Even if you’ve never heard the name Eugene Ripper before, even if you’ve never listened to one of the seminal DIY folk-punk’s 10 albums, even without the knowledge of the niche famous surf-rock band that started his career, Stark Naked & The Fleshtones, you know the singer-songwriter’s music. Not because he’s a ghostwriter for your favourite pop star or because he’s cracked the top 40 himself. Rather, it’s because his work—a rewiring and electrifying of the classic Americana songbook, combined with originals that fit right in amongst its pages—activates a sort of muscle memory in listeners, even on the first hearing: This is what a homecoming sounds like. Even if the room is one you’ve never stepped foot in before.
“The commonality between punk and folk, for me, it's very comfortable. There's a directness to it. There's a humanity to both genres. Both genres are to the point,” Ripper tells The Coast of the two genres he combines most, speaking by phone as he makes his way to Nova Scotia for his March 18 set at Gus’ Pub. “There's an accessibility to the construct of punk and the construct of folk: It's there for everybody who just wants to be part of it.”
Grinding it out in the indie singer-songwriter space for decades, Ripper’s sound evokes easy comparisons to Tom Petty and The Hold Steady: “There has been a comment that ‘Eugene Ripper lands somewhere between Johnny Cash and The Ramones’ and I'll take that, humbly, because they’re two great big influences on my work,” he says. His newest release—a hand-cut 7-inch EP, which will be on sale at the 9pm Gus’ show—features “an old song from the turn of the century from New Orleans.” Ripper says the song’s classic, “cautionary folk ballad themes” were fun to play with: “When I recorded it, we just hit it hard, you know, with punk rock sonics, to make it appropriate for the era that I'm in.”
The show marks a blissful return to pre-pandemic life at Gus’ (nearly, as social distancing and masks are still required), with the veteran musician returning to one of his favourite Halifax stages. When COVID-19 came, “22 dates in Europe literally just vaporized before my eyes,” Ripper says. Returning to live performance at last, he says, “it's a lot of things, starting just with relief.”
We can’t help but feel the same.
Eugene Ripper plays at Gus’ Pub (2603 Agricola Street) with The Green Reflectors March 18 at 9pm. Tickets are $10 on eventbrite or at the door.