A songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, Luther Russell was born in Los Angeles, California. His career began with DGC and the American recording artists “The Freewheelers” 25-years ago. As a solo artist he’s released an eclectic series of albums that range from folk-rock to power-pop, and even funk. As producer he’s worked with many critically-acclaimed artists such as Richmond Fontaine, Fernando, Sarabeth Tucek and Ned Roberts. His music has been featured on NBC, ABC, CBS, HBO and Showtime. His latest release, titled “Selective Memories“, just dropped February 23rd. Have a listen embedded below.
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Sean Ritchie: Let’s start off with your home-town area of Los Angeles. What really stands out, making it home and special to you? Where would you send a first-time visitor to get a sense of the location?
Luther Russell: That’s a good question. I now live in the Pasadena area, but I grew up in Los Angeles. I was born there. Growing up we always looked at Pasadena as another place, sort of like Brooklyn to Manhattan. But, now living here I would say that Pasadena is the best kept secret about the area. It’s the most beautiful park I’ve been to here is called Lacy Park. It’s a pretty extraordinary area with gardens. You have the Huntington Library there too. It’s a really cool area of LA. There’s always something new to see and check out. It’s got a new unique [vibe] and history onto itself. The Playhouse Playhouse is there too, that’s a cool place. And, it somehow has all the amenities of Hollywood. It also has the oldest bookstore in LA, which is called Vroman’s Bookstore. It’s a mom and pop bookstore. Oh, and of course you have the Rose Bowl.
© Thomas Hart
SR: That sounds like a really interesting are. So, it’s Pasadena if someone was coming for the first time?
LR: Yeah, you know, I would. It’s funny, these days when I tell more and more people about Pasadena, they say, “Oh, I love Pasadena,” or, “I’ve been meaning to make it out there!” You can be in Pasadena and not even really feel like you’re in LA, because LA you kind of associate with palm trees, certain qualities of the Hispanic culture and things that you associate with Hollywood — the movies. All that I love too, but it’s not the same in Pasadena.
SR: That’s great. To bring it back a bit, I wanted to touch on how you first got started or exposed to music. What was the initial exposure? How did you eventually get inspired to create your own?
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LR: I had kind of a different road than most people, because I came from a musical family. For whatever reason, which I would never be able to decipher now, I started getting into music really young, before I could form full sentences. I must have been born with it genetically. My parents were already forced to get me a drum set by the time I was five. We always had a piano in the house too. My family has a line of composers. I definitely came into it that way. That was my start.
I can’t recall making any of those decisions. I think I started trying to write songs at six or seven. I picked up the piano soon after that. I picked up the guitar and bass when I was 14, which is usually the you do that, because you want to start rocking and rolling. Eventually, when I was 17 and had come down to LA, I was in situations where I said, “I’m not going to sing.” But, that quickly turned into, “Alright, I’ll sing.” That was the last frontier really.
SR: That’s cool to hear you started so you. Now, to create music and traveling to promote it must be such a feeling. What’s the most impactful and meaningful part you cherish about it? Does the traveling help inspirationally?
LR: Yeah! To get to travel because of something you created is just amazing. Jody Stephens and I have a group called Those Pretty Wrongs. He’s in his 60’s and I’m in my late 40’s, and he’s been traveling playing music forever. Even for as long as we’ve been doing it, especially as long as he has, we both still marvel at locations, like when we were in Australia, Madrid or Barcelona too, when we were in front of the Sagrada Família. We’ll just say to ourselves, “My lord! How did we get here?” So, I kind of always marvel at the exotic locations you find yourself at.
SR: Couldn’t agree more! Fast-forwarding, your album “Selective Memories” just came out February 23rd. Talk a little bit about your inspiration behind this release. How excited are you to play it for the fans?
