Israel Nash Gripka - getting the message across loud and clear

Israel Nash Gripka is talking about people’s perceptions of the musical genre known as Americana. If their expectations are quiet, introspective singer-songwriters, Gripka may have a surprise in store as he heads towards Scotland to play the opening gig of the Glasgow Americana festival.

“We can get quite loud,” says Gripka, whose music embodies such classic rock heroes as Neil Young & Crazy Horse and John Fogerty. “I hope people don’t mind that. I remember on our first visit to the UK, I mentioned this to a sound guy at one of the gigs as we were setting up and he gave me this look and said, ‘The Brits invented loud.’ That was me put in my place. I thought, okay, I’ll shut up and stop being the silly American.”

Silly or not – he comes across as decidedly not – Gripka has found the UK and Europe generally very receptive to his music. His latest album, Israel Nash’s Rain Plans, is released this week on London-based Loose Records, home to fellow Americans the Handsome Family and Willard Grant Conspiracy, and won’t be launched in the U.S. until February or March. It’s an apt scenario for someone who was inspired to play guitar and write songs by the British invasion of America, although in this case we’re not talking about the first wave of Beatlemania. It was the Beatles’ Anthology, which was released when the now thirty year old Gripka was fourteen, that was the spur.

Growing up in a musical family – his aunt was a concert pianist – in Missouri, Gripka went to piano lessons from before school age and might have followed his aunt into classical music professionally had his uncle’s electric guitar not caught his eye.

“I was about eleven and he had this guitar that looked fantastic but more importantly, sounded great and when I got to make some noise with it, that was me finished with piano,” he says. “Then the Beatles’ Anthology came out and I thought it would be cool to play these songs in front of an audience of screaming girls at the Shea Stadium, so I found some guys at school who were into music and we formed a band.”

The screaming girls and Shea Stadium haven’t materialised, as yet, but he started writing songs – the usual fourteen year old stuff, he says – and played in bands through the remainder of his school years and into his college days, after which, by this time aged twenty-three, he and his wife moved to New York on a whim.

“I totalled my car and the insurance company gave me $3000, which seems like a lot of money when you’re twenty-three,” he says. “We figured we wouldn’t need a car in New York and it was a great move because I met so many wonderful people, including my current band and my recording engineer. The $3000 didn’t last too long but the relationships we forged more than compensated. I’m a great believer in having teams of people to work with, to create a common goal and share a vision. I think that makes your art better.”

He released his first album, New York Town, in 2009 but it was his second, Barn Doors and Concrete Floors, that started to create waves. Recorded in a barn in upstate New York, it had the sound of a band that had lived, travelled and worked together playing memorable songs such as Four Winds and Baltimore with spirit, enthusiasm and assurance.

“Because we work so closely together, I think the new album has that same quality,” says the now Texas-based Gripka. “There’s one song on Rain Plans, Just Like Water, that captures the way we work especially. I find the road inspiring, seeing new places, being in different towns and cities, but it’s not so easy to get time to write when you’re travelling. But we’ll get a couple of days off and I’ll play the guys an idea and we’ll work it up from an idea to a full arrangement. I’ve played with a lot of people, some of whom probably aren’t involved in music any more, and all the guys in the band are like that. They’ve stayed with it. There are probably more lucrative jobs but there’s a lot to be said for doing what you feel you’re best at whatever it pays.”

From The Herald, October 1, 2013.

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