Whilst at a recent album launch gig in the heart of Kettering Town, Northamptonshire I bumped into music producer Russ Russell.
Russ is well known in the Metal/Alternative scene for multiple, fantastic albums with great artists such as Dimmu Borgir, Evile, The Wildhearts, The Exploited, Napalm Death and many many more. So being nosey I asked the man behind the music for an interview. After several beverages he started to seem willing. Several beverages more and we finally forgot about the interview. However with the following day he clearly was not too hung over as we finally did the interview.
How do you choose who you going to work with? OK well firstly I give them a listen of course, is there potential to make a good record? Yes, ok then let’s see what they are like as people and as a unit, are they dedicated, hard working, have the necessary drive and enthusiasm? Can they play their instruments? If they have all this then let’s go for it…….
OR the other question is do they have a massive bag of money? In which case “Welcome, come on in” hahahaha no I’m joking, that never happens….maybe sometimes….no no of course not….often…often enough hahahaaaaa
How did you get started as a music producer? My father worked for a German electronics company so we always had microphones and tape machines around the house so I grew up with it, made my first recordings at about 8 years old. Later when I was playing in bands I was always the one to get involved when we went to a studio to record and over time I started to be asked to work with other bands in the studio and also doing live sound and gradually the hobby became a career.
How long have been active as a producer then? I think it was about 1979 when I did my first recording, then about 1984 when I first recorded a band, but professionally I guess I started actually getting paid for it in about 1990.
Any other music roles? Started as a drummer – wasn’t very good, moved on to guitar – was slightly better, had a bit of a dabble at most instruments, but always best at using technology really.
What project you working on now? We’re currently half way through the new Lockup album, with Shane on bass (Napalm Death), Nick Barker on drums (Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Testament) Anton Reisenegger on guitar (Criminal, Pentagram) and Kevin Sharp on vocals (Brutal Truth, Primate, Venomous Concept)
It’s fast as fuck, they really tear shit up, it’s gonna be a brutal album.
Next I’m working on a new album with UK Thrash band Shrapnel. It’s the second album I’ve done with the guys. The songs are shaping up nicely, should be a cracker!
With such a large body of work do you have particular high points? Hard to say, there’s so many. All the years and adventures with Napalm Death, both on the road and in the studio have been amazing, they’re like family to me.
Working with Dimmu Borgir on recording their live show with orchestra and choir was a real technical high point, there was something like 140 microphones, 5 or 6 mixing consoles, 3 recording trucks, it was a crazy day.
Have you ever turned musicians away? If so why? Yes many times, obviously in the early days I pretty much had to say yes to everything but now I have the luxury to be able to be a bit more selective. I get approached by some bands that maybe are good but just not my thing, or not what I’m looking for at that time. I like to vary my work through out the year, not constantly doing the same kind of band back to back.
Then there are other bands that are just simply shit, and the weird thing is they just can’t see it, they’re blind to it. You listen to them play and the songs are dreadful, the playing is terrible and I’m somehow expected to make a blinding album. I always try to be polite about it and constructive with my criticism if I think they could improve with time and effort, but theres some you just have to say “give it up, go do something else…please” hahahaa!
Given your well established, long term relationship with Napalm Death, does working long term create a different dynamic and approach to your work? Yeah absolutely. We all know each other so well we often dont need to talk much about stuff in the studio, we’re almost telepathic now. I see where they are going with a track, or direction of an album and we all just forge ahead. It’s nice that they trust me so much. They’ll often leave me alone in the studio for a few weeks while they go off on tour. I’ll play around with stuff, particularly working on the more experimental tracks and mostly they’ll come back and go “wow thats fuckin’ cool, that gives me another idea.” We constantly push each other forward into making better and better records; I cant wait for the next one.
What are some of the biggest differences in the music producing you have seen since you started out? Well obviously the internet arrived and changed everything, some for the better, some for the worse. It’s a great thing for marketing and for artists to directly communicate with their fans. People who embrace it and make it work for them are doing well. People who just sit on Facebook and moan that it’s all killed music are just a bit out of touch and will fail to sustain a career in music.
