An Interview With The Australian Music Icon, RUSSELL MORRIS!
Posted On 02 Sep 2016
Meet the Australian music icon Russell Morris!
Russell is setting his sights on America this fall with the release of Sharkmouth on September 30th..
Morris’ grew up listening to artists like John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters – and his story driven album Sharkmouth takes a cue from some of his favorite blues storytellers, documenting the stories of some of history’s forgotten characters. Australia and America have very similar cultural beginnings of being places of refuge for the unwanted and displaced, documenting the history of lesser known characters that have helped shaped the fabric of each countries culture, so it is no surprised Russell’s signature storytelling style of writing is inspired by American roots music.
Sharkmouth was inspired by famed Australian depression era con-man Thomas ‘Shark Jaws’ Archer. This story was not only the launchpad for Sharkmouth but was the start of Morris’ signature songwriting inspired by the gangsters, gamblers and backstreet dwellers of Depression-era Australia.
Upon its release in Australia Sharkmouth reached #1 on the iTunes Blues Charts, #1 on the Australian Blues Radio Charts, Russell received the ARIA award for Best Blues and Roots album and Sharkmouth went on to be the highest selling record of the year.
Morris got a fast start in music. At barely 21 years of age he recorded “The Real Thing”, a psychedelic rock single that climbed its way to the top of the Australian charts in 1969. It became the continent’s biggest song that year, earning airplay in U.S. markets like Chicago and New York along the way. More hits followed and despite his success in Australia, Morris is one of several iconic Australian artists’ that due to time, technology and red tape where were never able to carve out a career for them in the U.S. Now is the twilight of his legendary career he has made the bold move to take on America as an underdog.
Learn more about Russell Morris in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! Now that we are more than half-way through 2016, what are some words you would use to describe it? What were some of the highlights of 2015 for you and your music?
The highlights for 2015 have been our performance at the Byron Bay blues festival. This is the most well known, and prestigious festival in Australia, with performances from all the great acts from around the world. We were privileged to be invited to perform on the main stage. The reaction was very inspirational for us. Also, being chosen to appear at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville– something I never even dreamt of.
Did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
My earliest memory of music, are my mothers record collection– from Nat King Cole to Elvis. Never thought I would end up doing music– my lack of confidence just didn’t justify it.
This September, you will release, Sharkmouth in the U.S. Can you talk about putting this record together and the inspiration behind it all?
I will release Sharkmouth in the US in September- not sure how I got to this wonderful point , I guess the planets aligned, or something similar . Not that a release can guarantee anything, but — just that- a release. However it does give a certain amount of warm fuzziness.
What was it like transitioning from rock to the kind of music that you make now?
Sharkmouth was put together out of my love for American blues, and roots music. I started off writing an album, based on some of my early influences– ala John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Blind Willie Mc Tell, Woodie Guthrie— the list goes on. After the first number of songs, I felt I wasn’t connecting to what I was trying to write, the songs seemed contrived, not honest.
Fast forward three weeks- I was visiting Sydney- in the paper was an article, with a 100 year old arrest photo of one- Thomas Archer, famed con-man ; other wise known as Sharkmouth. The photo connected with me. It virtually communicated– and big Tom said–” If you want to write about blues, and roots music, write about your roots, and blues- not Mississippi, or New Orleans, or the Bayou you, never lived there- otherwise, it will sound fake,” he then seemed to say, “Write about me, tell them I lived and breathed, and scared the hell out of everyone. “
You have had an enormous amount of success in Australia already. What do you think will be the challenges with breaking into the US market? What has surprised you the most about the U.S. music industry in general so far?
In the 70,s I had some big pop hits– however, our first band only played, blues, rhythm and blues and Motown. But we had a big pop hit, so I ended up, walking that road- for too long. Things burn out– the public tires, and people start to write you off. For the next 30 years, I was like Moses– I wandered in a desert. Found my oasis- by going back to where I loved, and where I started- against the advice of the many.
Sharkmouth was the biggest selling Australian album in 2014.Being successful in the US market– well, to me is just being able to tour, and meet people– and have different experiences. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur- just looking for a chance to share a different point of perspective on things.
Who are some of your favorite artists and what bands continue to inspire you? Is there anyone in particular who you would you like to collaborate with in the future?
My influences are varied and many from Sinatra to Radiohead– but the purest water comes from the original well, of blues, roots and folk.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
My messages in my songs are of communication– even though I’m from the other side of the world- we all share the same hopes, aspirations and expectations; and we are all more alike than the differences we sometimes imagine.