Courtesy of Israel Nash Gripka
Israel Nash Gripka
"I was born and raised as an Ozark kid and that will always be a part of who I am."
Israel Nash Gripka is doing it all. From alternative country to roots, Israel calls his music “American” music, but then again, he says it could just be rock ‘n’ roll.
But it's rock 'n' roll with a purpose. In response to the Joplin tornado, Israel has written and recorded Missouri, a collection of new and original songs inspired by the tragedy. The three-song EP will be available for a $5 donation to the United for Joplin Tornado Relief fund, organized by the United Way.
Israel, who was raised in Missouri and currently lives in Brooklyn, has toured throughout the United States and Europe. His 2009 debut album New York Town was a hit, earning praise throughout many countries. In his 2011 sophomore album, Barn Doors & Concrete Floors, Israel left New York City behind and headed to the Catskill Mountains in hopes of returning to his beginnings as a musician from the Ozarks. This fall, he will be touring through Italy and 10 other countries, and hopes to stop by Missouri in late summer before he leaves for the tour.
Missouri Life gets to the root of Israel’s music, the inspiration for Barn Doors & Concrete Floors, and just why he misses Missouri so much.
What town in Missouri are you from?
I’m actually from a number of towns in Missouri. I was born in Aurora and lived in Ash Grove, Lebanon, and Springfield.
How long did you live in Missouri for?
I lived in Missouri for most of my life. I went to college there, my family all still lives there and then I moved to New York in 2006. I love the city and hopefully have taken some of Missouri with me to these parts. I can completely fit the adage about taking the boy out of the country…..
When did you start playing music?
I first started playing music when I was nine years old. I was taking piano lessons from my aunt and then thought playing the guitar would be much cooler. So one Valentine’s Day, my mom surprised me with an electric guitar and an amp. And I have been playing music ever since. I can’t stop actually.
Can you remember the first time you played on stage?
I think the first time I performed was at a small crafts festival in Marionville, Missouri called Apple Butter Making Days. I was maybe 13 years old and had a band called Skirmish. We were doing this kind of alternative rock thing on the band stand. I don’t know if anyone liked what we were doing, besides my mom, I was pretty nervous.
What are your biggest sources of inspiration when writing your music?
I simply want to be open to everything around me. You know, inspiration is not something that waits for you and it is not something that you search for. It is something that simply shows up and you need to be ready for it. So, I just want to be open and prepared when inspiration comes for when it goes, it is gone and you don’t know when it will come back.
The name of your new album, Barn Doors & Concrete Floors is so catchy. Why was it so important for you to get away from the city while creating this album and produce music in that rural setting in the Catskill Mountains?
I think, in the end, it was about getting back to the heart of where I came from. The Catskills reminded me a lot of Missouri and so did the setting. We recorded in an old hay barn in the middle of the country. We stayed in this old farm house and had a river in the backyard. It really felt like Missouri to me and I needed to get out of the city and feel at home. And the name of the record came about because we always recorded with the huge barn doors wide open. You can hear birds and dogs all over the record because of that.
What would you say is the biggest difference between this album and your first album, New York Town?
I would say the biggest difference between the two is growth and experience. New York Town was recorded after I had lived in New York for a year or so, so the city was very, very fresh and poignant to me. It was a big muse at that time. I didn’t know as much as I did with Barn Doors. I think I had a clearer vision and understanding as to what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I definitely had more fingers in the pie for this record and it has helped me know where I want to go with a little more confidence in getting there.
How did growing up in the Ozarks influence you as a musician?
I think the Ozarks gave me so much indigenous music. Being the son of a minister, old hymns, three-part harmonies—all of that really resonated with me. Then you’ve got the mountain music from banjos to dulcimers, fiddles, and all. There is a rich musical history that Missouri possesses. I also think there is a beauty of the landscape, the country, the people. All of that has had an even bigger impact upon me since I moved to New York. Kind of like a “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” thing. I see how important things are and how Missouri continues to influence me.
What do you miss the most about living in Missouri?
I definitely miss me some Missouri. It is forever a part of who I am and who I will always be. I think I miss the calm of it all. When I visit my parents, it’s always amazing as to how early everything shuts down. It is quiet at night—not a sound, except a passing train that is a couple miles away. There is some serious beauty in that silence that makes you feel at home and Missouri will always be my home.
To listen to Israel's music, donate to the Joplin relief efforts, or buy either of his albums, visit www.israelgripka.com.