There are so many bands and artists bringing bold new sounds to the music world these days, and one of those definitely goes by the name of Ripe. A Boston-born seven piece of horns, drums, guitar, bass, and a lead singer, Ripe are as much longtime cohorts as they are a band, as much singularly talented musicians as they are a collectively creative braintrust.
That’s probably a big part of the secret to creating their sublime meldings of funk and pop and jam rock. They’ve got two LPs out, and are working on their debut full-length album, and their songs emanate emotion and musical subtly as much as they do glowing energy and a strong urge to get down. Live, their unique brand is something they’ve been honing out in front of bigger and bigger crowds lately, such as at The PlayStation Theatre a few months ago, opening up for none other than J. J. Grey and Mofro.
December 16 will be another huge notch upon the band’s fast expanding resume: the band will make their debut at The Capitol Theatre, along with fellow Boston big band Juice, as well as “rowdy rock” group Late Night Episode. With those two on board as well, it’s sounding like it will be quite the exciting night for artist and audience all around.
To purchase tickets for the show, you can visit http://www.thecapitoltheatre.com/event/1584662-ripe-juice-special-guests-port-chester/
In the meantime, to help prepare yourselves (if you’re not yet aware and hooked) for the colorful, funky world of Ripe, check out our conversation with their lead singer, Robbie Wulfsohn.
The Poke Around: Let’s start with the current tour, is Ripe feeling pretty good lately?
Robbie Wulfsohn: I would say we are. We got some good family time in about a week and a half ago. We’ve been spending the last little while in the rehearsal room, getting some new tunes ready, and getting everything to sound a little more record ready. For us, we’re sitting on the thing…we know what it sounds like, and we want to kind of use that tour as a kind of opportunity to bring that world to the places that we’ve been grinding in for a long time, a little bit before the record comes out for the wider world.
Right, so you have a couple of LPs out, but this will be your debut full-length album. Has this one been a bigger challenge at all for you, and has there been any kind of upgrade in the sound of Ripe for it?
Yes definitely. There are some things that I’m going to keep secret for the time being, because I’m excited to announce that loudly to everyone at once, about how we upgraded the sound. But this is the most that we’ve been able to upgrade our song mix, and actually have a vision for a full album, going in. For us, one of the reasons we started with LPs was that we were sort of finding our footing, and sort of figuring out what exactly we wanted to bring into the world musically, what kind of band we wanted to be. And I think that this album is the first time that we’re answering that in any meaningful capacity, and it’s very exciting for me to see what could happen.
When it comes to songwriting and rehearsing, and figuring out things musically, are things pretty democratic with you guys?
We run it pretty much as a flat democracy. People have their skill sets, and we’re definitely aware when someone is good at something or not, but in terms of decision making about what the band is, or what kind of outfit we’re trying to be, that’s seven people weighing in equally. And thank god it’s an odd number, so in a worse case scenario, we usually have some kind of side taking majority. Everyone kind of operates with the implicit understanding that what the band thinks is best for the band IS best for the band, even when you’re not in the majority this time around. But we definitely do deal with all the pros and all the cons of running this in a flat way.
Even the way we write songs: a song is not finished until all seven members have signed off on it. And while that can sometimes mean a lot of compromise in real time, I really do think that the results speak for themselves, as in what happens when we get seven people firing on all cylinders.
It’s amazing in itself that you can produce a sound like that of Ripe from the result of seven people weighing in.
Thank you very much for that. I can’t believe that I’m actually making music with six of my closest friends, who are also my roommates, who are also my crazy business partners slash my creative bounce-offs. I’m really happy to do it, so I’m really grateful when people take notice.
Have there been moments for you guys when you’ve brought new songs to play live on stage, where things just click and everybody in the band feels it?
Yeah. It’s not always quite like a light bulb going off, like “This is the one!” But I think there’s a moment where you decide that a song has been ironed enough in the room, and it’s time to start mixing it with the audience and with the experience of our live show, and have it start to develop its personality as a song in the live mix. Or a song that’s being changed and reintroduced into the mix.
I think, speaking on behalf of myself, and the guys too, the moments when we share it with the audience are elevated from when we’re ironing them out in the room and staring at that picture so closely to get it, quote unquote, perfect for the audience. I think that once a song is ready to go on stage, after a few times through it where we sort of derive what the moments are, and how they play with the audience, I think that once that is figured out then the song comes into its own, and starts to get under our fingers and become something that we truly get excited to experience with our listeners.
Your music has some pretty intense lyrics for being so groovy. For instance, the song “Goon Squad.” Is that a moniker for the band?
