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"From Rags to Reggae" With Andrew Ricci of Luna Shade

We got the chance to sit down with Andrew Ricci of Luna Shade. As the founder and frontman, his stories and experiences shaped the group’s message. The reggae-funk fusion of the group is a great vibe for any occasion including private events like weddings and backyard parties as well as bigger events like headlining Mishawaka Amphitheatre and Ironton Distillery. Andrew had this to say about his life, how Luna Shade formed, and what they’re up to now. A huge thank you for taking the time to hang out with us and speak about life.

Thomas: How did you end up here, musically and just in general?

Andrew: All of my life reggae has been part of my lifestyle. I spent most of my younger days playing in a punk hardcore group built with off-aggression and teen angst. It took me until I was about 16 years old to really embrace reggae music as part of my lifestyle. Some might say it was for the love of weed, but I chose this as a future goal, in that I was very inspired by a healthier lifestyle than just drinking and partying.

I decided to move to Colorado when I was 20 years old. I felt I needed to live in a place that was more progressive; a place that had more of a music scene than Wisconsin. I spent most of my 20s going to shows– a lot of them were reggae shows—sort of like my church. I met a man in Boulder. He had dreads and laid on the ground as he read his paper and smoked his joint. I sat next to him at a coffee shop and began talking to him. He said he used to party and used to do drugs but as one grows older, you find yourself striving for the simpler things in life, rather than a 24-hour high. He said one day I would understand. From that day, I remembered that man what he said to me–bringing it to the islands. That was the mindset that I wanted to live. That’s where I wanted to be and the reason why I decided to move away to an island in the middle of the ocean.

I always dreamt about living on an island and over the course of the next 7 years. I took an opportunity to move to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin islands in the beginning of 2017. I was at my highest point in my mid-20s and was running from a lifestyle of partying. I moved out to the Virgin Islands to embrace the reggae and Caribbean culture and to clean my mind of useless and negative actions brought on by years of partying. I spent most of my time in the Caribbean trying to clean my mind and find a better light within my day. I strived for that simple, fresh-fruit coconut water life. A healthy diet, not drinking too much and a place I could feel peace, away from the hustle and bustle of the United States and modern day life.

Thomas: What challenges did you face?

Andrew: In early September of 2017, we were hit by two hurricanes and one tropical storm. Hurricane Irma came first and shook the island. Tropical storm Jose came next and loosened it a little bit more. After tropical storm Jose came through, we still had just enough electricity downtown to go out and have a beer. We were warned that in the next 7 days Hurricane Maria would hit us. We scrambled. We bought all of the food supplies that we thought we needed; all the water we could fit and all the other essentials. The week leading up to Maria, we spent our time preparing and closing up windows to keep ourselves safe as Hurricane Maria was growing bigger and bigger everyday. The day that Maria came it was a Category-5 hurricane. The morning before the storm we all went out to have some last drinks as we weren’t sure when we would have electricity again. Everything was already running on generators. In one of the bars that overlooked the ocean, I sat with a beer in hand and I looked out at the horizon. The man next to me, a sailor from St. Thomas who had lost his boat and everything he owned in Hurricane Irma, had just arrived on St. Croix as a refugee. He turned towards me and looked me dead in the eyes. He said, “Nightmares are dreams too, living by the ocean.” This is a lyric that is now featured in our tune “Maria.” The song is completely about that storm. I highly recommend reading through the lyrics, as it will tell you my story. Maria came and it knocked down everything overnight. There were many emotions and stories that live inside of that storm that I can share to any interested parties.

The next morning we woke up and we looked outside with tears in our eyes. Trees had fallen. The leaves were gone. There was no color to be seen besides gray and brown. As the days went on, the hummingbirds flew around searching for nectar from the flowers. They would literally attack our shirts if we were wearing anything bright because they were so hungry. We all were hungry. Things got a little bit hairy and about a month went on without any electricity. There were food and water shortages. We decided it was best to figure out how to get back stateside so we could get out of this mess. When we came to get MREs for food, the people from Red Cross said, “You should try and leave the island because you have no blood on this island.” They essentially meant we weren’t locals and were taking up too much space and resources.

