Russell Eponym: Opening Doors

By Traci Nubalo
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way from the very beginning. Russell Eponym and I are friends. My first day in Second Life was also the day I first saw Russ play.There I was, the stereotypical candidate for the “Noobie of the Year” award, walking into walls and typing in all caps. And I’ll never forget the poor dude who was nice enough to show me how to toggle to get sound. I had asked him who the best musician in Second Life was. So, of course, he escorted me directly to where Russ was playing. Once there he showed me a few simple things and then dumped me! Fortunately he deserted me just beside the stage and after his set Russell came over and said hello. I’ve been talking to him almost daily ever since! All we chat about is music, yet I can‘t recall a conversation where the topic has failed us.

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago. The second that The Word morphed from brainwaves to pixels I knew that this interview was inevitable. But as I began actually planning it I realized that I would be facing a dilemma. Russell is one of the originators of live music in Second Life; he’s a mainstay in the scene. So, what do you buy for the man who has everything? Or in this case, what questions do I ask that the man hasn’t already been asked a million times? And also, it seemed to me that his musical life had been written about so frequently that his history seems common knowledge!

There is plenty of biographical material on Russ that’s freely available. If you don’t know about Russ you are either a newcomer to Second Life or you’ve spent the last several years enslaved on Gor. And anyway, I’m much more interested in some of the more radical and transcendent aspects of “The Music Whisperer” and his career.

You see, early on during the time I’ve spent with Russell, I recognized him to be a walking encyclopedia on things musical. He’s an endless source of information on just about every aspect of music that one might ask about. But while watching him play many, many times and in sharing endless cups of tea while we chatted it’s dawned on me that Russ Eponym seems to have become what I call a “conscious musician.” He’s put in his homework often enough and intensely enough that much of the process arises for him in a simple and rather easeful fashion. This frees up enormous amounts of energy and attention which he wisely puts to use refining his performance even more.

So, rather than strolling down memory lane with Russ, or asking him how he does that thing where he uses two capos simultaneously, I thought it might be more interesting to engage him in a behind-the-scenes look at what makes this highly-successful act work.

I intended to be a good little interviewer and ask things like, “What is the secret to your success?” and, “How do you manage to stay at or near the ‘top of the heap’ in the highly-competitive Second Life music world?” But somehow the conversation went elsewhere. Fortunately, those issues did manage to get covered. But I’ve learned over the years that you let a good horse run on his own and, sure enough, this interview gradually became something unexpected. It went deeper than anticipated and it went into places that delighted me. Budding Second Life musicians, take note - what follows could help you get your feet on the path and keep them there!

So here we go, boys and girls! Welcome to Dr. Eponym’s Master Class for Music Success!

Traci Nubalo: I think your "history" is just that. As interesting as it is it’s still history, and can be covered in a paragraph or two. I'm much more interested in what makes you a success.

Russell Eponym: Yes, well my work involves a very organic process. I see the whole thing as a single entity with very dynamic parts - there is my self the performer, and there is the audience. I see this as a community or family. There is a lot going on in this relationship; there is an interdependence, for example. I feel their energy. I actually need it and reach out for it.

TN: Yes, it seems quite obvious in your live performances that you seem to thrive on the energy coming from the audience.

RE: Sometimes I can feel a great sense of togetherness that in turn has an immediate effect on my whole chemistry, my whole way of working. I’m always trying to find ways to open doors and seeking new ways to keep these doors open. The more doors I can open, the more togetherness we will all feel as a family.

I think that one of the things that has made this work so successful on many levels is the excitement that we are all having this experience together, as a group, as a whole.

[Russell’s comment on the excitement of the shared experience prompted me to ask about something I had seen in his group chat window.]

TN: I had a real sense of that yesterday with the group-chat discussion. Can you tell me what happened? Your group line was all abuzz.

