A Fond Farewell
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Interview With Russell Osiecki
(interview by Kristi Wachter)
Russell Osiecki is the lead singer, guitar player, and main
songwriter for Big Umbrella.* Tall,
dark, and good-looking, his philosophical and religious musings are
more than matched by his dark side, a web of obsession and longing.
One of his lyrics says, "I am a prince of shadows", which is
probably as good a description of him as any.** He's thoughtful and
provocative, a man with a ready intellect and an unshakable
** Totally subjective over-the-top description
*** Reasonably objective description
I interviewed Russell over the phone on Wednesday evening, May
17, 1995. This is one of a series of interviews with Racer artists
intended for online publication.
Racer: What's your full name?
Russell: Russell Vincent Osiecki.
Racer: What's your birthdate?
Russell: June 6, 1962 .... unless you want to alter that for any
reason. Most management and people that we've been with in the past
like to keep our ages down around 28, 27, so if you decide you'd
like to alter it, feel free to.
Racer: Do you have any brothers & sisters?
Russell: One brother, Derek - he's the bass player.
Racer: What's your marital status?
Racer: Do you have any children?
Racer: Do you have any pets?
Russell: Not at the present time, no.
Racer: Where did you grow up?
Russell: I grew up mostly in Boulder City, Nevada, and Las Vegas,
Nevada, which are about 30 miles apart.
Racer: Where do you live now?
Russell: North Hollywood.
Racer: What's your favorite color?
Russell: I'd have to say green.
Racer: What's your favorite food?
Racer: What are your favorite books and authors?
Russell: I think my favorite author - boy, that's tough, but I'd
have to say Hemingway. Who else... Poe; those would probably be my
two favorites of the classical type. But everything from Thomas
Wolfe to Nathanial Hawthorne, all the stuff that I was forced to
read ... and I appreciated most of it.
Racer: Any particular titles?
Russell: I think "The Old Man and The Sea," by Hemingway, and also
there's a short story called "The Short Happy Life of Francis
McComer;" and then virtually everything that Poe ever wrote. One
other thing - I do like Herman Melville - I think he was
Racer: Would you say that Poe has influenced your lyric
writing at all?
Russell: I was always fascinated by his mechanics, by his
descriptive aptitude. He and Hemingway were at opposite ends of the
spectrum for me: Poe was like Dickens and used a lot of words, but
they were very good words, to describe a simple thing in great
detail. And then Hemingway could just take one sentence and say a
page with it. I think that's why I liked both of them.
Racer: Do you have any favorite movies?
Russell: There's so many of 'em ... I'd have to say "Marathon Man"
was one of my all-time favorites. And I liked "Cat On A Hot Tin
Roof," the movie version with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.
Racer: Do you have any hobbies?
Russell: Hockey! And golf, also. I'm really a sports enthusiast;
I'll play and watch just about anything.
Racer: What position do you play?
Russell: This year I'm playing a lot of defense, but I consider
myself a center, really. But I'll play any place that the coach
will put me.
Racer: What instruments do you play?
Russell: Primarily guitar; I play bass guitar also, and I play
drums on a very limited - I could never actually record the drums,
but I can record guitar and bass, and I've been working of late
quite a bit with computerized stuff like drum machines and
programmed bass, just for the scratch pad phase of writing songs.
It helps me to get a good idea of what to bring to the guys.
Racer: Are you getting into MIDI at all?
Russell: The stuff I have is all MIDI-able, but we really don't
have much use for it - it's not our style. We went through a phase
where we thought about using some programmed stuff and interfacing
but we did the exact opposite thing and went for an even more basic
configuration. I think we kind of wanted to get back to more rooty
rock and roll type stuff. So we went the other way, and actually
took a lot of even the digital effects out of line, except for
Steve, who is our resident noise maker.
Racer: What other bands have you been in?
Russell: Pretty much myself, I've always just been in my band.
Excluding show bands and that sort of thing when I was in high
school we've just had different names and slightly different
incarnations. But we've really been working on our material from
the time when we were about 15 years old.
Racer: When you use the word "our", are you talking about you
and Derek, or you and Derek and Eddie, or -?
