“If You Wait For The Perfect Moment, You Can End Up Waiting Forever”- Clint Walper of Ritual Rabbits
Updated: May 5, 2021
By Will Yannacoulias
Clint Walper is a true Renaissance Man. An accomplished athlete, Ivy League graduate, former professional sports journalist and talented singer/songwriter, he seems to be one of those gifted individuals who excels at every endeavour. For the last decade Walper’s energy has been focused on his band Ritual Rabbits, whose laid back, dreamy, sugar-sweet sound has become an important part of the Saskatoon soundscape. A year of recording sessions in 2014 produced both 2018’s Somehow Never Again and the follow-up EP, The Middle Of Somewhere, released just this month. Walper recently shared his story with NSMZ, elaborating on his unique background, the recording of his two albums, and what the future holds for Ritual Rabbits.
Walper grew up west of Saskatoon, a self described “Saskatchewan farm boy”. A passion and natural aptitude for hockey saw him spend most of his teen years playing in the SMAAAHL and SJHL, which he was able to turn into a scholarship to the illustrious Princeton University. “Princeton contacted me my third year” Walper recalls. “I got to fly down there as part of the whole recruitment thing. The campus was gorgeous and the whole vibe was super appealing. That first visit was an amazing experience, I felt very fortunate. So cool to get to go do something completely different from most of my friends.”
The Princeton experience, an English degree and his hockey background set Walper down the journalism path, with stints at the Kingston Whig-Standard and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix before he moved into communications. College was also when he first began playing music. “I didn’t actually pick up the guitar until quite late. I was never a casual music listener, it was always something I was deeply connected to, but the first chunk of my life I was obsessed with hockey and that was where all my time and energy went. It was at Princeton that I started playing the guitar, probably at the age of 23. Immediately, from the first time I picked it up I was a goner and started writing songs. A lot of shitty songs for sure, but it seemed to come relatively easy. I had quit hockey so music became my new obsession and all my energy turned to that.”
Walper’s songs are unique yet accessible, alternative yet somehow familiar. His warm tenor voice perfectly delivers both unforgettable melodies and the tasty turns of phrase one would expect from a Princeton English major. The music and arrangements are straightforward, the songs upbeat, soft and sweet. Walper is quick to cite and praise the artists he feels helped shape Ritual Rabbits vibe. “The Shins is big for the really tight, melodic, catchy songs that are interesting but still fairly traditional. Pop songs with a little weirdness too. I was a huge REM fan growing up, Automatic For The People was their main album for me but I’ve followed them all through their career. Anything you listen to will seep in and influence you in one way or another. Death Cab For Cutie, Iron & Wine, Deerhunter, Band of Horses. I tried to sing low in the beginning, but when Band Of Horses came along and I sang along with Ben Bridwell’s songs that’s when I realized ‘that’s where my voice wants to be’. Simon and Garfunkel, The Everly Brothers, those harmonies and that mellow vibe. Father John Misty doesn’t necessarily come through in my songs but I’ve put shaker & tambourine on everything after listening to his first album (2012’s Fear Fun). It’s those little things you pick up from different artists and bring into the mix. Overall I’d say my songs are this hybrid of the mellow 60's folky singer songwriter vibe, blended with an affinity for pure pop melody and very precise arrangements... and then adding some indie production to create these weird, unexpected moments and put a little edge on it.”
Walper’s early music career was very low key, quietly sharing online his early home recordings. The decision to take music more seriously came after he established a relationship with the Recording Arts Institute of Saskatoon. As he remembers, “A friend sent me a Kijiji ad, the Recording Arts Institute of Saskatoon was looking for artists to come and record songs with their students. I submitted a song I had recorded in London, Ontario. I would call that RAIS experience the real start of Ritual Rabbits. It was the first time hearing my songs come together with a full band around it, drums and bass. Before it was me fiddling around with GarageBand, an acoustic guitar and a keyboard. Hearing it come together, I knew I wanted to get a full band together and play some shows.”
The single recording session with RAIS grew into a relationship that would ultimately produce the material for both Ritual Rabbits albums. “Doug Luciuk (Director) and Ryan Andersen (Head Instructor) became really great friends of mine. It was originally intended to be one song but they really loved it and asked if I had any others. At that time I had just finished writing one hundred songs about this fractured relationship, so I said ‘yeah…I’ve got a few’. I literally sent them 70 of the 100 songs, to their credit they listened to them all. Doug was particularly enamoured, and said ‘I've been waiting for a project to come through, I’d like to record a full album with you’. The three of us sat down and picked our favourites, compared and contrasted and came to a consensus. That ended up being 14 songs; eight of which were on the first album, and now the six on the new EP, which tells the second part of the story of that fractured relationship.”
Four years passed between the recording sessions with RAIS and the release of the first Ritual Rabbits album, Somehow Never Again (named one of the top 40 Saskatchewan albums of 2019 by SaskMusic). Walper put together a band and started performing live but sat on the album before realizing he needed to move forward. He reflected that “If you wait for the perfect moment you can end up waiting forever. With it being my first project, I wanted to launch it in the perfect way, but eventually said ‘you just have to roll with it and get it moving.’” Releasing the last songs from those sessions on The Middle Of Somewhere is both a new journey and a conclusion, clearing the way to record and release new music. “These six songs,” said Walper, “even though they go back quite a ways, I’m super proud of. I think they all stand up. I’ve had enough time away from them that it’s nice to revisit them, they’re a special group of songs from that period of my life. I’m happy to have anyone spend some time with the music, hopefully these songs will get into a few new ears and resonate with folks.”
The future looks exciting for Ritual Rabbits. The addition of Malcolm Whyte on bass and Braden Bessel on electric guitar gives the lineup some long term stability. Walper has been studying guitar theory and learning the piano, driven by a desire to expand on his songwriting abilities, “adding different flavours and colours that I think will come out in future songs. I want to force myself to be uncomfortable and see what that brings.” He’s also built a home studio and is recording tracks independently. “The next LP will be the first example of stuff I’m doing on my own” Walper shared. “Many musicians will say recording is their favourite part, focusing within that creative space. When I’ve got a big project like that I can spend countless hours and lose myself. As much as I’m fond of this EP and glad to have it out, I'm really excited to work on the new stuff and get the next chapter going.”
Group photo courtesy Ritual Rabbits. Live photo courtesy Contingent Colours Photography.