Songwriter, performer, and Musical Director for Little Steven Van Zandt, Marc Ribler, has his next, much-anticipated solo album coming up for a June 2021 release from Wicked Cool Records/The Orchard, The Whole World Awaits You. The first single from the album, “Shattered”, has already been released, with b/w “Hand Me Down”, and we are delighted to debut the video for “Shattered” directed by Tom Parr here today at Glide, accompanied by an interview with Marc Ribler.
The Whole World Awaits You represents the culmination of a fifteen-year span of songwriting that covers a period while Ribler was actively touring and working as a Musical Director for several artists. The wide range of musical influences you’ll hear on the album are drawn from Ribler’s long and varied career but each call on their own particular muse for the musical “landscape” they conjure. One thing definitely shines through all the songs on The Whole World Awaits You, and that is Ribler’s desire to talk about the highs and lows of human experience without taking himself too seriously. The single and video for “Shattered” are an excellent example of that ethos, as Ribler explains below.
Hannah Means-Shannon: It’s been a little while since your last solo album. How far back do the songs on this album go?
Marc Ribler: There’s got to be at least one song on the record that was probably written in 2004 or 2005. It was just a song that didn’t really fit on my last record and has always been on my mind. It’s called “The War on Peace”. That’s the oldest one, but actually the first single, “Shattered”, dates from 2010 or 2011. I went down to Nashville and had scheduled a week of writing with different artists and writers. I got together with Christina Aldendifer and we were hoping to get it cut by another artist. But halfway through the session I started to realize that I liked the way it sounded and it was something that I might do.
When I got back to New Jersey and was demoing the song, I realized it was something I’d definitely like to do for my next record. As it turns out, that was ten years later. With the climate change in the industry, I was doing a lot more touring and became the Musical Director for some artists. A few of the songs were also written just before the record, so the songs were really written over a 15 year span.
HMS: As a songwriter, do you distinguish between songs that you might be writing for yourself and songs that you might be writing for other artists? It sounds like, occasionally, there is a song where you have a feeling and realize you’d like to record it.
MR: Yes, quite a while ago I wrote and produced some songs for a Canadian band, Helix. It was the first time I came to this realization. We were writing a song for the lead singer’s solo project, and we started writing “That Day Is Gonna Come”. There was so much commonality in our experience of the music industry, paying dues and having this dream, that I realized it was a song that was great for him, but it was also something I would be interested in doing. That’s something that’s only happened a couple of times over the years.
Usually when I sit down to write for myself, it’s because I need to process something that’s going on in my life or the world. I do it because I need to process it intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. When I write for another artist, the intellect is engaged from the beginning because there’s a mission. Years ago, I’d get a call from a record company or an artist and they were looking for songs with strong hooks. Often these artists would be good for writing album tracks but they couldn’t necessarily connect with the radio in terms of hooks and memorable melodies. I developed my craft by writing for other artists because the intellect’s more involved.
HMS: Did you ever approach sound and style based on the artist who you knew you were writing for?
MR: Yes, a lot of times in the mid 80s and early 90s, there were a lot of these Pop Rock bands who I was writing for. I’d write specifically for their sound, absolutely. When I write for myself, a lot of times the whole landscape will be determined by what the muse is directing it to sound like, in terms of the types of guitars or the percussion. It’s interesting how the thought of the song can come in on different levels. It’s visual, it’s ethereal, and it’s also really grounded in reality. It’s like all the planes of existence.
HMS: Wow, that’s a really cool way of explaining it. When you write songs for yourself, you seem to have a real grounding in a number of genres and approaches. Does that go back to how much you’ve worked in studios?
MR: It does. It goes back to a couple of things. The earliest thing that it goes back to is growing up in the projects of Brooklyn, New York. It was a very diverse place. My friends were Black, and German, and Hispanic, and Irish, and Jewish. It was a real melting pot. We had this radio station, WABC in New York, which was an amazing Pop station. I feel the late 60s and the 70s were the real renaissance of popular music, from Rock ‘n Roll to Folk Rock. It was the most fertile time in the history of our music. This radio station would play a James Brown song, then they’d play a Donovan song, then they’d play Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”. Then they’d play Chuck Mangione’s “Feel So Good”, which is a Jazz instrumental. It was a really broad spectrum of types of music from Rhythm and Blues to Hard Rock. Deep Purple was on the radio, as well as The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. That was the beginning of it.
I started playing the guitar around the age of 11, but I got really into Jazz at the age of 13 or 14. Listening to Jazz really opened my mind up. It made me more interested in more multi-cultural music. Then I was listening to Art Rock bands who were influenced by Classical and Funk-Fusion. For whatever reason, I had this broad spectrum of influences when I was very young, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of musicians in different genres.
When I was 15 or 16, I played in a real Country Western band with a Pedal Steel player. These guys were 30 years older than me! I used to practice a lot and when you’re young and practice a lot, you want to play all these notes and be the fastest guitar player. I think it’s just a primal instinct for guitar players. But I remember this like it was yesterday: I was playing some solos and this Pedal Steel players said, “I’m really impressed with your playing. I have a suggestion: “When you’re playing a song, listen to what the singer is singing. When it comes your time to take a solo, use that as the focal point of your solo, the melody.” He did this in a really gentle, loving way. He was being critical, but he was also being constructive. When I think back, it’s affected me my entire life, though that was decades ago. There are a couple of moments in life where the light bulb goes off. I think from there on out, I was more aware of vocal melody and how to instill that in songwriting and arranging. I’ve tried to have hooks from other instrumentation since then.
