By Will Yannacoulias
The spirit of rock & roll irreverence we all admire is perfectly embodied by Ripper and the Jesses, a Regina trio who casually record and release melodic, catchy Emo/Punk rock in their free time. 2019's Velociraptor Of Love EP was followed this past May by their latest single “Masks” on Saskatchewan indie label Fixed Frequency. Shortly after the release of "Masks" NSMZ attempted to speak with founding members Russ and Aaron by telephone, an experience akin to nailing Jell-o to the wall. The pair of thirty something fathers, one who was bathing his son and the other who was driving to a little league baseball game, administered a merciless journalist hazing while discussing self production, independent labels, and the semantics of puppetry.
NSMZ: So tell me a bit about the band? I’ve had a difficult time finding mention anywhere of who the band members are, and the press kit you assured me ‘was in the mail’ weeks ago never arrived. When did you guys get together? The band is based out of Regina, are you all from the Queen City originally? Does the band have a constant lineup or are there guest musicians who participate? Did Ripper and The Jesses come out of any earlier projects?
Russ: No one’s really in the band. It’s not even really a band. It’s more of a competition cooking show.
Aaron: I wanna be Bobby Flay.
Russ: Bobby Flay? You’re not even Guy Fieri.
Flay: No, I wanna be Limblifter. All of Limblifter.
NSMZ: …what? Seriously, who am I talking to?
Aaron: We met on a subReddit about basket weaving.
Russ: We were both in shitty bands as kids, our shitty bands knew each other from shitty gigs. I ended up joining Aaron’s band, and we’ve played music together for over twenty years.
NSMZ: 2019’s Velociraptor of Love was the band’s debut. The five song EP impressed listeners with memorable melodies, strong songwriting and arrangements, and skilled musicianship- it does not sound like a typical debut. How long had you guys been working on those songs before committing to recording them? Do they date back to an earlier time in your lives or in your careers?
Aaron: We just did the Dinosaur thing because children love it. But it’s mostly just Russ who listens to it.
Russ: David Foster produced that record. Randy Jackson was on the record too, dog. and Randy Jackson’s dog too.
NSMZ: …Um… so there’s a new single out, “Masks”. Definitely has Ripper and The Jesses’ stamp on it, with the great melodies, tight musicianship and aggressive yet accessible sound. Is there an album to follow the new single? Are you guys recording more new music or was “Masks” a one-off? Any thoughts to share on “Masks”?
Russ: It’s a music song, like they used to put on the Big Shiny Tunes cassettes.
Aaron: We’re always coming up with something so if people like the music they should listen to it all the time and if they’re patient there will be more at some point. And who knows what that will look like? The new album might come out as an interactive video game at some point.
Russ: We don’t operate on any sort of a deadline or a timeline, so there will 100% be more music coming out, but whether that takes the form of an EP or an LP or singles I don’t really know. That’s the cool thing about how music works now, Spotify playlists are the new radio. We have a lot more music that’s ready to start recording too.
Aaron: The long answer to your short question is yeah, probably. If we have time. At some point. Whenever we get to it. Maybe.
NSMZ: The recording quality and production of Velociraptor of Love is quite good, and “Masks” even moreso. I was going to ask about what producer and studio you guys used but I understand that the band self recorded everything that’s been released to date? Do either of you come from an audio production or engineering background? Was the decision to self record the music a creative or financial one?
Russ: We operate out of a studio that’s based in an Adidas gym bag. G-Y-M not J-I-M.
Aaron: A gym bag, not a ball bag. I’m on my way to my kid’s first baseball game and I’m actually toting a ball bag right now. Like for baseballs.
Russ: You’re also toting a ball bag right now, like for testicles, correct?
Russ: No formal background, just trial and error. Upgraded some equipment and took some time to learn to use tools we didn’t have at our disposal before. The Velociraptor EP we took a really long time doing it, even if it doesn’t sound like that, there was a lot of learning there. I’ve recorded music on and off for a long time, after years and years of doing it I feel like it’s starting to shape up into something that we’re happy to show to people. It’s way cheaper to do it yourself too, as much as I appreciate what studios do, if you don’t have someone funding or you’re not doing music as a full time endeavor it’s pretty hard to justify spending the amount of money or the time crunch. I work really slow and I like to take time to sit with stuff and let it percolate. You want to come away with something you’re happy putting out. I’ve found lots of times when I’ve been under the gun with studio situations in the past, something comes out and I’m not happy with it. If you’re not happy and you’re not getting paid what’s the point?
