Midday Veil’s Emily Pothast interviews Ripley Johnson from Wooden Shjips (playing Escalator Fest 9/26!)
As the frontman for San Francisco’s venerable Wooden Shjips and a co-organizer of the annual Frisco Freakout festival, the unassuming Ripley Johnson is a leading figure in one of the most exciting psych scenes in the U.S. Emily from Midday Veil caught up with Ripley as the Shjips were returning to the states from their most recent European tour and asked him a few questions via email about music, inspiration, and scene building.
How did you guys get your start musically? What made you decide to come together as Wooden Shjips?
We were all friends already. Nash and I were part of an earlier Shjips lineup. That broke up and we recruited Dusty and Omar, who were each looking for a project.
Reviews of rock bands always seem to include checklists of other artists that have had an influence on the band’s sound. One thing I appreciate about you guys is that while there are the obvious rock influences, there are also elements of trance and minimalism and other things that cut across the usual genres. What bands and artists would you say have had the biggest influence on Wooden Shjips? How about the most unexpected influence?
Probably someone like Arthur Doyle. I was deep into a free jazz phase whenthe Shjips idea was hatched. I don’t think it necessarily comes through in the music, but the freedom and creativity and seriousness of that music was and is a big influence on me. Others would be Sonny Sharrock, Masayuki Takayanagi, Joe McPhee, Noah Howard, Sun Ra, Rashied Ali (RIP), etc… Beyond jazz, some of the big influences were Trad Gras och Stenar, Ash Ra Tempel, Les Rallizes Denudes, Link Wray, The Seeds, Stooges, VU, and on and on.
Wow, that’s quite a list. Who is making music currently that you dig?
We’re going on tour in November…got any good road jams to suggest for us?
Let’s look at the pile. Sun Araw, Cave, Teenage Panzerkorps, Tinariwen, Kurt Vile. The new Blues Control. The Mirrors and Chrissy Zebby Tembo LP reissues have been on the turntable a lot. I always bring some Neil Young on the road.
Speaking of touring, you guys have spent a lot of time on the road this year in the U.S. and Europe. Has the experience of touring informed what you’re doing musically? Coming across new outside influences, perhaps?
I’m not sure yet. We’ll see what we write after being home for a while. It certainly energizes and inspires us, meeting lots of people, learning new things. But most of the time is spent moving, so perhaps that will have the biggest influence.
The kids get down to the sound of the Shjips
Last year David [Golightly, my bandmate] and I saw you guys at Terrastock, as well as the first annual Frisco Freakout, which you co-organized. One thing that appeals to me about these kinds of festivals is the sense of camaraderie they seem to foster among musicians and fans. I read the interview from the SF Weekly last year where you talk about the isolation ofthe information age, and your goal of bringing people together and
tightening up the local scene through the Freakout. Portable Shrines was formed for this same reason, and it’s what inspired me to get involved. I was wondering if you think there’s a connection between this
community-building impulse and the tendency to play and enjoy psych music. You are now in the position where other organizers, promoters and scene-builders look up to what you’ve accomplished in that arena as well.
How does this role fit into your practice of making music? And how do you find time to sleep?!
That’s kind of you to say. I see it as fairly separate from my role as a musician. I’m not a natural organizer but I’ve been inspired by others who make things happen out of nothing. I’m not sure there’s any connection to psych music, though there is the rich history of happenings, street theater, concerts in parks, all of the Diggers activities. I’m certainly inspired by all of that. Maybe there is a connection!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We’re looking forward to getting our minds blown once again in September!
Thanks. Look forward to seeing you at the fest.