaking to myself there. I’m saying, 'Look at what you have. Be grateful. Be content.'

I hadn’t intended for that song to start the record off, but months after I sent the tracks to my friend and producer Matt Williams, he asked, “What if we started off with this song? It frames the album well.” After considering it, I agreed. His instincts were right on with that one. I can’t imagine the record beginning any other way now.

Analogue: This brings up something else that I wanted to ask about concerning the album’s material. Most early albums for an artist or band are about youthful things—love gained, love lost, the swirl of emotions or identity. But this is your tenth album, which itself is rare, and the album feels like a 10th album lyrically, like you could only get to these subjects or mine for this material if you’d had several other opportunities to write and release. Does that feel accurate to you?

Andy: Yes. That rings true. In some ways, I feel like I have been trying to write this album from the beginning, but I needed to dream big, take risks, experience failure, grow up some, become a father, and then look back on the moments I had with my dad after losing him suddenly in 2020.

'That kind of writing can—and has—come to people a lot younger than I am, but it took me a few times of getting beaten down and getting back up to get here."

I don’t know how I got to ten albums, but here we are. Honestly, when I began tracking my parts in an empty sanctuary, I thought that would be it—just me and the piano, or guitar—and maybe it would be the end of this part of my life, but the songs traveled farther than I ever thought they would. Instead of an ending, I see a new beginning now.

I’m more proud of this album than anything I’ve ever done. I know that’s a thing that people say, but it's 100% how I feel about this record.

Analogue: When you say you’ve been trying to “write this album from the beginning”, what does that mean specifically?

Andy: I released my first record in 2004, and I’d been writing songs long before that. I’ve been exploring the same themes for years, in different narratives and stories: Family, home, the tension of that space between faith and doubt, loss, disappointment, fear, failure, hope, love in its multitude of shades—first as that kind born in youth, then as the one a new husband has trying to take care of his wife, now as the type a father and long companion feels trying to provide for a family.

I don’t know that I ever got it exactly “right”, but on this record, I might’ve finally gotten closer to the mark. At least I hope I did. I worked hard at it. That kind of writing can—and has—come to people a lot younger than I am, but it took me a few times of getting beaten down and getting back up to get here. Not an arrival at the destination, but maybe one or two stops until. I don’t have any plans to stop making things. I’m gonna keep going as long as I can.

Analogue: When you say it that way, about chipping away at getting closer to that destination with each album release, it would seem this one specifically might feel as rewarding if it’s getting you closer to that goal. Is that what’s resulting in the pride you referenced?

Andy: Yes. Absolutely. That is why I feel so proud of these songs. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have even had the emotional tools to write a song about losing my dad a couple of years ago. I may have held back in some way. I didn’t hold back at all on any of these tracks, for better or worse. I know some folks may not be up for the vulnerability, but I had to do it for myself. I needed to sing about these moments. Hopefully, people will be able to hear a little of themselves in the stories, even though they are coming from my own.

VISIT: Andy Zipf