HMS: I can see how a guitar solo should be the guitar playing the role of the vocalist, so to speak. Of course, Jazz and Blues knew that, and we kind of forgot it in Rock music, to some extent.
MR: Absolutely, that’s a great distinction. Especially it’s true in Jazz, where a lot of it is instrumental, the saxophone, the guitar, the piano are the voice that is expressing the melody. I think when a solo happens, sometimes it needs to just be a primal emotional expression and not necessarily be completely melodic. It can be driven by aggression and even feeding off turmoil to make a different kind of statement.
I think in the Pop realm, people relate to beats and feel beats. The one thing everyone gets is the human voice. The other thing everyone gets is that they remember melodies, especially when they are memorable. I love melody and I love hearing a song once that stays with me. I grew up with that kind of music and in my songwriting and in my Producing, I like to feel that is part of it, that the songs have a strength that transcends. It becomes another level of communication between people, and they latch onto it.
HMS: You mentioned weathering so many shifts and changes in the music industry. Did that influence you to focus on multiple areas of your professional life, or is it more about pursuing a more varied life in music?
MR: I like the diversion of it and I get bored easily. I just need to do different things at different times. I didn’t realize it when I was younger. When I was 20 or 21 years old, I played in a show band in Atlantic City. At first it was really exciting, with these great crowds, but it was the same show every night. I started to notice, “Man, I’m really getting bored of this.” I stuck it out as long as I could, but I had to stop.
In the last 20 years, probably was when Napster entered the scene, the record companies didn’t embrace that this was the way that people were going to get music, downloading, and streaming, and even stealing music. Me and my writer-publisher friends just got smashed by this. We’d always have mailbox money out for years [on our songs] and the bills would always get paid. But that stopped. Then I started getting more into performing again which led to tribute shows just to have different performance outlets, but also to touring. I also started working more with Producing, but I also started getting Musical Director gigs, which was never by design. It just kind of happened by osmosis. All the sudden, I spent about six years being a Musical Director. If you really want to be in this business, the more skills you have, that increases your chances to have opportunities, and to seize them.
HMS: To talk about “Shattered”, when I hear the song, I feel that it addresses a very serious topic in the lyrics, but it has a more upbeat and reflective tone to the music itself. It creates a bit of space or distance for thinking about these things without it sounding soul crushing. I think that is also reinforced by the video.
MR: I relate to that very much. We’re working on a few videos for the record, and the next one is for the song, “Who Could Ask For Anything More”. We’re finishing up the video for that and there are serious topics, but I really like to have comedy and bring that lightness to heavy topics. It’s like “Bad Moon Rising”, where everyone is having a party, but it’s about doom and gloom. In “Shattered”, too, it says, “you could burn me like a candle” and “sugar-coated lies”. There is a lot of pain behind all of these images. But it’s also fun, with lines like, “You could drink me up like wine.” That brings a lightness to it.
HMS: There’s a self awareness there of avoiding melodrama, and I think there’s a humorous element, even, in the video. I noticed that the live play part of the video is in a very light, bright space which brings an upbeat feeling, but the scripted parts, which you’re in as well, feel like it might be a little tongue-in-cheek. The heart-shaped glasses help with that.
MR: [Laughs] My friend Tie-Die Amy has a shop and she said that I needed to make a video at her place. She was wearing some heart glasses and said, “You should get some of these heart glasses.” It was kind of cool. Yes, I really don’t take myself too seriously. If you couldn’t laugh in the past year, how would you get through it. You have to have lightness and joy amid all the pain and torture that we all go through.
HMS: Has playing with so many musicians over the years, with so many big personalities, given you more flexibility and humor about yourself?
MR: The one thing you realize about all of these people is that they are all making their way through life and some people have had greater blessings in their careers than others. But when you see their humanity, you can take them off the pedestal on which fans tend to place their heroes. It’s a blessing to have those experiences. For the most part, nine times out of ten, I’m really happy with how humble people can be.
But it’s also the way that my parents raised me and the values they gave me to care about other human beings and be empathetic. All human beings are judgmental by nature, I think, but it’s more about acceptance. You need to transcend your wired-in prejudices and coexist. But I went through a crazy health crisis in the 90s and was very close to leaving the planet. I was in the hospital for four months and I needed twelve units of blood. I had ulcerative colitis. It was the worst and best thing that ever happened to me. It gave me a totally different perspective on appreciating what is really important. And that is the health and wellbeing of people you care about, valuing people and relationships.
Coming out of that experience, if I couldn’t have laughed about it, I would have ended up in a psychiatric ward. You need to be humble and open. No one is above anything. We’re just here to do our best and try to bring some goodness to this place. Lord knows there’s enough badness being put upon the planet and people. It behooves us to try to bring some good to things whenever we can.
Photo credit: Tom Parr