California label Ripple Music has made a splash in heavy rock and metal, becoming a rapidly-growing home for a wide variety of stoner, psychedelic, doom and heavy rock artists. From early releases like JPT Scare Band’s Acid Blues Is The White Man’s Burden to recent popular titles like Mothership’s LP High Strangeness, Ripple Music has grown from its humble beginnings.
Started as a website called The Ripple Effect to review albums, the operation grew to include a radio station called Ripple Radio before eventually beginning to release music. Ripple Music president Todd Severin caught Decibel up on the history of Ripple, as well as the future.
What made you want to start a record label, and how did Ripple Music come to be?
How did it come together? Hell if I know. I’ve just been sitting on the tracks as the Ripple crazy train came and swooped me up. Actually, I have a history in radio, and I’m a diehard music junkie. My partner used to front a heavy metal band, Blind Justice, and is just as sick in the head about music as I am. About 10 years ago, we’d been talking about starting a ‘zine to review the masses (thousands upon thousands of LP’s and CD’s in our collections). Finally one day, I started The Ripple Effect on Blogspot, which quickly became a very cool review site. Now, it has 15 writers working on it. About a year into the Ripple Effect, a good friend said “rather than just write about the music, you should play it for people to hear“ Next thing you know, he set us up on Blogtalkradio and Ripple Radio became the top-rated music show on the station, and we‘re hanging out interviewing Marky Ramone, Fee Waybill, and others along with Ripple artists like Tony Reed and Kent Stump. Had a ball.
Within about another year, one thing led to another and JPT Scare Band, an amazing proto-metal, acid blues, heavy psych band from the 70’s dropped a stack of unreleased masters on my desk with the words “Put this out for us,” so, with that, we started the Ripple Music record label and JPT’s Acid Blues is the White Man’s Burden was our first release on glorious yellow and green translucent vinyl, psychedelic double LP. That was 2010. And we’re off and running … All started by a love of seriously heavy riffs.
How would you describe the music Ripple puts out, and what do you look for in artists on your roster?
I think the Ripple sound is very well-defined along a spectrum of heavy, riff-laden rock. Heavy psych, doom, stoner and heavy rock. The key common element is that most Ripple music has a groove. Heavy as hell, serious riffage, but usually some component of bass heavy groove. That’s what I like the most. And as my taste expands, so does the Ripple sound, which has brought in some serious doom like Vokonis, and post-metal like Poseidon. When we first started we worked with some great lost-underground legends besides JPT Scare Band, like Poobah, Iron Claw, and we even worked with the legendary Leaf Hound (of Growers of Mushrooms fame). As we developed as a label, we started to settle in on the true Ripple sound of heavy rock, stoner, doom and heavy psych. That mainly fell into place when Tony Reed joined us and gave us all the Stone Axe material to work with. While working with Tony, he asked if we’d be interested in reissuing the first Mos Generator album on vinyl, which we jumped on. How could we not! With that, Tony reformed Mos Generator and we put out their first new album in years, Nomads. From there, our sound really began to solidify. We met Motheship and Wo Fat at shows in Dallas and fell in love with them. Other bands came to us, or I sought them out. I’m constantly listening to new music, and I have good friends with great taste that steer bands towards me for consideration. Now there’s a defined Ripple sound. Folks know what to expect (within boundaries) when a new Ripple album hits the streets. But that doesn’t mean we won’t blow them away with something different every once in a while.
Ripple Music was born in 2010. In the almost decade since, what have you learned about the music industry?
It’s been an interesting time. We formed in 2009 and immediately launched into vinyl because that was a medium that we loved. That was before the vinyl resurgence so it’s been really interesting to watch that segment of the industry grow as we have. But 2009 was also the time of the death knell for CD’s, the main insurgence of illegal downloads and before anyone knew what streaming was. So, it’s been an industry in transition from day #1 for us. I stayed abreast of the changes as they were happening, made sure we were always positioned to take advantage of new technology and keep an eye open for what was to come next, while always keeping my foot planted in what I believed in, which was a high-quality physical product, that gave the customer more than they expected in terms of art, lyrics and extras.
Also, 2009 was an in-between period of heavy rock, stoner, doom, etc. Some labels were actively putting out good stuff, and some big bands were out there, but the underground wasn’t fully developed or organized yet. The whole blog scene was still emerging and heavy rock was the ugly stepchild in the USA. We saw this, but knew there was a pulse beating in Europe and believed in the music we loved. So, we went ahead and did what we always wanted to do: put out the best music we could, albums that I wanted in my own personal collection. So, one lesson has been to always stay true to yourself, not follow trends.
What are the toughest challenges running a record label? On the other side of that, what are the most rewarding parts of it?
The toughest challenge is simply getting people to listen. It’s not like the old days where you could get a song played on a major market FM station and get a breakout hit. There is very little role for terrestrial radio anymore, and with Sirius/XM and all the internet radio options, mixclouds and podcasts, there’s just no one place for people to go now for music. With streaming and YouTube and Bandcamp, etc, there are a million options and that’s just for music, not even mentioning other forms of entertainment. It’s like being in a room with a million crying infants all screaming for your attention. Which one do you listen to? So, it’s hard to get people’s attention, to be heard. But fortunately, there is a large and growing, devoted heavy music/heavy metal underground that isn’t shy about pushing what they love and sharing bands and labels and releases. That underground is growing more vital, and platforms such as Facebook and internet groups actually facilitate that growth. And there are great heavy music sites, like Decibel, and The Obelisk, Outlaws of the Sun, The Sludgelord, etc that do an amazing job of staying on top of the music and pushing it out to a potential audience. So the underground is healthy and growing. The challenge still is simply to be heard.
The reward is easy. It’s the music itself. It’s helping a band realize their dream when they hold their first ever vinyl release in their hands, or helping a band reach another level or a bigger audience. It’s getting fan letters from customers who just dig what we’re doing and thank us for what we’re doing to keep rock alive. It’s the excitement I get every time I discover a brand new band that absolutely has something brand new and kick-ass to bring to the table, like our newest band, The Necromancers from France.
And it’s the fact that I still put out the albums I want in my collection, which means that I have one badass record collection.
In the future, what are your goals with Ripple Music?
Our biggest plan is to make a major push into artist development. That doesn’t change our releases, but the idea of Ripple was never to sell 300 albums and say all’s well. We really want to help our bands develop and grow, with management, music supervision and tour booking. So, I’m concentrating on that this year, and it’s all coming together very well. It’s not easy to break into these areas, but our bands deserve the best we can do for them. We’re also establishing regular RippleFests in different areas like the first one we did in the SF Bay Area, and we have RippleFest Sweden coming up in September this year, with Vokonis, Kingnomad and Craneium. Should be just the beginning of many events to help showcase the music, Ripple and non-Ripple bands alike.
I’m also deeply involved and associate producer for the upcoming major animated film Planet of Doom, which features some amazing art and heavy music including three Ripple artists, but many, many more of the best of the doom metal world. My role is very peripheral, but it’s been a joy to be associated with that as that’s been developing.
And someday, I’d like to do a radio show again, but… who knows.