Another Shore, Another Song

How travel inspires indie musician Andy Zipf

By / August 2013

“Every trip either helps me begin or finish a song,” says Andy Zipf. Last year the DC-based indie artist traveled across the United Kingdom with his wife. They started in London and veered as wide as the Cotswolds. The result was the first single from his forthcoming EP, as well as a change of moniker (the Cowards Choir).

“It was something about being in a different environment, where nothing was familiar,” said Zipf. “Here in the U.S., I know that if I turn down this road, and go until I can’t stay awake, I’ll be in Ohio. Over there it’s disorienting and new. I don’t get musicians who continually produce music but never travel.”

“Maybe I,” the trip-inspired single, is a tender reflection on what it means to be an artist and a husband trying to turn hard work and a passion into a living. Over the whisper of an acoustic guitar and gentle piano keys that slowly build to a climax, Zipf sings:

Maybe I’m afraid to be a father
but when our years are leaning longer,
I can picture us with children
Maybe I will have nothing more to teach them
than the stories we are living,
passing up from echoes in the earth.

It was part of Zipf’s latest effort at bringing listeners into the creative process by allowing them to buy the song in advance, helping to build the single and creating a stream of mini-patrons.

“I wrote that in England,” says Zipf, ” seeing my nephews and niece run about and thinking, one day, one day we’ll have some little ones, and maybe we can have an adventure there too.” The new EP, titled “Reunion,” draws heavy from travel. The album is the latest leg of the journey that Zipf and his wife Miriam have been on since 2003.

“She keeps my head out of the clouds, but I help her take risks,” says Zipf, looking at a picture of his wife. “This September we will have been married 10 years. It doesn’t seem that long. She met me while I was touring in a band. After we got married, I quit my day job and started traveling more.”

For full-time musicians, there is no set career path, degree-process, or scalable hierarchy. There is only talent and luck. Everything else is hard graft.

Zipf has heard his songs on television. He’s headlined concerts. He’s opened for artists like Dave Bazan and Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, and carried the middle of bills, in all 40 states and in every possible kind of venue. He’s released nine albums, played hundreds of shows, utilizing the iterations of social media to engage with his fans.

But this journey, one done largely as a purely independent artist, has not been without sacrifices and crossroads, both at home and in the studio.

“In 2004, there were a number of record labels that approached me, a few you would know,” said Zipf. It was back when people were still buying records — at the height of Myspace – but it didn’t feel right. The labels were just throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. I could have been in a better situation, but who knows?” Zipf chose to pass up the chance, in order to keep artistic control.

“I wasn’t ready then, said Zipf. “I don’t know if I would have had the opportunity to learn by doing it on my own. I would have had people doing things for me, but I think I would have been taken advantage of. More people would have heard my music, but at what cost?”

This wouldn’t be the last time that Zipf would be faced with the decision on whether he and Miriam could keep traveling down the path of an independent musician.

“Right before I started working on “Jealous Hands” [his last full length LP], I was really having to consider if I could keep doing this,” said Zipf. “I was evaluating, saying, “Is this fair to Miriam to keep doing this?”

The two chose to keep going. Zipf formed new connections. He signed to a small label, P is for Panda, thinking it might be the answer, but had to extricate himself from a tricky situation after the label was sold. He struck out as a purely independent artist again. This is rock and roll economics, the ebb and flow of an artist trying to maintain some semblance of control.

“This is my life. I want to be doing this when I’m 60. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know I’ll still be doing it,” said Zipf. “I want a body of work, from 2003 to whatever, that tells a story and shows growth.”

While Zipf has been making music for the last ten years, it wasn’t until the release of “Jealous Hands” that he felt like he felt he found his true artistic voice and sound. Now he says he is ready to evolve and to have the name on the set list reflect his new voice and sound.

“I’ll never stop growing as a singer and songwriter, but I wanted to start again. Under this new name, the Cowards Choir, I have freedom to breathe new life into my work,” said Zipf. “This is an extension of what I’ve done before. I built a foundation for ten years, and I messed up a lot. I’m not burning the ships. They’re tied to the dock. But I’m on another shore, going on another journey.”


Nathan Martin is the music columnist for EthnoTraveler.