Russell: I would probably say myself and Derek and Eddie, we've
been playing together on and off since about the time we were 15,
16 years old. It's really - it's hard to say, I don't want to
diminish everyone else's input or anything, but it's really been my
music and how they relate to it or how they interpret it. Although
everyone has a big impact in terms of saying "yes I like that, no I
don't like that", the basic input has been sort of my thing.
Racer: So generally when the writing process happens, you put
together a pretty solid sketch of the song, including at least some
ideas for most of the parts, and then take it to the guys and have
them flesh 'em out?
Russell: Right. Normally one of two things can happen. I'll either
bring a completed thing in, and we would at that point possibly do
some arrangement modifications, cause I don't really spend too much
time arranging myself - I usually come up with verse, chorus, maybe
a pre-chorus and bridge, and then we'll decide on what's the best
configuration of those, or sometimes I may only have a verse and a
chorus, and we'll decide what it means. There are parts that do get
written by other people, but they're usually just sort of an
adjunct. Once in a while we'll all get together and come up with
Racer: What's an example of that?
Russell: Stuff that happens fairly spontaneously - I remember "Joy"
off of the first record was pretty spontaneous; "Skin and Bones"
... even off of "Guru" I remember "Summer's Gone" was fairly
spontaneous, and "Bring on the Rain", some of the more complex
things; I think "Sunflower" was pretty collaborative, too. That's
why we just decided a long time ago that rather than say who wrote
what or who wrote this or whatever, everything was just written,
arranged, and produced by the band, and we just split that four
ways. They don't have any problem admitting that I bring the
Racer: Do you find that when you're working on arrangements
that everybody's pretty much in sync or are there times when there
are some disagreements about how a particular part should
Russell: We are fairly analytical about things, and usually
there'll be somebody who will want to try it in a different fashion
- at least one person - and then usually we'll wind up trying each
particular part three or four different ways. Sometimes we get it
narrowed down to two different ways and we play those two different
ways for a month, and then finally one eventually rises to the
surface. And sometimes we wind up actually going to tape with
something that maybe Steve would have rather heard it this way or
that way; that doesn't happen very often. Usually we find a way to
agree on it before we record it.
Racer: Is that decision something that usually comes out of
the band having played it a bunch of times, or is it based on
Russell: We try to use a combination of things. Obviously we could
spend a lot of time on a thing and get it to where we really like
it and play it and nobody else likes it. Those things happen, and
we have to evaluate whether we've become too introspective or
whatever, and we may make a change, and if we really like the way
it is we'll go ahead and push it at them - we try not to sacrifice
artistically; but a combination of all of those things. Usually
we'll come up with something that everyone can just sort of look
around the room and nod, "Okay, this is the way it should go", and
that's what the essence of our rehearsals are, is just finding ways
to make the thing go.
Racer: You mentioned earlier that all the bands have been in
have been your band. Does that typically mean that if there is a
disagreement, you make the final decision?
Russell: I would say that yeah, I have the final decision, although
I can't remember the last time that I had to really override
anything. We're fairly malleable, and we also have a rule that we
won't play anything if there's anybody in the band who doesn't like
it. Because we figured out a long time ago that if I just bring
stuff in and have people play it, then we're just taking advantage
of one brain - and we have four brains. ... and I trust each of
these people's musical taste and skill and everything else, so we
really feel that we need to take advantage of all four of our heads
in as much as it's possible. And we've been fortunate - I think
we've just sort of found a way to write and found a way to be
cohesive. We still have some disagreements, but not very many.
Racer: I would imagine that being the primary songwriter, and
being in a situation where you have to trust other people with your
music, you really do have to have a lot of faith in their musical
decisions and their judgement in order to be able to give them that
Russell: Exactly. I think that's why we don't have a very high
turnover rate, because I believe that we're all on the same page,
and I believe that we all want the same things from the music and
from the band, and I also believe that everyone is given enough
input to where they feel that they're not being squelched. I think
that's probably the magic of what we do. We try to make it
multidimensional, and we try to be my vision of a real band, where
everyone has input and you're hearing four brains, or five brains,
as opposed to one.
Racer: Would you care to list the other bands that you've
Russell: In Las Vegas, we were a band called Euphoria, and then
after that it was The Enemy, and then after that it was the
Generics, and after the Generics it was Great Rivers of the World,
and then it was Big Umbrella.
