San Francisco native Shawn Alpay, the sole member of his newly formed indie project Completions and house engineer at local recording studio Tiny Telephone, is someone the Bay Area should come to know and recognize. In addition to his own bands, he’s also played cello with notable acts like Matt Pond PA, How To Dress Well, and Emily Jane White. Alpay will be taking his talents, and his cello, to the Rickshaw Stop on Sunday, Nov. 1 to play tracks off his new self-titled EP.
As a student and lover of music, he played in orchestras throughout high school and college but strayed away from this path to focus on more personal, lyrically-driven songs.
“I found myself increasingly uninspired by playing music that had been composed by a person I’ll never meet,” Alpay said. “For me, a song is driven by its lyrical content, and though I can appreciate the beauty of a quartet or a symphony, I find that that kind of composition doesn’t speak to me nearly as easily and completely as any song with words.”
Before starting on his solo path, Alpay led a large orchestral rock outfit known as The Definite Articles which consisted of six permanent members each having a say in the final product of the music. Although he was the core writer and lyricist for the group, the budding solo artist describes his former project as an “everybody” band. After producing their first LP King Merriweather, Alpay took the initiative of starting a solo project to meet his desire to produce a more personal vision.
“I feel so much more sure about my decisions now — I trust my gut so much more fully. So I don’t feel the need to consult a bevy of other folks to make sure that what I’m doing holds water. That’s kind of the delineation.”
Although we have seen many musicians struggle as a solo artist, he describes his transition from a six-piece to a single entity as something that came without difficulties. With The Definite Articles, he would constantly have to consult his bandmates about lyrics, instrumental arrangements, and even touring. Now as the only member of his new project, he enjoys the absolute freedom of making such decisions in order to achieve the visions and goals he has personally set for himself.
Alpay’s songwriting however, began to falter following the dissolution of his previous band. It wasn’t until a single tragic moment in his life that he began to bounce back as a musician. While on tour last year in Madrid, he got a call from his brother informing him of their mother’s passing.
“Having her pass so unexpectedly shocked me into realizing how little time I have to finish what I start, and to say what I really want to say. So then I knew what the project would be called, and I suddenly had a pathway for writing unencumbered. I finished a string of songs pretty quickly, and the writing process was so much faster than it ever had been before. That part kind of blew me away, considering how slow a songwriter I had been previously.”
Completions has given Alpay time to reflect on his musical progress.
“I’ve improved tremendously as a composer, lyricist, singer, and performer — so much so that it feels like some completely other person was at the helm of The Definite Articles.”
Listening to his former band, it is easy to understand the transformation that Alpay describes. Although most of the instruments from The Definite Articles are not found in Completions, it’s the vocal prowess, lyrical content and driving cello melodies found on tracks like “Combs” that captivates listeners.
Although the self-titled EP consists of seven tracks at the moment, Alpay feels that it is still incomplete, and wants to hit at least ten songs before he starts working on his full length debut. On the other hand, he did note that he expects a Completions LP to be released sometime next year. Given that 2016 is only a few months away, fans of the new sound might not have to wait too long to satisfy their cravings.
Matt Pond PA, Laura Stevenson, Completions
Sunday, Nov. 1
$15, all ages