Zach Russell - Sound In The Signals Interview

Photo By: Emma Delavante

I recently had the opportunity to interview Zach Russell. We discussed how traditional country music influenced him, how his new EP, ‘The Creek’ explores ways of being present and finding meaning in your life, his writing and recording process, lyrical inspiration, designing the artwork for the EP, and more. Check it out below. 

First, thanks for the interview.

Thanks for having me. I'm still surprised and excited every time someone wants to talk to me. 

Can you tell me how you got into music for those who may be unfamiliar? Who are some of your biggest influences?

I started out playing guitar and a little mandolin (I wish I could still play mandolin like I could when I was a teenager) in my Southern Baptist Church band, like old Red Book Hymnal type stuff. Until I was 16 or so that was my only live music experience. At the time, I never gave any thought to whether I liked that music. Now I look at my music and I feel like it's blatantly obvious that that's where I got my start. If you aren't familiar with it it's pretty similar to traditional country and bluegrass music.

Speaking of traditional country music, a lot of my biggest influence comes from there. Willie Nelson is at the top of the list of my heroes. I love how guys like him, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard could be so vulnerable and croon you to sleep, but could also take a song and make it rock with the same three chords. 

This may be a little unconventional, but I draw a big inspiration from mysticism and spiritual traditions. I'm no expert in anything, perhaps not even competent, but I am deeply touched by teachers like Ram Dass and I'm a big fan of an ancient Sufi poet by the name of Rumi. I like to draw inspiration and subject matter from these places of presence and love. I feel somewhat of a conviction to do my little part in putting good out into the world. Maybe this is just a lingering symptom from growing up in a church. haha


All of my songs certainly don't reflect spirituality (even though I think maybe they're all shaded by it). But The Creek is absolutely about being present and finding meaning in your life. "And my woman laying there snoring sounds like the river of Jordan" is a lyric from the song. Find significance in your life. Just going to bed each night can be a baptism. 

You just released your new EP ‘The Creek’. Tell us about the writing and recording process for the the EP. What moments stick out to you? 

As far as writing goes, I'm always writing. I write every day. I may not get anything out, but I always sit down with my guitar. So I wasn't writing for the EP. I was picking from songs I already had. But when I write I usually start with an idea. I may start on it immediately, or I may let it roll around in my head for a few days. I try and determine whether it's worth saying and whether there's enough to say about it to make a song out of. Then it's typically like how do I express this? How do I tell this story? Is it something better told in a tale? Where does it start? Who's the narrator? Or is this something better described? Or do I just feel like bitching about something that's pissed me off?

The recording was pretty simple. My producer Kyle Crownover got a group of awesome musicians together and we just went in and let them do their thing. The only exception being the song One More. The demo of this song is just me and a guitar and it's kind of a ballad type song. But when we went in the studio the drummer just without saying anything kicked off a beat that was completely left field of what we had in mind and we all just started playing. We had it done in maybe 3 takes. That was a really great feeling. It felt like something magic had just happened. 

“Dirt In My Eye” is one of my favorite songs from the EP. Can you tell me about the musical and lyrical inspiration for the song?

This song is all kind of tongue in cheek. The whole thing is kind of a joke. It's a very sad song, but it's deceptively upbeat. The narrator is constantly saying "I'm not crying" even though he is. 

I wrote this one when I was really going through it. It's ultimately about being heavily depressed. Like when the sun's shining and everything's good, but you can't get out of it. You can't stop staring into the void. And you've felt that way for so long that you're pretty sure you're fucked for good. "Spent too much time with the numb and void. So now all I feel is dumb and bored." Thankfully that's not true and things get better. 

The artwork for the EP is pretty interesting. Who created the painting and came up with the concept for it?

The artwork was done by my friend Arthur Hatton (@arthurhattonart on instagram). He's a brilliant artist and great guy. He did the art for my last release, as well. I believe in supporting your friends and supporting people whose work you admire. I could have used a photo or something but it gives me great pleasure to be able to patronize and work together with Arthur to come up with something truly unique. 

The raw concept was mine. I presented the idea to Arthur and he refined it and made some suggestions. And I was very thrilled with the final result. 

What’s the meaning behind it and why did you feel like it fit this new EP?

I specifically wanted Tennessee Iris flowers coming out of my head. I wanted to convey an image that I'm made of the Tennessee dirt, and that I'm not separate from the earth. 

I also wanted to have something shocking and psychedelic that grabbed the eye, something that would stand out. It almost brings about a sense of androgyny without going into territory that might be considered "drag". I feel that it challenges a sense of fragile masculinity that is very much in the air of country music. I have been referred to as a "manly man", and in California even been referred to as a "good ol' boy", but I like flowers and emotions and good pop music and painting and art and all that shit. I think people could be happier if they let more of that in. That doesn't make you any less of a man. I'd say you're a better man for it. I doubt all of this comes across, but at the very least I've forced a few folks to look at an amazing piece of art.

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

Shoot. I'd say you already got more than you asked for. But give more love. Do your best not to think bad of people. If you come across something you don't understand or don't agree with you do have the option to let it be. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know." And don't go hurtin' nobody that ain't hurtin' nobody. Thanks for having me...

All the best.


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