Racer: Which of those bands had any of the current
Russell: I think Derek was in every one of those - in and out of
every one of those; Eddie was in and out of - he wasn't in the
Enemy or Great Rivers, but he was in the Generics. And then Steve
was in Great Rivers of the World - he joined us at that point.
Racer: Eddie mentioned that he joined Great Rivers for a
short time, and then the management and keyboard player went
Russell: What happened with that was, it became a project that was
built to get signed. It was a vehicle ultimately to make money, and
everything we did was tailored around what our producers and even
ourselves thought would be what a major label would be looking for,
and actually had some success and got some money from labels; but
ultimately wound up not being very happy with anything we were
doing. We didn't think the music was very good; I felt it was too
rigorous of a rehearsal schedule; it was polished - and it came out
to be polished manure. If you take manure and polish it all day
long, all you've got is a polished turd, and that's what we had.
And when Eddie came in, I think he sort of reinfused us with the
old attitude that we had always had, which was let's make our music
and if people like it, great, if they don't, great; and we knew at
that point that we needed to make a split from the management, and
we did. And that's how Big Umbrella actually came about. We didn't
have the rights to the name, so we just changed the name.
Racer: Were any of the songs from the first Big Umbrella
album written during the Great Rivers period?
Russell: The only one that I know for sure was, was "Skin and
Bone". I think it was one of the best Great Rivers tunes. There
were some others that I thought were pretty nice, but they were - I
like to say they were castrated. Anything that was unusual about
the material was edited out, so you came up with a real bland,
stylized, focusless thing. And there was much more emphasis on the
harmonies, and I don't know... it just wasn't very unique, and
that's something we've struggled with for a long time, and I think
have finally reached a point where we actually have a definitive
Racer: There are a number of people that I hear from that are
very smitten with your sound and think you sound like the next big
Russell: It is nice - we've gotten some pats on the back, and
obviously if you get to this point where you have a label that's
actually putting out your stuff, then you must be doing something
remotely interesting. And we know we have a long way to go, not
just in where we're going dollar-and-cents-wise, or what direction
we're going; but our best material lays ahead of us, we
Racer: What day jobs have you held while you've been pursuing
your musical career?
Russell: I have done just about everything - washed dishes, cooked,
cleaned carpets, sold office products, been a mail boy - just about
everything that you can do and have some flexibility. I haven't
done anything corporate, where I was tied down - not that I have
the skills to do that anyway. I've always tried to keep it fairly
loose and know that this was the primary thing going on.
Racer: You've answered some of this already, but what's your
recollection of exactly how Big Umbrella came together?
Russell: As I said, we were in a project that was called Great
Rivers of the World - it was me, Derek, Steve, two keyboard
players, a drummer, and a percussion player - a very large group.
And it was very pop-ish, and it was the determination of one or
more of the producers that - again, this finger-pointing thing - a
project that's based around accomplishing something monetarily, or
getting signed, or things like that; every time you do a show and
you don't get signed as a result of it, then therefore there must
have been something wrong with the show. And invariably each member
gets pointed at for each rejection you get, and it came down to
something as ridiculous as the drummer and the percussion player
didn't want to cut their hair to this specific length, so there was
a burr under the saddle of the producers to get rid of them. Eddie
just happened to decide that he wanted to get back into playing
original music, and he gave me a call, and it was within a week or
two; and I knew that he was a fantastic drummer, I knew we wouldn't
have any problems that way, and once the producers heard him, they
were really hot after him. He joined, and then it was ironic,
because largely because of him joining, he sort of reinfused us
with the idea that - we're not in this thing to chase our tails
around. I mean, we're not a reggae band, and if punk is big that
doesn't mean we're a punk band; we just need to do what we do, and
if people like it they do, and if they don't, they don't. So he's
largely responsible for that, although we would have probably
arrived at that conclusion anyway. But it was a messy time. Very
Racer: So Steve was in the band; Eddie joined the band; you'd
just lost the two percussionists, and then shortly after Eddie
joined you lost the keyboard players, and then you just went off
and became Big Umbrella.
