Jessica Ripka
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Jessica Ripka

Northville, Michigan, United States | INDIE

Northville, Michigan, United States | INDIE
Band Alternative Singer/Songwriter

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The DRB was cruising around Bandcamp.com again, looking for a little side action, when we noticed Jessica Ripka's album cover for her single 'Meant To Be'. Several emails and phone calls later, this former L.A. piano girl, who now calls Detroit home, called our offices from a Philadelphia tour stop to enlighten us on the joys of the road. Yes, I can already hear ALL of you faithful readers, screaming in your sleep “THIS ISN'T ROCK, ST.AUBIN! WHERE THE HELL IS WHITESNAKE?”
Well, no it isn't, it's rock's little sister, but she's all grown up and taking on the local coffeehouse scene all by herself. And, she's crafted a Fiona Apple-esque answer to what Ryan Adams was really searching for on his 'Heartbreaker' album. This is sweet, melodic pop music (You KNOW how we love melody, down here in Detroit, right?) that approaches the edge of rock from a careful distance.
All you husbands looking to get laid for the first time in years ? Show your wife how sensitive you really are by giving her a copy of Jessica's album “Don't Listen To My Face”. It's filled to the brim with Folk/Pop anthems of love, joy, heartache, and frustration that will have wives nationwide quivering and sobbing in hysteric appreciation. You can download this musical bargain for free at Bandcamp.com,
It is our hope here at the DRB, that Jessica will soon abandon folk/pop, put on some tight bright red leather pants, dye her hair silver, and form her own White Stripes cover band. Until then, the DRB officially crown's her the undisputed queen of DIY Detroit indie pop.

Tell us a bit about your musical background. Where do you come from ?

I come from a musical family where my dad studied music and my mom studied drama and musical theater. They met at Ithaca College in New York and headed straight to NYC with dreams of Broadway. They met the Jesus People instead (I mean, it WAS 1970...) and ended up doing music in charismatic/messianic churches. It was part gospel, part Broadway, part Jewish dance circle. There are some things that 'eclectic' will never manage to describe... But we toured around in a pass van - my parents and 2 older siblings along with Kurzweil keyboards, sound gear, and lots of tambourines - and built a name for ourselves as the Von Ripka's (like The Sound of Music...meets Christian/Jewish/Broadway church singer group??). Those days were ages ago but they're still at the root of who I am.

What genre best describes your sound ?

Like most musicians who never really aspired to be in a specific 'genre', I have a hard time describing what style best describes my sound. Probably melodic indie pop.

Who inspired you ?

Ironically, I wasn't allowed to listen to most mainstream music growing up and had to sneak a radio into my bedroom in middle school just to hear The Beatles or Billy Joel tunes. I instantly fell in love with oldies and was probably the only girl in my class who wanted a record by The Coasters and a Beatles calendar for Christmas. I definitely wanted to be Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, and Fiona Apple by the time I was in high school but didn't know how to play piano. I tried to learn here and there without too much success and then was told by a music producer in LA that piano chicks weren't really all that popular anyway so it wasn't really worth pursuing. I wrote a song about it later called "3 Blind Mice". Regina Spektor's "Begin to Hope" album was the turning point for me where I just sat there listening to it over and over - realizing that you have to make music for music's sake and not because of what's popular. You do it because otherwise you'll die.

Where will you be musically in five years ?

Such a good question! And wouldn't I love to have a good answer... I have a fear of futuristic projections because usually once I hope for something to happen, it doesn't (or it just happens in such a random and ridiculous way that I find myself asking, "And I WANTED this to happen??" ;). But, at the very least, it would be great to be more established as an artist with a broader audience and more established venues (The Troubadour, Hotel Cafe, The Hollywood Bowl would be pretty sweet...). I'd like to do more obscure venues, too, though - like a farm tour where all I play are organic farms (I did a miniature farm tour this past August and it was a blast...) or homeless shelters and food banks. I'm a big believer in the power of giving and compassion and if there's a way to combine that with my art, I'm all about it. I also have a sophomore album that I'm working on that accompanies a memoir I've written and I'd love to have that out by then (and have it sell more than 10 copies...). I think I should really learn how to knit by then. Knitting would be good.

What style and type of instruments are you loyal to ?

I'm not really loyal to specific brands - mostly because beggars can't be choosers. I do love a good Steinway piano. They're just the most beautiful creatures I've ever heard. I play a Yamaha P-90 at most of my shows since acoustic pianos are a dying breed (sadly...). It's better than playing those tiny 60-key keyboards that feel like plastic spoons and it definitely beats a key-tar. But I'm an acoustic chick to the core - I'd rather have an old upright piano than a brand new fancy Yamaha any day. I'm actually trying to outfit an old p30 bread truck with an upright piano that I can take on the road and do shows from. I'm not quite willing to put my grandmother's studio Steinway on it yet just for liability reasons; but if I could, I would!

