John Tipton is a familiar figure in the music scene, and a towering one in person. The 6'5" Dallas native has been in and out of musical projects for the last few years, but Tipton has settled, for the last couple of years, into a band called the Heavy Hands.
He started the band with brothers Zack and Colin Wiese, on drums and bass respectively. The band's self-titled debut album, which will be released this coming month, is a case of hard-ish rock music that's more tormented than you might expect from a Fedora-wearing guitar player from Lake Highlands.
"This is the most white privileged thing to say, but my parents are very supportive, they paid for my college and probably had hope that I would do something else," Tipton says. "My dad's on the city council planning commission, and instead I drink and play music until 4 a.m."
Tipton grew up in Lake Highlands, with parents who were both architects with the apt last name of Housewright. As an artist, he uses his middle name Tipton, because he found that it was easier for people to spell. Still, he won his father's lukewarm blessing when he started taking guitar lessons: "He said to me, 'You're getting pretty good at this guitar thing, you should probably stick with it, since you're not very good at sports,'" he remembers.
Tipton says it can be difficult trying to start an original project while being a working musician, which often means playing at weddings and venues that favor covers and an ambient background music. "Sometimes I'm just the solo guy in the corner of the restaurant who doesn't even have a name," he says.
All three members control their own light show onstage, cued to their instruments, creating the smallest scale arena show. "A couple of places wouldn't let us do it," Tipton says. "They were afraid we were going to trip their breaker."
The Heavy Hands' album release party will take place at the Jagoe House in Denton on September 10. "That's where a lot of our sound comes from, the raucous, house party bullshit. Our sound fits really well there," Tipton says, saying the band sounds like "a punk band got into a fight with a blues band."
He graduated from University of North Texas with a bachelor of science, and regrets spending four or five years wasting time he thinks would've been better spent playing: "For me, my struggle was college. I didn't want to go. That's how all those songs came out. The best thing school gave me was my graduation gown, because I use it to cover up the gear in the trunk of my car."
Working as a guitar instructor has led him to connect with other Dallas acts like the Vandoliers, Van Sanchez, Dead Flowers and Roomsounds, bands that are prone to invite him onto one of their bills. "That's what I tell new musicians: 'Find your big brothers, find the people who have done it before you,'" he says. "If you're the best musician in the room, you're in the wrong room. You have to push yourself."
Tipton's trials weren't merely philosophical. While preparing to graduate, he got mono and also developed a condition resulting in pneumothorax, with his lungs collapsing twice. "The first time it happened I was in college playing Frisbee with some friends and I was all muddy. They brought me straight into the hospital. I looked awful, I'm being wheeled into the elevator by this nurse when a doctor looks at me and says, 'What happened to you, car wreck?' I said 'No, I'm just fucking unlucky.'"
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He's had preventive surgery to ensure his lungs won't collapse again, but he still gets holes in them. "Basically you get this negative pressure between your lungs and your chest cavity, and it hurts," he says. He can still sing and play harmonica, but isn't allowed to play brass instruments, scuba dive, fly planes or smoke. "But I've got my vice," he says; Jack Daniel's whiskey.
Tipton grew up listening to metal. His music imparts the wailing pained heart of an epic breakup, dealing with near exclusive she-devil themes. "The first time my girlfriend heard it, she said 'Who are all these women who done you wrong?'" he says. "The songs aren't really about me, they're just stories. Maybe it's Freudian."
The band was influenced by a local band, Dark Rooms. After completing pre-production at a friend's home studio, the Heavy Hands' full album was recorded at Redwood Studios in Denton, where Dark Rooms records, as well as Sarah Jaffe and Kaela Sinclair. McKenzie Smith, who mixed the album, has also worked with St. Vincent and Regina Spektor. The team at Redwood attained the heightened effect the band sought, as Tipton says that their name represents their approach of not being too musically graceful.
Even through his health struggles, Tipton still feels a sense of urgency and discontent. "I feel I have to complain a little or else I don't feel like I'm alive," he says. "But in the end I'm a well-adjusted, yuppie millennial who plays rock 'n' roll."