Posted On 14 Mar 2019
Luther Russell is a Los Angeles-based multi instrumentalist musician and producer. Luther got his beginnings in The Bootheels with Jakob Dylan and fronted the Freewheelers on DGC and American Recordings. Notable artists Luther has produced include Liam Hayes (Of Plush), Sarabeth Tucek, Fernando Viciconte, Robyn Hitchcock, Jagari Chanda (of Witch), Richmond Fontaine, Ned Roberts and Fabiano Do Nascimento. He has also written tracks for Weezer. The record he produced for Liam Hayes just got a rave in Uncut in the UK.
He currently collaborates with Jody Stephens from Big Star in Those Pretty Wrongs and often tours Europe and elsewhere with Robyn Hitchcock. He has produced many records and puts out some really great garage-y rock and roll of his own which brings us to Medium Cool. His solo work has been compared favorably to Wilco, the Replacements, Elliott Smith and Big Star.
All Music Guide said of his Selective Memories: An Anthology, “Luther Russell isn’t famous, though he probably ought to be. He’s been making and releasing music steadily since the mid-’80s; he’s worked with a few honest-to-goodness rock stars; he’s had big-budget major-label record deals, and chances are good you’ve heard his music on TV, even if you don’t know it. “
Medium Cool was recorded and mixed to analog tape in a short blast with the help of some old friends. Co-producer Jason Hiller, Luther’s musical partner through thick and thin, plucks the bass. Derek Brown of the Eels, Luther’s pal since his Portland days, smashes the skins. Popsmith and longtime musical foil Danny De La Matyr sings sweeping harmonies. Liam Hayes of Plush makes a rare appearance, playing guitar on the poignant elegy, “Blue Balloon.” In his words, he says “With these songs, I thought I could maybe capture the essence of growing up in the San Fernando Valley during the heyday of rock ’n’ roll radio.”
A souped-up Corvette Stingray cruises Van Nuys Blvd., its occupants looking for all the cheap thrills and good times 1978 has to offer, only to find a barren, bland modern wasteland of 2018 blighted with strip malls, bail bonds and tech advertisements. The image of a random East Hollywood wall where so many posters, bills and flyers have lived and died that it now resembles nothing less than a minimalist modern-art collage covered in city filth. The flickering memory of being lured into a dark, noisy club circa 1988 by a wayward girl you’re in love with, only she’s in love with the drummer and suddenly you’ve stumbled into something else entirely: the world of rock ’n’ roll.
These are a few of the themes hit upon in Luther Russell’s searing new album, Medium Cool, due out on February 22nd on Fluff & Gravy Records.
Pre-orders are available via https://fluffandgravy.com/store/luther-russell-medium-cool/
Learn more about Luther Russell in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
I’m at home after a long day, eating pasta, listening to Rodrigo while my dogs lounge about.
Now that 2019 has started, what musical goals do you have for yourself and your music this new year?
I hope to promote this record as much as possible, though that’s not always easy for me, as busy as I am.
There’s a new Those Pretty Wrongs record we recently finished, so I’d like to find a good home for that and promote that as well.
Did you make any new year’s resolutions?
Probably not consciously, but I’m sure mine is a lot like everyone else’s: health, wealth, happiness…peace on earth. All the usual things we strive for.
Growing up, how important has music been in your life?
Music was always important to my family, so naturally it became important to me. For most people it’s incidental, a side dish. For me it’s been the main course. I was given a drum kit and a clutch of vinyl before I could form full sentences, so it’s just always been there. I was bringing Stevie Wonder records to kindergarten like they were my security blanket. Which they were.
Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
I sort of realized by the time I was 10 or 11 that I’d probably just keep at it, but by 17 I was convinced I could try my hand at it, so I moved out of the house in Northern California and into a garage somewhere in West Hollywood for $100 a month and started pursuing it. This was in 1987 or so.
Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what could you see yourself doing?
Always. I always fantasize about doing a different type of job. Horticulturist would be pretty satisfying. Something outdoors maybe? There are many people who know me who would read this and laugh out loud.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
The biggest surprise has been people accepting it and enjoying it whenever they do. At the end of the day, you’re just dreaming shit up and putting it into writing and music. That’s weird. I know people like to compare music to other music, but really it’s just all sprung from the brain, and that’s the truth. If it comes out certain ways, then that’s in the DNA. Unexpected? To be interlocking guitars with Robyn Hitchcock, harmonizing with Jody Stephens or even writing songs with Rivers Cuomo is totally unexpected!
How do you think you and your music have been influenced by your hometown and where you live now?
My music has always been influenced by where I live. I’m from California, and that’s the kind of sensibility my music has. I’ve spent so much time just sitting on the beach and staring at the sunset, or hiking through forests, tripping in deserts or just hanging out on the street with weirdos and freaks. It all goes into it. For instance, I’ve lived in New York and appreciate it, and Portland has affected my music a bit, but mainly it’s California and it’s expanse and terrain.
Let’s talk about your newest album “Medium Cool” that was just released. What was it like putting this collection together? Did anything surprise you about the overall process?
It surprised me that the basic tracks came together so fast, but it also surprises me that it took so long to get to the point where it’s released. But if nothing else, I’ve learned how to be patient. I spin a lot of plates at once, so I knew Medium Cool would make it out there if it was meant to happen. The simple fact is that I’ve released it because it came out how I heard it in my head. It may be that I’m not where I was in feeling and emotion when I wrote and recorded it, but my follow-through is notoriously persistent. Like I said, I’m patient.
