With a new release and collaboration with Steven Van Zandt, Marc Ribler talks about life before, during, and after the pandemic.
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Marc Ribler remembers his past experience in Indiana like a surreal flashback. It was 1992 in Fort Wayne, and he was on the bill with .38 Special. Everything seemed normal. The band arrived at the venue and proceeded to wade through a normal sound check. Afterward, the promotional rep invited them to lunch at a typical Midwestern Chinese restaurant. And then things changed. Marc remembers looking outside and watching the sky turn black. Then the weather turned sinister. Nearby, a tornado was forming and quickly touched down at the venue. The funnel picked up some of the tents and sent the light scaffolding crashing down; twisted metal stretched across the stage. Even as Ribler looks back, he still breathes a sigh of relief. It was not him and his band who was under that scaffolding during the storm or this story would have taken a more disparaging direction. All of these years later, it’s easy to build a simile to the Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair even decades before it happened; the State Fair event serves as a scar that changed guidelines to outdoor concerts in the state.
“Here I am with my first gig in Fort Wayne, and I watched the All Star game in my hotel room,” Ribler laughs.
Ribler’s Latest Release
It was not the first time Ribler brushed sides with mortality but more about that later. Ribler has a lot in life to celebrate most importantly the release of his upcoming solo album, The Whole World Awaits You, out on Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records. Everything about the album feels like a treatise of resistance to the pandemic. The band even got creative earlier in the year, broke free of isolation, and held a series of outdoor concerts despite the 30-degree weather. People showed up, and breathed in the therapeutic sounds. Their three-hour sets would not only keep their musicianship chops fresh but also help break hold of the mental anguish of lockdowns. This album, especially the title track, and its timing is the light shining from the other side of the tunnel. Yet, it was written years before COVID was common vernacular.
Marc Ribler – Shattered (Official Music Video)
“The song ‘The Whole World Awaits You’ was more intuitive,” Ribler said. “Steven and I discussed the song in depth, and he convinced me that the song should be the title of the album. The Whole World Awaits You, that’s where I feel like we are right now, but in reality, it was recorded four years ago.”
Serving as musical director, Ribler has been a part of the Little Steven and the Disciple of Soul for years. During 2016, Steven had a two-month commitment with Bruce Springsteen to tour Australia. That was two months before Little Steven took the Disciples of Soul back out on tour.
“I’d been thinking about making a record for a few years and writing some songs and compiling songs I felt fit together.”
He grabbed a few Disciples of Soul bandmates—Jack Daley, Rich Mercurio, and Andy Burton—and headed in the studio. Fifteen songs crammed into three days, the schedule was intensive. Ribler has a strict work ethic. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no, and if it does not feel natural immediately, then it’s not worth obsessing over. After these initial recordings, Little Steven took the band back out on tour. Every few months, they would come back home and Ribler would work on some overdubs.
Marc Ribler – This Is How The Song Goes (Official Music Video)
By 2019, the Disciples of Soul’s last show wrapped up and then a couple of months later, the pandemic hit.
“I thought, I guess it’s all over man. It’s the apocalypse! After a few weeks, I was just feeling so toxic. If I did not do something constructive, it’s not going to be good. I don’t know if I would have finished my record if it was not for the pandemic.
“Steven called me one day and asked what I was doing. I told him that I was finishing my record. He asked what the record sounded like and wanted to hear it. After I sent it over to him he called me back and said, ‘I have some good news and I have some bad news. The good news is that I love a lot of these songs. The bad news is that he suggested that we work on some of the songs together.’ I immediately reacted. The bad news is great news! I worked with Steven for so many years and the brilliance of his arrangement skills is unparalleled. It was a great experience.”
For the next couple of months the two worked together, modifying some of the arrangements and having friends do overdubs. Ribler could not have been happier with the outcome.
Marc Ribler – Who Could Ask For Anything More (Official Music Video)
“When I first met Steven, it was during the recording of Introducing Darlene Love. We were recording a cover of Springsteen’s ‘Night Crosses’ for the album and Steven had me tripling and quadrupling guitar parts in a Phil Spector-like arrangement. It was an incredible experience, and we have been good friends since. I have always marvelled at his skills at creating solid arrangements.”
Ribler and Little Steven employs a lot of the same musical philosophies. In these arrangements, Ribler immediately experienced the impact Little Steven had on how he understands and interprets music. It also helped that both had shared a similar geographic and musical foundation. “Steven respects the boundaries of an artist and does not try to impose his will as much as bringing productive ideas with what exists. On the new album, some things changed more than others. To have that overview and objectivity, it just upped the game on everything.”
The History of Ribler’s Solo Career
Ribler’s solo career has always been a reflection of himself. Coming from a disciplined work ethic, it was the 1990s when he experienced a serious health crisis that first toyed with his own mortality. When he recovered, he felt this overwhelming urge to write something about it. That is where Life Is But A Dream stems from.
Then he had an opportunity to record a jingle for Trojan condoms and an HIV awareness song. It was new territory for Ribler, but also a success. He was receiving thousands of requests for the song. So that song became the basis of New Life.
New Songs / Refreshed Outlook
Although some songs on the new album are tongue-in-cheek—”Who Can Ask For Anything More,” one of the singles on the new album, takes a jab at personal gain through greed—a song like “Manzanillo” has a heartfelt and endearing message.
“I lost my mom when we were on tour in Europe in 2019. It’s unexplainable. Until it happens to you, you cannot wrap your head around how it changes you. The first line in that song is ‘Last night my mama came to me in my dream.’ My mom was the conduit for thinking this universal thought. I have written a couple of songs about my mom after she passed.”
The song also looks at civilization and how the past can be an indicator to the present. “Right now, this country is so rich and powerful, and a lot of shit needs fixing. Everything is so disproportionate. The song is really about how we should take a look around and look at the way we treat each other and the planet.”
Now that the control of the pandemic is relaxed, The Whole World Awaits You is a welcoming sound with its timeless vintage power pop drive and versatility. Overall, it’s a dimensional journey that is a reflection of pop cultural history through an experienced guitarist (performing with Sir Paul McCartney and Carole King is not too shabby).
“I don’t feel like I chose to play guitar, the guitar chose me. This is what you are going to be doing. My need to get out and keep improving just put me in situations where I have always been able to grow.
“I feel blessed that I have always been able to do what I love. Steven’s magnet is so great. We are all in his magnetic field. My need is to keep improving and grow as a musician.”