The musicality of suffering

Ex-Rippers craft a moody mix of gloomy pop rock

Is anyone happy to be in this photo?

Is anyone happy to be in this photo?

Photo by Letrice fowler

Check out Ex-Rippers at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 10, at Cafe Colonial, 3520 Stockton Boulevard. Tickets are $7. Learn more at

Julian Elorduy teaches high school seniors the “Mysteries of Suffering and Death”—not a song title, but an elective class that explores how different cultures process the end of life.

He wasn’t fazed when his students learned he was in a band.

“They Google you,” he says.

But it did surprise him that the school newspaper was considering doing an article on his cassette label, Obsolete Media. He stumbled on this information when he saw this written on their idea board. Right next to it was the question: “Why are these songs so sad?”

The songs in question are from his band, the Ex-Rippers, who make up a majority of Obsolete Media’s catalog. There are two tapes of Ex-Rippers material, along with a split with Boy Romeo, a side project by Ex-Rippers guitarist Gabe Merriman called Trans Destiny and a project by local indie group Dog Rifle.

The sadness description baffled him most of all.

“I never thought of them as being sad,” Elorduy says. “It comes from serious moments in life, like a personal history. It’s just the feeling at the moment. Often you’re working with a serious subject matter and trying to shine light upon it.”

The Ex-Rippers—the whole band—consider whether their music is inherently sad. The five members crowd around drummer Thomas Castillo’s cozy living room with a wood-burning fireplace streaming on the TV and Christmas music lightly playing in the background.

No one in the band views the music as sad, but they acknowledge that everyone that they show it to hears it a little differently: from cheery pop to gloomy darkness.

“It has a life of its own that isn’t necessarily sad or happy, but a melancholy gray area,” Castillo says.

Regardless, its mood hits you immediately. Elorduy typically writes the basic skeleton of the songs, a blend between the dingy rock ’n’ roll essence of The Replacements and the washed-out, jangly weirdness of The Cure. He also has a fondness for tribal-like repetition, giving the music a transcendental vibe.

“There’s a lot of room for each person to bring their own color and characteristic to it,” Elorduy says.

Despite having two EPs (and a third, possibly an LP, in the works) the Ex-Rippers are a relatively new band. Elorduy, Castillo and bassist Dwain Navarro first got together in late 2015. At the time, Navarro was a tuba player.

“I very confidentially bullshat my way through the first rehearsal,” Navarro says.

In no time, they enlisted Merriman and a different fifth member. They originally called themselves the Rippers. Then a band from Italy told The Rippers, “It does not please us that you are using this name.” So they changed the name to the Ex-Rippers. After a few shows, they recorded some tunes, which were released on the split with Boy Romeo in late 2016.

“Getting this lush, orchestral awesomeness that I still listen to and love—that’s when it felt real to me,” Castillo says.

Elorduy is noticeably excited the more he talks about The Ex-Rippers. This is the first band that’s he’s felt good enough about, that he’s able to let go of some of his inclinations to control every aspect of the music. In past bands, he’s written everyone’s part out for them. Not with the Ex-Rippers.

“Everyone brings their own thing. We’re on the same page more or less, so it works out really well.”