Interview by R.M. Slinky
Russell Davids ninth studio album, Songs for When You Think You Made a Mistake is nearing completion, and release is expected in Fall 2002. The following interview was held on August 23, 2002, at Tully's Coffee, 24th. St., San Francisco.
R.M. Slinky: Wow, well its been a long time since weve talked. How have you been?
Russell David: Im good, thanks. Things are, you know...ok.
RMS: So, you moved, right? I heard youre living over here now.
RD: Yep, yeah, just a few blocks over that way.
RMS: Cool, so you could even walk to the interview if you wanted!
RD: Yes, I did actually. Its very nice. And thank you for agreeing to meet me here. Its a beautiful morning, I had a lovely walk over here. I love how the fog creeps over the hills there. Amazing.
RMS: A bit cold though, dont you think?
RD: Sure, but thats whats so great about the city!
RMS: I guess. Personally, I prefer L.A., definitely.
RD: Not me, though.
RMS: So tell me about this new cd. Its coming out sometime this Fall, right?
RD: Yes, hopefully. I'm crossing my fingers. This cd has been been plagued with problems, but I'm assuming everything will work in the end.
RMS: What problems?
RD: Normal stuff, I guess. My usual bad songwriting, of course, and additional technical computer glitches, all seemingly non-stop. I'll feel such a sense of accomplishment if I can get this thing finished.
RMS: And there's a new studio, right? The 4th Simple Music location.
RD: Uh huh. That played into things too. It's always a struggle to change studios in the middle of a project. That threw me for a loop, and I'm still trying to find my stride again. We're settling in.
RMS: And the new cd will be called Songs for When You Think You Made a Mistake?
RMS: What's the title about? Sounds sad.
RD: I guess so, yeah. Its definitely a change in tone from Evil in a Good Way. I dont know if that was conscious, but I did feel the need to distance myself from that album. I feel like Im in such a different place emotionally now.
RMS: How so? Whats changed?
RD: Um, well, everything. I feel like Evil... was very optimistic, and in some ways, naive, and Ive just been feeling a lot more broken, and a lot more hopeless, as of late. So the tone of that whole "evil" disc is a little embarrassing to me now. I guess things have just changed a lot in the past year.
RD: In some ways. Thats one side. It sounds bad, I know. I probably dont mean it in the way itll be interpreted. I guess Ive had some trouble keeping everything in place emotionally, and that comes out in the songs.
RMS: But you've always had that side. Sad songs are nothing new for you. Right?
RD: Yeah, I know it's not new. But it's felt more overwhelming lately. Just from everything, I guess. From big world stuff down to real personal stuff. You know? Its mostly just relationships and my feeling of disconnection from people. Its there in the songs, and the title of the album, and as you said, the whole thing is sort of saturated in regret. Thats pretty much it. Its not complicated really. Anyone who listens to the songs can figure it out.
RMS: Uh huh. So this album, you said it was harder to get together than most, but how do you feel about the songs themselves?
RD: I feel good about the work. I mean, there are some songs I really like on there. I dont know what other people will think, but Ive worked hard on this, and I guess, at this point, it has to speak for itself. Hopefully itll be ok. But Im nervous about the public reception, as always.
RMS: You have any favorite tracks?
RD: I really like this song called "Cupid Complains to Venus," and this one called "How to Survive the Bad Times Ahead." Those are my favorites so far, but we're still recording, so who knows?
RMS: Both songs about lost love, I'm guessing?
RD: "Cupid Complains" is about lost love, obviously, but "How to Survive" is more about life, how it's hard to be a good person and do the right thing. It can be applied to love, but it has a broader scope too. It's about compassion, really.
RMS: The songs I've heard sound more stripped down. In the recording style, I mean. More quiet and silent. Was that intentional? A part of this emotional fragility you're talking about?
RD: Probably. I mean, thats how Im feeling, so it's all connected. My sense of the album is that it comes from that place where you see the horrific nature of all that youve done, your whole life, the world, humanity, civilization, everything. Its the silence and quiet that comes with the realization that your actions have been destructive, that youve hurt others, that your selfishness and delusion have damaged things. What do you say when you really see that, and understand? It's impossible to put into words. I don't know. Its just the feeling that comes with that. I dont know how else to explain it really, except in those terms.
RMS: Regret. It sounds as simple as that.
RD: Sure, yes, as complex and simple as that. It hurts. And theres no real answer to it. But you see what youve done, and you stand back, gulp hard, and feel the pain youve inflicted.
RMS: So, the "nervous breakdown." Can we talk about that? Is it related to some of what were talking about here?
RD: Well, sure, though, you know, I wouldnt call it a nervous breakdown exactly.
RMS: What would you call it?
