An Interview with Russell David

On the upcoming album "Evil in a good way"
(available June 12, 2001 from Simple Music).

The interview was held at the Hyatt, Embarcadero 4, San Francisco, on May 15, 2001.

R.M. Slinky: It's good to be back with you. It's been a while since we've talked.

Russell David: Thanks. It's good to see you again. Great place huh?

RMS: Uh... you know...

RD: It's got that sterile airport ambience. No?

RMS: It certainly does.

RD: Makes you feel right at home.

RMS: Uh sure...

WAITER: What can I get you gentlemen?

RMS: Uh, yes, I'll have a Cosmo, shaken. Do you have those little Marachino cherries?

WAITER: Yes we do sir.

RMS: Can you put a few of those in there?

WAITER: Like a Manhattan?

RMS: Yes, like a Manhattan, but a Cosmopolitan.

WAITER: Very good, and you sir?

RD: Tanqueray Martini, two olives.

WAITER: Very good.

RMS: So what have you been up to? I hear you've been busy.

RD: Yeah, things have been crazy. I've been re-releasing a lot of old stuff with the help of Ton Def and Mario Yee. I've been working with Nick Guerrero, on his new album, which is gonna be really cool. I've continued work with Jonas... we mixed and released his second album, and he's well on his way to having 3 releases in a years time. The guy's a total madman! We're also working on a Simple Music compilation cd called "Effortless" with Nick, Jonas, and myself. It's a been a good year.

RMS: I'm impressed. Has this left any time for your own project?

RD: Sure. I've been working on an album for about 9 months now, and it's coming together.

RMS: Anything you can share? When we last talked, you mentioned that you were writing "evil" sounding songs, or something to that effect. Has that continued?

RD: Not really, but it's funny, because the new album is called "Evil in a Good Way." So I guess there is a connection.

RMS: But the songs aren't evil?

RD: Well, that's subjective. I don't think so, but they do delve into passion, and dysfunction at least to my ear. I've been trying to get a hold of that darker side, and somehow get that emotion through in song.

RMS: So is there more of the same? More love and god songs?

RD: Oh Definitely! I think I'm focusing on love this time. I remember telling you that "Friends are Friends" was an album of love songs, which wasn't entirely true, at least not in comparison to this one. "Friends" had a lot of religion in it. This album is more pure romance, if you can call it that. There's religious imagery, but the songs are mostly about women, passion, relationships, desire.

RMS: What happened? Did you consciously decide to focus on Love?

RD: No. I can't do that sort of thing on purpose. I just take the emotional ride and see where it goes. I've had this idea in my head for a long time, or this series of ideas, and for some reason, I've been able to express it, or I've been inspired to express it more in these sessions. I don't know where it comes from.

RMS: The album is still in production, but I've heard a few of the singles. The songs sound different. Your voice is more resolute than on "Friends," similar to "I Wish I Was Beautiful." That's a subjective comment, but does it connect with your vision of album?

RD: Sure, yeah. Like in 17 by 23, which I think is on that pre-release tape.

RMS: Exactly the song I was thinking of.

RD: Yeah, so that song is very personal. I'm using my real experiences, and blowing them up bigger than life. I'm taking my feelings of obsessive love, the insanity that comes with that, and running with it, taking it to the next level. I want that to come through-that strange mix of cynicism and relentless naivete.

RMS: That's a continued theme, though.

RD: Yes, for sure, but I feel like I've come closer to it. I've been more successful at capturing it, or at conjuring the kind of maniacal state it takes to perform and sing these songs like you mean them. I hear these things in my head. I can't just go into the studio and turn it on. You have to sneak up on it sometimes. It's tricky.

RMS: But the writing is different too, more mystical.

RD: I don't know if it's more mystical. I use a lot of the same techniques. Like I said, I use my own experiences, and will zoom in on them so tightly that they're almost unrecognizable. I don't know if that makes sense. It's like I'm using a magnifying glass on my life. Without perspective, it might seem like some unconnected alien landscape, but in reality, it's just everyday human stuff. Just magnified. I don't know if that makes any sense.