Russell: Right. We had trouble - one keyboard player had a drug
problem that was untenable, he just couldn't deal with it. It
reached the point where it was silly - he was missing shows and
that sort of thing. And really, it was out of that - we would
rehearse, and he wouldn't make the rehearsals, and we started to
develop this sort of guitar-oriented sound, and then one day we
said we really don't need this, and then it came to the point where
we couldn't find pieces for the keyboards to play. So we decided to
get rid of it and get back to being a rock band.
Racer: Who would you name as your musical influences?
Russell: Boy - there are so many ... probably first and foremost
I'd have to say the Beatles and Steely Dan, and I think really
almost anyone could say that - even Elton John could say that as
far as I'm concerned. And then later on rock-wise when I started to
get into more of a rock thing, Rush was a big influence on me - all
of the early progressive bands: Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, all
those bands. And then even up to nowadays, I still consider myself
really influenced by stuff that just came out this year: My Bloody
Valentine, Curve, a lot of the English noisier bands. Swervedriver
... there are about three American bands that I think are really
outstanding. Soundgarden - "Superunknown" I think is a masterpiece
- although I've hated everything that they've ever done prior to
it, they really opened my eyes with that record. And the Afghan
Whigs is a band out of Cincinnati, Ohio, just an amazing band ...
their latest album - I'm really influenced by it. There's a
relatively local band, they're from Chatsworth, they're called
Medicine, that's sort of in that English noise band spin. I tape
"120 Minutes" on MTV every week and I watch it religiously, that's
my musical bible, and I feel like that's about the only way to keep
your finger on the pulse of what's going on.
Racer: Is that something that you consider important?
Russell: I think you absolutely have to do it because - unless
you're just some sort of an unbelieveable genius, which I really
don't consider myself or any of us to be, you do yourself a
disservice by not at least knowing what's going on. My firsthand
experience has been mostly trying to get songs on the radio. It's
very difficult to get a song on the radio if it sounds absolutely
nothing like anything else that's out there, although it does
happen and there's exceptions to every rule. Not to say to actually
change your style or anything, but know what's going on. If
anything does happen, you're going to be touring with one of those
bands anyway. You might as well know what's happening, and know why
it's happening, and maybe understand the business a little bit. We
don't let it directly affect what we play, but ... We did the first
record, and we intentionally didn't put very much grit on it,
because at the time we just weren't a very gritty band. And we sort
of knew from the outset as soon as it came out that that was
something we had to start to do. And we tried to do that with
"Guru", and I think did, but it's very transitional, and the new
album will be a little bit more aggressive. I think I'm the only
one who does that, everyone else has the exact opposite opinion -
their thing is don't listen to anything else. But I think you do
yourself a little bit of a disservice. You don't have to let it
affect you, but you should at least know who's playing.
Racer: If you were going to be stuck on a desert island and
could only take 10 or fewer albums, what would you take?
Russell: I think I'd have to definitely take "Aja" by Steely Dan,
and probably "Royal Scam"; I would have to take probably "Revolver"
or "Rubber Soul" from the Beatles, or any of those; I think I would
take some U2 - I think "Unforgettable Fire" is one of my favorite
albums of all time; and then I would probably have to take
"Hemispheres" from Rush ... There's a ton ... I would have to take
"Going for the One" by Yes, which I think is still one of the most
underrated records they ever did; and I would probably round it out
with some harder stuff, maybe "Never Mind the Bollocks" from the
Sex Pistols and possibly "London Calling" by the Clash, and that
would give me a fairly well-rounded library.
Racer: What are your favorite Big Umbrella songs?
Russell: Well, they change. I still like "Bleach the Needle" a lot
and we still play that anytime we play live; I love "Sunflower",
and I like "Bring On the Rain," I like "Columbus Day"; a lot of
them have just sort of personal meanings to me but some of them we
actually really nailed pretty well and sound good. But as usual of
course I'm really stoked about the new stuff, and there will be
probably four or five songs on this record that I really really
like. And I'm supercritical of our work. Once it's done I listen to
it and I think it's great for about a week and then all I can hear
is the flaws in it, so I don't listen very often. I like it better
live 99.9% of the time, but there are a few that I think turned out
Racer: What are your favorites on the new album?
