INTERVIEW: Russell James Talks (And Premieres) New Music Video For Single “The Morning Singer” + More

Pic by John Ellison
  1. Can you talk more about The Morning Singer single?

Sure. I’d been playing around with the initial chord progression in my final few months living in New Mexico, Spring of 2019. I really the way it felt to strum this loping song, and I wrote lyrics and melody to it but couldn’t find anything that clicked.

I moved to Oregon in July of 2019 and first lived in an AirBnB by the Willamette River. Each morning I would walk, taking in the water. I’m of the water, and I’m of the morning. I’ve always been an early riser and I’ve always been drawn to the water, wherever I find myself. With the progression already in place, the melody and lyrics were found on the banks of the Willamette. They came together quickly and with a lot of ease. Once they found me, it was a pleasure to write, perform, and develop.

2.     Did any particular event inspire the song?

I always wake early to ready myself to enter the neurotypical world in peace and silence, even as a child. It’s a natural strategy for someone with autism. I enjoy watching the dark sky turn over to dawn, then seeing the sky clear into daylight. The world wakes up, you hear the first birds singing, the day smells fresh because it is. There is a stillness in these moments I cannot find at any other point in the day.

3.     How was the filming process behind the video?

I am not a visual artist. I know my limits, so I hire out things like videos and I honestly stay pretty hands off because it’s out of my wheelhouse. I’m sorry I don’t have anything interesting to say about the video process.

4.     What’s the story behind “Feel Your Pain”

First, I think it’s important to disclaim that I’m one of those pesky artists who believes that once my art is released into the world, it is firmly in the listeners hands. They are the ones who provide its real story, its real meaning. So, I think the much more interesting question is, what do you think the story behind “Feel Your Pain” is?

But, in deference to your question, here’s a statement:

Our world has been quite painful over the past two years. We’re in great danger of letting this pain take us over and causing an immense amount of collective trauma. We have to feel the pain, so we remember it. We have to remember it, so we can build resilience. Posttraumatic growth isn’t possible if we’re constantly running away from the trauma itself.

5.     How was the recording and writing process?

In a word: hard. And not just logistically, but that was a bit of a pickle.

The initial writing always goes easy for me, and this was no different. I had two dozen songs written for this album, and at one point I thought of putting out a double album. I realized that wasn’t going to work because some of the songs featured a much more common thread than the others, and I’m a real album-oriented kinda guy. I’m old school like that. Not that this is a concept album, it’s just there’s a lot of common threads in the lyrics. 

I decided even before COVID hit that I was going to record the bulk of this album on my own, in my home studio here in Oregon. I hadn’t lived here long enough to find players I trusted, so I shipped the some scratch tracks out to my buddies in Albuquerque who have played with me for years. They got their parts done then it was all flown back to me and I had to get all my work done. This was the hard part.

All during 2020 I struggled with motivation to get any of this stuff done. I was anxious and depressed, stressed to my limit. I gained 40 lbs. I wouldn’t leave my house, and I couldn’t get the energy to get my tracks done. It was like pulling teeth to get anything creative done. Finally, in the winter of 2020-2021 I just gritted my teeth and got to it.

I began flying all the tracks to my producer, Bill Palmer, in New Mexico, who glued them together and put some of his special magic on it. He really injected the final bit of life into these recordings and we are both really happy with the results.

6.     What aspect of pain did you get to explore on this record?

The obvious answer lay directly in the fairly plain-spoken lyrics: the pain of childhood trauma. I don’t use metaphor, it goes against the grain of my autistic communication patterns. 

More interestingly, and less obvious, is the exploration of the relief of pain, and “The Morning Singer” is a song that shows life isn’t always painful. Life is suffering, sure it is. But it’s also full of relief and ease from that suffering. It’s hard to see beyond our pain because pain is so damn big. It takes up so much space. And relief, well, relief comes in small doses: chicken tenders from Dairy Queen, French fries and a beer, the Giants making the playoffs. These are small things, but you add them up and there’s your relief from the innate suffering of life.

7.     Where else did you find inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

I’m constantly immersing myself in the natural world. It’s the greatest influence on my life. I firmly believe in ecopsychology, or the ability to heal psychic pain through encounters with nature. Nature inspires the sound of my music, the tone. The Morning Singer floats and lilts along like a lazy river. I love that.

I’m wildly in love with my wife. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers and were best friends for years before we decided to step our relationship up. She inspires me to do everything I do. She pushes me. The song “Somewhere in America” is about she and I going to see Elliott Smith in 2000 in Charlottesville, VA. It was one of the best nights of my life and I fucking love that song.  

8.     What else is happening in Russell James’ world?

Well, I’m currently waiting out this pandemic like everyone else. I’ve gotten really into my health this year: I’ve lost 55 lbs (thanks NOOM!) so far. I couldn’t walk around the block without severe pain in my back and legs on Jan. 1, and yesterday I just logged my 150th mile of hiking for the year. None of my clothes fit me. I love it.

Touring is not something I feel comfortable doing right now. I have severe asthma and a genetic disposition towards lung infections, so I’m one of those really high-risk folks. I’m looking forward to next spring and summer when the outdoor venues open again, and I hope to do a tour next summer in support of this album, but I’m also ok with whatever happens. I’ve resigned myself to this new life we have.

I’m writing quite a bit, but not songs. A ton of prose. I write for an autism blog called NeuroClastic and I’m thinking about pursuing it with more pronounced dedication in 2022. I’m really enjoying developing another area of creativity.

Finally, I love living in Oregon. I love the PNW and can’t believe it took me this long to get here. I’m am busy hiking my ass off, fly-fishing, camping, and doing whatever else I can to integrate myself to the Northwest lifestyle. I’m traveling all over, trying to see everything I can. We got a new van this year that I’ll be building out over the winter, and I’m excited to see all the new places we get to go in 2022.

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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