Sam Russo’s second full-length has just been released through the great folks at Specialist Subject Records and Red Scare Industries – we’re lucky enough to be hosting one of the three record release shows at the end of the month.
I fired some questions over to Sam about everything from the new record Greyhound Dreams, playing full band, supporting Dan Andriano and much more. Have a read.
You’ve done a lot of touring, and travelling, in the past 12 months. There are obvious moments that have made their way into songs on the new album, did you write a lot of the new record on the road or was it reflective once you came back?
I keep a diary on the road. Some days I write every little moment, some days just a name or a tiny observation. A room number. Details. So when I get home and I have this huge mess of notes I like to trawl through and pick parts to use in songs – sometimes they run like a story, most of the time I put pieces together that bring up a certain feeling for me. Forever West is an example of a story song with two separate incidents put together to make a story – the old cowboy and the waitress were both people I met in Wyoming, I just met the man in Laramie and the girl in Cheyenne but on two different trips. In my mind I put them together in Rawlins and made up a world around them. Runaways is about a road trip I took with Clare and it’s straight from my memory. Moving North is another one that works with two parts – it’s about moving to Manchester, but it’s also about spending your life on the run. Most of what I write can be taken two ways, it’s a duality that I’ve always enjoyed – mostly because I never know what I’m trying to say until I’ve said it. So yeah I usually sit down with my notes and my memories and try to make sense of it all. I try to tell a story based on the things I’ve seen and done that has some meaning and that helps me understand my life better. Or that helps me explain how I feel.
There’s three songs (Small Town Shoes, Crayfish Tales, Western Union) that have appeared on previous releases. What was the thinking behind including them on Greyhound Dreams? Was it to make up the 10 song limit or did they just fit?
Those three songs fit really well on the record and I loved re-recording them to make them sound more like they sound live. I completely re-wrote Western Union with James because we both felt it was such a fun song that it needed resurrecting. I almost never go back to old songs, but these three felt so right for Greyhound Dreams, plus not everyone will have heard them on Split The Tip, and no one will know the original Western Union so I think it makes sense to do them right once and for all! They’re three songs that are really close to my heart and that make me think of friends and good times.
Storm was a relatively dark record, from the tempo of certain songs to the artwork. Whereas Greyhound Dreams did grab me as a softer and maybe happier release, although there’s still the odd lyric that catches me and rips my heart out. “Nothing ever heals, you’re just lucky if the pain fades” for example. Is that a perfect example of that sentence being true with that the pain from the songs on Storm fading and you’re content with where you are now?
I feel like I understand pain and heartache more than I did when I wrote Storm. Back then I was broken. I couldn’t see my way back but I wanted to badly to be happy – now I realise I was just mourning a part of myself I’d lost, something I used to be. I thought I knew what suffering was and I was writing about it literally – just pouring it into songs, now I know that never goes away. You don’t just wake up over it, it doesn’t wash away, you’re always going to have that scar and you’re always going to be a little fucked up. So I don’t think Greyhound Dreams is happier or sadder than Storm, it’s just looking forward instead of backwards. I’m lucky really, I went through some horrible things in my life and I came out the other end alive, singing and still moving forward. Greyhound Dreams is all about that struggle; the pain of starting again with the same problems and the same faults you’ve always had but trying not to resign to some kind of fate – trying desperately to live with love and hope, and not to let doubt, fear and anxiety crush it out of you. If you can’t sing about the sad things in life and find a smile in it all you’re doomed. I don’t want to be doomed.
You sound calm and collected on the new record, and also incredibly comfortable in the quieter moments that people may not have totally heard before on Storm. Was the comfortableness due to how much more you’ve been playing recently, or how you comfortable you were at Darlington Studios?
Darlington was like a womb. Tim saved my life letting me record there – he had me down from the second I walked in. he knew I got nervous and he knew I would give up on myself given half a chance and he kept my hands tied to the wheel. Tim Greaves and El Morgan are the reasons this record exists. They gave me the confidence to do all the things I can’t do live in loud, sweaty bars. I found I could sing quiet and low, I could keep it stripped down and still be dynamic. I could scream one second and whisper the next. And I had El by my side the whole way. I knew if a take made her well up or if she was nodding along I was nailing it, and when I didn’t nail it I just went at it again until it worked. I just kept going at it until I beat it down. We were punching the air and doing gang vocals one minute and in a fucking heap crying on the floor the next. I don’t feel like I can express that kind of emotion in a studio but at Darlington it was encouraged. I’m quite an emotional person, I tend to feel things more than see or hear them so feeling like I could just be a maniac and not be judged was so liberating. It’s a challenging thing exorcising all that emotion in a little room and trying to capture it and make it sound real and raw and true and Tim did it. I was also really worn in from touring. My voice was doing shit I had no idea it could do.