Technology within the studio has also changed a lot too. I was there at the birth of the digital revolution as computers took over from tape machines. It’s mindblowing what can be done with the tech these days; it would have been unthinkable 25 years ago. It does seem to mean the old school ethos of studio engineering has been somewhat lost but hey times change and jobs change.
How hard was it to create your own recording studio? It was pretty easy to actually get it going because it was already there. Somebody else set up The Parlour a few years before I came along, I just moved in with a load of gear and a bunch of ideas of how to improve the place. Financially of course it’s hard, it takes a lot of investment to make a studio good enough to compete on a global level. I’ll never be rich, but who cares about money when you’re surrounded by cool studio gear hahahaaa!
How do you go about capturing the energy of a live show when recording in the studio? That can be very difficult. It’s not just a case of recording the band live. It has to be so much bigger and heavier and more impressive simply because you’re not listening to it at gig volume, in a dark room, with flashing lights, surrounded by the energy of a crowd. You have to compensate for this and add elements to enhance and build energy and excitement, and not kill the vibe. You have to make sure it still sounds like the band. Don’t take them too far away from their essence, don’t make it clinical and unhuman; enhance the dirt and personality.
Tell me about your newest release? It was a great honour to be asked to do the new Raging Speedhorn album which just came out last week. I’ve known the guys for years and we have done work together before but not a full Speedhorn album. I bumped into them at Bloodstock 2015 and they asked if I would do it and of course I immediately jumped in head first. The time was right for us all to make a real statement. If youre gonna come back do it large and loud.
Raging Speedhorn haven’t recorded since 2007, did you enjoy the challenge of helping them create new music? It was an amazing album to record – a lot fun but serious hard work to keep up that intensity the whole time. I love it, they love it, and it seems to be going down really well all round, hope we can do it again.
Who’s on your wish list of bands you you would like to produce? Well I would seriously love to do a Mastodon record – I think we’d make something really cool thats not been heard before. Devin Townsend is definitely on my list of people to work with, and that’s not entirely out of the question; we have talked about it a few times. I think I’d make a good Gojira album, I really connect with their music, particularly the new album.
What’s the question you get asked the most in your role that annoy’s you? “Do you actually know what all these buttons do?” that was funny the first 6666 times but now…..
(note to self – avoid button question)
Do you think it is important for you to work in live music along side your studio production? For me doing live sound taught me so much about frequencies and how to pull things together really quickly. Not every aspect of it translates to the studio but it’s definitely helped me. I don’t do it much anymore but I like to get out a few times a year and do a couple of big festivals. If the right tour came up I might consider going back on the road for a bit, I do enjoy it.
What festivals you looking forward to working at this year? I worked at Download with Napalm Death this year, that was great to get back in the hot seat with them.
I did some work at Glastonbury this year too although not live sound, I had a go at lights which was immense fun. Coming up next is Bloodstock where I usually help out a few bands with sound, this year I think I’m there with Evil Scarecrow and Kill II This and maybe another one or two.
Are there any festivals you look forward to each year? Bloodstock really, it’s great for me. I see loads of mates, do some business, watch some great bands and have a few small glasses of sherry hahaha!
Whats the craziest gig you’ve done? There’s been loads but I’d have to say Dimmu Borgir in Bogota has to be one of the most insane gigs I’ve ever experienced. The military police cancelled the show and told us to get out of town, they didn’t want any Satan worshipping going down in their town. The riot that kicked off outside was nuts, the military came with tanks, water cannons, rubber bullets, gas, there were cars on fire, petrol bombs being chucked around, and we were right in the middle of it all. Eventually they made us do the show to stop the riot. It was the first time I ever mixed a show with six guys with semi-automatics stood behind me – there’s loads more to this story but if anyone wants to hear it they have to buy me a pint!
Thanks Russ both for your time and your candid answers.
Russ works out of Parlour Studios in Kettering and Raging Speedhorn – Lost Ritual is now available from the usual places.