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Ahead of her debut record, Jobi Riccio talks about loving country music and her own 'Whiplash'

  Jobi Riccio
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YepRoc Records
Jobi Riccio's songs center on the heartbreak and challenges of becoming a young adult, escaping suburbia and addressing her own queerness.

Jobi Riccio grew up in Colorado outside of Denver in the shadow of the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater. She was in love with country music when she headed east to attend college.

Riccio's songs center on the heartbreak and challenges of becoming a young adult, escaping suburbia and addressing her own queerness. She lives in Nashville now and you can hear some of that in the songs on Whiplash, her debut record, which she recorded in Asheville.

Earlier this month, Riccio talked with WUNC about her journey, her influences and her debut record.

This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.

It's Pride month and your song "Sweet" starts with the line: "All the guys I meet just lead to dead ends, and all the girls I've wanted never had a clue." When did you have a clue about your own queerness?

"I've known since I was very small that I wasn't straight. Even before I had the language or the words for it, I knew that I felt things differently than some of the other kids that I grew up around. And I felt things for women just as I felt things for men. And as I've grown up, and as these things have become more — thankfully — normalized, I've grown into my own identity. And this line is kind of hilarious to me because I wrote this song when I was 20. And I would say, the girls know now, it's not; nobody's wondering. And usually, they do bat for my team. So, it's kind of funny. This was written from a very specific moment in time. In my in my journey as coming out as queer, for sure."

Is this the song you wish you'd heard growing up?

"Yeah, I mean, for as much as it is about that — and also just being about being outspoken and not being the type of woman or femme person who is really sweet and nurturing. I felt all this pressure in relationships. And I think part of it is — the people I grew up around and how I grew up — to be like this sweet pairing. Like that was the role of women. And I just never related to that."

Your love of country music comes through on the song "For Me It's You." You sing, "Everyone has a person who'll never feel the way they do, for me it's you." That hurts. Why does this song play so well in an almost classic country setting?

"Country music is a music of truth telling. You know, there's the famous Harlan Howard quote — three chords and the truth — and I think that country musicians have always, even male country musicians, have always had this beautiful ability to be almost painfully vulnerable. But it's what draws people to the music. I think country heartbreak songs are such an important part of the genre and what brings people into country music. It's what brought me into country music that touches on this thing of like — they get really specific in some of those songs about what they're going through — but there's such a universality to whatever the thesis might be. ... I was dealing with this sort of pining experience that I had for someone and I was sitting in class and thinking like, 'This is something everybody experiences. This would make a really good song.' There's no better format, that I felt like, than just like a classic country song, and a lot of those classic country songs use this song structure — not to get too nerdy song structure girl about it."

The "whiplash" you refer to in the title song is not just a physical thing. How did you experience emotional whiplash growing up?

"I think, much like many people, I just found myself in this phase of life where — for lack of a better word — it just felt like, 'Oh, wow, everything is happening all at once.' And I think people experience this at all ages. ... My late teens and early 20s were some of the hardest years of my life, just what I was going through interpersonally and adjusting to the major changes, adjusting to trying to start to be on my own and view myself as an autonomous person for the first time, especially just in the world we live in right now. It's really tough for kids and young adults of my generation to feel like they can stand on their own two feet. I just look around and it's like, none of my friends own houses, and we're all just sort of flying by the seat of our pants trying to make things work. And it just feels very tough.

"Then we had the pandemic, which plenty of people in my generation were in college or high school for, and, yeah, just these really intense trials. And none of it has really been processed or spoken about. I was writing the song before the pandemic happened, but really right before it happened, and I was just already just like, 'Wow.' I've moved from Morrison — outside Denver, Colorado — to Boston, couldn't be more different, and entered this very intense music program and just was gigging all the time, working as a waitress, like going really hard, because that's sort of what we were told to do. And there wasn't space for me to really process all this stuff that was going on in my internal world.

"So, I turned to songwriting, as I often do, and I wrote this song. I hope that other people my age and around my age can relate to it. And I mean, those of all ages, really, because everybody goes through times where you feel like you're just tossing and turning in the weights of life."

Jobi Riccio's debut record is called Whiplash. It comes out in September.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
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