Dear Everyone have left their incredible mark all over this record, and apart from the extra vocals the album is very stripped back. Did you go into the studio with that in mind or did it just work out that way?
I wanted it to be literally just me and a guitar at first. I had a sound in mind and we just let it grow a little. I wanted to convey a sense of loneliness on the record and I wanted it to be true to the live show, but I just decided it was so much more important to have my friends on it, it’s more true to how I feel than it would have been if it was just one vocal and one guitar. I was also just panicking that I didn’t have any time or money to have any other people on it!
Who else appears on the album and where (and why…)?
James Hull sings on Western Union, because we wrote and sang it together originally and because he’s one of my all-time favourite songwriters. He just came down from London and nailed it. We drank a beer or two and stood out by the sea for a while, then he just rumbled and gibbered all over it. Roo Pescod plays piano on Moving North. The song needed a little something to keep it moving so I sent it to Roo and he just completely made it. Without that piano it’s such a lonesome and sad tune – with Roo on it it sounds like Queen. He’s the most incredible musician and has such an ear for subtlety and nuance, plus he’s such a great friend and has this genius way of seeing the world that’s so completely unique I just knew he’d do something wonderful, and he did. Kelly Kemp sings some absolute belter vocal parts on the record – namely on Sometimes, Runaways, Crayfish Tales and Nobody’s fool. Kelly has always been my hero singing wise. Since I was 16 years old. She also plays violin of Dream All You Want. My favourite part of recording was watching Kelly sing – she throws her entire body into every syllable, she hits notes with such precision and soul its completely magical watching her attack it. Her solo record is one of my all time favourites. As I said before El Morgan sings a lot too – she’s all over Eye Candy, which I wrote for her to sing, she’s on Forever West, Western Union and Sometimes. Her voice is so beautiful – it has this fragility to it and such a solid low end. El is a vocal genius – she can hear 4 harmonies at once in her head and then just nail them down one after the other. It melts me. All that was missing was Helen – she couldn’t get down when we were recording which was really sad but I think Kelly and El were both singing for her too. Then we got Ben Pescod and Tom Hussey in for a gang vocal with Kelly, El, me and Tim on Nobody’s Fool and Tim sang on Western Union too. It wasn’t enough that he recorded and produced it, he had to sing on it too – I wanted to hear him as well as feel him on the record.
In the last 12 months you’ve played in America and the UK with incredible bands/artists such as Tim Barry, Cory Branan, Lucero, Masked Intruder (ahem Throwing Stuff), making your home on various line-ups and festivals. What’s the next 12 months looking like in terms of touring?
Red Scare just joined up with a really great booking agent that looks after some artists that I really love. I won’t say any names in case nothing happens but I want to tour as much as I can. I’m also working on another record already and gearing up to hit the road with Dan Andriano later this month. (Insert dates!)
On the Restorations / Crazy Arm tour, you played your final song as a full band with the guys from Crazy Arm. Is this something you’d like to do more in the future?
I’d love to do more full band shows. I’m working on it at home right now but our drummer is such an absolute meth head we can’t get him to sit still long enough to learn the songs.
Touring with Dan Andriano in November, and also playing in his band. How did this come about and who else is in the band?
Dan asked and I said yes. It’s me and Hamish and Andrew from Bangers, plus Garth from Bro on Keys. Bro’s opening the tour and it’s going to be so great – Dan’s new record is incredible, I’m learning the songs as we speak, and it’s just a van full of my best buds! Even though Jules from Bro and I have been friends since we were 15 and even though we were in our first bands together we realised the other day that we’ve never toured together. So this will be our first tour since we started playing music together 15 years ago. It’s going to be insane. Come out, please, you won’t wnt to miss this shit.
Greyhound Dreams is your second full length, and again it’s been split across Specialist Subject Records (UK) and Red Scare (USA). How is working with both these great labels, across two different countries to manage?
It’s great. It can be hard at times with the distance and the difference in cultures but it’s so worth it. I think it works really well. Toby and Andrew are such hard working, intelligent people and such great friends to me I just don’t think we can go wrong as a team. They bring the brains and I bring the er…I dunno. Enthusiasm? I bring something. Andrew loves roast dinners, Toby only eats burritos and popcorn, Andrew exclusively drinks bad lager, Toby drinks Vodka and cranberry juice, the differences are ludicrous, but they both love OI so somehow it works.
NOVEMBER (w/ Dan Andriano)
05 Sugarmill, Stoke*
06 Key Club, Leeds*
07 Forum, Tunbridge Wells*
08 Joiners, Southampton*
09 The Exchange, Bristol*
10 Dingwalls, London*
11 Waterfront Studio, Norwich*
12 Temple, Birmingham*
13 Electric Circus, Edinburgh*
14 Stereo, Glasgow*
15 Cluny 2, Newcastle*