JYPSI: Keeping Up Appearances

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Videos by American Songwriter

Nobody writes about Jypsi without referring to the band’s visual appearance early and often. And for good reason. They’re signed to a major country label (Arista Nashville), yet they’re the kind of band that might have a member show up for an interview with her hair partly-shaved, sculpted and dyed into a bright pink mohawk (as fiddler/singer Amber-Dawn did). “I think it’s because we don’t look like a country band that we draw in outside people,” she notes.Nobody writes about Jypsi without referring to the band’s visual appearance early and often. And for good reason. They’re signed to a major country label (Arista Nashville), yet they’re the kind of band that might have a member show up for an interview with her hair partly-shaved, sculpted and dyed into a bright pink mohawk (as fiddler/singer Amber-Dawn did). “I think it’s because we don’t look like a country band that we draw in outside people,” she notes.

As if Jypsi needs more ways to stick out from their commercial country peers, they’re also a family band comprised of four Rische siblings (besides Amber-Dawn, there’s lead singer/fiddler Lillie Mae, mandolin player Scarlett and guitarist/singer Frank, all ranging in age from mid-teens to mid-twenties), a rare occurrence these days just about everywhere but bluegrass and gospel.

Plus, they’re an acoustic band with bluegrass sensibilities, something seldom heard this contemporary country generation outside of the Dixie Chicks (to whom they’re often compared). And, to top it all off, they’ve been playing together their entire lives, traveling in the family motorhome and performing in parking lots, churches and RV parks since Lillie Mae was all of three years old.

“I think people really like the fact that we’re not just a bunch of people who came to Nashville, formed a band and, all of a sudden, got a record deal,” says Amber-Dawn. “People do that a lot. But with us, it’s different than that.”

After years of performing four-hour sets six nights a week at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn, a downtown Nashville honky-tonk, Jypsi has cleared one major hurdle already: getting the attention of label head Joe Gallante and, with it, a record deal. But for the sake of their major-label recording careers, the challenge remains to showcase the group in a way that adds up to “country band.”

Jypsi’s self-titled album, released online only, put a polished sheen on their youthful, acoustic country sound, augmenting it with pedal steel and a rhythm section. But their first single-the harmony-rich ballad “I Don’t Love You Like That”-barely edged its way into the lower reaches of the Top 40 on country radio.
“Obviously, we need to go further than 38 on the radio,” Scarlett points out. “We need to go a little more…mainstream.” To that end, they’ve been searching for strong new songs to record, and Frank and Lillie Mae have started writing with Jim Lauderdale. “They’re definitely going to have to be more contemporary than the last album,” Scarlett says of the kind of songs they need now.

Potentially complicating the way the recordings have been received to date is the undeniable power that Jypsi-in-person-with the band’s free-spirited, retro style, energetic live performances and wildly varied show repertoire-has to either attract or perplex audiences and country DJs alike.

“So many people have opinions of what you should be in this world,” Frank explains. “I think that we’ve had to kind of tame down a couple of things, because that’s what people want us to do. But when we’re just out playing live, I think the people get it. So, sometimes, you’ve got to do something to make the commercial ‘everything’ work out.”

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