What are you favorite venues to perform at ?

I've performed at The Ark and Crazy Wisdom in Ann Arbor, Trinity House Theatre in Livonia, The Actor's Loft in Royal Oak, Scarab Club in Detroit, and a host of coffeehouses. My faves are definitely The Ark, Crazy Wisdom and Trinity House - could not ask for a better set up or feel than at those places. Crazy Wisdom is especially awesome because people literally just show up and sit down. It's a great way to expand your audience in a great area. Plymouth Coffee Bean is similar and Jeffree, the music coordinator there, is fabulous. My least favorite venues are the non-listening room spaces. I honestly don't understand why those places book live artists other than Kenny G. I mean, if you want background music, then just I figure they should probably just buy an iPod - it's way easier on my self esteem.

Where are you performing next ?

I just wrapped up a busy weekend of Detroit shows and don't have any more lined up for awhile. I booked out of town gigs for the next few months - Orbit Art Gallery in Philadelphia, The Living Room in NYC, Cafe Muse in LA and Grandview Presbyterian Church in LA. I'm hoping to do open mics in between shows and try to swing up to Portland after LA. We'll see....

Tell us about your songwriting process.

I just like to spend time at the piano making noise. I've written most of my songs from a mistake I've made while practicing some other song or working out another idea. My fingers will land somewhere funny and I'll think, "That sounded pretty cool, actually...." I'm convinced that part of the reason why I was never good at actually learning piano was because I'd get distracted playing all of those goofy songs that they start piano students on. I'd make a mistake in the middle of Michael Row Your Boat Ashore and 6 hours later I'll have spent all my time writing a song instead of practicing the sheet music.

What does Detroit mean to you as a musician ?

Detroit for me has been a blank canvas in the best possible sense. I'm drawn to places that have their own quiet strength to them - underdogs who don't spend their time trying to impress people. When I first got to Detroit, I actually couldn't believe that I was still in my own country - it was just so ravaged and neglected yet so completely fantastic and beautiful. I'm really inspired by the people trying to make art out of everything around town without drumming up too much fanfare. Urban farmers, micro-financers, community volunteers - all rolling up their sleeves and trying to be part of the solution in some really profound and lovely ways. Aside from that, I also really like winter and fall. I think the change in seasons has been the healthiest thing for me as a person and an artist. Detroit is also the first town I've lived in as a musician with an actual identity AS a musician. I've always been a singer everywhere I've lived; but it was either as my dad's daughter or as the 'singer' girl who had no way of doing anything other than sing backup in a band because she didn't know how to play an instrument. Coming to Detroit was exciting for me because it was a blank slate for me to try out this whole singer/songwriter thing I've always dreamed about, but without feeling so much blitz and pressure to be anything other than who I am. For that, I'll always owe Detroit and all of Michigan a huge Thank You.