Russell: There's a song called "Flowerhead" that right now is my
favorite and I can't wait to get the thing done. I like "Bottom
Feeder" a lot; it's very hard but I think it sounds good - I don't
think it's borderline heavy metal or anything like that ... And
there's a new song that we've just started on called "Bait" that I
think is really neat. And I also like "Use A Gun" - that might be
one of my favorites too. It's like that kid in a candy store
mentality - I'm right now working on the demos and listening to the
demos and I just can't wait to get some finished product.
Racer: If you could put together the ideal band, if you could
play with anybody, who would you want to play with?
Russell: You know, to tell you the absolute truth, I think I'd just
want to play with the guys that I play with, just because we've
been together long enough that communication is fantastic. As far
as skill levels, there aren't too many people out there, believe it
or not, who are better than what we have. I mean obviously it would
be great to play with Paul McCartney, or Donald Fagan, but
something tells me that inherent to that situation would be nothing
but headaches, dealing with people that have their own methodology,
and I'm sure they wouldn't like dealing with me either. I love
Elvis Costello - he's one of my all-time favorites - but if we sat
down together he probably couldn't stand the way I work and I
probably wouldn't like what he does. So I think I'm pretty content
to play with the chuckleheads I'm playing with (laughs).
Racer: How did you get started in music?
Russell: I think the very first thing that ever happened that made
me know I wanted to play guitar was Kiss. I was just a young
impressionable kid, and their whole formula (which I didn't realize
was a formula at the time, of course) really hit me and really
connected with me. I think I saw them on the Paul Lynde Halloween
Special or Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, or something, and I was
just floored, and I just had to have one of those pieces of wood
with wire on it. And my mom cooperated and bought me a guitar, and
from then on it's been solid punishment.
Racer: Has your mom always been real supportive of your
Russell: Yes - she has been the most supportive element period for
us. I think it's because we were so awful early on, I think she was
the only one who liked us. She's just been absolutely
Racer: If you were doing an interview like this with a
musician that you admired, what questions would you ask?
Russell: I think it would depend on the musician. Some people I
would ask, "Is it worth it?", and some people I would ask, "How do
you make a living?", and some I think I would ask, "Would you still
do this if you knew there was no chance of you every making any
money?" I question some people's motivation to do it, and there are
some ... There's a guy out now called Jeff Buckley. He's doing what
I think everyone should be doing, pushing the artistic envelope in
the ways I like, wonderful singer, very unique, very artistic, nice
character to everything he's doing ... those kind of people I like
to believe would be doing it even if they could never make a cent.
And then other people I don't think would ever play another note if
they knew they couldn't make any money at it - and unfortunately
there are a lot more of those type people, and they seem to be the
ones that are making all the money. (laughs)
Racer: To turn your own question on you: Is it worth
Russell: Well, for me, it's sort of an odd thing, because I never
really felt (and I still don't, except in my most anxious
anxiety-filled moments at 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock in the morning) I
never really felt that I ever had any choice. And I know that's a
poor excuse, but I really have felt compelled and driven - I've
known within myself that the only way that I could be happy was to
do this. It would be nice to make a lot of money doing this, but
making a lot of money doing something else - I could not do that.
And I think the four of us are really close to feeling the same way
about that. We've all been in different situations where we've made
good money, or could have made a career doing other things, and
always had that nagging unhappiness that if you weren't doing this,
then it wouldn't matter if you made a million dollars and had the
biggest house on the block. So for me, I know that no matter what
happens, I have to do this, and it would be nice if it paid the
bills, but if it doesn't, it won't diminish my vigor for it,
because I know this is what makes me happy, and it really is the
only thing that makes me happy.
Racer: So it sounds like you've answered my next question of
yours, which was, Would you still do this if you knew you would
never make a cent at it?