RMS: Sure. So in that sense, do you magnify your emotions and reactions too?

RD: I don't think there's a straight connection. I write songs based on emotions. I try to express feelings through songs. Usually, I'm trying to think of a creative way to get that across--a way that will make people think and feel things like I do for a few moments, or that will make people understand. I don't know. The emotions are the purest part of the song. I don't think they're magnified, but it's a hard question maybe.

RMS: I just meant more along the lines of the way you describe the emotions. Is that amplified to get a reaction?

RD: No, no way. That truly would be evil. I'm not yanking peoples chains, or playing games with the people who listen to my songs. I find that offensive. I may be off my rocker, but I'm being as honest as I can. I'm making a good faith effort to touch you as a listener, and to communicate with you.

RMS: I didn't mean it that way. I just meant , you know, just that not to insinuate insincerity. Just as a way of expressing depth...

RD: It's okay. I'm just touchy about that, I guess. I have a sense of commitment to the people who take the time to listen. I appreciate their interest and friendship, so I'm probably hypersensitive to that. I don't know. I think I'm sounding nuts.

RMS: No, no. It's cool.

WAITER: Your drinks. Martini Cosmopolitan with cherries.

RD: Thanks

RMS: So what happened to God? You said there was less religion in this new stuff.

RD: God is still there. I think the sense of God is in every one of the songs. For me, at least.

RMS: But it's less explicit? More focused on romance?

RD: Well, it's hard to say, because there's a point where it all gets mixed up together, but overtly that seems true. God is more spirit than body in these songs.

RMS: Explain that.

RD: I don't know. I guess I just mean "God" in the bigger-than-the-coventional-western-mind sense. God in the sense of passion itself.

RMS: What about the song "Naked?"

RD: Yeah, well, I was going to mention that. Naked is the only real "God" song on the album. And God is in his full physical body there. That was the first song I recorded for this new project, so it's kind of a holdover from "Friends are Friends" in that sense. It doesn't fit with this album in an obvious way. But give me some time, I'll justify it.

RMS: And the song seems like a blatant, anti-religion, protest tune.

RD: Um... not really. I don't see it that way. I see it as a cry for people to be honest with themselves. I'm saying, Look. The Emporer has no clothes. I'm moving on in my life, and you are all free to come with me. I don't mean it in a hateful or arrogant way. I don't mean it as anti-anything. It's pro-honesty, pro freedom.

RMS: And from the songs on the album, it does seem that you've moved on, or turned a corner somehow. Yes?

RD: I guess, yeah. In the sense that I don't feel ashamed or tentative about my life choices.

RMS: So you were tentative before?

RD: I don't mean that. It's just that a lot of my past music has been in reaction to my experiences with Fundamentalist Christianity, which was fine and appropriate, but I think I'm moving on to a different stage now. I will always be affected by that experience, and I'll always write songs about it as inspiration directs, but I'm free of it now, spiritually, psychologically, and hopefully emotionally.

RMS: Are you sure about that?

RD: (long pause) No. Of course not. I said "hopefully." My next album might be filled with religious angst. I don't know what's ahead, but this album is more centered on the human expression of God. The positive side of that, what I call GodÉ human devotion, passion, desire what some people would call "evil."

RMS: And that's the tie in to the title?

RD: Yeah, that's what I mean by it.

RMS: The fluidity of good and evil?

RD: I guess you can put it that way, but it's not that philosophical, really. I can't explain it satisfactorily with logical sentences, which is the whole point of trying to explain it with poetry and songs.

RMS: But try. I don't understand exactly what you mean with this.

