A Tale Of Two Cities—An Interview With Robbie Wulfsohn

By Erik Masson

Robbie Wuflsohn is the front-man of Ripe, a Boston-based jam band of eight merry minstrels who formed in typical jam band style: a spontaneous living-room jam session. Featuring two guitarists, a drummer, a bassist, a trombonist, a trumpeter, and a saxophonist in addition to Wuflsohn, the band plays the bar scene in downtown Boston. Hailing from Thorn Hill, Wuflsohn moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. Despite only singing for Ripe, he plays guitar, piano, vocals, drums, bass, and saxophone. He has done some recording work in both cities. We managed to corner him to talk about some of the challenges in, and differences between, Boston and Toronto.

Demo: Being 18, do you have to just play a lot of all-ages events, or do you lie about your age to play at drinking-age venues? If so, do you find one city to be more lax about the law than the other?

Robbie Wuflsohn: In terms of bars, there are places that function as concert venues that are easy to get into because all they do is book shows. To have places that are cool enough to have audiences already there who are there to drink, that’s basically impossible, regardless of the city, unless you can drink. Obviously in Toronto it’s easier to play at those awesome venues, because you hit 19 before you hit 21. But that’s only for that specific type of venue, which, while awesome, is not the only kind out there. I find Toronto is trying to be like New York and have tons and tons of venues, which is good. Boston is a different scene; it’s not trying to be New York, and it probably couldn’t [be] if it tried. And so, you get very different opportunities. In many ways, it’s much harder in a city like Boston. But that the same time, if you make it in Toronto, there’s a ceiling; if you make it in Boston, there’s no ceiling.

D: Do you find there are any marked differences in terms of what challenges musicians face in each city?

RW: In Toronto, one of the problems is finding places that will book you … there’s this vibe that you need to know someone in order to get that first step. In Boston, there are so many bands and so many reputable places that bands come from that you can get a sh***y gig with almost no effort. And in Toronto, even the sh***y gigs take some work.

D: Do you find the crowds/venues in one city are better than in the other?

RW: The only experience I have with a totally organic audience (that wasn’t just people I know and could sell tickets to) in Toronto were those Monday nights at the Painted Lady, which is one of my favorite places to play and has an amazing vibe. The short answer is I’m not entirely sure, but in my experience the potential in Toronto is much greater than that of Boston. I think Toronto is making a concerted effort to establish itself as a music city.[E1]  So, a lot of places are seeing that happen and are trying to be good enough to be “that place”, and it will change over time. Certain places will [come] out on top and others will fall by the wayside or change hands. It happened recently with the El Mocambo. But Toronto has a lot of places that are trying, so the bar is going to tend to be higher.

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D: Which city do you prefer playing in? 

RW: My favorite place I’ve played is those Monday nights at the Painted Lady. It’s completely different from every other thing I’ve ever done.

D: Do you find there are any styles that are more prevalent in one city over another? 

RW: Not really; because Boston is such a huge college town, it has a much stronger bend towards college-age sh**; Toronto has more of a mix. All of those genres that college kids tend to get into absolutely kill in Boston, in a way that I’ve never seen them do in Toronto. There are so many people who will go out to see a DJ, because people come from all around the world, and they’re all college kids. In the city itself and around the concert venues, if you can appeal to the 18-24 age group, you are rolling in it.

D: Okay, so I know you’ve done work recording a solo EP here in Toronto. Are you also doing any recording with Ripe in Boston?

RW: Yeah, there’s a place we can book out and bring our own people to, and we used the Berklee studios once. The benefit of the first one is that we have total creative control, we just bring the people we want and rent the space out. However, the school studios are close, and they’re free. The negatives are plentiful, but all outweighed by the fact that it’s right down the street and doesn’t cost money.

D: What’s your favorite part of the recording process, and least favorite?

RW: They both come from the same place, which is the need to make things perfect and exactly how you want them. The best part is nailing that, it’s getting that vocal take and going, “That’s it, yeah!” And the worst part is those moments when you just cannot get what you want, you can’t get it to sound on the record the way it does in your head, and that f**ks with you. Because at this point for us, it’s always time, it’s usually money, and a lot of the time there’s some risk involved in terms of thinking we can get it done and gambling that we actually can. And so in this stage, where it’s not a studio bankroll, it’s what can we afford to pay, and it’s stressful when you just aren’t getting the results you want.

D: What are the future plans for the band?

RW: We’re lucky enough to have eight totally different networks in the band, and everybody has those two or three guys that, when we’re ready, we can show it to. So we’re gonna wait until we’re totally ready, until this EP reflects how totally f***ing prepared we are to really take on the industry, then we’re gonna pull in all these people at that right moment.

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