Russell: See, that's one that can be cheesily and wryly bailed out
on - anyone can just say, "Oh, of course I would." But if you could
know the true answer, I think you'd be shocked that a lot of people
wouldn't do it if they didn't think they could make any money. I'm
not saying that they're wrong - they may be smart. Even if somebody
makes a million dollars a year, they're only going to make that for
3 years, probably, and if you tally up the amount of hours they
spent getting to that point that was unpaid, I think it breaks down
to about 30 cents an hour. You can make more money flipping burgers
than doing this. But you have to be driven on an artistic level, or
on some level. Some people I think do it to gain some sort of
social standing to give their life meaning or whatever, some people
do it for whatever - for the drugs, or for the women, or whatever
it is. But I think the really good stuff comes from people that do
it because they don't really have any choice. Of course I could be
Racer: Tell me the story behind "Skin and Bone" and behind
"Giving Up the Kingdom"
Russell: Well ... just to put a really weird twist on it, I saw a
remake of "King Kong", and there was some sort of a line in there
about how they had taken King Kong from this island and it was
going to leave these people who had developed this whole religion
around King Kong, it was going to leave them nothing but a bunch of
drunks with no structure and "nothing to pray to". And I sort of
thought that if you really loved a woman, that her leaving would be
just like somebody taking your King Kong away. So that was how it
got started, and I just really liked the way it flowed, and it's a
recurrent theme that I was just trying to describe the pain of
losing somebody you love. And also describing your own mortality,
your own flaws, semi-worthlessness, which was just done more for
effect, and tension within the lyric.
With "Giving Up the Kingdom", the idea behind that was, I was
brought up Catholic and went to parochial high school and the whole
nine yards, so I was pretty well indoctrinated into the creationist
configuration; and when I went to college and started to really
examine the evidence for either creation or evolution, by the end
of the day it was pretty clear to me both theories required a leap
of faith, but I felt that evolution - a far greater amount of
evidence lay in that direction. So I sort of got into that and
studied it and read a lot about it, and understood parts of it,
still don't understand parts, but - the thing was, after it was all
done and I had finally made up my mind that the evidence didn't
support any kind of an afterlife or any kind of a god or any kind
of creation, that everything was really pretty simple and very
haphazard and almost purposeless, that I went down this road
seeking to find out where we came from and once I did, rather than
feel joyous about it there was a certain sense of loss in that
discovery. I had lost something that was kind of neat - guaranteed
immortality and all that sort of thing. And that's what "Giving Up
the Kingdom" was about, that in that discovery, you lose as much as
you gain. Actually I thought it would be a difficult thing to write
about and that's why I tried it. It's vague, but to me it makes
Racer: I think it makes a lot of sense. It always struck me
as being maybe intentionally ambiguous; the phrase "It don't change
a thing": you can't really shake the faith of somebody who believes
in evolution, and you can't really shake the faith of somebody who
believes in creation.
Russell: What I finally came to was the idea that there was no need
to. As long as people aren't forcing doctrine on you. I don't like
the idea of forced prayer in schools or whatever, or that you're
forced to believe one way or another. For me, with creationism, I
didn't like so much of the repression that was involved - sexual
repression, and a lot of guilt, that for me, wasn't constructive.
But for some people, even within my own family, my own grandmother
- without her belief in God, without her faith, there's not a doubt
in my mind that her life would be diminished. So I realized then
that you can treat any theory with a religious fervor, and it's
better just to do what it takes for you to be able to get to sleep
at night, and answer those questions the best way you can. So I'm
proud of it, I like it, but to be honest with you most people -
they like the song and everything, but most people don't really ask
questions about what it is all about. I thought it might be a bit
of a controversial thing, but it isn't.
Racer: Those last two answers brought up a couple of
questions that may be too personal to ask, but ... one of them is,
do you still believe in God?
Russell: At this point I have to say that I don't... Really I've
gotten into an even more and more in depth thing that I don't even
have a name for right now. I don't think that there is any evidence
for creation. Or at least anything that can be related to creation
can just as easily be related to chaotic advancement or random
mutation or any number of different ways that we could have come
about. If we've got this brain, I don't think it's fair to just
make something up. There's a song by XTC, which is another amazing
band, called "Dear God", it's on the "Skylarking" album, and Andy
Partridge really puts it in perspective too, that really God was
created in man's image - from man, of man - and anthropologically
you can look at any civilization that's ever been around and they
always have had gods in different arrays, but really I think it was
a way to answer questions that we didn't have the technology to
answer properly with science at the time. And as science and
technology whittles away at what was once supernatural and
reclassifies those things as natural and creatable and reproducible
in a laboratory - like lightning - before we understood what
lightning was, it was a god. And I think Sigmund Freud said, when
Darwin wrote "Origin of Species", he said that the last leg on the
table had been kicked out from under man's vanity. And I think he
was right. Particularly in this country it's taken a long time, but
I think the reality is pretty square in the face, at least for me.