RE: Well, to begin with I had several shows. I played my standard early slot at the Old Barn, then did a set for a small, very intimate audience at the Dubai Jazz Club. As the day progressed it felt as if the songs were no longer perfunctory pieces of a performance. They became a way of engaging, a way of communicating a sense that we are getting closer and closer. When that happens I feel a huge growth in my spirit and it spills over. I feel so much love for those mad people!

The last set of the day I played for a large audience at the Z Club. By this time I was really buzzing and so was the crowd. The venue owner and hostess just stood there pleasantly bewildered. I even had several people listening remotely at their homes! The energy had gotten extremely high at this point and we were all loving it! All of that is what we were discussing on the group chat.

TN: Wow! Sounds like an awesome day! That would have been a good week for many performers.

RE: It was! Many artists would kill for an audience of 30.

TN: I recall not so long ago, you were insecure about the possible negative effects on your career of moving to Wales.

RE: Yes, it was a natural apprehension but I was simply wrong. I underestimated the power of engagement and commitment. Maybe I also underestimated myself and my capacity to depend on my audiences.
I hadn’t realized the degree that my music has matured. It’s the same but different and the differences are so subtle. I now have a belief in myself that was incomplete before - a belief in the power of 'being with people' and of just simply giving myself to them.

I have been told that I have healing qualities in my voice. I don’t know about that, Traci. All I can say is this: if that is what people experience and feel then I am not going to dispute it. Neither will I question it. Things are as they are.

I was really taken by what Russell says here. He’s recognizing that there’s now a shared experience that exists among him and his fans, the members of his family. Knowing this family as I do, there’s no question that they would agree. The wonderful artistic generosity in Russell “opens the door” for this shared success - despite years of lonely struggle learning his craft - allowing all to grow and celebrate with him. The narrower, more selfish desire for personal gain begins to yield to the more inclusive, heartfelt warmth of the shared Awakening moment! We’ve all felt that blissful moment at a great concert or play when my “me-ness” slips quietly away and I get lost in the characters, the music or the story. For a moment - or an evening - I can yield to the transcendent reality that such theater can provide.

For his part, Russell seems consciously aware of this transaction and frankly, appears to be a master player on that level of interaction.

So when some people begin to have experiences of his voice healing them, he humbly allows them to own that experience. But he also sidesteps being bound and limited by the traditional curing role. He consents to the change and growth, yet he brilliantly deflects the personal accolade (and burden) that come with being the agent of cure. “Things are as they are”, therefore, becomes the ultimate zen blessing! Perhaps he is, indeed, “The Music Whisperer.”

During this discussion another sub-plot appeared, adding weight to my sense that Russell is engaged in his work from a relatively conscious perspective. He told me about an incident that took place with another SL musical performer. It seems that this very likeable and talented singer/songwriter had been scheduled to appear after Russell - “closing the show.”

But this particular event was one in which the Eponymous family had turned out in huge numbers (I’ve coined the term “sim busting” to describe his overflow crowds). Since no musician with any sense of pride enjoys having to follow an act as powerful as his [see accompanying Jerry Lee Lewis story], Russell spoke to me about having feelings of worry for her.

RE: It felt very depressing for her to have to follow me. I love that girl. I only discovered that her set followed mine 10 minutes before the end of the set. A lot of my audience remained but they were essentially my audienceand as long as I remained they did. But I had only 30 minutes before my final show.

What I think is taking place here is that the desire to “open doors” - to live and operate from a wider, less-narcissistic perspective and to encourage those around us to do the same - at some point becomes more compelling than the sense of personal power or gain. This is fascinating to me because of the intensity of personal sacrifice an artist must invest in just to arrive at significant levels of artistic success, let alone stay there! For years there is the struggle to win, to be the best. Many artists never lose that sense of drive. This makes his concern for her all the more moving.