NSMZ: Do you guys have any musical side projects? What occupies your creative spaces when you aren’t working on Ripper and The Jesses?
Aaron: Extra Ripper and The Double Jesses.
Russ: I’ve got a project called “The Blood of Keith Richards” that’s on Fixed Frequency as well and that’s just like an old school catchy punk rock sort of a thing. There’s a song on the compilation (Fixed Frequency’s May 2021 Label Sampler) by a band called Bleached Bone that’s like a straight up death metal/grind song, that’s me also.
Aaron: I don’t do anything, I basically just do what Russ tells me to. Like a puppet.
Russ: Like Gonzo. Gonzo is also a puppet, a well known puppet if people aren’t familiar. It’s a plush toy you operate with your hands.
Aaron: Unless it’s a marionette. Puppets and marionettes are not the same.
Russ: That’s like saying a bowl of pasta and a stir fry are the same thing; they’re not.
NSMZ: Ripper and The Jesses exist in this interesting space; you’re not a group that’s out touring or heavily promoting yourself, but the quality of the music you’re putting out positions you far beyond the point of a hobby band. How do you frame the band in the context of the larger independent music scene? Do you harbour higher aspirations or have Ripper and The Jesses arrived exactly where they’re going?
Russ: For our band, we don’t have any delusions that we’re going to hit it big. We’re in our mid 30s, so it’s a labour of love, a passion project. Something we just do and are just going to keep doing. We’re both busy, we have family life, work life, life-life. You could think of us as a pop-up band. Like you have people who have a pop-up restaurant, they aren’t doing it completely full time but it’s what they believe in and the quality is there. This sounds kind of soap-boxy but it’s nice to not have to worry about if we release music that’s different are people still gonna buy it, are people still gonna come see us play, will this generate revenue? We just don’t have to worry, we can make music and if people like it that’s cool. It sounds cheesy to say but it’s a pure form of art because you don’t have anyone to answer to and can do what you want.
We play a lot of opening support gigs, we get to meet a lot of really cool bands and musicians. It allows us to stay close to home, we all have young kids so being out on the road isn’t in the cards but we don’t want to be just a studio band, we love to play live. We’ve played the club side of The Exchange a lot. I’d be happy just playing support gigs for younger bands playing there on tour. I’ve done the whole playing on the road, living in a van, having no money thing. It’s super fun but super grueling.
NSMZ: You guys have a great relationship with Assiniboia-based indie record label Fixed Frequency. Back in the old days the role of an independent record label was to manage, distribute and promote for artists who were under the radar and not likely to get the attention of a major record label. In the modern era of streaming music, social media promotion and musician driven online communities like Bandcamp and Reverb Nation, what is the new role of an indie record label? What is the new relationship between artists and indie labels?
Russ: I appreciate having someone we can be accountable to, and to have someone to help us with the stuff that we would consider tedious, uploading stuff to Spotify and making sure things are on Bandcamp. Having someone creative in your corner managing the non-music-creation stuff is super helpful. It allows bands to stick to what people want from them, which is music and performance, rather than spending valuable time shooting off emails or putting together press kits. We’re pretty limited in our skillset beyond the music thing and appreciate having that support.
NSMZ: So pandemic restrictions were lifted July 11th and suddenly the internet exploded with gig announcements, festival rescheduling announcements, everyone rushing to try to get live music happening again and get artists back on stage. Do Ripper and The Jesses have any exciting plans for the summer? What’s next for the band?
Russ: Hey Aaron
Russ: Don’t forget to eat a big bag of shit when you get off the call.
Aaron: …Ok bye.
"Masks" is available on Youtube and all streaming services. Photos courtesy of Limblifter and Ripper And The Jesses.