Local Boy Makes Good: A Talk With Sxip Shirey

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Athens, Ohio, native Sxip (pronounced "Skip") Shirey has been awarded an outstanding artist fellowship by United States Artists of California.

United States Artists is a nonprofit organization which is "dedicated to investing in America's finest artists and to illuminating the value of artists to society." The fellowship includes a gift of $50,000 to be used to further Shirey's career.

"It was a great pat on the back, like 'Yeah, you're doing the right thing," said Shirey.

He's using the funds to realize some longtime dreams, such as working with a 30-piece orchestra, and setting up his own recording space.

"I'm buying really good microphones, really good preamps so I can have a studio," he added.

Shirey is the songwriter and lead guitarist for the gypsy-funk band Luminescent Orchestrii. He has also collaborated with the Grammy Award-winning string band Carolina Chocolate Drops and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman.

Now based in New York City, Shirey has performed at the Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe Festivals and at legendary venues such as The Knitting Factory, Joe's Pub and CBGB's. He gives credit to the music culture of Athens for his success.

"There was an incredible punk rock scene that came out of The Union, great folk musicians playing at O'Hooley's," said Shirey. "I grew up around amazing musicians in Athens, Ohio."

He attended Ohio University for a time, then struck out to seek a musical career, traveling the globe with his unique compositions and instruments.

"I write folk music, I write R&B tunes, and I write compositions with marbles rolling around in glass bowls," he said. "My vision is very populist."

In addition to guitar, Shirey performs on a number of "toys" or found objects, including bicycle bells, bullhorn harmonicas, modified music boxes and miniature hand bells.

This month, Shirey will be a guest lecturer at the Norwegian Institute of Art, and in March will be conducting a workshop for young composers, hosted by the English National Opera. This summer he will co-headline with Laurie Anderson at Lincoln Center Outdoors. He is currently recording an album titled A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees.

For more information, visit www.sxipshirey.com.