This theme of “opening doors” is one that is heard very often in the Eponymous family these days. There is a tangible sense of accomplishment present, and Russell freely loves it; it touches every family member including the noobie taking in his or her first Russ Eponym concert! One way in which he accomplishes this is through his incredible politeness. Anyone who knows him will tell you that he is pretty much the same in “real life” as he is onstage. He’s basically just a nice man, and that makes him accessible on many levels.

During the interview he asked for only one thing from me: he wanted my promise that the several people that work with him would be mentioned by name.

RE: I am blessed with a wonderful support team, four exceptional people, Firestarter Flanagan, to begin with. I’ve known her for almost 10 years. And also Michele Mrigesh who was my first real assistant and has worked with me on and off for a year. Firestarter is an exceptional friend and Michele is my conscience.

Then there is Kadoodle Snoodle. She has an uncanny capacity to extemporize, to be totally quirky and beautifully spontaneous in her support of my act. Next there’s Kel Triellis. She’s a wonderfully engaging person; she draws people in superbly and is able to blend in with the way the shows are evolving.

TN: What a team!

RE: Yes and each one is a beautiful individual. As a team they look after my interests with care and sensitivity. They keep me sane. They keep me motivated.
I also want to mention Serene Bechir. She no longer works for me, but in the time she was my assistant she was tireless and dedicated. Serene was a tower of strength at times when my spirit was frail. She deserves to be mentioned; the group growth was her baby. Essentially, she built my group.

Putting on my techie cap I made an attempt to draw Russell into a discussion about his choice of instruments. Here’s what happened:

TN: There's another, more hidden, aspect to your success..
RE: Yes?

TN: It's obvious, yet invisible - your equipment. What makes that awesome sound? What are you using?

RE: Myself and my guitar.

TN: *smile* Okay...what guitar?

RE: My playing has always been a very personal love affair. I‘m using my Breedlove at the moment but I have used my Takamine and my Taylor. I have some beautiful instruments.

TN: And i know you don't go for a lot of (or any) effects

RE: None. I want a pure acoustic sound; I want to hear that innocence of tone - unaffected, true. And I want to feel the intimacy of my fingers playing those strings.

TN: Yes, the other aspect of "tech" is "technique". And I know that you’ve had to cut back a little in gigging because of your hands

RE: Yes, there is always a health warning for musicians. For a guitarist the finger joints are crucial. Fortunately my left hand (the one currently affected) is the less dynamic one. My right hand - the picking hand - does the work. The left is the fretting hand and most of my effects arise from the pull-offs and hammer-ons.

TN: At great expense to the joints.

RE: Yes, at great expense.

TN: You and I have discussed in the past the dynamics of doing those repetitive motions with the left hand.

RE: Yes we have. I have recognized the need for rest, and curtailment of my schedule. There are several reasons. Firstly, physically - I simply could not maintain 100 concerts a month. Secondly, I need time for my own personal development as a songwriter, as a musician and thirdly, as a human.

I also thrive on large audiences. i need the thrust and the energy of a large audience. I love to engage. It’s important to me

TN: This whole discussion could be a master class on staying at the top of the game! *laughter* Russ, I think you know that I know quite a few people in the
SL music scene...

RE: Yes.

TN: And when your name comes up there's always one thing everyone says.…’He's such a sweetheart" or ‘nice guy‘, ‘great dude’. How do you maintain that nicety in the middle of all that you deal with?

RE: I am touched by that. I try to respect and love the people who come to listen to me. That is an honour for me. I am privileged to play. Also, I have a great love of the music. I love what I do and I love the music I am fortunate enough to be able to play.

TN: Yes, but life as a serious performer is not all about the music. It's a rugged business.

RE: It’s about a lot of things: image; and hard work; and being there for people on a personal level. And it’s about helping others, helping new musicians, developing the music scene. It’s also about working with the venue owners, so that everyone in the loop can grow and prosper.

TN: Mentioning the clubs reminds me to ask you about the origins of the Dream Dance sequence. People really seem to love that!

