Features, Print September 3, 2021

If You Build It: That 1 Guy on Making an Instrument and Setting Songs Free

by Dan England

Mike Silverman knew what it would take to make it. He knew his band had a great live show, and he also knew they weren’t going to write the next “Welcome to the Jungle.” So they needed to jump into a van and live in it for a few years to build an audience. Only the guys weren’t willing to live that hard life. So he did it himself. 

He gave himself a name, That 1 Guy, something clever that would emphasize his solo act, and began playing gigs as a jazz bass player. 

Silverman had the chops for it — he began playing bass professionally when he was 16 — but he didn’t like how those first gigs sounded. As a killer musician, he had high standards, and on his own he wasn’t meeting them. Let’s face it: bass players generally don’t make a name for themselves, unless they’re Geddy Lee, Victor Wooten or Les Claypool. Moreover, playing the bass as a solo act, even if he also sang, was, he admits, “super weird.” 

“I was working so hard to fill this cosmic space,” Silverman tells BandWagon, “and I was playing on this thing that wasn’t meant to do that.”

Mike Silverman AKA That 1 Guy playing his self-made instruments The Magic Pipe and The Magic Boot.

That’s how That 1 Guy found himself wandering down Home Depot’s aisles for a couple months, looking for the pieces to build an instrument that would help him create a big sound. He knew, sort of, what he wanted, but when he went to a professional instrument builder, he discovered he couldn’t spell it out. He would have to be the one to bring it out of his head. 

“It was very hard,” he said. “Some instrument builders study their whole lives to do this.”

He played “10 nights a week” in San Francisco to pay bills, and as he did, he built something using mostly pipes, which he used because he had no previous building skills. It was sort of a cheat; more like putting together a puzzle than building something from scratch. He built it over the course of a year, leading up to a gig on his birthday, which he purposely booked so as to force himself to finish it. He cleared his schedule for the last two weeks of that year and stayed up all night in order to finish construction on time. He called it, fittingly enough, The Magic Pipe. Surprisingly, it worked.

Finally returning to a life on the road, That 1 Guy brings his one-of-a-kind show across the US this month, stopping at The Aggie Theater in Fort Collins on Tuesday, September 7.

“I barely remember that first gig,” Silverman said. “I played another gig two weeks later, and that one I remember well. It went a lot better.”

That’s because he simply had to iron out the small details. He talks about songwriting, even to this day, the same way. His experimental recordings, including 2020’s Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin, are an excuse to finish his ideas. Ideas he then plays with during his performances. One recent example of this is “Whale Race,” off his 2014 album Poseidon’s Deep Water Adventure Friends, inspired by the ocean. The song follows a structure, and then he improvises for 10 minutes or so in the middle of it. When fans ask him the name of the track (because it’s usually a hit live) he has to warn them that the in-concert song doesn’t really resemble the one he recorded. 

“It feels like the song, to me, comes together about a year after being out on the road,” he said. “You discover things about it.”

That 1 Guy brings the unexpected to the stage via improvisation and expanding on his recordings.

In concert, Silverman uses some looping, but nearly all of what he plays is live on his instrument. It, and the others he created, the Magic Boot and the Magic Saw, create the orchestral sound he craved as he started out as a solo act. 

He loves being solo, working solo and playing solo. But the pandemic taught him something that we all may now know about ourselves.

“I discovered that I like being with people more than I thought I did,” he said. 

That 1 Guy comes to the people of the Centennial State this month, kicking-off the Colorado leg of his tour at The Aggie Theater in Fort Collins on Tuesday, September 7 with King Crawdad. Tickets at theaggietheater.com, full tour dates and more at that1guy.com