Randi Russo - Interview

04 September 2003

Randi Russo Interview
Hey folks it’s the anti folk heroine: Randi Russo Interview

The mercurial Randi Russo took time out from her hectic schedule to discuss cynicism, poetry, to define and nail down the anti folk genre and music in general. The New Yorker motivation and inspiration for her latest album: ‘Solar Bipolar’ (out on Olive Juice Records), and answers each question with an openness that is reflected in her music.

Q. Describe your year so far? What have you been doing and what are your plans for the rest of it? Any plans to come to the UK in the near future?

Music - Randi Russo Interview

A. My year so far has been kind of slow. Like most people, I have years that are really active and ones that are less exciting. This year was the latter of the two. The only thing that was really exciting was my tour to the UK and Paris this past April. I was received so warmly in Europe, and I would welcome that feeling again. I wanted to go back to the UK this Fall, but I'll be recording my next record then, and for financial reasons, I can't do both. Besides, when I record, I like to stay focused -- and that means working on it consistently, not taking breaks to go abroad. But, I do hope to tour the UK again in the Spring... maybe in March. I should have my new album out by then.

Q. I sense the influence of Sylvia Plath in your lyrics. Do read or much write poetry?

A. I have read a lot of Sylvia Plath's works (her poetry and 'The Bell Jar') and I really like where she's coming from. It's honest. Some people confuse 'dark sentiments' as being negative; I see the dark side as just the other half of the truth.I used to write a lot of poetry in the past, but I don't write poetry too often any more. I used to be a painter as well, but I don't do much of that either these days. Most of my creativity is channeled into music. I'm very focused that way.

Q. Your album 'Solar Bipolar' can be described as Cynical, Angry, cathartic yet soothing to listen to. What are your views on it and was it painful to make?

A. I've received all of the above adjectives in reviews of that album. It was a cathartic experience for me; writing & performing music is cathartic. I usually don't think of myself as angry because I'm quite a quiet person. I keep a lot of my emotions inside and I take out a lot of my anger on myself. But, if I look at it from an outsider's perspective (which is not easy to do), I can see how my music is angry and cynical at times. I guess I am a pretty angry person, but there's a lot going on in the world today to make one angry (here, in America, things are all wrong altogether!). I can also see how the album is soothing -- with songs like 'We Forget' and 'Push-Pull' and 'Wonderland'; there are enough songs on the album to counter balance all the 'negativity.'

The album was painful to make, but not because of my emotions. It was a laborious effort and relations between me and some of my band mates became strained. We came through it though, and we collectively made what I think is a good album.

Q. What are your current musical influences?

A. There are so many good acts here in NYC that receive very little attention that are quite frankly amazing. It's a total injustice that these acts are not more popular... people like Paleface, Diane Cluck, Prewar Yardsale are some to name a few of the many talented people in this antifolk scene. A lot of musicians in this antifolk scene influence me. Currently, I'm listening to a lot of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen. They are really influencing me now. Cat Power is also a big influence. My next album is going to be less rock-n-roll, and more contemplative. I'm also listening to a lot of John Lennon's songs from his days in the Beatles. I was never a big Beatles fan, but someone gave me a mix of the songs that John wrote, and I like how his songs mix tough and tender emotions so smoothly. That mix of tough and tender is what I look for in a songwriter.

Q. Has being a New Yorker dictated the type of music you make or do you think your music would be the same no matter where your are from or where you lived?

A. Well, I wouldn't say that being a New Yorker has dictated the kind of music I make, but I know for sure that I'd be making different kind of music if I lived elsewhere. A lot of the music here in the local NYC scene has definitely influenced me ... the competition here has made me a better songwriter. There's a style that is innately mine, but there's nuances of things that are 'borrowed' from other artists, and a lot of that borrowing is from the artists in the NY Antifolk scene.

Q. In the past you have played the violin and the piano is there any inclination in the future to incorporate those or new instruments into your music?

A. I do play piano (as rudimentary as it may be), and I've played some piano on my recordings. I have some 4-track stuff that I did by myself that has more piano-based songs. But guitar is my main instrument. I played violin and flute when I was a child, and I don't recall being particularly good at either of those instruments. I suppose I'd pick up those instruments again someday if I had the money and time to explore different aspects of music.

Q. What song, poem or book would you say sums you up if any?

A. That's a tough question, and my answer would probably change depending upon what I was reading or listening to at the time. Right now, I'd say that The Beatles/John Lennon's "She Said" is a good one ("She said: I know what it's like to be dead; I know what it is to be sad." -- as depressing as this lyric may sound, it's very honest, and it really sums up how I feel a lot of the time.), or Bob Dylan's "Buckets of Rain"; Herman Hesse's 'Siddhartha' may sum me up as well. Also, nearly any poem written by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Q. The Track 'Adored' on the Solar Bipolar Album gives out a very simplistic message: "I just wanna feel adored" this song is good for its straight forwardness and the fact the it is in touch with reality. This seems to be a theme in your as in 'so it must be true' you give the impression that people expect too much from life and love. Is your album and your philosophy on life: "don't chase the stars"?

A. I wouldn't say so because, in my own way, I'm a star-chaser, and I expect a lot from life. I don't want to be really famous or anything... but to be 'kind of famous' would be nice. :) I have expectations of my life and my music, and when they're broken, I feel really hurt. As a reaction to that hurt, I guard myself against future hurts, and take less risks. This makes me overly cautious, which I think makes me a self-sabotager of my own success (Sorry... I think I went off on a tangent there). I really don't know where "Adored" came from... I wrote the song in less than 20 minutes so I could have a new song ready for an open mic... I thought of the song as a total joke at the time because there was this dominatrix vibe to it. But, I guess it isn't a joke because, at the end of the day, we all want to feel adored.
" So It Must Be True" is a more serious song for me. It's about putting your faith into a system that continually lets you down, and you're finally getting wise to the truth that you don't necessarily fit into this system. Many of my songs are about being an outsider... even "Adored" is about that. I suppose the album and my philosophy on life is "Go for the stars, but don't be surprised if you get burned when they shine brightly" -- this kind of combines the cynic in me and the romantic in me. Part of "going for the stars" for me is being socially accepted and respected... a lot of my struggles have to do with this -- wanting to be insider, but always finding myself on the outside.

Q. Who or what pisses you off?

A. George W. Bush and his croneys, corporate greed, any kind of social injustice, etc.

Q. You have contributed to an antifolk compilation cd, how would you describe the anti-folk genre to those who haven't a clue as to what it means?

A. It's hard to describe antifolk. As a musical style, some would say it would have to be songs filled with wit and/or honesty, while playing an acoustic guitar in a folk-punk style. But, that definition doesn't include many of the acts that are considered antifolk. Some artists play electric guitar, for instance. ...but what we all have in common is that we're doing a our own thing, and each person seems to have their own unique take on folk music (music OF and FOR the people). Being somewhat innovative (whether lyrically, like Kimya Dawson or Jeffrey Lewis; or musically, like Knot Pinebox) is at the heart of antifolk. There's no bullshit in antifolk music... well, some of it is semi-bullshit (some people have the most ridiculous lyrics), but underneath the bullshit, there's always something that's there to hit a raw nerve. Antifolk is raw, honest, and unrelenting in its rawness and honesty. This is what real music is and should be about. Musically, it's a combination of traditional folk and punk rock ethos.

Q. What Motivates you in life?

A. Music is the one thing that really keeps me going (as cliche as that may sound). Writing music sustains me when all else is 'wrong'.

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