RD: I don't know. It's convoluted, I admit it. It's like this metaphor I hint at in a few of the songs like of two lovers, or a guy who's in love with a woman he can't have, and he's so obsessed that he romanticizes the idea of catching a venereal disease from her. He thinks that would connect him to her, and give him a permanent souvenir of having been close to her, something he'd always remember, a part of her living inside of him. And I know that idea is messed up, it's really dirty sounding, it creeps you out, and doesn't give you a "good" feeling--but it describes a kind of transcendental devotion and commitment, that to me, is the most beautiful thing in the world. I can't explain that. I don't know if other people will get it, but it's there, and that's the essence of what I mean by "evil in a good way."

RMS: What song's that in? I totally missed that.

RD: It comes up a few times. It's in "17 by 23" and "In the Morning"

RMS: Hmm. I'll have to listen again. That's interesting.

RD: I hope it doesn't ruin the song for you!

RMS: No, not at all so this is a freedom for you, a new direction, but I'm not sensing any real answers or changes in that department. You still seem to be searching for some kind of closure in some way. Or am I missing it?

RD: I never said I know the answers. I have plenty of confusion left, and everything I do is washed in my continued experience with God. If I've turned a corner, it's only in an increase of openness, where I can say, "Yes, Jesus broke my heart, yes, I'm wounded by the loss, but hey look at this beautiful or painful or interesting thing over here." I think I was obsessed with justifying my choices in the past--and maybe I still am to a point--but I think my music has moved beyond that. I'm focusing on other things now, what I perceive to be other expressions of god.

RMS: Like broken love?

RD: Yes. Like the incredible, soul devouring, desire to be one with another human being. What is that? Like the loss of an ideal, or perennial discontent, or obsession. These things are immense, and there's a sense of God within them. Even--and maybe especially--in the hard and painful and sick ones.

RMS: And do you think listeners will get all of this from the songs?

RD: Probably not, but they're not expected to. I just wrote little songs about my feelings. There's nothing specific anyone should get out of them. I hope people identify and can feel with me. That's about it. They're not complicated songs, and they don't inherently mean what I say they do. I make them sound complicated by talking like this, but they're really not. They're simple.

RMS: There have been rumors swirling around about a Simple Music film documentary in the works. Can you reveal anything?

RD: I don't know too much. I know there's a project out there. Nick G., Jonas, and myself have all been interviewed for it but I don't know if it has any real possibility of turning into a film. It seems like the deal might be falling apart. We'll see. I hope it happens!

RMS: How did it come about?

RD: It's a student, first time film thing. There was some interest generated by our web designer. She has the ability to do film, and is interested in our story. That's about it. I'm helping with archival footage I have from the early years, and opening our song catalog for their use, but other than that, it's an independent project.

RMS: So we're not likely to see it in the local cineplex? The next "American Movie."

RD: I doubt it. But it may be available on video someday if all goes well. That's my hope.

RMS: And the re-release of the Simple Music catalog how that going?

RD: Slow but sure. Ton Def and Mario Yee are chipping away at it project by project. It's tough going for the most part, because the source material is so abysmal. The cassette versions will always sound better for a lot of that stuff. So if you have an original tape version of a Simple Music product, hold on to it! The cd might disappoint you.

RMS: What's the cause of the quality issue? You'd think cd's would sound better.

RD: You'd think that, yeah, but the problem here is inherent in what Simple Music is. Low-Fi gear mixed with a lack of engineering knowledge. Mario & Ton are good guys and they're doing the best they can with what they've got. We've lost the ability to remix a lot of the older stuff, so we're at the mercy of the original mixes, which, by and large, totally suck! I think we're learning as we go along here.

RMS: Well, thank you for talking. I look forward to hearing the completed album when it comes out in?

RD: In July, hopefully. We still have some drum tracks to record, and the mix down.

RMS: A lot of work then?

RD: Definitely. We're not done yet.

RMS: I can't wait to hear the finished project! We'll talk again soon? When it's done?

RD: Definitely.

Russell David's eighth studio album:"Evil in a Good Way" is scheduled for release in July 2001 on the "Simple Music"label. The album is available for FREE to all who are interested!