“I spent a lot of time outside in the mountains as a little kid exploring and humming made up songs to myself and the deer”, Jobi Riccio tells us about growing up in Morrison, Colorado - a tourist town just west of Denver that’s home to Red Rocks Amphitheater. “I think that set the trajectory for my life in many ways.”
“I was drawn to music, writing, singing but also a life of adventure and exploring and connecting to the natural world. I think my music has a lot of western elements to it - references to coyotes, deserts, prairies - all images from where I grew up that I carried with me that have informed my sense of home and place.”
“I was always humming something to myself, playing around on the family piano or my sister’s toy guitar that had three strings,” she says, trying to remember the first song she ever wrote. “I do remember a cringey one I wrote that was basically ripping off ‘Travelin’ Soldier’ by The Chicks but written by a seven-year-old trying to make sense of the Iraq war.”
Jobi Riccio has come a long way since then, and her forthcoming album Whiplash – due out on Yep Roc in September – is a collection of revelatory coming-of-age stories that she wrote over the course of several formative years in Riccio’s late teens and early twenties in which she faces up to past traumas, overcomes insecurities and embraces her queer identity.
“I’ve always felt pulled in a lot of directions,” says Jobi Riccio about the album’s title. “It feels like I exist in all these different worlds, and I can feel each of them tugging at different parts of me.”
Riccio fell in love with country and roots music at an early age. She headed east for college but moved back home to Colorado in March of 2020, wrestling with all the complications of finding herself and her place in the world while letting go of her childhood and the sense of grounding that came with it.
She began performing and played stages everywhere from Sundance to the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. When she took top honors in the 2019 NewSong Music Competition, it seemed clear that the universe was calling her back east again.
“My prize for winning was to go and make a record with Gar Ragland at his studio in Asheville, North Carolina,” explains Riccio. “Like me, Gar is a lover of all kinds of music, and so the first time we got together, we talked about everything from Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen to Bonny Light Horseman and Big Thief.”
Working out of Ragland’s Citizen Studios, Riccio laid down basic tracks for the album in just a few days, capturing bare bones vocals and acoustic guitar takes. Strings, woodwinds, keyboards and percussion all pushed the songs beyond their folk roots into more cinematic territory less bound by any one specific genre. As the pandemic eased, Riccio’s friends and fellow co-producers Jesse Timm and Isaiah Beard joined her and Ragland in Asheville to tackle the finishing touches in person.
“It was an unusual approach to making a record, but I think it came together in a really special way because of that,” reflects Riccio, who now calls Nashville home. “These songs are a patchwork that all come from different moments in my life and different versions of myself, and the recordings function in a similar way, bringing together all these different players from all these different places and weaving them around my stories and my voice.”
The songs she’s been drip feeding us so far in the run up to the album have been things of wonder. With that same lilting prairie feel as ‘Green Flash’, her duet with Erin Rae from earlier this year, the album’s title track is a country road song that tumbles along as she embraces the power of uncertainty while the world falls apart around her.
“I am dizzy with my memories and the feeling of time spinning past,” she sings. “I’ve got whiplash but the cars won’t slow / No they only continue to crash.”
‘For Me It’s You’ is a gentle sad stroll through unrequited love in the unsparing indie style of Cat Power or Courtney Barnett. If you’ve ever loved someone who didn’t love you back then it’s going to destroy you. The latest single, ‘Sweet’, sounds like a lost Sheryl Crow cut from the early 90s or something off Caitlin Rose’s first album, as she dips into all her anxieties and comes out on top.
“I don’t know how to be sweet,” she sings in the delightfully anthemic chorus. “I don’t know how to play a cool girl fantasy / And affection’s two directions not just a one way street / I’m just not that sweet / Cause my heart gets scared and sometimes shows its teeth.”
“I don’t feel like I fully stepped into my own as an artist until I started addressing my queerness,” Riccio explains. “Once I was able to shed some of those insecurities and own the things I’d felt so self-conscious about, I was able to start feeling like a whole person for the first time.”
“It’s painful to change and move and grieve the loss of your childhood and the place you called home,” she says. “But it’s also an intrinsic part of being alive and growing up and becoming the person you’re meant to be.”
If these are the songs she was always destined to sing, then we’re just so happy she gets to be that person too.
We sat down with Jobi Riccio to ask her about the forthcoming album, her latest single and what’s coming up next for her.
What did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to the radio, my older sister's CDs I’d steal from her room, and whatever my parents put on the home stereo. This looked like a steady diet of 90s country, 70s country rock and singer-songwriters. Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, and The Chicks were all in heavy rotation and very formative.
How would you describe your sound?
I think this is something every artist struggles to do because it’s always evolving and we’re constantly being excited by new musical discoveries. Currently I’d say it’s a patchwork of several influences; Americana and country but also indie rock and folk.
What can you tell us about your latest single, ‘Sweet’?
I was going through a period of insecurity post break-up and also a big Lucinda Williams phase and ‘Sweet’ came out of that. I remember looking up videos of Lucinda playing ‘Joy’ and seeing her play telecaster and perform with such swagger inspired me to try to write a song with a riff I could someday play on tele (I didn’t own one yet at the time). The song is about taking up space and being yourself and I think I was afraid to do that as a guitarist for a long time though I was capable, and this song helped me step into that.
What does writing songs do for you?
Writing songs connects me to others and connects me to myself. It’s been the way I’ve processed my life and the world around me since I was eleven years old. Sometimes it’s therapeutic, sometimes it’s more of a practice, but either way the end goal for me is always connection.
What’s your all time favourite song of someone else’s?
‘One Step Up’ by Bruce Springsteen.
If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
I’ve often said if I wasn’t doing music, I’d be an organic farmer or high school history teacher - I’ve never had the most lucrative interests! I got the chance to live and work on a farm in July of 2020 in Southwestern Colorado and I still have dreams of owning my own land and animals someday.
What’s next for you?
I was recently awarded the John Prine Songwriting Fellowship by the Prine family for the Newport Folk Festival, so I’ll be playing at Newport at the end of this month. It’s a dream come true for me in many ways; John Prine’s music has influenced me significantly since I was a child and also getting to play this legendary festival has been a goal of mine for a long time.
I’ll be releasing my debut full-length Whiplash in September. I’ve been looking forward to getting this body of work out there for people to hear in its entirety for so long, and I am eager to get out and tour to support its release in the upcoming months.
Whiplash is released on September 8th on Yep Roc. The singles ‘Sweet’, ‘For Me It’s You’ and the title track are out now.