Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Russell James
Like most musicians, Russell began playing at an early age. After years of piano and horns, Russell taught himself how to play guitar and began writing his first songs at age fourteen. By his mid-20s, Russell had found himself drawn to American folk music and bluegrass in particular.
In 2006, Russell relocated from Pennsylvania to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Shortly after moving he started the popular Southwestern Americana band The Porter Draw, who he would stay with for eight years, releasing five albums of aggressive takes on American folk and country. In 2016, on the cusp of his first solo release “Rise”, Russell left the band and began touring the country in earnest.
The folksy “Rise” was followed quickly by the EP “Seasons”, which gathered critical acclaim for its dreamy combination of folk and new wave music. It was at this time when Russell was selected as a National Parks Artist-in-Residence at Big Bend National Park. It was at Big Bend where Russell began the writing of his ambitious opus “Wave/Water”, which released, again to acclaim, in April 2018. The album walked further away from traditional folk music and employed airy synthesizers, drum loops, and ethereal guitar to great effect.
In Winter 2019, Russell released his first ambient album titled “Alarms”. This release included his first experiments in ambient composition and looping.
“Pay Attention” released in August 2019 is the result of two years’ worth of writing, composition, and production. Russell recorded the majority of the album at his home in the mountains of New Mexico and played most of the instruments himself. This album is a departure from Russell’s earlier work, focusing on electronic/ambient elements more than organic. It is a true combination of the dreampop/ambient aesthetic and traditional singer-songwriter material; a genre Russell has dubbed “Dreamfolk”.
During the pandemic of 2020-? Russell began work in earnest on the follow-up to “Pay Attention”. He recorded the bulk of the album in his home during quarantine, and was able to connect with his Albuquerque music cronies via technology to finish out the parts he couldn’t do on his own. The result is a gentle, loping album containing some of Russell’s best work. In contrast to his previous two efforts, “Feel Your Pain” relies more on organics and simple arrangements. “Less layers, more meaning,” Russell has said. This album is set to release on 12/3/21.
Russell is autistic and disabled. Playing music is obviously a lifelong passion (or in autism-speak “special interest”) and he has often said it’s a compulsion to write and play. Playing music has offered Russ many opportunities he would not have had otherwise: He has toured the country extensively and gone on many adventures in National Parks and cities between shows. He loves living out of his bright-red Ford E-Series Van (he traded in his trusty Honda Element Camper, The Gray Haven early in 2019). Sleeping in nature and coming to shows smelling like a campfire or fresh off a river from fly-fishing are the norm for Russell. He couldn’t do this any other way, and he still needs a great deal of support while playing live shows. He is authentic on stage, pouring himself into his songs and the performance while being refreshingly open with his autism.