RE: The Dream Dance was a way of creating a common experience. Yes, people do love it. They are taking a vital step. It’s a leap of faith. They feel better in their real lives for their Dream Dance in Second Life.

The Dream Dance is yet another door opening for all of us to pass through - a door into your own imagination. Not even questioning it; just doing it and feeling the sublime flow of happiness.

Staying on top of the game is about maintaining those relationships and keeping those doors open.

TN: It’s the creation of Awakened Entertainment

RE: Yes. It’s just different from what people have been used to but the effects are worth every drop of perspiration. Staying on top is also about something else, also. It’s about remembering who we are and why we are here and not thinking that people can be abused and used for the sake of vanity or lindens.

But most importantly, it’s about not forgetting that none of us is above the music.

* * * * *

There is a story that has made the rounds for quite some time regarding Jerry Lee Lewis’ stubborn refusal to play as an opening act on a concert billing. Traditionally, of course, the most popular (read “powerful in the marketplace”) act closes the evening with the other lesser acts opening the show.

One night, for reasons by now unknown, a promoter insisted that Jerry Lee serve as opening act. Apparently backed into a corner, the wild-haired pianist came out in the opening slot and tore through his set with a vengeance. He had the audience eating out of his hands by the time he reached his final number, the mega-popular “Great Balls of Fire”. He reputedly pulled out every stop in working the already feverish crowd into a frenzy. And when he - and the audience - could go no further he produced a can of lighter fluid from a jacket pocket, doused the piano, and set it ablaze!

As the instrument burned to the ground The Killer calmly strode offstage, stopping only to tell the promoter, “Let that sonofabitch follow THAT!”

Zorch Boomhauer: Zorch Nation

by Traci Nubalo

Hello Second Life music and arts lovers!

I'm Traci Nubalo, and if you've gone to many live music/arts events in SL you may have seen me there or met me. I'm a refugee from the RL music business, formerly an artist manager, tour manager, concert promoter and music journalist.

Arriving here in SL I found myself thrilled with how vibrant and creative the scene here is. I attend a lot of events, and have gotten to know quite a few great musicians, artists, music venue owners and other fellow music/art lovers like myself.

This blog is my effort to report on what makes our music/art scene interesting. It's about the people that make the scene happen and how they work their magic to thrill us and inspire us with their writing, singing, playing and creating. Look at it as the backstage pass that most of us longed for and were never able to get our hands on.

I'm interested in writing articles and stories that are too long and too indepth for the SL magazines to publish. I want to know what it is about music and art that sets our souls free - and how such magnificence gets created. I'm very much into the positive, upbeat aspects of art, so you won't find me dumping on people or putting down their craft here (although a little controversy can sometimes make for a great read lol).

I'm going to try to post here regularly. Might not be a full story every time, but you can probably count on something from me on a weekly basis.

Also, I'd like to ask your help: If you have comments or critiques, please send them to me in SL or email me at If you know of a musician, group, artist, event, or music venue that might be interesting for me to cover let me know.

So, enough said!

The first entry in The Word is a piece that I've written about Zorch Boomhauer, one of the most interesting and creative musicians stalking the clubs and concert rooms of Second Life. I hope you enjoy!

Zorch Nation - Part 1
by Traci Nubalo

Every head in the room turns as he arrives from above on his custom, one-man steampowered airship. Guitar on his back, he steps lightly off the machine and strides to the stage without a word. All red hair and attitude, this is clearly a man on a mission. He’s Zorch Boomhauer and this night is his.

After almost two years of kicking musical ass and taking virtual names in the clubs and concert halls of Second Life, it’s pretty obvious that Zorch has arrived on his own as a musical force to be reckoned with. He plays constantly in Second Life and has become one of the most sought-after musical artists in that virtual world. His fans display a fierce loyalty to Zorch the rock star, yet they also relate to him as mad poet-artist, an image in which he revels.