RD: I don't know. Maybe Im being naive, but I just wouldnt call it that. Its not really about words. Its been a painful time, but I think its just part of my continuing struggle to be for real, a real person. Theres no way around it. I think its a human thing. There are ups and downs, and Ive been sort of in a down the past year or so. Its not as dramatic as people are making it. Its just life. And we all go through stages and times where we struggle and transition and learn. I think Im ok. Really. I think its ok to hurt. Theres a lot we can learn from that. Its the birthplace of compassion, really, and if we channel that emotional power constructively, I think we can really make a positive difference in the world and in our relationships.
RMS: So others have blown it out of proportion?
RD: Yeah, I think so. I think it makes other people uncomfortable, so their gut reaction is to label it unhealthy, and insane, and thats cool, really. I understand. They should do what they need to. But inside myself, I know this whole process has caused me to grow, and thats a good thing. I wanna turn this into something good and positive and life affirming, and continue the transformation. I cant let others define it for me.
RMS: But do you think the music has suffered because of all of this? That was the fear or assumption, I guess - that it was negatively affecting your creative process.
RD: In what way?
RMS: Just the process, the freedom with which you express, the inspiration, the agility of the songs.
RD: I dont know how to answer that. I feel ok. This album has taken longer than most, and I think that was related to my emotional issues. But my music and my life are pretty much inseparable. Ive always felt that. The music is a part of the whole, not some appendage. I think my emotional state fueled this stuff, but thats what the songs are about too, so its all mixed up.
RMS: I know it's a touchy subject, but I felt I had to ask. You disappeared for a bit there, and I think you had people concerned.
RD: Well I really do appreciate the people who are kind to me, and listen my songs. I want to make that clear. I take it personally, and Im touched when I hear from people. The undeserved love and support Ive received have really helped. I know Ive alienated some people by being so distant at times. I hope people can forgive me. And, you know, I also wanna stop and thank you too, for everything. Seriously, Riska. Youre one of those people. Your support and compassion have meant a lot. More than you know.
RMS: Well, thanks. I dont know what to say.
RD: How about a hug then?
RMS: Uh, sure...
(Russell David and R.M. Slinky stand up and embrace warmly.)
RD: Thanks, really. Thank you.
RMS: No problem at all.
(Russell David and R.M. Slinky sit back down. Russell wipes a tear from his eye, but retains composure.)
RMS: Thank you. Just for being vulnerable like that. Its strange, but good.
RD: Im sorry. I dont mean to make you uncomfortable...
RMS: No, really, its ok. Its actually very refreshing to break past that whole social convention of self-sufficiency, and lay yourself bare. You need love. We all need love. We should never be afraid to admit that.
RD: I agree. Absolutely. Love is the best, maybe only, good thing about life. I dont think any of us get enough of it or give enough of it. Ive realized that too little too late, but Im working on it.
RMS: I think we all are. Like you said, its a human thing, and were all struggling with it.
RD: Yes, and that solidarity, just in the mere fact that were human, is the most beautiful thing.
RMS: I see that.
(A group of school-aged children walks past the coffee shop diverting attention. Russell and R.M. Slinky turn to watch the group pass. As the chirps and glee of pre-pubescence fade, there is an awkward silence. R.M. Slinky flips through his spiral note pad, fumbling for a question.)
RMS: Um, what about influences? Have you found anything new that's moved you or influenced you lately?
RD: Sure... Im always responding emotionally to art and stuff I hear. I dont know if this is "influence," but Im excited by the music and creativity going on in the world. I love it when something hits me where Im at. I need that. The new Moby cd was like that. I bought it the day it came out. It's amazing.
RMS: Release day? That's comittment!
RD: Well, I had to. They were giving out these free Moby trading cards. I just had to have them!
RD: I even wrote Moby this long, involved, inappropriately familiar, fan letter. I couldnt help it.
RMS: Did he respond?
RD: No. He probably never even read it. I understand. Hes busy with touring and his new tea shop and all that stuff. But "18" is a very beautiful piece of work.
RMS: So youre like a groupie then?
RD: Oh, totally. I read Mobys little online diary every day. Im seriously smitten. Hes so cool! I was shattered that he didnt write back, but alas, in my imagination were good friends.
RMS: Im sure hes just busy.
RD: Yeah. Im sure thats it.
RMS: I think Moby would like you if you ever met.
RMS: Other than Moby, what have you been listening to? What's on the current Russell David listening list?
RD: Well, first off I gotta give a plug for the new Jonas cd. Have you heard that? It's called "Buddha Took a Tumble."
RMS: Yes, and I enjoyed it very much.
RD: It's beautiful. And the Nick G. album "Liability" too! Everyone should check that stuff out.
RMS: How about any non-SimpleMusic music?
RD: Sure, yeah, Ive been listening to lots of old stuff. Like Springsteens "Nebraska," thats such a bleak and wonderful record, and This Mortal Coil, "Itll End in Tears." And this band Pedro the Lion from Seattle. I really like them. Downbeat and beautiful.