-St.Aubin
for DRB - Detroit Rock Blog


In Paris, on her way to see the Eiffel Tower, Jessica Ripka had one thing on her mind, “I need to find a piano.”
When Ripka left the States six weeks ago for a vacation in Europe, she had three gigs lined up for her return and the release of her first full-length album, Don’t Listen to My face, was underway. Ripka is a singer/songwriter out of Detroit who performs piano driven music that can be loosely compared to artists like Regina Spektor and Ingrid Michaelson.
Ripka describes the genre as “the sound of a pop song getting drunk enough to dance on tables while on a date with a folk song at a piano bar”, but curious music connoisseurs can decide for themselves at her concert June 2nd at The Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
During her travels abroad, Ripka took every opportunity to practice her set, from borrowing a busker’s red street piano in York, UK, to spending an afternoon with a donated Steinway in a Swiss nursing home. Out of complete desperation, she even created a set of chimes from the champagne glasses drying in the kitchen of her host in Paris, filling them with varying levels of water and striking them with a spoon to accompany herself.
Ripka’s passion for her music acts as the driving force in her life, so when volcanic ash from the Icelandic volcano threatened to cancel her Dublin flight back for the concerts this month, she acted quickly to find the first flight available out of Paris.
“I’m usually just so flexible with my travel plans I don’t mind how things pan out,” Ripka explains. “This was probably one of the first times I was willing to do anything to get home in time [for the concerts].”
A graduate of Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, Ripka studied cinema and photography with hopes of becoming a film director. She moved to Los Angeles after graduating and quickly found herself with a respectable career working in art departments on films like War of the Worlds and Nancy Drew.
Even so, her heart was always in music. Although not formally trained, she grew up performing with her parents.
“Music is what we always did as a family,” she says. Ripka’s father, Keith Ripka did work Off Broadway and her mother, Penelope Ripka did some acting in musical theater. More often, however, they worked as worship leaders in churches, sometimes bringing Ripka and her older brother and sister along to sing with them.
“As a little kid I wrote songs all the time,” Ripka says. “But after we got rid of the piano when I was eight it wasn’t until I was 19 and in college that I could kind of go back to it.”
It was during the Screenwriter’s Guild strike in 2007 that she finally found the time to take music seriously.
“I bought a piano and started writing in my spare time,” Ripka recalls. “Like, literally eight or nine hours a day.”
Shortly after the strike ended, Michigan began offering tax returns as an incentive for film productions. Ripka got a call to work on Youth in Revolt in Detroit in April 2008, and since then has been steadily employed in Michigan.
The move also gave her the confidence to start booking her own gigs.
“I thought, ‘nobody knows me in this town, it doesn’t matter,’” Ripka explains.
Ripka says this was also when she began to test the waters and become more aware of her artistry, “I definitely think 2008 was a pivotal year as I started listening to more artists, a lot of different Indie bands…different styles, different genres.”
It took longer for her to find her own sound and actually get it to work for an album.
“I initially started planning an album in 2008 before I knew I was moving to Michigan,” Ripka remembers. “We decided to try one song, since I wasn’t exactly sure which direction I wanted the album to go. It turned out really well, but it didn’t turn out how I wanted it to sound.”
It would be two more years before she finally made a recording that satisfied her.
“It’s really hard to explain,” Ripka talks about the lengthy process involving trial recordings with three different producers. “It’s kind of like finding a soulmate, you just know it’s the right one.”
For years Ripka had been recording demos of her work on a laptop and sending them to her friends. Now, burnt out with unsatisfactory recordings, Ripka says she was more willing to listen to her friends’ feedback on these homemade recordings.
“They always said, ‘this is your most honest work, you should do an album with that,” Ripka says. “I was at my wits end and thought maybe I’ll just do that. I’ll make it personal. So I did and I’m much happier with my work.”
She arranged and produced a short Christmas EP in under a month and latched onto the spontaneity of that work for her full album.
“Now I finally have a product I can send home with people which is a really good feeling,” Ripka explains one of the perks of finally having CDs available. “I feel liberated in a way where I can start promoting more and then start focusing on the next project that I’ve wanted to do.”
This project, tentatively called The Family Album, is a much more daunting task, involving a memoir written in conjunction with the album. Songs will be based on a novel she wrote last fall about her family.
“I haven’t lived with my family in over ten years, so it’s been interesting carrying them with me, and over time you begin to see your closest family members in very different ways,” Ripka says she made it a point not to sugarcoat the dysfunction in her family, but to include both the humorous and the painful. “For me, it’s part of helping identify myself in the mess. What role I played, what part do I have?”
While Ripka is pondering her family relationships, she will be busy working to book more gigs and spread the word about Don’t Listen to My Face. She performs at The Ark June 2nd at 8pm. For a full list of her concert dates and locations, visit her Myspace page at www.myspace.com/jessicaripkamusic. You will also find links to her new album, which is available for free download until July 1st.

- The Athens News


Discography

"Don't Listen to My Face" - (2010)
"Manger Songs" - (2009)
"Blinded" - single (2004)

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Bio

Jessica Ripka (b. 1981) bought her first piano from a Pennysaver ad in Burbank, CA after losing her job in 2008 due to the Writer’s strike in Los Angeles. After 4 months of recording low-fi demos in her bedroom, she relocated temporarily to work on a film in Detroit where she started booking live shows outside of work. Her performances - rich with lilting piano, warm vocals, and segues of true stores - gained popularity throughout the Detroit and Ann Arbor area - landing her a choice spot in venues such as Trinity House Theatre and The Ark. She relocated to Michigan permanently in 2009 just after releasing her EP “Manger Songs” – a collection of Christmas carols recorded mostly in her living room with a mix of flavors ranging from Sufjan Stevens to Regina Spektor to Tim Burton. Inspired by the success of the EP and Bon Iver's low-fi masterpiece "For Emma, Forever Ago", she finally returned to the warm home recordings from her earliest ventures and released her debut album “Don’t Listen to My Face” – a self-produced project recorded everywhere from church sanctuaries to college practice rooms. She’s currently writing a collection of memoirs to publish in tandem with her sophomore release.