photo by: Ann-Marie Rollo
Keeping Eyes on the Road and the Moment Alive with Ripe
Marshfield fairgrounds park, just before dark ….and you could find me in a crater.
It was the opening night of the Levitate Music Festival – now three-day event celebrating the best feel-good vibes music and the arts have to offer. Berklee College of Music alumni, Ripe, were to take the stage for the third consecutive year just around 6:45pm on the Style stage – before an adoring crowd.
Four hours earlier, I sat with frontman Robbie Wulfsohn at picnic table and discussed how he and his seven friends/bandmates got to this point. It’s the Joy in the Wild Unknown, and at about 11:30am that day, as I arrived onsite to start my series of Levitate interviews, the joy was immediately obvious. I noticed Ripe was already there, one of the first bands at the festival grounds, walking around backstage in what appeared to be a mood best described as excited with a layer of animated. It was contagious from the jump and followed through for the entire weekend.
The members of Ripe: Tory Geismar and Jon Becker – guitar, Sampson Hellerman – drums, Josh Shpak – trumpet, EWI, Calvin Barthel – trombone and Nadav Shapira – bass, all come from different parts of North America. For Wolfsohn, in Toronto it started and in Boston it grew some. Their individual paths and passions brought them to Berklee. When you’re a suburb kid, the city sings to you. Because sometimes when it comes to music…
“Now you’re a former home, I have grown, chose to go, and I’m not sure what to do with the memory of you.”
But that was Ex-life. The flipside is that presently, Ripe through their authentic sound, enthralling live show and inclusive community have created a wave of their own, filled with green headbands, that will not be a passerby as it has them gliding into the arms of not only New England’s most picturesque seaside venues, but also willingly spreading the joy to gleaming audiences across the country.
So keep your eyes on the road and keep the mement alive. As the band sharpens the edges of their dreams feeling a little bit lighter than before, their ask is simple – they’re just trying to take us with them.
photo by: Ann-Marie Rollo
Joy in the Wild Unknown has been out for over a year now, you are in the midst of a summer tour, how are you?
I’m good. The vibe of the band is really positive – we’re in that cool phase where it feels like we get to switch from being record focused to being future focused. When you put out a large body of new music, the following tour is the album tour, as it deserves. For at least a year afterwards, putting out new music is highly unlikely. So, we’ve had a period where we’ve had the wonder of watching Joy in the Wild Unknown do its thing, and now we are writing new music and playing shows that allow us to flex new tunes into the set. We are looking forward to our next recording plans and it feels really good seeing that come into focus.
This is your third year in a row playing the Levitate Festival and every year your climb up the show poster, this seems to really be a special place for Ripe?
Yeah, this festival has always felt like home. None of us grew up in Massachusetts, we all met in Boston and that’s our hub for this area, but the crowd is so friendly here, the people that work this festival are so excited to be working it and to be alongside the artists who come back year-after-year. This is just a good vibe all the way through – the brand, the festival and the entire unit. I get so excited that they want us back because a community of that nature is something I like to be a part of.
There’s such a natural fit between Ripe and the shore region venue’s – whether it’s a festival like this or The Chicken Box or Ocean Mist, how do you describe that dynamic between the band and these types of settings?
I think that the greater Boston scene in general is so hard to win over, but if they allow themselves to be won over, they then commit really hard. Boston is a city that kicked us into shape – being a band that made it through four years of Berklee to finally being able to take the show on the road and play places where we were seeing shows as college kids. That process has felt like it took a long time to get our footing, but then also very accelerated. I think Boston is a big reason why our work ethic is the way it is. I feel a ton of love for and from this area. I would get if were weren’t welcomed as a Boston group since none of us are from here, but the fact that we have stuck it out and developed that relationship with people means a lot to me.
photo by: Jeff Gorra
If you think back to Berklee and forming the band, is this what you envisioned? What Ripe is now? Or has this come out of pure passion?