RMS: Sounds like the way you're describing your new album. It seems like youre listening to similar stuff.
RD: I guess so, yes. But at the same time, I dont feel limited by that, because Im moved by upbeat and positive stuff too.
RD: Ok... well, you know those camouflage paintings by Warhol? He did 'em back in the 80s, theyre just huge expanses of camouflage, and some are cool colors like hot pink and blue. I dont know why, but they really, really, appeal to me. And theyre not bleak or depressing at all. Really!
RMS: Ive never seen them.
RD: Theyre great! And also they had this Yoko Ono show at the SFMOMA this summer, which was interesting. I dont like all of her work, but she had some cool things there. Like this wish tree, where you write down a wish and tie it to a tree. I love that. The show was like a breathe of fresh air. It had a real interactivity and optimism.
RMS: Sounds interesting.
RD: Yes, definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.
RMS: I'll try.
(A Tully's Employee comes to table, looks longingly at the assorted napkins and empty coffee cups littering the table.)
TULLY'S EMPLOYEE: May I take these?
RMS: Sure, please, thanks.
RD: Is that a hint for us to leave?
RMS: Maybe. Just a few more minutes.
Sure, no, I don't mind... just don't wanna hog the table.
RMS: Uh huh. No, I know... um... so are there any live shows planned to promote the new album?
RD: Well, not really. I mean, there will be a few maybe, but not scheduled yet.
RMS: Youve never been big on live performance. Why not? Its the main staple of most musicians.
RD: Mostly because Im very shy. It takes a lot of energy for me to set that stuff up. If you see me play live, you can rest assured that Im giving 110% of what I have at the moment. Really. Its very emotionally demanding and difficult for me, which is why I dont do it often.
RMS: This has cost you a lot professionally, dont you agree? Live shows and word of mouth is what gets musicians out there.
RD: Yep. Definitely. It holds me back. And its not that I dont enjoy performing. I do enjoy it. But I dont have a manager who pushes me to keep doing it, so left to my own devices, I neglect it. I pretty much play live only when coaxed by others, which, I know, is bad. There are parts of me that want to perform more, and get more of that immediate contact with the audience.
RMS: So, why not push yourself?
RD: Well, I do push myself as is. Im trying to keep above water. Im always working on songs and recording, and watching the office side of Simple Music. Thats more than a full-time job all by itself. If anyone out there wants to manage my touring schedule, Ill gladly talk about it! Seriously. Im open. Im not trying to avoid the audience, but I can only do so much myself.
RMS: Are you actively seeking a manager then?
RD: No. Not really. Its such a delicate thing. Im a strange guy, and if I was ever to get with a manager, it would have to click on a personal level. I couldnt do it with just anyone.
RMS: Sure, but youre open if you found the right person?
RD: Absolutely. But considering the fact that my fan-base covers about 1/10,000th of the general population, it doesnt seem likely that I'll find someone who both enjoys the music, and clicks with me personally.
RMS: Dont go jinxing yourself! You never know!
RD: Good point. I dont know. I just have these negative expectations, so if anything good happens, Ill be happily surprised.
RMS: Is that your life motto?
RD: Pretty much. Im open to all possibilities, but Im also realistic about the isolated little cubbyhole I inhabit. Its a little crevice in a big bad world, which is beautiful and painful all wrapped up together.
RMS: Romantic too. No?
RD: Definitely. But only if you find that one-in-8-billion kind of person, or people, to share it with. Otherwise its just lonely and a little sad.
RMS: But we all have a similar situation. Its not as if the world is conspiring against you or anything.
RD: I know, of course. Were all in this together. I guess thats romantic in its own way. I appreciate the beauty there, yes.
RMS: And theres a lot to be said about appreciating the space youre in, and the people around you. Realizing, I guess, that those one-in-8-billion types are all around us.
RD: Yes, thats the other side, isnt it? Thats the side we like to take for granted. Thats the mistake Im always making.
RMS: I think were all doing it.
RD: Yeah, probably.
RMS: Well, I really do want to thank you for talking to me. Its been great. I wish you all the best of luck with the new album.
RD: Thanks. I promise to get it out as soon as possible.
RMS: And, once available, people can get it free on the website?
RD: Yes, absolutely! And check the website often for updates too! www.simplemuzik.com, or send me some email at firstname.lastname@example.org
RMS: They can get all the latest Simple Music info there?
RD: Yes, Nick G, Jonas, Mannequins, Bob Kidnapped, its all there!
RMS: Thanks again, Russell.
RD: It's always a pleasure.
Russell David's ninth studio album:Songs for When You Think You Made a Mistake was released October 15, 2002. Visit the catolog for your FREE copy!
Read the album review by R.M. Slinky.