She waxes poetic on her upcoming EP, glossy new zine, and kickass creative process.
It’s not every day you meet someone who possesses so much passion for what they do coupled with curiosity about the world around them. Armenian singer Ripsy May is that someone. When I meet up with her for our interview, she’s soft-spoken at first, and dressed in a sweatshirt and track pants. Not even 10 minutes into our conversation—it feels more like a long talk with an old friend than a typical interview, to be honest—it becomes distinctly clear that she knows what she likes, and won’t settle for anything less than being herself.
There’s not a ton of information about Ripsy online (for now, anyway. She’s releasing her first EP this summer), but all of the articles I did find started out in the same way, identifying her as Latvian-born, London-raised, and, of course, Armenian. “Isn’t it interesting? It’s so ethnic-oriented. People really gravitate towards that,” she says. I ask her if that bothers her, and she says she doesn’t really care, but brings up a Vice article that similarly introduced her as Latvian-born and London-raised, recalling that, after it came out, her friends messaged her, “But you’re not Latvian.” It’s not uncommon in the media to reduce a person to their ethnic or geographical background, but Ripsy sees right through it. “None of this even fucking matters, so what’s the point?” Still, I can’t help but love her charming British accent and habitual use of the word “mad.”
Ripsy’s family moved around a lot when she was growing up, which explains why she doesn’t feel a strong tie to any particular place. In a way, that’s how she ended up in L.A. without any real connections. After attending university in London (a highly academic one, at that) and hating it, she got accepted into a master’s program in New York to study film, but couldn’t get the money together for it. She knew she needed to get out of London, so she up and moved to sunny Los Angeles in true vagabond form. “When I moved here, I really didn’t have a place to live, I had no money and I didn’t know anyone. But I had this sense of, ‘I’ll figure it out, and I’m going to be alright.’”
It’s this sheer strength and confidence in her vision that makes Ripsy’s energy as magnetic as her music, and it sounds like London has something to do with it. She moved back last November to save up some money before finishing her EP; she found an apartment and got a job, and suddenly things just fell into place. Musicians she’d met a few years before came over and started playing on her songs, and “I fell in love with London in a way that I hadn’t for so long.” Ripsy’s legs are perched up on the couch, and her eyes light up as she talks. “To have somebody just pop over to your house in the middle of the night for a cup of tea—it’s that kind of feeling. We’d drive around the city late at night, we’d drive past Tower Bridge, and I’d have my head out the window, shouting, ‘I fucking love you’ into the wind.”
Ripsy’s quick to distinguish London’s music culture from L.A.’s, telling me about a conversation she had with a woman who was managing a 28-year-old singer in L.A. The woman had to lie about her client’s age because of the music industry’s warped views on youth, and invited Ripsy to come to her sessions to act as a coach. “It’s so contrived. For three years, I got into the pop world and worked in different genres of music, but I fell out of love with music in a very real way.” Her first week back in L.A., people were already chatting about her age, whereas in London, “the priorities are in a different place,” she says. “I was there for four months, and not a single person cared.”
I make a comment about how so many public personas seem manicured in this city, especially with the rise of social media, and she asks me what I think about that. I’m not exactly an exception, seeing as how I like a pretty Instagram as much as the next person, but I tell her it’s refreshing to see someone like her, who’s unapologetically herself, regardless of the platform. Her Instagram is a mashup of her work and her photography, and she only joined Facebook and Twitter after her manager advised her to do so.
This brings her to another differentiating feature of London (London-2, L.A.-0). “Do you know what I get really worried about?” Ripsy says. She tells me about an interview with the performance artist Marina Abramović that she watched recently. In the interview, Marina talks about how the word “artist” is thrown around a lot, questioning the whole notion of calling oneself an artist. In other words, how do you know if you are one? “You’ve got to understand what you’re doing and how you’re doing it,” Ripsy says. “Especially here, I feel like people throw around the word ‘artist’ a lot, and when people call me an artist, I feel really uncomfortable. In London, people don’t really call themselves that unless they’re doing something substantial.” She’s understandably wary of people who say they do a number of things, and it’s because of this, she says, that she worries people aren’t going to take her seriously.
I don’t think she has anything to worry about, though. Doing things half-assed just isn’t in her DNA. When she was deep in writing music for her EP, she says she made an effort to sit and write every single day. “My songwriting teacher said, ‘An amateur writes when they’re inspired, and a professional writes every day. Sometimes you write and it’s total shit, and sometimes you write and something comes.” Writing seems to be both a routine and a refuge for Ripsy. After her raspy, soulful single “Black Wine” came out, “there was all this pressure from labels. They would be like, ‘When’s your next single?’” So, naturally, she channeled her stress into writing and drawing, and made a zine.
She shows me a copy, and it feels thick and glossy. The pages remind me of a personal journal or scrapbook, covered with photographs, illustrations, and poetry, all done by Ripsy herself. She got into poetry to help her with her songwriting, and the rest is history. Handmade zines have been having a moment, but, with her background in music, this somehow feels fresh. What really strikes me, though, is how she’s adapting her zine for the digital space. After finishing it, she showed the mockup to her friend, who told her what one of the poems reminded her of. “It was something totally different than what I’d written it about. She asked me what I’d written it about, and I was like, ‘It doesn’t really matter at this point, but it’s so interesting that you had that thought.’” Inspired by Lynn Hirschberg’s black and white screen test series, Ripsy got her friends together for one day and filmed them talking about what the different poems mean to them. The videos are raw and honest, and show that art speaks to everyone in very different and personal ways. She’s even talked to her friends about doing a series in schools or prisons with all different kinds of people.
Just hearing Ripsy talk about her work and how enamored she is with creating makes me want to go write a book after this. She has this intense appreciation for what is real rather than what just looks or sounds nice. “For me, music and things that I love are not things that sound good, but things that make me feel something.” She asks me to name my least favorite song on her album, and I tell her I don’t have one. “I like to ask that question because there can be a plethora of things that you liked, but when you just like something, you don’t have anything to talk about,” she says.
Unlike many people in this business, I can tell Ripsy’s in it for love and love alone. I ask her about creating for the sake of creating versus creating for content, and we dive into a conversation about the beauty of the process. She reflects on the positive responses she’s received since putting out music. “It makes me feel happy but it doesn’t give me the satisfaction I thought it would give me at the time I was making it, when nobody else could see what I was doing. You think you’re going to finish it, and it’s going to make you feel so great. And it does, but it doesn’t satisfy that. Then I’m like, ‘Oh fuck, I am actually in it for the long run.’” Yeah, I’m pretty sure that means she’s an artist (sorry, Ripsy).
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