More the latter. It was really finding ways to click and then finding reasons to keep going in the beginning. If any of us had designs of where this has gone and where it is hopefully going – I think that would have been total ego. We were on much of a grind as we could in Boston because it was fun to do in the moment. We wanted to play shows because it felt good to do so. In the early days, it was very much Berklee musicians change their values and we had a revolving door of bass players. We had to decide – do we want to fold or is this what we want to do? Every time we realized that in this moment, this is what we want to do. Even upon graduation, we thought if we risked everything with this original music project, there would be a ton of fear in that but it is what made the most sense at the time. We gave it six months where we said, nobody has to feel like they’re trapped, but let’s go for it. Literally at the six-month mark we had our first signs of success and had our first tour on the horizon. From there it began to feel like – oh shit this could be a very long-term thing.
Was the plan always to be this unique seven-piece that included trumpet and trombone?
The horns came in very soon in after we became a thing. Samspon and Tory came from a band before they arrived at Berklee and they were not looking to do this type of thing right away. They were more interested in a production duo. I met them at a party they threw. They liked the way that I sang and we wrote a song together. That song ended up having a lot of other musicians playing on it, some of which ended up being the first iteration of Ripe. By the third song, we knew we wanted a trumpet so we asked Josh Shpak. We really dug what Josh did and asked him to build a horn section. At first there were three in that section, there used to be a Saxaphone player too, but now it’s just Josh and Calvin. Berklee gave us the luxury of being able to find Jon and Nadav and it’s been the seven of us now for four years.
How does a Ripe song start in terms of writing? Is it as simple as a melody, acoustic guitar or piano riff?
There isn’t a standard way for us, it’s a bit in flux. We find that having all seven of us write at the same time does feel like too many cooks. Usually it’s two or three of us getting in a room at any given time, ironing out what the core of the song is, what the melody is and what the intention is. Once that is in place it then gets brought to the entire group, regardless of who created it because we do have everybody involved in the process. Once the original skeleton is brought to the room, then all seven of us function as creators and editors. In order for a song to go from a baby idea to a solid song, all of us have to do our part and put it together in real-time. We want our music to be intentional at every level. We are lucky that our abilities allow us to do that in a musical execution way. The last couple of years we have paid close attention to what the songs are about and why we are picking certain ones over others.
photo by: Chris Anderson
There’s a ton of meaning behind your songs and I love that the word “Joy” is in the title of the record because your shows truly exemplify that. I think the song “Follow Through” backs up both of those statements. That song is such a positive ball of energy. What do you remember about writing?
I definitely think a positive ball of energy is something I would describe it as. In some ways to me, it’s also coming from a heavier place. It’s coming from a place of resilient optimism – it’s more of a confronting of that fact that life is tough and can at times leave you depleted where in the moment there is not much you can do about it. Then it goes on and eventually gets better and that’s the goal – it’s not to try and avoid darkness, but to go through it and come out the other side. If anyone feels the song as cathartic that’s awesome because that’s the end goal. “Follow Through” takes on more of the heavy than some of the other tunes on the album.
We wrote it in our rehearsal space. It was brought in on keys and we ended up shuffling it around. We didn’t have a pre-chorus and then the breakdown before the ending was written out of my own frustration for not having the section. But the subject matter is in-part pulled from a drive we took from Cedar Springs, Wisconsin to Ohio to play the finish line of bicycle race. It was hilarious – these racers just finished a 50-mile race and are exhausted then we are asking them to dance. Everyone was 100 feet away in the food tent. I think they still enjoyed it but we realized these are things we are going to have to do and hopefully come out on top. We weren’t totally sure that A would lead to B, but we were still willing to do A because B was what we really wanted to do.
You have the rest of 2019 accounted for in terms of touring, you mentioned writing new material, what’s next for Ripe?
Right now, we are deep into the writing shed which means inevitably we are going to get to recording. We are trying to be both long-game and short-game. The band’s in-house touring plans are longer planned out than the public knows about. It’s a surreal feeling. In terms of getting new music out, we want to make the people who have liked what they heard this far happy, but also create something that reflects the change we have had. We are growing as musicians, as human beings and our community is growing. Everyone feels like they are on this discovery path and we want to make music that reflects that.
If you think about first meeting the band at a Berklee party and where you are today as Ripe, what does this moment mean to you?
It feels like we have wanted to be this band for a long time and the time has come to put our money where mouths are – and be the band that we want to be. It’s too early to tell if we wind up being that band, but everyone is putting the work in to try and do it.
“All that we are
Each of us particles
Dust under the Sun”