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October 1, 2005

Spinner's World:
Interview: Musician Ripley Caine

BY
JENNI SPINNER

Three things you'll get with Chicago musician Ripley Caine:
1. Talent
2. Integrity
3. Opinions

Ripley Caine: "Life is too short to be subtle"

Interview: Musician Ripley Caine
Chicago musician Ripley Caine takes a soup-to-nuts approach to her work—writing the music and lyrics, performing, even mixing all the songs on her CDs. "It's a full-time, if you count the number of hours I spend on it," she said. "There's not a single thing I don't do for myself in terms of my music."

And when it comes to her music, Ripley doesn't hold back or compromise.

"I recently had a conversation with another artist about one of my songs, ‘You,'" she said. "He told me, "Why don't you make it ‘she' or he, so more people can relate?" I said... No! That's not what I'm about."

That refusal to compromise to any extent might explain why she enjoys a dedicated but mostly local fan base, as opposed to status as a major-label, multi-platinum artist getting bigtime radio play.

"The music business is a despicable industry," Ripley said. "It feels a little bit gross, slimy. It's hard, but you have to stay true to yourself. If you're in it for the right reasons, you'll stay happy on your own terms."

She's also critical of the queer music trade, both in the Chicago area and on a national level.

"Is there a queer music scene in Chicago? It's hard to say," she said. "In general, I don't see a lot of musicians supporting each other. If there is, it's a very small creative community. And when it comes to the gay press--most musicians you see profiled in there, they don't need the press. They cover the bigger acts and ignore the smaller ones that could use the attention. And I feel like a lot of artists—like Melissa Etheridge, the Indigo Girls--wouldn't be as popular as they are if they weren't gay. If you come out as queer, you risk getting pigeonholed.

I've always just played rock, and not played into any stereotype. I don't play into that or target gay audiences."

Just because she refuses to label herself or sell out, however, doesn't mean her music isn't being heard.

"People find me in the most interesting places—through a friend of a friend, internet radio stations, street festivals, etc.," Ripley said.

She describes her intensely personal work as "an electro-acoustic concoction"—the electronic component, recent addition to the ever-evolving mix, is clearly heard on her most recent CD.

"Of all my music, I'm most proud of R2," Ripley said. "The ones before, I felt like there was something missing."

People who've heard her CDs or caught a performance liken her work to that of a wide range of artists, from Beth Orton to PJ Harvey (one of Ripley's personal favorites). The disparate comparisons reflect the complexity of her work. "Each listener gets a different aspect," she said. "Everyone comes at it a different way."

Ripley is a lifelong Windy City resident, except for a two-year stint in San Diego. She first picked up a guitar at the age of 8, but she didn't seriously consider music as a career until four years ago. "All of a sudden, I didn't want to do anything else," she said. "It all just sort of happened."

Since then, the UIC grad has played clubs, coffeehouses, bars, street festivals—"but no bachelorette parties." Although if you've got one coming up, give her a call—she's up for pretty much anything.

In terms of what she listens to when she's not making music, Ripley's tastes are as varied as her own work. You might catch her listening to old-school house music, psychedelic rock, or the 80s favorites she grew up listening to, from Duran Duran to Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division. She also listens to local independent station WLUW 88.7, and catches the occasional live performance.

"The last great live show I saw was Zap Mama," she said. "They were talented, the people on stage seemed like they were genuinely having a good time, and the crowd—no one there was pretentious, no yuppies."

The Chicago live-music joints she's partial to include the Green Mill on Broadway, Katerina's on Irving Park, and the Park West on Armitage "for its ecclecticness, but it's scummy—if you go, don't wear white."

She also goes to the occasional danceteria, but you won't catch her at Funky Buddha: "It's like going back to high school. Cliquey."

If you find yourself with a free evening and have a taste for live music, check out one of Ripley Caine's upcoming gigs; she promises you won't be disappointed.

"Go to one of my shows and you'll have a really good time in one way or another," she said. "You'll get the sarcasm of Sandra Bernhard, the passion of PJ Harvey, and the truth of Ripley Caine."

Three things about Ripley Caine:
1. She frequently throws french-fry parties, at which she makes french fries all night long; guests bring various dipping sauces. According to Ripley, "Thai peanut sauce is orgasmic.
2. Favorite song at the moment: "Love Will Tear Us Apart," by Joy Division
3. Most Thursdays, you can find her grooving to 80s new-wave classics at Neo (2350 N. Clark St.)

Ripley Caine: Upcoming gigs

October 13
at The Pint
1547 N. Milwaukee, chicago
773-772-0990

November 4
at The Hideout
1354 W. Wabansia, Chicago
www.hideoutchicago.com

November 5, 7pm
at Another Bookstore
100 N. Center Rd., Mishawaka, IN
www.anotherbookstore.net

November 13
at The Viper Room, Los Angeles
www.viperroom.com

Listen up: R2, by Ripley Caine

Interview: Musician Ripley Caine
When I popped Ripley Caine's latest CD, R2, into the tray of my CPU, the iTunes window popped up and declared the music's genre to be "unclassifiable." Considering how unique Ripley's style and voice are, I'd have to agree.

