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Mark Chipello ’04
Drummer and Tour Manager for Tyrone Wells

At UCLA, a student can go from Spring Sing competitor to rock star. Mark Chipello ’04 is taking the music industry by storm as the drummer and tour manager for Tyrone Wells. With a new album out and a nationwide tour underway, Mark talks about life on the road, Universal Republic Records and Dunkin' Donuts.

1. What were you doing musically before joining forces with Tyrone?
I was with a band named Stafford (after the front man T.J. Stafford – a talented singer/songwriter who is making amazing music). I got to know Tyrone better because Stafford opened for Tyrone a few times in Hollywood.

2. When did you and Tyrone first play together?
I met Tyrone at a recording studio about four years ago. I was booking shows for Stafford and I thought that it would be good exposure for us to open for Tyrone so we set it up. It was my senior year at UCLA when I thought that it would be fun to do Spring Sing. I called Tyrone and told him about the event and that James Taylor would be there (he received the George and Ira Gershwin Award that year), and he was sold. Spring Sing was our first gig together. We won the show and have been working together ever since.

3. Why did you decide to major in comparative religion instead of music?
From the age of 12, my life was consumed by practice and musical education. By the time I hit college, I realized that what I needed to get to the next level, musically, was lots of live playing experience. About halfway through college, I realized that I could accomplish anything I wanted to in the music business world if I was willing to work hard enough. This epiphany freed me up to study something that I really loved.

4. Before getting the Universal Republic deal, was there a point when you wanted to quit music?
No. After graduating college, I waited tables and played music as much as I could. Even though I wasn’t paying the bills with my music, I consistently felt progress. I had some amazing opportunities to teach drums in Europe, landed a recurring corporate gig with Microsoft and the Tyrone gig was constantly growing. It wasn't always easy, but I did always feel forward momentum.

5. How is living in a van for several months at a time?
For the most part, I have no complaints. I am 24 years old and I’m making a healthy living doing what I love to do. I get to see the country and meet interesting new people every day. There are small downsides: hotels every night, being away from my friends and family, and there are more Dunkin’ Donuts than Starbucks on the East Coast, which is a real tragedy. But overall, I love it.

6. What's it like being both on the creative and business side of the music industry?
I wouldn't have it any other way. I co-wrote a quarter of the new record, Hold On. I love helping to create and shape a song. As cliché as it sounds, knowing that I can take part in creating something that affects the listeners makes me feel alive. In terms of the business end, I did all of our booking for about a year (around 150 shows), and I still tour manage the band. I enjoy the business because I get to sell a product that I believe in, our band. It is fulfilling to book a show, promote it, find supporting acts and then two months later, be on stage in front of a sold-out crowd, reaping the benefits of all the groundwork.

7. Has your music changed since signing with Universal Republic Records?
Not at all. Our label gets it. They signed us and then bought a record that we made independently and released it as is. Therefore, they had no creative input. The brothers who run the label, Monty and Avery Lipman, believe in working with acts that have developed a sound and a following. As a result, they don't try to reshape the group into something they're not, but instead look to promote and develop what the artist is already doing. I think this one of the keys to their success.

8. What themes are emphasized in your music?
Love, life, heartache, war and longing. We try to write songs that connect with people. The goal is to write about universal themes without being overly relative or sounding like a recycled message. The key is to take a common theme and lift it up in a new way so that you see a fresh dimension of that theme. Our inspiration is this beautiful struggle we call life.

9. What's the craziest experience you've had while on the road touring?
We were in Seattle and we met a guy who rode an electric scooter all the way from Vancouver, Canada, for the show. It took him eight hours. Because the maximum speed on his scooter was only 40, he got kicked off the freeway by the cops for going too slow. Then he got a flat tire. He eventually made it to the show and he's our hero.

10. Do you have any tips for musicians trying to make it?
Work, work, work. Write good songs and play your butt off.

11. Which musical artists have you met that have left you in awe?
I'm not usually that in awe of fame, but talent is another story. I met a drummer named Ivan Hampden at a music convention. He asked me about our music and I told him about this four-song soul medley that we do at live shows. I told him about the first song in the medley, "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder, and he casually said, "I remember playing that tune with Stevie at some gig..." It hit me like a truck that I was way out of my league and I shut my mouth real quick.

12. What are some great Los Angeles venues for live music?
One of our favorites is the El Rey. It is an old art deco theater that has been refurbished. It has a great vibe, killer sound and they bring in awesome musicians. Other than that, I played drums at the Hollywood Bowl for my church (Bel Air Presbyterian) this Easter. I guess that venue is all right.

13. Right after the Los Angeles release party of Hold On, you participated in the Invisible Children Night Commute. Are you still involved with Invisible Children?
Yes. We have been selling bracelets and DVDs at all of our shows since this past summer (about 100 shows). We send all of the proceeds to Invisible Children and we are thrilled that our tour can help to promote this story and send out a call to action among our youth. If you want to know more about this, please visit www.invisiblechildren.com.

15. Have you collaborated with any fellow alumni in the industry?
We did a show at the El Rey this past January where we had two other past Spring Sing winners open for us: Raining Jane (1999) and Mikey G. and Dan from Danville (2006). Both bands have become good friends of ours and are extremely talented. It was a sold-out crowd and a great night to be a Bruin.