Up-and-coming singer/songwriter Andrew Ripp talks with Pollstar about his craft, influences, and the limitations of being a support act.
Although Ripp’s professional career didn’t begin until 2005, he’s packed a lot of work into the past eight years, including co-writing half of Ryan Cabrera’s 2005 album, You Stand Watching, as well as songs that have been featured on “American Idol,” “One Tree Hill” and “Live To Dance.”
He has also seen success with his own albums, scoring No. 1 on iTunes’ singer/songwriter chart for his second album, 2010’s She Remains The Same.
Released in April, Ripp’s latest album, Won’t Let Go, had the artist working with Grammy Award-winning producer Charlie Peacock, and includes a guest appearance by Vince Gill.
While talking with Pollstar, Ripp described a life’s worth of experiences packed into eight short years, including how he went from Chicago to Nashville via Los Angeles.
Ripp also talked about what a support act faces when trying to “get out in front of as many new people” as possible. Having begun August supporting the Plain White T’s, Ripp will spend much of the month on the road with Parachute. He’ll also appear on a number of fall dates with Green River Ordinance and will support LeAnn Rimes in Huntington, N.Y., in November.
There’s a high level of production on your recordings in that the songs include backing musicians, arrangements, and so forth. How do you bring that to the stage when you’re appearing as a solo opening act?
Being an opener, being in the stage that I’m at, it’s kind of an awkward stage. Being the opener, nobody is bending to fit your needs. It’s like, “Hey, you got 34 minutes and, by the way, a four-by-four foot square on stage that we’re going to give you. Go out and have fun.”
I do to the best of my ability with my acoustic guitar. I also have an electric that I bring, a Gibson ES 125, one of those hollow bodies … like an old school jazz guitar that I use for more of a bluesy sound. I also play piano. When I’m solo I try to make it as interesting as I can but it’s hard to make it sound like the record. … There’s just a lot going on. Can’t do it as one guy.
It really depends on the tour. Trying to get out in front of as many new people as I can, you take what you can get and go out there and do the best with what you got.
What have been some of the highlights this year?
I had the opportunity to meet Jon Foreman from Switchfoot. He’s the lead singer but he also has his own stuff that he does as a solo artist. There were two people that I met this year that have totally had a huge input on my music … and personally, the way they present themselves and live and what they‘re about. And Jon is one of those guys. He really lives up to that. A really kind guy, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Went out of his way to say, “Hello.”
We were playing a college show together and he shows up in the green room having no idea of who I am. He’s wearing this wig, we’re in a theatre department of a college with all these costumes … he dressed up and came into the openers room to meet [me]. I thought that was really cool.
Also, Vince Gill ended up singing on my record. It was an incredible moment for me. Just like Jon, he lived up to the heroism. … I’ve seen him as a hero my entire life. My dad used to listen to Vince Gill. Getting to meet him, having a conversation and to see him walk into the booth and see him sing words that I wrote. It’s like, “Wow! Is this really happening?”
How did Gill end up on your album?
I had the song written, I had the demo, and … Michael Blanton who runs the label that I’m on, the entertainment company I’m on, he had a lot to do with Amy Grant’s career back in the day. When he heard the song, he said, “I’d really like to hear Vince on this.” And I was like, “Hey, I agree.”
He called [Vince] up and said, “Can I send you this song? You don’t have to love it. You don’t have to do it, but I just want to send it to you.”
So he sent it over and Vince loved it. And Vince is just that guy. He guest stars on everybody’s record. I’d love to be like that. If I ever get to the point where people know my name and care, it’s be really cool to throw the pride aside and just show up and sing on things even if they’re not huge. “Hey I believe in this guy. I want to support.”
Which songwriters have influenced you?
There’s so many, man. Bob Dylan has been a huge inspiration to me. Newer, more recent artists would be Ray LaMontagne [and] Ryan Adams. And those are weird for me. Naturally when I write songs it comes out more as a pop melody than it does folk, but those guys have a way with words I really respect. Naturally, I just write poppier songs but lyrically they push me.
What’s a lyric that stands out in your mind, say from LaMontagne?
Oh, my gosh. He has this song [“Empty”] where he says, “On past the back of that old and rusted Cadillac that sinks into field collecting rain (“Empty”). He just paints these pictures … I can see that, a field with an old and rusted Cadillac … he doesn’t spell it out. I love that with Dylan, too. … Allowing the listeners to use their imaginations a bit but at the same time setting them up for a wonderful picture. I love that.
When did you start writing songs?
I started writing when I was 18, I guess. I got a guitar in high school. I was a sports guy. My dad was the guy on the sidelines screaming.
So it wasn’t like you picked up the guitar to get noticed and meet some girls because as an athlete you were probably already at that level.
Yeah. You know how that goes. I used to hate that guy with the guitar at parties. Like, “Who do you think you are, dude?” And I became him.
Have you seen “Animal House” when [John] Belushi walked down the stairs, grabbed the guitar and smashed it? It’s one of the best scenes ever.
"Live In The Vineyard," Paraduxx Winery, Napa, Calif.
April 5, 2013
When did you begin performing publically?
I moved from Chicago out to L.A. for college, more to just get away and go to California. I always had that dream in my mind. … As soon as high school was over I went to L.A.
That’s how I really started writing. I had a lot of time on my hands between classes. Even during classes I found myself writing down thoughts, ideas, poems, whatever.
I’d say, performance-wise, that didn’t happen until I moved to Nashville, which was four years ago. I think I was afraid of it, afraid to get on stage. I was pretty shy about it. It’s hard to explain. I wasn’t afraid to play a song but I was afraid to get on stage and have someone dislike it. Fear of failure.
Did you already have connections in Nashville at the time you moved there or were you just another hopeful with a guitar, getting off the bus and chasing a dream?
I was that guy but I had a couple of friends in Nashville that believed in me. Dave Barnes being one. About a year before I moved to Nashville, he called me up. He had heard my first record from a mutual friend and asked me to come out and support him on some dates. The first one I supported him on was at Hotel Café in [Los Angeles] before I moved. Within five minutes we were joking around. A total instant connection. He was my bro from the [first] moment.
I remember the first conversation we had within a matter of a few minutes. He was like, “I want to help you. I love what you’re doing. I love what you’re about. … I’d love to be a part of your next record. I think you should move to Nashville.”
I was like, “Whoa, dude. This is crazy.”
But after I let that sink in for a few months … and my girlfriend were like, “Hey, it’s going to be time to make a record soon, we’re getting married, let’s just start this thing over. Let’s go to Nashville.”
I kind of did have him set up to make a record but I didn’t have all the songs yet, so I still had a little ways to go. But I definitely had an advocate in Nashville who was ready to introduce me around. And he did just that.
Were there any clubs in Nashville that became your home base, so to speak? Venues that you could always get some stage time?
3rd & Lindsley … I would play there quite a bit. Bluebird, I’ve done a bunch of rounds there. At the level that I moved into Nashville, I wads passed the open mics. I was able to get gigs. But I had learned that … you don’t want to over saturate the market. I wasn’t a once-a-weeker. I was like once every couple of months. We’d really promote [it] and hope a couple of hundred people would show up.
You mentioned playing at Hotel Café in Los Angeles. That venue is known for being kind of a launching point for songwriters and even established artists like to play there, sometimes to perform new material. Do you like playing that room?
One of the first times I played there, I got a phone call from Tom Morello, from Rage Against The Machine and The Nightwatchman. He did a residency at Hotel Café a few years ago. Every Tuesday night he would play and invite his friends out. He would feature one artist that nobody had any clue as to who they were. He heard my record somehow and was like, “Hey, I want you to come out and be that guy.”
So I show up. It’s me, Tom Morello, Ben Harper, Extreme, Disturbed, Alice In Chains … at the Hotel Café all on the same night. It was awesome. I got up on stage with all of them at the end. And B-Real of Cypress Hill got up and sang with all of us playing. That’s probably my most memorable moment as an artist. It was insane.
You talked about your girlfriend who is now your wife. Did she know what she was getting into when she married a music artist?
She really did. She’s in the music industry as well. She knows the life of an artist. Her personality is so laid back. She needs alone time. So when I’m gone it’s like a breath of fresh air [for her]. But when I come home, she’s like, “I missed you. Come on over.” Hilarious.
What do you see on the horizon?
I hope that I’m able to continue to make records and write from my heart and people can connect with my true stories. I’d really love to be able to travel the nation and play in theatres and listening rooms, where people really care about the words. I feel I’m in that awkward stage between a “guy with some songs and potential” and really having a career that could last a long time.
Supporting other artists; are you already sizing up the venues, perhaps considering some venues for headline shows or critiquing rooms as places you wouldn’t want to return to, for various reasons?
You definitely have the rooms you love and [the rooms] you’re not that into. To be honest, when you’re at my stage it has a lot to do with the deal you get with the venue. You can play at the Ryman but you’re going to make 30 percent of your money. You know what I mean? If you need the money – well, you can’t play there. If you don’t [need the money] and you want to play at the Ryman because it’s going to be awesome for your fans, I’d love to be able to play there. But the fact is, you’re not going to get that great of a deal.
