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Marc Ribler Talks About His New Record, The Pandemic, and Little Steven

By Gary Wien

Marc Ribler Talks About His New Record, The Pandemic, and Little Steven

“It’s kind of a magical experience, you never know what the Muse has in store for the day,” explained singer-songwriter Marc Ribler.  “Some songs just feel like absolute gifts.  It’s almost like the words and melody are delivered.”

Ribler is one of the truly unsung heroes of the Jersey Shore music scene.  Even though his last record was released in 2008, he’s been busier in the last decade than ever with shows featuring his original music, tribute shows, serving as musical director for Darlene Love and Little Steven, and being part of multiple albums and touring with Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul.  Marc moved from Brooklyn to Jackson, NJ when he was young and literally grew up amidst the Jersey Shore scene, so to work with Little Steven was something special. And on July 16, his latest record, The Whole World Awaits, will be released on Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records label.

Marc’s long-awaited follow-up to This Life was planned long ago.  He recorded the basic tracks over three days in 2017 - just prior to going on tour with Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul in support of the Soulfire album.  Steven had a commitment with the E Street Band for some shows, so Ribler used that time to take the recordings to his home studio where he did a bunch of preliminary overdubs (background vocals, guitar textures, etc.).  Then he headed on to the road where they remained for three years.

Marc Ribler Talks About His New Record, The Pandemic, and Little Steven

After the end of the Summer of Sorcery tour, Ribler returned home.  Following a tour like that, he always takes a few months to get centered and grounded.  When the pandemic hit, he realized he needed to get busy doing something or he’d drive himself crazy.

“It was a pandemic production and it kind of helped get through the dreary days - not knowing what was going on in the zombie apocalypse,” said Ribler.

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The title is appropriate for the time period.  As we still stumble through the pandemic - with clubs beginning to reopen and shows taking place again - we all wait for the world to return as we knew it.  But the title actually comes from a song written several years ago and it was Little Steven who first suggested it.

“It’s funny, I’m so close with these songs,” continued Ribler.  “It was right in front of our eyes.  In retrospect, it was like how could I not see that? Especially in light of what the world has been through with the pandemic and everything.  So when Steven said it, the light bulb just went on.”

Several artists wound up putting out records in 2020 with titles that seemed inspired by the pandemic, but were written years earlier.  Ribler believes it’s not a coincidence.

“Artists are intuitive, I think.  They put their antennas up to the ether and they’ll sense a resonant frequency of things to come,” he explained.  “It seems kind of mystical.  That’s happened to me a bunch of times in my life where I’ve written songs and then they kind of have a real connection to something that occurs in the future.  I think many artists experience that. Actually, I think a lot of people experience that, but artists are able to put it down and mark its place in time so it’s documented.”

Ribler has long been known as a songwriter, guitarist, and producer.  When he was just 17, he began doing session work at The Record Plant in New York City.  At 23, he had a development deal with RCA Records and co-wrote several tracks on a 1992 album by Mitch Malloy, which included two Billboard Hot 100 singles. Over the years, Marc has written and produced nearly 40 songs for major label recording artists throughout the world, with several songs charting on Billboard as well as top 10 hit lists in Canada and overseas. In addition to playing with Little Steven and Darlene Love, he has performed with rock and soul royalty such as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Carole King, Elvis Costello, and Bettye Lavette.

“I feel an equal need and allegiance to songwriting, performing and producing,” he stated. “Though I'd probably say if I had to pick just one, it would be performing and sharing music with others. I like the collaborative energy that feeds between musicians and the interaction with an audience.”

In addition to writing for others, Ribler has written songs for films and scored films as well. He treats those projects as a craftsman, writing with the artist or project in mind.  But he admits there are times he likes the song enough to hold on to for himself and offering up another instead. Mostly though, his own songs are different. He views them as a form of therapy.  It’s how he processes what he’s going through or experiences he sees family and friends going through.

The Whole World Awaits will be Ribler’s third release, following Life Is But A Dream (2003) and This Life (2008). Despite strong songwriting and good tunes, the albums didn’t lead to a break out for Ribler even though “This Life” did lead to national airplay in a commercial for Trojan condoms. He’s hoping this album is his breakthrough. If people respond to the songs the way Little Steven did, it just might. When Steven heard the early recordings, he came on board as the album’s co-producer and said his record label would release it. It was a nice reward for years of hard work.  “Working with Stevie feels like a gift for all the years of blood, sweat and tears,” he said. “It’s like taking a master class on how to conduct yourself musically, professionally and personally in a business that will chew you up and spit you out without thinking twice”

A few of the songs were in the back of his mind when he was planning out the record, but several tracks came from perusing through hard drives of songs and song ideas he’s had over the years.

