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 professionalism.***

* Fact
** 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?
Russell: Single.

Racer: Do you have any children?
Russell: No.

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?
Russell: Lobster.

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 terrific.

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 something miraculous.

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 material in.

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 go?
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 audience reaction?
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 trust.
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 been in?
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 members?
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 away?
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 sound.

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 thing. (laughter)
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 believe.

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 messy.

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 really good.

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 music?
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 wonderful.

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 it?
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 terribly wrong.

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 sense.

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 relationship?
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 hip.
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 later.
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 to.

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.