INTERVIEW: Russ Still & The Moonshiners

Hi Russ, welcome to VENTS! How are you?

Awesome. Thank you. I hope you’re well.

Can you talk to us more about your song “No Stars”?

I love that song! I started that song 12 years ago. I had a demo critiqued and the reviewer told me that it sucked and I needed to learn from the writing experience, but throw the song away. That was more of a challenge than a rejection. It sat for a while, but I couldn’t let it go. It kept bubbling up. I did a bunch of rewrites. I rewrote the chorus – it was pretty bad! But many of the verse lines stayed and most of the chord structure and melody stayed the same. Lyrically it’s a simple story of love lost. The protagonist screws up, the girl leaves and he knows she’s not coming back.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Have I screwed up a few relationships? Uh, yeah. The lost love thing may be overdone, but it hurts, so I write about it. It’s good therapy. No Stars is partly a metaphor for a dark place. The scenes are all at night, it’s raining, she’s gone, he’s looking for her in each approaching headlight. “Stars” comes from elementary school. We used to get colored stars on our papers to reflect the level of work performed. I think it was gold star for excellent, silver for good, green for acceptable. In the story the guy knows he’s not getting any stars for winning the fights.

Any plans to release a video for the single or will you keep on with the live videos?

Concept videos are fun to do, but I love watching live videos of bands. Plus it’s fun to relive the fun we were having in the moment. .

The single comes off your new album Bootleg (Batch 432) – what’s the story behind the title?

Ha! Thanks for asking. We’re The Moonshiners, so our album titles relate to moonshine; White Lightnin’, Still Cookin’, you get the idea. So Bootleg was a fun choice. “Batch 432” is a reference to the instrument tuning we used.  has the best explanation: “A=432 Hz, known as Verdi’s ‘A’ is an alternative tuning that is mathematically consistent with the universe. Music based on 432Hz transmits beneficial healing energy, because it is a pure tone of math fundamental to nature. The universal music of sacred geometry.” I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes a pretty good story!

How was the recording and writing process?

It was somewhat different on this record. I mentioned “No Stars” was an older song. “Waiting” was also one I had been working on for some time. The others were written over the past year or so including “Line in the Sand” which I had the pleasure of co-writing with Wyatt Edmondson a very talented singer/songwriter whose father started all this craziness years ago getting me into my first band! So the writing process was pretty normal for me. I dredge up a few songs that have been hanging around for a while then write a bunch of new ones. The difference on Bootleg was the recording process. The basic tracks were recorded over two days with most of the band. In the past we’ve mostly recorded separately due to other commitments. I think the record hangs together better due to that. Of course vocals and leads were cut later. Then the whole tweaking, mixing and mastering stuff always takes longer than I expect. We were 9 months finishing after the initial session due to lots of distractions.

What is it about the 70s that you find so fascinating?

Now you’re asking me to show my age!! I guess it’s true that we’re strongly influenced by the music we experience in the time we come of age. I turned 12 in 1970, 21 in 1979. Are you kidding me? Talk about coming of age. I was all about the music. It was changing my life before I started playing in bands. I hung with 2 brothers Boo and William. They had this insane record collection full of magic. Sounds I had never imagined and no telling how long it would have taken them to find me if not for that place and time. They are the classics – Classic Rock. I was playing that stuff when it first came out. I’ve fallen in love with a lot of songs and bands since then, but that’s where my heart is.

How Jason Aldean and Zac Brown has influence your writing?

I mentioned the songs and bands I’ve discovered since those important 70s. Jason Aldean and Zak Brown, also Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson d me they remind me of my Southern Rock and west coast singer/songwriter influences (James Taylor, The Eagles) with a modern twist. Many of these acts are produced by Dave Cobb who I think is a genius. They don’t apologize for making authentic music that moves me like the music I grew up with. 

What role does Atlanta play in your music?

That’s a hard question. My first thought is it doesn’t play much of role. However, I’ve been here 32 years. Raised my family, divorced, remarried, buried friends and family, started bands, quit bands, written songs. Thinking of those experiences, Atlanta has everything to do with my music. More than half of my life experiences have been here. Each one impacting me in some way as a writer.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Inspiration comes from strange and comfortable places and at the most appropriate or oddest times. I keep a notes on my phone for “lyrics”. I try to type in every idea that crosses my mind. Sometimes I’m more diligent than others. An idea comes from a song that sparks a memory, a phrase that I hear or use myself, from a story I’ve told a hundred times, but I suddenly hear in a different way, those and a hundred other ways. The inspiration is the spark, but the lyrics is where the work and time is spent. I write, rewrite and rewrite and rewrite some more. I’m still writing in the vocal booth as I’m cutting the record, always searching for the best way to express the idea. The melody and chord structure is different. It’s about finding the right combination that works for me. Sometimes I search for a long time, but for the most part once the lyrics are done the music comes quickly.

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes! I’m tied to a day gig at the moment, but I have plans to change that. I’m chomping at the bit to get out on the highway. 

What else is happening next in Russ Still & The Moonshiners’ world?

We’re just doing what we do. Writing, the band is working up a few new songs with more in the wings on the way to the next record. Playing, we’ve got some cool shows coming up. Promotion, the never ending journey to find the next listener and friend. Living life as it comes. We don’t know what happens next, but we’re sure it’s going to be fun.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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