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Interview: The Wippets

The Wippets got a fever, and the only prescription is: More washboard!
By CHRIS CONTI  |  August 18, 2010

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'CONTEMPORARY SKIFFLE TIP-TAP MUSIC' Martin, Sisto, and Depoto.

One chance encounter during a trip to New Orleans back in 2003 illuminated the bulb for the Wippets' Matt Martin and Tony Depoto, two East Bay musicians seeking inspiration during the annual Jazzfest.

"Tony saw Washboard Chaz leaning against a lamppost and saw his future," Martin said. "There would be no Wippets without Washboard Chaz."

Washboard Chaz is a renowned fixture in the Frenchmen Street music district and inspired Depoto to drop the bongos in favor of washboard-driven percussion, which now "defines the sound of the Wippets," according to Martin. Well, maybe that and Depoto's kazoo, harmonica, and service bell-dinging all over In It For the Money, which was released one year ago this week. Seekonk resident and veteran performer Sally Sisto rounds out the threesome on banjo, mandolin, and harmonies.

For the past 10 years, the Wippets have played at or hosted just about every local stage and open mic night, including frequent stops at Nick-a-Nee's, all the juke joints in Newport, and "from WaterFire to pumpkin patches, and every gazebo between Wickford and Pawtuxet Village," as Martin says. For avid music fans in search of a hearty roux simmering with Dixieland jazz, Delta blues, and folk music, the Wippets have you covered. But you already knew that, having voted them Best Roots Act in our 2009 Best Music Poll.

"The instrumentation leans towards bluegrass, but the music is more jumping New Orleans skiffle," Martin says. "I guess you could call it 'contemporary skiffle tip-tap music,' but I think when we eventually come up with a title for this genre that could be our big break."

Martin is cracking wise as usual, just as the album title suggests. The musicians all have full-time jobs (Martin and Sisto met while teaching at E.U. Wurlitzer in Seekonk, while Depoto owns Hand Made Signs in Warren), but continue to play out across Rhode Island and beyond, including appearances with Alexa Ray Joel, Buckwheat Zydeco, and the Low Anthem. Earlier this week the trio was invited to open for Boston blues-rockers Badstreet at the House of Blues front room on Lansdowne Street. And Martin is particularly busy on the circuit, performing frequently with Lyin' Bitch & the Restraining Orders (hosting the open mic every Thursday at Fatty McGee's), Angry Farmer ("like Sabbath meets Zappa," album due in November), and the Goods. His spirited weekly email updates read like a 250-word run-on sentence — with a blatant disregard for spell check or spacing, which was duly noted when I emailed Martin for thoughts on In It For the Money:

"The songs are short,funny,catchy,zippy,witty,fun songs that are easy to listen to.I wrote these songs with everyone in mind. The stuff is all right there you understand the words the music isnt confusing but the instrumentation is a little awkward."

From backwoods balladry ("Shoot Your Miss," "Utah Moon") to midtempo toe-tappers ("Always Want More," "Fool Boy") to standout foot-stompers ("Taste Your Time" and "All Is Forgiven"), In It For the Money is genuinely entertaining. "I'm not here to hold back," Sisto and Martin howl on the opener "State of the Union." Depoto's harmonica (dude plays a nice kazoo, too) blows like a steam engine whistle on "Too Many People," and Martin's nimble acoustic work shines on "Taste Your Time." But it all comes together on "All Is Forgiven," where Martin starts with "I'm lucky I woke up this morning/last night shoulda been the end of me," then gets cooking like a lamppost evangelist: "Settle down, saddle up, put a dollar in the cup!"

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