IPSHST (... I probably shouldn't have said that) is not Connor Meehan's first project as tip/toe, but it works to further solidify his presence in a genre-bending world of pop. He describes the album as a "glitch pop concept," which manifests as an experimental blend of smooth and synthy electronic jams with soft, sometimes melancholic vocals and contemplative lyrics.
tip/toe didn't just show up to 2020, he went to work. This marks his third LP-length drop in just under a year, and it serves as both a conclusion to the saga and an introduction to a new era. The album borrows elements from mainstream pop, featuring breathy bridges and catchy choruses, but IPSHST developed a standalone sonic story alongside a slew of collaborators (including lovenotes, Meehan's other musical project with pop producer Product).
An emotional openness seems to be the trademark of IPSHST, and the meaning of its tracks speaks to an outward presentation of tip/toe's inner monologues. With bleeding heart honesty, tip/toe doesn't intend to fit in with a "big glossy pop breakout" — and while each song draws from introspective moments of truth, tip/toe says the album is for his listeners to interpret.
"I want people to mold it to what they need from it," tip/toe says. "Take bits here or there, use them to help yourself, to have fun, to cry, to scream into the void. Play it at 3 AM in the dark. I wanted it to be yours, so you can feel like you're not alone. I hope it can bring people some peace, or even cause them to uncover some of their own feelings to deal with them."
PAPER caught up with tip/toe to talk about the feelings that built IPSHST, the sonic influence that informed the album's production and the makings of an innovative debut.
Which tracks built the foundation for IPSHST? Why are they crucial to the story?
"IPSHST" is rooted firmly in a concept that ties these songs together — that every day passes and things remain clear but unsaid. The album really came together foundationally when I made "lilypads," which to me is the heart of the story — it's insecure, it's raw. I incorporated the noise of my room into the percussion to try to capture the rattling of the character's mind in isolation. I originally mapped this out as my "big glossy pop breakout" album, but when I made this song and other similarly themed tracks like "brb" and "atlas," I realized that's just likely never going to be me.
Is there a track that you feel defines you as an artist?
I think "crystalbutterfly" is probably most reflective as to who I am as an artist. It's got a rollicking hip-hop beat, but the rhythm is synth-driven so it feels pop. The melody in this, and a lot of my songs comes from the rhythm, not vice versa, and I think that leads to a lot of singing [and] rapping ambiguity in the vocals, which I hope sets me apart and creates a unique and diverse delivery across a lot of these tracks.
How does this compare to previous releases?
IPSHST is a marker for me because it has confidence in what it is that my earlier work sometimes admits that it lacks. I try to be really self-aware in all of my art with the idea that I'm human — the whole idea of PTWW was to be really frank that I felt like I had expectations to work towards, and I can't always know if I'll come through satisfyingly. //astral// was a pure, raw snapshot of where I was at in that time of my life, and I didn't know a lot of the technique and skills I have now. But I didn't want to let that stop me from making a project, so I stubbornly pushed ahead and made an ambitious experimental concept record anyways! The common thread is I'd rather stick to pushing boundaries than be conventional, ever.
Did the album name or the title track come first?
The name came first! It happened the night I made "happyforyou," a song I wrote about someone I'd really liked at the time. I hadn't talked to them for a long time, but I didn't really have closure because things fell through so quickly — so I reached out to say I really cared and hoped they were well. I learned they were seeing someone else and I just blurted out that I was happy for them when, in the moment, I really wasn't. I was raw. I was sad. I judged myself for feeling that way, so I said what I felt was the proper thing, but also something I didn't mean at the time. I was regretting it, saying, "Damn... I probably shouldn't have said that. I should've respected that understanding your emotions can take time." And that just clicked. All the songs were about those sorts of feelings. I struggle with respecting myself a lot, and I wanted to be kinda meta and explore that growth.
You mixed the album yourself. What were some of your inspirations, sonically?
I was super inspired by genre-pushing pop production on albums like "MAGDALENE" by FKA Twigs, "iridescence" by Brockhampton and "Assume Form" by James Blake. I'm obsessed with trying to get better with every project and I don't want to hide that in my work, so I thought about the ways I'd tried to work glitchiness into my mixtapes as a metaphor for the way we seek perfection and never reach it. And then I just went back to the drawing board with the new skills and confidence I have now. I wanted the mixing to sound different than a typical album — it's a little technically off-kilter in some parts when I felt it thematically appropriate (like the completely ungated vocal in "lilypads") and I juxtaposed it with glossy, clear pop vocals on songs like "mosaic."
I really wanted this character to sound like the voice in your head — sometimes it's helping, sometimes it's hurting. It's always overthinking. Sometimes it blends with the white noise. My friend, Emelesef, mastered the project and really captured that essence by bringing out a lot of those dynamic moments.
You describe this album as a "glitch pop concept." Was this a completely experimental release for you?
