Classical Ambient Piano Meets Synthpop and McDonald’s
Some people may have heard of Greenpoint-based musician Andrew Shapiro as that guy who played modern classical piano at a McDonald’s in lower Manhattan every Sunday for nine years. Other people might vaguely recognize his name when hitting “like” on his song Mint Green on Pandora (it’s got several million plays). Still others might know him as the musician who recently collaborated with author and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, who wrote the lyrics for his song Bash Street Worlds. This summer, Andrew released an ambient classical album and a synth pop album in the same month. Boring, he is not—his songwriting has taken him around the world—and some of those gigs he owes to being down-to-earth and confident enough to play at Mickey D’s. For a solo classical musician and an Oberlin Conservatory-trained pianist, one might assume he’s reserved and bookish; but in person Andrew is quite talkative and energetic with an innate curiosity about the diversity that is New York City.
His two recent albums are quite different, and both worth a listen. The Impressionist-inspired classical album Piano 3 is good to put on while studying, working or as background music if you just want to relax. The synth-pop record Pink Jean Mint Green is reminiscent of Cocteau Twins with a dash of Philip Glass and even a pinch of Vampire Weekend (especially on the song Acura Club). Both records are sweet and casual, so it makes sense that Andrew would be cool with playing piano for tourists at McDonald’s as his classical tracks lilted amidst the background cha-ching of the cash register and the sizzle of all-beef patties hitting the grill. During those years clocking in every Sunday, he was making his version of ambient music accessible to everyday folk. And there’s something really respectable about that. When he’s playing for an audience he says, “I feel alone when I’m playing. I have this comfortable sense of solitude. It’s pure.”
As piano-heavy as a lot of Andrew’s music is, I was surprised to learn that he started out as a clarinet player. In fact, the song Outro on Pink Jean Mint Green is a solo clarinet track; Andrew says he was inspired by the Paul Simon song The Late Great Johnny Ace—where Simon collaborated with Philip Glass to create a quiet instrumental ending to the emotional song, which references John Lennon’s death, JFK and Johnny Ace himself. On his track Outro, Andrew liked the idea “going back to being little” with a minimal coda to wrap up the album. He says he thinks of the clarinet as a “First language… When I mutter out loud, I think about the clarinet.” But he admits that what he likes about arranging for synths is that, “You can put as many paints on the palette as you want.”
His next undertaking will be assembling a live band to perform tracks from Pink Jean Mint Green, which he says will all be new arrangements designed to be performed live. We’ll keep you posted here on Greenpointers. You can keep up with Andrew Shapiro’s latest and greatest on his site or on Twitter.
Here’s Pink Jean Mint Green:
And here’s Piano 3: