Joy In The Wild Unknown is an apt name for the debut LP by Ripe, a band that posits exuberant, joyous dance energy as the foundational basis for its music. Even the band itself takes a name that connotes the image of fruit ready to burst at the seams, and the crashing opening chord of “Brother Sky,” from the group’s EP Hey Hello seems to indicate the band has succeeded.
“We are actively trying to sound like we can’t be contained by the rooms we are playing,” said Robbie Wulfsohn, vocalist for the Boston-based seven piece.
The band is now on its first national headlining tour, having eked out a following that spread from the house parties and fraternity events surrounding Berklee College of Music, where the band members found their first gigs.
For a long time, Wulfsohn might have argued that a live show was the definitive place to encounter the band — packing seven instruments into the sonic landscapes afforded by a studio environment isn’t easy.
“I think that the first few times we went into the studio as a band, it was all about trying to capture the energy and electricity of a live show completely,” Wulfsohn explained. “But the way we went about that was by just throwing down the things that we did live in the studio — but there’s just always going to be a difference between those two formats.”
Now, though, with the release of Joy In The Wild Unknown on April 6, that answer might be different. “It was the first time that we really walked in open-minded, in terms of using the studio to create something that wasn’t necessarily an identical analog to the live show, but instead lived and breathed in its own right,” Wulfsohn said of the recording process. “It finally felt like we had something tangible and complete that we wanted to say with our music.”
Helping to shape those creations behind the boards was frequent Vulfpeck collaborator Cory Wong, who produced the album, and the album has the mixing touch of Joe Visciano (Mark Ronson, Adele, Beck, Coldplay) with mastering by Randy Merrill (Lady Gaga, Lorde, Imagine Dragons, Taylor Swift).
Many of the songs that the band brought in for this first album were already battle-tested. “A lot of the songs that we brought into the studio for this album had existed in some form or another live for quite a while, and so it was more a matter of reopening up those songs with our producer and taking a critical eye to them,” Wulfsohn explained. “It was a matter of remaking artistic decisions based on what we knew worked live to suit the studio and the inherent differences to that medium.”
The journey to the LP has been a long one — about six years. “It’s funny — we were talking about it in the van today,” Wulfsohn said. “It’s all felt pretty slow and steady, but it’s unbelievable to look back on two, three years and see how much growth has happened in that time, and then to realize that’s only half of our story, and there’s three years before that, that were even crazier in some ways.”
The band’s commitment to turning what Wulfsohn calls “one crazy, chaotic, wonderful mess” of pop, R&B, funk and rock into indelibly danceable grooves hasn’t changed over the years. But Joy has opened new directions for structural exploration within the band’s music. “The trust between the seven of us allows us to be vulnerable with each other in a way that lets us get to some really exciting artistic places,” Wulfsohn explained.
“Over time, it’s been the understanding that the individual taste and artistic decisions of each member is why they are in the room — but once they are in the room, everything is serving the song, everything is serving the band,” Wulfsohn explained. “It’s kind of this doublethink, where you’re both engaging with your ego in order to be critical and be pursuing the best possible music, and also at the same time being totally in service of this thing that’s bigger than yourself.”
The energy brimming in Joy shouldn’t be discounted, but it is also an album that offers tantalizing hints at the experience the group’s live performance might afford. And while Wulfsohn admits that the first two weeks of the national tour have been “surreal,” he also explained that the response they’ve been getting from audiences has been worth it. “We’re blown away,” he said.
“The exuberance that comes through the music is, at least to me, because I’m actually doing my favorite thing with my favorite people every time that we’re making music together,” Wulfsohn said. “I think that it’s pretty easy to take the rest of it in stride when that is your returning to center.”
Ahead of the band rolling into the Bay Area in a few weeks, Wulfsohn threw down a challenge. “Our trombone player (Calvin Barthel) is from there, and he’s one of my favorite people on the planet,” he said. “If you guys are half as much fun as our trombone player, you should come hang at our show.”
Ripe will play at The Independent on April 26.