While it’s difficult, can you pick out a few of your favorite songs on this collection and talk about their inspiration and how they came to be on this album?
My favorite cuts are “The Sound Of Rock & Roll”, “Talkin’ To Myself” and “Blue Balloon:” I don’t know, they all sort of fit the criteria of the record in some way. They’re all autobiographical and cut pretty close to the bone. With “The Sound Of Rock & Roll”, I wanted to describe the feeling of how I first got drawn into this world as a young adult. The music seemed to lend itself to the story. I could see the picture in my head, so I told it as clearly as possible. But there’s always “levels”. I mean a song shouldn’t always be what it’s saying on the surface. There are unconscious and conscious planes. There’s the basic story: guy loves girl, girl loves the drummer, guy inadvertently falls in love with this new world through the girl. But there are also the ideas of salvation, redemption, hedonism, a philosophy on life and how to be free. We’re all trying to figure out how to be ”free”. In “Talkin’ To Myself”, I’m taking a very shaky stab at trying to make sense of my own life and where it’s led me and the ones I may have loved or even destroyed in some way. But the roles could be reversed and it could also be the story of what we all go through when we realize—after many years—that we’ve ended up nowhere we thought we’d be, emotionally, physically and even psychologically. I mean in an ideal world my songs are not to be taken on the surface in any way, shape or form. They are to be mined for information on one’s self, whomever you may be, because your perspective on the song is one of a potential million out there. And it’s not for me to write your story, just to write one you can relate to in some way. As far as “Blue Balloon”, I was writing from the perspective of being torn down completely by another being, and fiercely needing to protect a place inside myself that can’t be bought, beaten or bullied. It’s futile in life, but not in a song. I can have my “blue balloon’, as it were.
Can you talk about the different musicians featured on this album? How did you go about selecting them?
Yes, I always meant to have Derek Brown play on this. We’ve known each other for twenty years, since the days we both lived in Portland. We didn’t see much of each other here in LA, because we’re both always busy. He played with the Eels, for one. But I knew this material might be perfect for him, and it was. I originally worked it up in a day or so with Derek and a mate of his on bass, but when I decided to start cutting as an experiment, his friend could’t make the session, so I sprung it on my engineer/co-producer Jason Hiller, who happens to be the best bassist I know, and the two of them nailed the rhythm section stuff in two days. Liam Hayes (of Plush) is on guitar on “Blue Balloon” and he is a good friend and a musician I respect very highly and he was gracious enough to swing in and play before he skipped town. “Blue Balloon” seemed right for him, and he agreed.
I would love to know more about the photography featured throughout the album by Jim Newberry. How did you go about choosing these photos?
I was turned on to Jim by Liam Hayes, naturally, as Jim has collaborated with him for years. I really respect Jim’s eye and he’s a fantastic person with real vision as an artist. I ran across what became the cover photo on Jim’s Instagram feed and knew it was the cover, as it depicted some Hollywood wall which has seen so much change through music flyers and posters and the thing almost looked like a Rauschenberg. I liked the idea of found street art looking like high art. And it conveyed the feeling of the story inside the LP jacket perfectly. One day we got coffee in Highland Park and we did a quick shoot and that matched the cover pretty well.
Why do you think Fluff & Gravy Records is the right place for you and your music today?
This is what ties the record to Portland, besides Derek. I was introduced to John Shepski by my good friend, the musician Fernando Viciconte. I think Fernando gave the album to John and he responded right away. I just thought, why not, let’s give it a shot and keep moving forward. But Fluff and Gravy is a associated with other acts I know real well like Mike Coykendall and Richmond Fontaine, so I’m happy to keep it in the family. Plus John in a Replacements cover band…good enough for me!
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now?
it’s next to impossible, but I do the best I can. and it has led to all sorts of interesting connections. But make no mistake, my days are probably numbered on these platforms, because I don’t appreciate the way they do harm to the greater world, like giving voice to poisonous ideas and monetizing art and not paying artists for it in any meaningful way. Twitter has been the best way to connect with people, I suppose, but when a better way comes along, I’ll take it.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
I’ll take this moment to mention some of the artists that have inspired me but I always forget to bring up: I listen a lot to Indian music, so I’ll mention Brij Bushan Kabra, a raga guitar virtuoso. I listen to Bessie Smith’s sides a lot. I’m a huge fan of Luis Spinetta, a famous rock musician from Argentina. His band Pescado Rabioso (Rabid Fish) made three masterpieces in the early 70’s. As far as musicians I’d like to work with? For veterans: Don Everly, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. For new up-and-comers, I’d like to work with Michael Rault, Mo Troper and Cut Worms.
Where can fans see you perform next? Do you have any kind of a 2019 tour scheduled yet?
I’ll next be performing in Portland. I’ll have a record release party up there in April. I’m planning a UK tour for June and probably some fall stuff with Those Pretty Wrongs. Hope to do an L.A. show sooner than later.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
I’d have it directed by Roman Coppola and it would look something like his film “A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III”. Or I’d have an unlimited budget to use any footage I wanted from Swedish soft-core films of the 1970’s.
If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island, what musical item would you take with you and why?
If your music was going to be featured on any TV show that is currently on right now, which would you love it to be on? Or if you prefer, what is a movie that you love that you wish your music was featured in?
I’d like my music to be used for The Kaminsky Method. Any Coen Borthers movie would suffice.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
It’s not that important to me what people take away. It’s made for myself. But I would hope it gets someone through the dark landscape of this special kind of hell called “life”. It’s not for the squeamish, and music and art helps.