LR: This is a good segue, because this would have never been released had I not traveled so much for the music. I’ve ended up finding myself touring Spain a lot for the better part of the past decade. I think it started around 2010. The label I was working with, Hanky Panky Records, was based in Bilbao, Spain. I found myself sitting with [the label head], he was also a promoter and did one of our shows with Stephens. We just got to talking. I liked the stuff that he had reissued. There are quite a few reissue labels out of Spain. They have a love for older rock and roll, which I must have fallen into, but we started talking about the idea of putting together a collection. That was kind of the genesis. I really believe this would not have happened if I had not been working in Spain so much.
SR: Fascinating. Was there a specific reason why Spain was such a frequented location?
LR: I can’t name a specific reason, other than I think throughout history certain areas of the globe were into different strands of American rock and roll at different times. Once upon a time, it might have been Germany. Lately, it’s been Spain. There’s a bunch of love over there and tastemakers. I just think there’s a rock and roll love affair going on there.
SR: Really interesting to hear that. Switching over to your personal travels. What kind of vacation are you? Are you searching for a beach? To be up in the mountains? Or, near a city?
LR: I fantasize that I’m a beach guy. I still haven’t taken, what I would consider, a proper beach vacation. I’m currently gravitating towards Greece. I think that would be my next stop. There were some places that I’ve played in Spain where I thought, “God, I feel like I’m on vacation!” I’ve been to some interesting places around the world for vacation over the years too. I would probably try Greece. But, I have to tell you, when I was in Australia, I found it to be so beautiful — Sydney and Melbourne. I love the beach, especially growing up here in Southern California. I’m probably more of a beach guy than a mountain guy.
SR: I love the beach too, there’s just something about it.
LR: I don’t go often enough.
© Pedro Szekely
SR: Yes, I’m in north New Jersey, with the Jersey Shore a quick drive away and I actually did not go this past summer. I was so busy working. Continuing, one of our core objectives at SCP is to bring people together while traveling. Not just to influence people to experience our beautiful world, but to potentially help minimize cross-cultural divides.
We think the more people travel and interact with each other, the less different things will feel foreign to them. I believe this correlates to music, because you’re constantly traveling and bringing people together. How do you think music has an impact on people in this regard? How has it broadened your perspective of the world?
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LR: The perfect example is The Beatles. Stuff like “Within You Without You” would come on, and that made me aware of Eastern culture, whether I knew it or not. I’ve been exposed to more cultures through music than I have any other medium. Plus, it’s a language that has really brought cultures together. Being around it all my life you can see it. I could just see how it all kind of blended together, and that influenced me. I listen to raga all the time. I’m a big fan of Ravi Shankar. I listen to that music as much as I listen to rock and roll or jazz. If it wasn’t for music I don’t think I would have my horizons as broadened. Now, whether that translates into wanting to go to India I don’t know. When I was younger I had more of a zest to see the world. It would be interesting if I make my way there, but I’m not sure I seek it out.
SR: That’s great! Everyone has a list of places that they still have to hit. What are three that you want to see?
LR: Definitely Japan. I’ve always loved the Japanese culture. It’s been kind of a long-term aggravation that I haven’t found my way to Japan yet. I’ve had coverage from Japan with my music since the 90’s. I’ve always assumed that I would be invited over there, which is pretty presumptuous, but I really hope to get there sometime. As I mentioned before, definitely Greece. I just think Greece is a destination I’d love to check out. As for the third one, I wouldn’t mind checking out somewhere in what would formerly have been the Eastern Bloc, like parts of Poland, Hungry and Czechoslovakia. It would be great to check out a town like Budapest or even Vienna. I haven’t really zeroed in on where it would be. Or, even parts of Russia too.
SR: Lastly, I know you album just came out, but what do the next few months have in store?
LR: I also play with Robyn Hitchcock. I play guitar for him. So, besides going back to Memphis to record our second record with Stephens for Those Pretty Wrongs, I’m going to be touring around the country a little bit with Hitchcock. Then, we’re going to go to go to the [United Kingdom] in May. Before that there will be some stuff in Portland. Hopefully, I can make it back to Spain before the end of the year.
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For more on Luther Russell visit his website:
Photos of Luther Russell © Savannah Spirit