Regarding Tom Morello and Jon Foreman – Would you like to do something similar to their projects? That is, tour and record with a band but also record and perform as a solo act?
I don’t think I’m a full band guy. I think I can hire a full band as a solo artist. That’s what I’ve done. But I don’t think I’m a … throw a band name on there, take band pictures, put up a band website, be in a band. It’s hard enough for me as a solo artist. I’ve got a bunch of friends who are in bands and every decision that is made goes through five people. It’s hard enough for me to make up my own mind, nonetheless have five people who have to agree.
I was thinking more along the lines of Sting or Bruce Springsteen in that they will tour with bands and do solo shows. Is that something you’d be interested in?
I love that stuff. I think in order to stay sane as an artist, you have to mix it up.
I’ve had dreams of being able to hire bands that are already together. There’s a band called The Daylights from L.A. Just the coolest guys in the world, incredible musicians. For some reason, their career hasn’t popped but they’re an incredible band. And I’ve had dreams of being Andrew Ripp & The Daylights. I could really see that but I think it just kind of naturally needs to happen.
Playing with veteran musicians in the studio or on stage, are there moments where they might give you advice about your music or give you a few tips on the biz?
I don’t really remember anybody giving advice on songwriting or anything like that. But to be in a room with the people who played on my record … Aaron Sterling just played on John Mayer’s stuff. Tom Bukovach is Keith Urban’s guy. Jerry MacPherson [plays with] Fiona Apple, Civil Wars. They’ve been on so many records, I’m just standing there in awe and soaking in the way they move and react.
When you’re a solo artist, you go into a studio on the first day and the band is hearing the songs for the first time. I’m playing these demos off of my phone and watching them soak it in. Rarely does anybody try to learn the chords on their piano or guitar during the first listen. They’ll just sit back and take the song in as a listener.
They make the song original to the artist. That’s what they’re doing when they’re listening. They’re soaking in what they think the song should be. “What parts do I need to play on? What’s the vibe of this song for this artist?” It’s an incredible gift. I don’t have that [laughs].
Is there anything you’ve been wanting to tell the world but folks like me haven’t asked you the right question?
I don’t think it really matters what questions you’re asked if people know who you are. I think people are able to see that in the way you answer questions. I guess the answer to that is “No.” I don’t have anything I specifically want people to know about me. I’m just doing my best to make the best music I can and to be as honest as I can. It’s not my job to make people like it, it’s my job to be honest. And I’m trying. It’s really difficult because you want people to like it. Sometimes that strays you from your truth.
Upcoming shows for Andrew Ripp:
Aug. 13 – New York, N.Y., Irving Plaza Powered By Klipsch (With Parachute)
Aug. 14 – Cambridge, Mass., The Sinclair (With Parachute)
Aug. 15 – Philadelphia, Pa., Theatre Of The Living Arts (With Parachute)
Aug. 16 – Mobile, Ala., University Of Mobile (With Steve Moakler)
Aug. 17 – Lancaster, Pa., Chameleon (With Parachute)
Aug. 20 – Washington, D.C., Sixth & I Historic Synagogue (With Parachute)
Aug. 21 – Wilmington, N.C., Ziggy’s By The Sea (With Parachute)
Aug. 22 – Orlando, Fla., Plaza Live Orlando (With Parachute)
Aug. 23 – Atlanta, Ga., Heaven At The Masquerade (With Parachute)
Aug. 24 – Nashville, Tenn., Rocketown(With Parachute)
Aug. 25 – Charlotte, N.C., Amos' SouthEnd (With Parachute)
Aug. 26 – Hollywood, Calif., Hotel Café
Sept. 12 – Bryan, Texas, Grand Stafford Theater (With Green River Ordinance)
Sept. 13 – Waco, Texas, Common Grounds (With Green River Ordinance)
Sept. 26 – San Antonio, Texas, Sam’s Burger Joint Music Hall (With Green River Ordinance)
Sept. 27 – Austin, Texas, The Parish (With Green River Ordinance)
Oct. 3 – Auburn, Ala., War Eagle Supper Club (With Green River Ordinance)
Oct. 5 – Birmingham, Ala., Workplay Theatre (With Green River Ordinance)
Nov. 21 – Huntington, N.Y., The Paramount (With LeAnn Rimes)
Please visit AndrewRipp.com for more information.