On this particular evening his large group of passionate fans (collectively known as Zorch Nation) is gathered in force in a virtual concert hall to celebrate the release of their man’s most recent MP3 song collection entitled “Shadow and Light”. Decked out in that curious mode of dress known as “steampunk” (think ‘Wild Wild West meets Rock Concert’) they wait excitedly for his arrival and when the airship suddenly appears overhead a palpable wave of delight spreads through the group. For the next hour they will move as one with him, an energy wave which continues until the final note of the final song fades to silence.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Zorch during the week leading into the release event. In fact, he was kind enough to invite me to join him at his home, another airship - this one full-size - christened HMS Arrogant Bastard. This name, of course, provided an apt opening question for the discussions that eventually provided the material for this article. (His answer: “Arrogance is a word used by insecure people to describe others who are not insecure.)” And with that, I was off on a wild ride through the twisted, fascinating mind of Zorch Boomhauer.

One of the main themes that surfaced throughout our several hours together is that he essentially considers himself to be a songwriter. I’ve heard him say onstage a few times that he “isn’t sure that he’s even a musician.” Personally, I disagree with his self- assessment, although he would hardly be the first performing artist to take that stance. Years ago I was majorly astonished to hear the great Paul Simon (one of the most accomplished acoustic guitarists of the storyteller genre) claim that his recently-injured hand presented him no career problems since, as he put it, “I’m really not a guitarist, I’m a songwriter”.
But, like Simon, Zorch IS an accomplished instrumentalist. His rhythm guitar work, especially in a live setting, carries with it a clean, powerful presence that serves as the perfect backing for his stories. His technique makes use of a seemingly-endless variety of chordal variations, keeping the texture of the song colorful and interesting. He’s also found a comfortable-yet-dynamic strumming style that blends fluid bottom-end coverage with the excitement and jazzy motion created by the use of intelligently-placed passing notes and phrases.
These are traits, of course, found in many genres of advanced guitar performance, and very frequently in the play of many great acoustic Celtic/folk artists. In mentioning this to Zorch, I brought up Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson as a prime example, as well as the acoustic work of Richard Thompson, both solo and with Fairport Convention. While adroitly dodging either comparison, he did offer a brief but telling discussion of his early influences.

ZB: “I was born in Dublin Ireland, but moved to the USA when I was two years old…I ended up in South Carolina. [My] Dad didn't want me to be a musician because he thought that they are all heroin addicts. My grandfather was a jazz pianist and he used to give me lessons on the sly…I had to practice “on the down low". (This dichotomy would later appear in the lyrics of “Accident of Faith” the opening track on “Shadow and Light”).

ZB: “…my dad insisted on playing traditional Irish music in the house so we didn't lose our culture. That’s the musical diet I grew up on and I didn't really notice how much the Celtic influence colored my music until I came here to Second Life.”

TN: Yes, there is a direct Celtic vibe to your music.

ZB: “And a there’s also a jazz vibe, although most can’t hear it because they don’t know what jazz is. I don’t sit around thinking “jazz thoughts”, but I did start out like my grandfather playing jazz piano, so it‘s just ingrained in my musical vocabulary”.

After this brief investigation into his instrumental roots, the conversation shifted to his compositional background and technique. He wears the “songwriter” tag very proudly and always became highly animated whenever the discussion entered this area of his life and career. In discussing his songwriting technique, Zorch made a fascinating claim - one which opens the door to some interesting speculations.

ZB: “Well, I write my tunes very differently from most writers. The words and music coexist from the beginning, and I compose them in my head.”

This is, of course, a most uncommon statement for a songwriter to make. The vast majority will settle on a particular preferred instrument on which they compose. Piano - due to the linear/visual nature of the note arrangement - seems to be the instrument of choice, even among those who don’t perform on the instrument. Z may be the first composer I’ve ever heard say that they don’t write using an instrument. His songs apparently arrive ready to play! In fact, he goes even a bit further:

“My songs are born semi-grown up. I know just how they go! I actually have to learn my own songs oddly enough.”