With “Goon Squad,” a lot of the songs that were both written back then and some of the stuff on the new album, it’s kind of dealing with this tension of, things can be kind of rough, but a handful of really good things in life make great things possible. To me, “Goon Squad” discusses how I currently have delusions of making this music connect with people all over the planet, and making a lot of people happier than they currently are. And that the reason I feel like we have any hope in doing that is because of the six people that I’m friends and bandmates with.
So for me, though it’s not specifically one story, “Goon Squad” is about us playing for our lives, and what that means to me.
Can you talk about coming up as a Berkley band in Boston? As you started to grow, did you also see a growing extended Ripe family of fans from the start?
Absolutely, and that’s still a work in progress as we expand to new places, and as we get farther and farther away from home. For Boston specifically, there were kind of two steps. Because when were a Berkley band, our crowd was probably eighty percent Berkley students, or one of their friends, people that could trace themselves directly back to us. And I still can’t believe that people gathered around us. There’s a million musicians at Berkley, and almost as many bands that form and break up. I’m really grateful that we were something that people gave time to.
But, after four years of school, everybody pretty much leaves Boston, except us. And so, for the first time, we were kind of like, “Well, I wonder who has actually put down roots and who actually has the intention of sticking it out in the city, who understands our music, cares about what we’re doing.” I would say that we didn’t fully become a Boston band, as in that relationship being two-way and becoming symbiotic, until our college days had left, after we graduated.
And I think that what’s happened now is we’ve become more associated with Boston than Berkley. Like, our friendships and relationships in the city are based on being a band for six years in the scene, rather than the college friendships that we were developing. I think that, as much as I feel that we’ve been a Boston band, since day one, I think Boston is a very transient city, and a lot of people are really hesitant to make something feel like Boston, just because so often people will stick around for three or four years and then leave. Certainly I feel like more of a Boston band since graduating and sticking around, and the city has shown us love in kind, now that it seems that we’re in this for the long haul.
I love this city. Like, we just played at The House of Blues, opening for JJ Grey, and that’s a room that I’ve been seeing people play in, and thinking “Well maybe one day,” and then it happens, and it was actually as good as I was hoping it’d be, which is just surreal when it goes down like that.
Right, you did that one and then the Playstation Theatre show. What it’s like to bring the sound of Ripe to a much bigger place and crowd like that?
It’s crazy…for me, the first thing that stood out was that, the kind of show to put on in these rooms is different. When you’re playing a room that’s two hundred people capacity, when it’s absolutely full you can pretty much make eye contact with everybody in the room. And, regardless of the kind of music, regardless of the fan base, it’s a very intimate exchange, because you’re just close to everybody. And I think that, as the rooms get bigger, you still want to keep that intimacy, you still want to make people in the room, and yourself included, feel like this is a mass moment that’s going on between a lot of small groups interacting at the same time. So, you kind of need to get both bigger and smaller, because you simultaneously want to be having those intimate moments with more people, while still keeping those moments intimate with each individual person coming there, because of their feelings towards your music. So I think that navigating that balance, that tension, has been really intriguing to me. And seeing some stuff that’s kind of been a part of what we do for a long time work on stage, is just the the most exciting thing. Like, for some things to resonate with a lot of people all at once, the way that I feel when an artist I go to see does something really cool, its….electrifying.
Now, on the on the smaller size of things: you have the upcoming album on pledge music, and one of the pledges is a private house concert. Are you ready to play some of those?
I am beyond ready to do those. For me, the idea that someone would want to spend that kind of money to bring us into whatever room they think we should play, like….Well, I have all these dream scenarios with bands that I love, if I could just get these guys into this room, and see what happens, I would do that in a heartbeat. So the fact that people like us enough and care about us enough this young that they want to try that stuff with us, it has me really excited.
Okay, so who’s at the top of the dream scenarios? If you could share the stage with any artist, who would it be?
Ah, like I said, a million answers. But today I would pick Thom Yorke. Radiohead is a formative band for me, and recently I was reading an interview with Johnny Greenwood, where they talk about the writing process, and he said, in an unbelievably humble tone, that a lot of the time what they’re just doing is just listening to what Them Yorke is doing, and trying to not mess that up. And to hear someone that I think is a bonafide genius talk about someone else that I think is a bonafide genius….yeah. Like, I keep hearing people say, don’t meet your heroes, and I understand that, but when someone that is a hero of mine says something that incredible, it just feels like a box is getting checked off and I walk around the rest of the day elated, telling everybody about this neat thing I found out about.
So we’re obviously looking ahead to what will be a huge debut at The Capitol Theatre. Have you ever been there before?
I have not, but I’ve heard from my friends in the area that it’s unbelievable. And people have been coming up to me, saying, “I can’t believe I finally get to see you at this place,” and the rooms I say that about excite me more than almost anywhere on the planet.