I went to the airport where I begged FEMA to take me home along with my dog. They snuck me onto a cargo plane with 15 other passengers that were quietly put aboard as well. They didn’t want to make any commotion, as there were lots of people trying to leave the island. We were headed to Georgia Air Force Base and we would have to figure out how to get home from there. I cried for days after we left. I felt depleted. I just kept listening to reggae music and holding my dog, as it was the last thing that I had to give me hope. I eventually found a way from the Georgia Air Force Base to the Atlanta Airport. We spent our last dollars on a plane ticket to Denver. I had no cell phone service and no money to pay for my bill so I relied on hope. I wrote song after song. Playing this music and writing was the only thing keeping my head up until I arrived in Denver where I was greeted by one of my good friends, Felicia. She brought me back to her house and housed me so that I could get my things back in order and figure out what was going to be the next step. I moved in with some good friends a month later who got me a great job at Rare Italian in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Thomas: How did you get started with Luna Shade?

Andrew: After beginning to build my life back up again, I started to see the world a little differently. I began to give respect to life—to be thankful for the people I surrounded myself with and for those that held me up in the times that I thought I would drown. I’ll never be able to repay that debt. I was truly blessed.

I kept writing music in the times that were toughest. I then met my beautiful girlfriend, Amanda, while I was working at Rare Italian. She persuaded me to follow my dreams and reach out to find some people with whom I could play music. She supported my dream and understood that I had a story that needed to be told. I went on Craigslist and after a few days connected with Jason Johnson. I told him my whole story and he became a mentor and a collaborator within my music period—which now turned to our music.

I came up with the name Luna Shade. Luna Shade stems from a time in 2015 when I went to meet my father for the first time in my life who lived in Uruguay. He always loved the moon and we would drink scotch together and he would mention the luna shade—shade of the moon. So I started my band with Jason and found members to join us. In the name of my father Eddie Ricci, my strife changed and I began giving this band as much attention as I possibly could. It helped me stay away from old unhealthy habits and lifestyles. I begin this group to give thanks and to tell my story and maybe give hope to people who might not have any at that moment.

Over the past 3 years we have grown so much. We have lost members and we have gained members. We have been through our own trials and tribulations as a band and I feel we’re stronger than ever. I play this music to give peace—to tell my story and to give hope. It also gives me the peace that I need to get through all the dark moments we have to get through as humans—especially in today’s age.

Luna Shade has seen over 75 plus shows in 2019 alone and has played out of state a few times. We’re growing traction more than we could have ever imagined. Dreams do come true! Sometimes it takes a hurricane to see the clearness of the day. Sometimes it takes a hurricane to remind you of the good things you have. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to remind you of your own strength. With that story and with this band I will forever always be changed, and I will always seek to be the best person I can be and so forth.We wrote our album, Flock Together, which released in 2019 on Thanksgiving Day. That album was about people coming together and helping each other out for the most part. As the quote says, birds of a feather flock together. After member change up and covered started we begin to rearrange and some members decided to go separate ways due to difference in musical taste. These guys still remain my brothers to this day. We found new members and key reggae players that joined us. So, we rearranged our sound accordingly and came up with this new EP that will be releasing in December 2020 or January 2021. The EP is called Phases of the Moon EP. The album depicts change while giving thanks for the things that got us here. That vibe is noted and our single, “Sound to Sound” releasing on November 20th before the EP. Another tune coming out on that EP is called “Pon Di Rock.” It was written this year when I finally got to make my journey back to St. Croix for the first time in 3 years. I got to show Amanda what I had become and where I had lived. The line that hits most in “Pon Di Rock” says, “Some say, hey man everything safe. A phrase I missed most living for today.” To reply to someone when they ask you how you’re doing and saying, “safe” as your reply essentially means, “I could be good, I could be bad, but what I know right now is that I’m safe.” That phrase always stuck out and resonated with me. Sometimes we have our worst days, but most of the time we can say that we are safe even on those worst days. We are all coming back stronger physically and mentally and I want to thank you so much for taking your time to sit down with me and learn about our story.

Photos By Thomas Adams

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