The implications of this passed me by at first. But one very late night a week later, as I sat - quill and parchment in hand, pulling this piece together - the import of this comment hit me between the eyes. What Zorch seems to be describing is a songwriting technique which relies on a rather direct communication from the subconscious (or even superconscious) area of his personality. In other words, in his case, music and lyrics are being processed invisibly and silently and then delivered to him to edit and complete on the conscious level of awareness!

Of course, such direct internal communication is sought after and cultivated by artists in many arenas. Seeking to “find the groove” they resort to the use of substances, meditation, and many other means. Grammy-winning New Age harpist and master composer Andreas Vollenweider revealed to me in a late 1990’s interview that his songs “arrived” via a process of forcing himself directly from his bed to the harp with exactly one half cup of coffee at 2 or 3 o’clock each morning!

So, Boomhauer is not unique in this area, but he certainly represents a very rare composer in whom the “pre-conscious” process is developed to the extent that the story and melody appear simultaneously and apparently in a rather advanced stage of compositional cohesiveness.

Another fascinating result of Z’s unusual songwriting technique is that since the songs arrive practically pre-written…well, I’ll let him tell it:

ZB: “Because I do it that way, I'm blissfully unaware of things like the composite time signature and/or modalities I'm using until I sit down and try to play them. So my music is never stunted by what I can play. I have to grow technically to be able to play my own songs.”

Along with his father’s Celtic influences, and the ever-present jazz piano from his grandfather, Z describes early memories of enjoying popular artists such as Johnny Cash and The Beatles growing up. But he told me a rather interesting story about his recollection of what caused him to want to write killer songs in the first place.

ZB: “
I remember a friend of mine taking me to a show featuring Joe Ely. I had never heard of the guy, but my friend said that Joe wrote good songs. When we walked in I recall seeing a sea of cowboy hats and thinking ‘Aww crap’, not being sympathetic to country music at the time.”

His interest was piqued abruptly, however, when Ely began to sing a song with these lyrics:

Carmen must have been the devil’s daughter
at least he taught her how to wear her clothes
she lead the men in to the slaughter
and there they fell like dominos.

“…and I was like "Whoa"! Every line of every song resonated. It was the most amazing moment in my life - and suddenly I feel so imperfect and lazy as a writer. I wanted to write great songs!”

(Note: It turns out that “Row of Dominos” was a Butch Hancock song being covered by Joe Ely that fateful night. Nonetheless, the Zorchman must be applauded for recognizing a great turn-of-the-phrase when it appears) .

Zorch also mentions compositional influences such as John Prine and Steve Goodman, but he retains a special connection to the great John Hartford, who inspired him immensely as both a writer and performer. But, like so many really good story tellers, he credits life itself as his most important inspiration.

“In the end you are influenced by everything you hear, every conversation, every uncomfortable moment and every triumph.”

The depth of revelation that Zorch offered in these few hours together is a reflection of the profound honesty he brings to his craft. Many times during these sit-downs I felt Zorch expressing a true commitment to his songs and a deep appreciation for and loyalty to his fans.

During this period of interviews, I also took the liberty of speaking with some members of the Zorch Nation to get their perspective. One response which seemed to encapsulate most of the others came from Lexie Luan, herself a respected SL singer/songwriter:

Lexie Luan: “When I think about Zorch Boomhauer what comes to mind is that he’s a brilliant song writer/story teller. Zorch has written more songs than anyone is probably aware of. He could play for three hours straight and not repeat one original song and they are all quality songs. I find his performances compelling and intoxicating. He digs down deep each and every show, and gives you all he has and doesnt stop till you have been zorched.”

I admit it: I have been zorched!
In Part 2, I interview Zorch (and his fans)
about "Shadow & Light".
Coming soon, right here at The Word!

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