For Widetrack’s Ron Tippin, a new type of “mirror” reveals our hidden truths in a vast technological world.
That “mirror” doesn’t reflect our human faces, but instead displays our evolving digital personas on social media and the Interweb through multiple computer, tablet and phone screens. In a sense, we’re residing in a parallel world while interacting with one another in a dream-like state.
“The idea of The Unwakening is how we immerse ourselves in this digital landscape, and it just makes all our worst tendencies come out, and we just wallow in it. All of our wisdom just goes out the window and so does our better nature,” said Ron Tippin, Widetrack’s vocalist, guitarist and drummer.
Ron Tippin explores this haunting concept throughout Widetrack’s new otherworldly 12-track, alt-prog album, The Unwakening, which dropped yesterday. As part of a Waterford father-son duo with 16-year-old bassist-guitarist Zach Tippin, he travels through a dozen digital tales to uncover the conflicting dualities of our personal and online identities.
“I look at a show like ‘Black Mirror,’ and I’ve read the reviews, and people say, ‘Oh, I get it, digital media is bad.’ Well, it’s not that simple. It’s a fantastically great tool, it can connect us in ways it never could, and it’s the stuff of my childhood imagination,” said Ron Tippin, who released the album to coincide with his son’s 16th birthday.
Together, father and son plunge headfirst into a ‘Black Mirror-esque’ realm filled with an angry online influencer who trolls social media, online forums and discussion threads to create a polarizing digital culture. Each haunting track on The Unwakening chronicles the influencer’s rapid rise to power and eventual decline in a fickle virtual universe.
“I started thinking about if this person got everything he ever wanted, what would that world look like, and I got this idea that this guy ascends to power, and he gets so many followers, he becomes this huge demagogue, and he rises to a position of power, and the world just goes to hell,” Ron Tippin said.
Reflections from ‘The Unwakening’
Widetrack slowly built that alternate digital world by releasing a new song and companion video each month in 2019 from The Unwakening. As Zach Tippin’s foray into writing and recording music, a gradual build allowed father and son to thoroughly shape the album’s evolving virtual storyline, philosophical lyrics and proggy instrumentation.
“We had quite a few songs written or partially written before we started. The first few were just really easy to do because they were already kind of up and running. As Zach got better at playing and recording, the standards for what would be allowed to be on the album became higher. There are probably about 10 songs we didn’t use,” Ron Tippin said.
Widetrack brilliantly introduces their troublesome virtual world with “Martyr,” a frenzied alt rock masterpiece fueled with swarming electric guitars, driving bass and pounding drums. It’s beautifully akin to Soundgarden as Ron Tippin cautiously sings, “The life you live/Belies such hubris/Collect your ransom/You’ll find it’s all there.”
Another captivating track includes the dreamy “Requiem” with slow, vibrant electric guitars, crashing cymbals and intermittent drums that collectively weep as the online influencer unexpectedly loses a loved one. Ron Tippin softly sings in Radiohead-meets-Porcupine-Tree fashion, “She lies below here now/Alone with her hopes and perils/Love’s cold darkness calling/Her eyes void of fear.”
“The key thing that came for me with this album was I kept coming back to the story’s center around this angry guy online, and he’s got a friend who’s trying to reach him, and this guy is shutting out that friend because he’s getting a reaction, and he’s getting followers,” Ron Tippin said.
Those followers continue to steadily increase on “Tribal” as vibrating electric guitars, humming bass and primordial drums erupt into a Rush-Soundgarden fury. Again, Ron Tippin angrily reflects, “Find your in/Drive engagement/Sway no one/Scroll your way on.”
The scrolling climaxes during The Unwakening’s epic nine-minute closer, “Oblivion,” with fluttering synths, glistening guitars, rolling drums and rhythmic bass spread over six parts. Ron Tippin quietly sings, “And now/The day of judgement’s come/There’s no one left/To question your lies/A laugh at those who dared/Contest your price/You’ve owned them now.”
“You’ve got to handle being in the right in the correct way. Otherwise, you’re not going to have an impact, and you’re just going to make things worse. It seems to be a very doom-and-gloom-type album that ends with an apocalypse,” he said.
Gaining Traction with Widetrack
The Unwakening isn’t the only mind-bending release in Widetrack’s growing catalog. The band has released three other striking alt-prog albums, including Widetrack III (2018), Widetrack II (2009) and Widetrack (2007), since forming nearly 15 years ago. At the time, Ron Tippin decided to write and record original music after playing in a series of cover bands in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
After living briefly in Georgia, Ron Tippin and his family moved back to Michigan, and six months later his father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away shortly thereafter. For Ron Tippin, it was time to make some serious life-changing decisions.
“Once that was over, I just had this epiphany to help along the healing. I was writing songs to cope with it, and I had this thought, ‘Man, life is too short, and I love this, and I gotta do this.’ Every time I try to walk away from it, it calls me back, and from there, I got really determined and made the first Widetrack album in 2007,” he said.
With Widetrack, Ron Tippin quickly assembled a skeleton crew and started playing live shows, including side stage slots at New Orleans’ Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in 2007 and 2008. He played alongside Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Rage Against the Machine.
During the next seven years, Widetrack experienced a series of lineup changes and ultimately resulted in the father-son duo of today. At age 12, Zach Tippin asked his father if could play bass in the band, and a new musical bond formed between the duo. Together, they sought alt-prog inspiration from Rush, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Radiohead, Soundgarden, The Mars Volta and Tool.
“I never pushed music on him. I just let him do whatever he wanted to in terms of what made him happy. He came to me one day and said, ‘I wanna play music with you.’ We gave it a try, and that year on my birthday was his first gig that he ever played in a house concert,” said Ron Tippin, who also plays with Zach Tippin in a rock cover band called The Vintage.
“I’ve never seen a person accelerate … he passed me off within six months. Now, it’s not even close, he’s just become this virtuoso musician. Last year, he said, ‘Let’s make an album,’ and we started writing songs.”
By 2018, Zach Tippin played bass with his father on Widetrack III, an exquisite 12-track album produced by Sponge guitarist Andy Patalan. It served as the alt-prog gateway to writing, recording and engineering tracks for what would become The Unwakening.
Along with the official digital release of The Unwakening, Widetrack plans to celebrate this new milestone (and Zach Tippin’s 16th birthday) with a virtual show Sunday at 8 p.m. It’s the first of many father-son live-stream performances in a new era of musical uncertainty.
“He does care about the studio, but he’s really chomping at the bit to play gigs, and Widetrack has never really been a live entity. We’ve only done a handful of gigs in all the years we’ve been in existence. At this point, we’ll write, and we have enough songs to stay ahead for a little while. Let’s just focus on gigs and getting out there as much as we can,” Ron Tippin said.