And I actually hope that I'm wrong - I hope that there is some
miraculous thing out there, but I don't get it so far.
Racer: The other question that occurred to me from some of
the things that you've said and also from a recurring theme in a
lot of your lyrics, it seems like there's a lot of lamenting love
lost. Do you expect to ever find a long-term, happy
Russell: I keep my chin up, and I do expect to, or I hope to, but I
think if you just take my lyrics, it's not a truly accurate picture
of who I am and how I feel. I'm one of those people that I write
much better and I'm inspired more by pain than I am by joyousness.
Mostly because the Beatles already did that in 1965. There's no way
to improve on "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." You can't improve on "And I
Love Her." There's no way to be more joyful than they were. And a
million other bands since then. And every time I try to, I usually
wind up with this thing that's just loaded with cliches that's not
saying anything really. There's a new song on this record called
"Happy As Clams", that's fairly positive. But it's not because I
don't ever have positive moments; it's just I don't seem to be able
to make them interesting.
Racer: I think it's very difficult to write a happy rock
song, and I think that has as much to do with what rock is as
anything else. Rock is largely about anger and rebellion, and being
hip, and James Dean didn't spend a lot of time gallivanting around
grinning his head off - that's not what we think of as being
Russell: Yeah, there's an angst. For me, also, there's more color
to paint with down on the lower end, and you have to be real good
to do it. And it happens every day, people do it, but I just find
it difficult to make those things interesting.
Racer: Well, I have to say, having as much respect as I have
for a well-executed happy rock song, since they're so few and far
between, I've always thought "Joy" was a very good one.
Russell: Yeah, that was one that worked. I think we kind of just
sort of reached a different level - a mature level, if there is
such a thing - with that one. And it was self-effacing - it wasn't
just a bubblegum pop song. Although it turned out a little too
bubblegummy musically, I think, but I think it's a very good song.
We muffed a lot of the music, and didn't put enough power into it;
I guess any band can look at their first record and say, god, I
wish we could have redone this, or man, we've ruined this song
because we didn't do this, or the tambourine is too loud, or
whatever. It is a learning process.
Racer: I wonder if any band has ever gone back and just
re-recorded all the songs in the same sequence on an album they did
before so they could do it the way they wanted to do it 20 years
Russell: If they haven't, I'd like to be the first. There's so many
things that we just didn't know how to do, so many sounds that we
didn't know how to get, that we wanted to get, but just were unable
Racer: And it seems like you were still breaking out of the
forces in effect with Great Rivers of the World.
Russell: Right, it was very transitional, and we weren't completely
out from under the superpop cloud, and it shows, and a lot of that
stuff is really really poppy. Not in a bad way - but there are a
million other bands that do that. I think the hardest thing for an
artist to do is to be completely honest with himself and say, Do I
in fact have anything at all to really say? I think it's hard to be
that introspective and come up with the answer No. It's like Steve,
our guitar player - he doesn't write. Not that he doesn't have the
knowledge to write or the ability to write, but he doesn't have
anything to write about. You hear so much garbage now that's all
textbook music and textbook lyrics and textbook phrasing, but it's
meaningless. I'm really haranguing about that ... although it isn't
as bad as it was five years ago. I think Nirvana really broke down
the industry and forced people to look at street level bands much
harder than corporately manufactured and groomed Bon Jovi clones.
It's getting better, and it's a lot better than it was, but I'm
still peeved about it.
Racer: Do you have any other questions you'd like to answer,
or anything you'd like to spout off about?
Russell: I would just encourage anyone that would like to see us
come to their town to somehow get the information of where's the
best club to play and where is a phone number or maybe even a
booking agent's name for that club, and let everyone know that we
are in the process of booking the next tour, and love to see people
live. And we always hang out for hours after our shows, and I love
nothing more than to sit and explain songs, or talk about music, or
politics, or religion, or anything with people, so I would say come
see us live, or let us know how we can get to your town. And an
immense thank you to anyone that actually likes the stuff.
Kristi Wachter and Racer Records can be reached on CompuServe at
74774,71; on the Internet at Kristi@racerrecords.com; and
on the phone at 415-931-1614.
Any errors are the sole responsibility of Racer Records.
This page was last updated on March 3, 2004 by Kristi Wachter.