“I go through these writing spells - very prolific periods where I’ll record a simple guitar/vocal demo of them in my studio, just to have them documented,” said Ribler.  “Some arrangements are more fleshed out, but I started listening to songs that were on these old hard drives that I had and I found a few that I had forgotten about.  It was sort of half and half. I think half of them were songs I was planning on having on the record and I had written a couple of new ones leading up to it.”

When he’s listening to the songs on the hard drives, the memories instantly return.

“Usually about 90% of it will come back right away,” he noted.  “I’ll have a recall of what I was going through when I wrote it.  It’s almost like a time stamp in my brain.  When I hear the words, I’ll go, ‘that was that.’ It usually brings me right back to the moment and it’s pretty easy to remember the chords.  As soon as I hear the chords I pretty much know what they are.  I’m immersed in music every day.”

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His favorite songs on the new release include “This Is How The Song Goes,” which closes out the album.  It’s a song that Ribler says evolved since he first wrote it while scoring the film, Altered States of Plaine (2012).  He had been working late into the night and reached that period of late night / early morning (3:00am to 6:00am) that is a very creative time for him.  

“It was a very different song from things I had been working on,” recalled Ribler.  “But it also has this other worldly quality to it, which connects to the film I was working on.  The film had a darkness and an insanity to it and I think the track has some of that in it - in a sort of more friendly, psychedelic way!”

“There’s a couple others that I have a strong emotional affinity too,” he continued. “The song, ‘Who Could Ask For Anything More’ has serious implications while being delivered tongue-in-cheek. It's about taking a good hard look at the damage done by greed. It certainly seems to lead to insensitivity and indifference. For example, shutting down the George Washington Bridge for political gain and manipulation. Creating plastic islands on our vast beautiful oceans, or simply creating multibillion dollar industries that benefit from the divisive proliferation of unhealthy citizens due to social, environmental, nutritional and drama-based pollution. And 100 other things I can think of at the moment. That being said, all this crazy shit gives a songwriter much to write about. Perhaps that’s the bright side of greed, mayhem, death and destruction."

Despite spending so much time working with Little Steven over the last several years, the two only met when Ribler was brought in to play guitar on a track on the Introducing Darlene Love album that Steven produced.  They both had a lot of friends in common and hit it off when they finally met.  Steven asked Marc to put a band together for some record release shows.  They did shows at Whisky a Go Go in California and the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park.  Steven performed with them each night and the band included three of his songs in the set as well.

“I loved working with Darlene, she’s a force of nature,” said Ribler.  “But when we did Steven songs, it was rock and roll in its purest form.  It just felt like home.”

Marc told Steven that the songs and his performances live were so good that he should be doing this more often.  At the time, it had been a long period without records or live shows by Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul.  After releasing Born Again Savage in 1999, Steven started work as an actor in the hit series, The Sopranos.  He would go on to launch Little Steven’s Underground Garage in 2002, start the Wicked Cool Records label, and later star and serve as executive producer of Lilyhammer on Netflix.  Steven also became very involved with Little Kids Rock, and both he and his wife serve on the Board of Directors for the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. With all this going on, Steven’s original music was sort of forgotten.

“And then he called me about a year later and said he was going to Bill Wyman’s birthday party in London,” recalled Ribler.  “He said this guy asked me to do a set of music at it, can you put a band together for me? I said absolutely.  It was supposed to be a one-off, but I think when it was fully realized - we weren’t doing 2 or 3 songs but a 2 1/2 hour set with over 20 songs - I think he realized how much he missed it.”

That would go on to become several years of touring, two studio albums, and two live albums. It was an amazing time to be on board - especially since wherever they went, major artists like Paul McCartney and Peter Wolf wanted to join the band on stage.

Now that Marc’s got a new album, the dream is to tour the United States or abroad playing his own music.  Touring is expensive and Ribler always seeks the best musicians for his band, so he knows a tour needs to make sense financially.  One possibility is to merge his popular tribute shows with original shows as part of one tour - maybe playing a tribute in one club or hall with an original show somewhere nearby. That’s similar to the original idea behind his tribute shows.

“Initially when I started doing the Tuesday at McLoone’s (in Asbury Park) the concept was play some original music and a tribute on the same night,” noted Ribler.  “I’d open the shows with a couple of my original songs and then we’d do whatever the tribute of the night was.  We’d have a featured artist and do a couple of their songs and make then part of the tribute as well.”

Ribler believes he’s headed in the right direction, hoping this record leads to some sort of touring opportunity whether as an opener for a national act or something else.  He’s definitely put in his time in the industry.  And when a guy finishes a tour playing some of the best clubs and halls around the world and then settles back into the local Jersey Shore clubs he’s played for decades, it’s a guy you root for.  

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.

originally published: 07/09/2021



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