It was definitely an experiment for me! I wanted to play with expectations, play with form. Turn them on their heads. My feelings changed about it day to day, to be quite honest — sometimes I felt like it was freeing, sometimes I worried I was pushing things too far. I didn't know if a pop album could be kind of raw and unsettling, but still be clean and fresh.
In the end, I think listening to that positive voice allowed me to stay true to the message. I just wanted the freedom to give people a true piece of myself, which inherently is glitchy, erratic and a bit jarring in mood. But the project always comes home and focuses at crunch time. It's just the internal monologue of someone who's working stuff out.
When you imagine this album visually, what do you see?
I'm a synesthete on some mild level, so I mapped the color of this era that you see on all the artworks and on my socials to match the "color" of the album. I imagine each of these songs as moments in time washed in that muted blue-green of the cover. It's bittersweet, but I'm a theater kid at heart and I know that cool blue stage lights often mean the character is at their point of crisis and development — I wanted to signify that things are about to change.
Let's talk about the collaborations. You have Thomas Iannucci, handsovereyes, Name Change, jonoflaherty, Product, lovenotes, thayerperiod and cnri. How did you determine which collaborators were the best fit to help tell your IPSHST story?
Picking collaborations was a totally new thing for a tip/toe project, so I knew I had to be deliberate — I'm blessed to be surrounded by people who are vastly more talented than me and I wanted to give some of them a platform to help tell these stories. I wish I could've fit all of my friends on here! Some of my friends like Thomas, Name Change, handsovereyes and jonoflaherty are all people who do what they do very well, and I wanted them to go nuts and see what stuck, so we chose ideas and blended them with my style and sound.
Product (who, with me, makes up our duo, lovenotes), thayerperiod, cnri and Emelesef, my engineer, are people who foundationally helped me construct this piece, not just in the songs they feature in, but over long conversations and writing/production sessions to help me crack the code about the project as a whole. My incredible friend Cassius Cruz was also massively inspirational to my mindset going into this, so I have to shout him out.
How does the tracklist order support the narrative of this album?
The story is effectively told by an anonymous "little voice in your head." It begins with the acknowledgment of changing relationships and times — "allclear" is a meditation on the idea of moving on, but with the context to understand where you are versus where you've been. "happyforyou" and "mosaic" are the first times that overthinking pops up — playfully on the surface, but under it there's a lot of insecurity. "brb" is the falling apart when you are removed from the pain or the toxicity, but it's still keeping you imprisoned even if everything on the surface is fine. "lilypads," to me, centers the album in a balance between reactionary feelings and the same feelings after time has passed. It's always just a hole in your heart at the bottom of the pain. You think way too much about how to fill it before there's a clear decision to just stop at the end.
After that, "atlas" is the beginning of the unpacking phase, acknowledging the weight of the past and realizing it wasn't your fault. "crystalbutterfly" is feeling ready to move on for the first time, immediately put into place by the conflicting thoughts of self-doubt in "glitch."
"momento" is the grand statement of the album — that you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and accept that these things happened, that you sometimes won't feel great about them. But in the end, there is acceptance of self, if only just to survive for the hope of better days. The title track is a continuation of that realization, but our "little voice" is finally allowing itself to feel the pain under it all at the end, in a cathartic release to close the project.
Why did you choose "allclear" to open? And what made the title track the best conclusion to this story?
"allclear" needed to be the opener because it distills the way someone can appear totally fine on the surface, but be fighting a completely invisible battle in their head with the past vs. their present. It opens this can of worms without getting too dirty, too fast. It's also the most direct interpersonal dialogue on the album. I felt the title track needed to close the album because I thought the conclusion needed to be unsettling — a lot of life is unsettling. Pop music is typically designed simply to distract from that. I wanted to make a pop album that challenged your emotional state.
You are fairly new to the pop music scene. What are your emotions going releasing this?
It definitely feels like a big moment! It's the first time people are paying attention to what I'm doing here and I've always wanted that lens. I'm feeling confident that I put my best foot forward with this one and I hope that love will come through on first listens for people. I ultimately want to have a platform to create art that resonates with people who feel alone or like no one understands. I think in that way, I kinda make music for the "happy friend" who no one really worries about, but is struggling. I hope that sets me apart from other pop artists. My friend Product and I are a duo called lovenotes, which is more of a free-flowing, classic pop project, so it's been a lot of fun to indulge that in our work — coming soon! — but this project feels totally different.
Do you plan to continue this story and era of music?
I think this story never ends in a way, so definitely. We're never done changing, growing, receding, any of it. I think all of my projects inevitably are going to be tied into that idea in some way, but I think I'm going to be taking a bit of a break and letting this sit. I've dropped three LP-length projects in 10 months and my goal was to just leave the door open on my growth through this year, so I feel good about that. I'm in love with music making, so I'm already workshopping ideas, but that's all under wraps for now.
Photos courtesy of tip/toe