Don't call Ripley a queer artist—she does her damnedest to steer clear of that label, and all others, for that matter. That makes sense; not only is she reluctant to be pigeonholed as just another [insert queersician stereotype here], labels don't fit her. While she's been likened to any number of musicians—queer and otherwise—she's not like anyone but herself.

R2 is her latest self-produced effort, and the CD is a lot like a great first date—exciting, interesting, and, when it's over, you find yourself looking forward to the next one. My only complaint: the frigging thing's only four songs long, but the quartet of original songs adds up to 15 minutes of music that make the disc worth picking up.

The EP grabs you from the start. "Love What You Do," the opening cut on R2, is catchy and infectious, but not in a dumb, annoying, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" sort of way. Her voice blends with the electronica without being buried by it, and the lyrics are intelligent and effecting. "Fancy After That" follows, another song that manages to be personal, yet takes some unexpected, impactful turns. "Her" is more mellow (although that might not be the best word; even Ripley's more downtempo songs tend to be intense and engaging), while the closer, "Ain't That the Way," is a rumpshaker that deserves widespread radio play but—considering how bland station playlists are in Chicago and across the U.S.—probably won't get it.

R2 is a disc I'd definitely recommend picking up (since I dumped my copy in a parking lot and scratched it on the asphalt, I'll be buying myself another). Catch one of her upcoming shows; I'll probably see you there.

October 7
Tegan and Sara
at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark
metrochicago.com
www.teganandsara.com

October 9
Girls Girls Girls: A Coming Out Cabaret to benefit Gay Games VII
at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center, Arlington Heights
773-907-2006

October 13
Ripley Caine
at The Pint, 1547 N. Milwaukee
773-772-0990
www.ripleycaine.com

October 20
Amy Ray and Bitch
Abbey Pub
9pm
Sponsored by Chix Mix Productions
www.abbeypub.com

October 22
Lucie Blue Tremblay
at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, 1700 W. Farragut
312-409-0276
www.luciebluetremblay.com

October 28
GREAT WOMEN in Music!
Kristy Lee, Stephanie Callahan (Halcyon) and Cathey Stamps
Gunther Murphys on Belmont
9pm door
www.gunthermurphys.com
www.ME2online.com
sponsored by Chix Mix Productions

Interview: Musician Ripley Caine
Nov 3
Sean Wiggins
Speakeasy, 1401 W. Devon, Chicago
773-338-0600
www.seanwiggins.com

November 4
Ripley Caine
at The Hideout
1354 W. Wabansia, Chicago
www.hideoutchicago.com
www.ripleycaine.com

November 5
Tret Fure
at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, 1700 W. Farragut
312-409-0276
www.tretfure.com

November 5, 7pm
Ripley Caine
at Another Bookstore
100 N. Center Rd., Mishawaka, IN
www.anotherbookstore.net
www.ripleycaine.com

November 5
Sean Wiggins
at The Patch, Calumet City
www.thepatchbar.com
www.seanwiggins.com

November 13
Ripley Caine
at The Viper Room, Los Angeles
www.viperroom.com
www.ripleycaine.com

Take 5: Stuff I'm listening to right now

Interview: Musician Ripley Caine
1. Tegan and Sara, "So Jealous": I missed this Canadian sister act at Lollapalooza, thanks to a nasty case of heat exhaustion (coincidentally, they only made it through half of their set because they fell victim to the heat, too), but the CD remains on heavy rotation in my lesbomobile's player. You can get your copy at their site: www.teganandsara.com.

2. Janis Ian, "At Seventeen": When a song is hopelessly stuck in my head, like this one had been for two weeks, my trick is to download it and listen to it until the fever breaks and it's out of my brain. It hasn't worked, so I'm still going around singing, "I learned the truth at seventeen, that love was made for beauty queens." Annoying the shit out of my friends, but it's still a great song by an underrated queer artist.

3. Ripley Caine, "R2": While I might have scratched the living hell out of my disc, effectively converting it into a small, space-age Frisbee, I was bright enough to rip the songs to my computer first. Yay for me.

Interview: Musician Ripley Caine
4. Liz Phair, "Whitechocololatespaceegg": My former roommate went off her meds and moved out, leaving me with a huge rent tab on a two-bedroom Lakeview pad, as well as a copy of this disc. Lucky me.

5. Sleater-Kinney, "All Hands On the Bad One": I missed their show at the Riviera a couple months back. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The Hot Spot: The Dresden Dolls, October 15, at the Metro

Interview: Musician Ripley Caine
They're not queer, per se, but this Boston-based duo shows a flair for the theatrical, intense emotion, and a punk sensibility that any queer ear can appreciate. To date, I've seen their hallmark "Coin Operated Boy" featured in no fewer than three drag and burlesque shows, evidence of their broad homo appeal. If you catch their show this month at the Metro, be prepared to see a lot of fabulous costumes, both onstage and in the audience—the Dolls attract a very dedicated, very weird bunch of fans (me being among them). If you're not familiar, hit their cool, artsy Web site (www.dresdendolls.com) to learn more.

 
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