To her friends, she's an inspiration. To a large crowd of people, mostly strangers, whom she played in front of at Natura a couple weeks ago, she was most certainly something to talk about. Who was this skinny, brown-haired, bespeckled girl alone at the piano? Why can't we tear ourselves away from her sweet yet raw voice? Why can't we take our eyes off of her amazing presence that she maintains through her obvious nerves?
She was and is Gina Riggio, a 23-year-old Penn State student who used to attend UCF. She is a nutrition major with a penchant for organic chemistry and does a lot of work with alternative health. Her sound is comparable to that of a musical lovechild of Tori Amos and Ben Folds, but with her own undeniable sense of humor. Originally from Boca Raton, she began her music minor at UCF and also began her performing career at the old Stone Soup Collective while livling in Orlando. There she made friends who she continues to collaborate with today - friends who helped her to book her gig last Friday while she was visiting down here. She spoke to the indie about who she is and, in the meantime, gave us many reasons to continue to listen to what she has to say.
the indie: Your sound seems like it could be classified as "geek pop." How would you describe your genre?
GR: My friend says I'm punk. He's actually convinced that I'm the first punk pianist. I think it's because of my lyrics. I rant a lot. It's like, what would I say to your face that you wouldn't want to hear unless it was in a song?
the indie: You left UCF to major in nutrition at Penn State. How does your field and the fact that you're a science nerd affect your songwriting?
GR:I wrote a song about chemistry once but I never recorded it. I used to write lyrics in my calculus notebook - there are pages of derivatives and then lyrics. When I recorded my album, the guys who helped me ordered pizza and I was sitting there with my acorn squash. They were like, wow, you eat healthy. With food, people call me a health nut - what is that? I say if you're not nuts, then you're not paying enough attention. Why should people who care about a lot of things be considered nuts when there are so many things to care about in the world?
the indie: You care, so yo'ure a science geek/activist. How did you become a music geek?
GR: I was seven and I started on the organ. Peer pressure brought me to the piano. I'd had really bad teachers, so I'm sloppy. I finished up my music minor at Penn State and I've taken some singing lessons.
When I was younger, I'd always compare myself to Fiona Apple. I used to think that she stole my songs and I'd never make it because she already sang all my songs.
If you told me when I was 16 that I'd be playing and performing my own songs, I would have laughed at you. I was 21 before I had the guts to sing in public. I just had people encourage me and basically force me to play out in public. I killed time one year down here playing piano for people at Florida Hospital. It made them happy and that's all that matters.
the indie: How is the Orlando scene different from the scene in State College, Penn.?
GR: The atmosphere [down here] really creates the presence. I don't have that in State College because I know everyone in the audience just wants to drink their beers. Up there, it's only Penn State or farms, and all anyone ever does is drink. I had pretty much stopped performing up north because I had so many bad experiences. I really wish I could collaborate with people down here more often. I'm just addicted to the energy down here.
One good thing about coming here was that my friends are here and they're the people whom I've touched, whom I've inspired. That's my whole purpose in life, even if I'm living peniless in a cardboard box. If I inspire people to not settle, to live a better life, then it's worth it.
To hear a sampling of her music, head to her Web site at http://www.ginariggio.com. From there, you can also order her CD, a color unintended, under the music section of her site. She has already sold a few albums to new fans at Natura, which of course means that if you don't get in touch with her soon, you'll be the last kid on the block without one. While as she says on her site, she may not be destined for stardom, she's sure to capture you in her gentle piano strains and brutal honesty.