Russell Eponym: The Truth According to Russell Eponym

by Traci Nubalo

So, there I was at Twill’s Muse minding my own business (not exactly true: I was there to see the great Russell Eponym perform) and as I wandered around talking to people I suddenly got an idea I couldn‘t resist (slightly false: I knew when I went there what I was going to do). I had written about Russell once before and was nervous about what I could say in this article so I was procrastinating a bit (well…no: I LOVE Russell and his music and will talk about him at the drop of a hat).
After that introduction you probably won’t believe anything else I say but I SWEAR that in the crowd at Twill’s that day I saw a tiny dragon, a polar bear, a mermaid, and a couple dancing together while they mopped the floor. (All true: Twill’s is that kind of place. And it’s also where one might find some of the most interesting music on Planet Second Life).
And that brings us to Russell Eponym. The idea that I had for this this interview was that I would ask some of his many fans to anonymously contribute THE question that they had most always wanted to ask him. I would then slip the questions into the interview author unnamed. More about that later.
During the first article about Russ (which appeared in this blog before it had been picked up by VIRTUAL TIMES) I made the point upfront that Russ and I are good SL friends and that I am a huge fan of his work. He is the consummate professional, a total gentleman, and just a good guy to hang with. He also happens to be one fierce musician and writer. He - at one point in time - performed more than 1,000 shows on Second Life within a one-year period. This speaks directly to both his popularity and to his durability as a performer. He also has formed around him one of the very best fan groups in Second Life, which is called his Eponymous Family. It’s truly extended family in every sense of the term, and my respect for this group caused me to try to do this interview with them in mind.
Russell met me on three occasions in the brand new VIRTUAL TIMES office building where we shared a fascinating and informative couple of interview hours. I was so pleased with the results that I decided to not write a lot of prose but to try to let the interview speak for itself.

Traci Nubalo: You've been at this Second Life music thing a long time Russ. Five years is it?
Russell Eponym: Yes, in my 5th year now. In January I had a huge four-year show at my sim The Still Point of the Turning World.
TN: Wow! Has a lot changed in that time period?
RE: Yes. First and foremost the quantity of musicians has increased. There was just a handful of us in the early days. We were hot property. Then of course, the number of venues has risen exponentially. Also, there’s a greater variety of events which have now become firmly established.
TN: Are you not hot property now?
RE: You would have to ask my family. I do after all belong to them.
TN: Are you referring to your online fan group, the Eponymous Family?RE: Yes. But in another sense I am not property at all because I have remained my own master. I’ve managed my own career with a great team
TN: Yes you have; very artfully, I might add.
RE: Well, it has been very hard work, Traci. It’s not an easy thing to become successful in SL, and in many ways I have been successful. It is something which people do not always understand. The work ethic is important. I am here to fulfil a professional obligation and in so doing, I enjoy the most fulfilling job I have ever had - earning a living through playing live music. It does not get better than that.
TN: Well said.
RE: I am told constantly by other musicians that that is what they want. I know it is a good experience for me.
TN: I'm glad you brought up the Eponymous Family so early. I wanted to bring them into this as well. You have arguably the most fascinating and effective online group in SL.
RE: Yes, what can I say about them except that they are what keep me going everyday.
TN: Yes, I know this is a deep issue for you.
RE: It really is; they mean everything to me. They have autogenously created a community in itself - a place of exchange, a place for sharing and caring.
TN: Even healing.
RE: I always feel that a good show has been a corporate effort - all of us together. You just saw something of that at the show earlier, and you’ve seen many examples over the years that you and I have been friends.
TN: Russ, what I've seen in the family has amazed me. I’ve watched the group interact through marriages and births, passings and celebrations; suffering and joy.
RE: Yes, and always with a genuine sense of caring and as you say, of healing. The music is going well; the shows are at times spectacular. But most of all the energy is enormous. Over the long time that I’ve been watching Russell’s progress in SL music one of the things that has impressed me most is the extremely creative and progressive form that his online fan group has taken. The Eponymous Family has grown far beyond the typical “When are you playing?” info source that’s prevalent here. They truly have become family in every sense of the term.Several times a day the group chat window will open and members of the tribe will gather to share gig info as well as to chat about whatever topic happens to be on the table that day.The group seems to have evolved into extended family, celebrating - and sometimes commiserating - whatever life changes they share. I find the exchanges to often be very real and touching - one of the very best examples of positive online communication.
TN: So, on behalf of the family members I’d like to go back in time with you a little.
RE: Okay.
TN: How did this music thing begin for you? What were you doing prior to SL?
RE: It started when I was a twelve-year-old. I fell in love with the whole acoustic sound, the poetical possibilities of song, the political significance of music, the open door to creativity through music and song. It was enormous! The effect of hearing Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and all the characters of that era. I wanted to do that, and I had my first harmonica when I was twelve and soon after I had my first guitar. I was overwhelmed in hearing the delicious artistry of Bert Jansch and John Renbourne. I went to see them play in London coffee houses, and raced home trying to keep a mental image of what they did to make those guitars speak the most wonderful language. I watched players like a hawk watches its prey - always considering, absorbing.I also I played in various types of bands - heavy rock, folk, punk, jazz.
TN: How were you employed?
RE: I was a teacher throughout my working life, and used music endlessly as a teaching aid.
TN: Ahh the Sting Syndrome.
RE: Yes I suppose so. My students sang. We wrote together; we sang together. It was a great journey. I practiced the art a lot and played when I could in clubs or pubs. Did some decent gigs, and the songwriting became an important new avenue. I had always been a writer - short stories, poetry and an unpublished novel so writing was in my blood.I also had the good fortune to know some excellent musicians - people I knew at school who later became important players in music. Classical musicians, jazz players.
TN: Such as…?
RE: I was lucky enough to have been the best friend of Julian Lloyd-Weber - arguably the finest cellist in the world and brother of Andrew. We were at school together. I also knew some and rock musicians who went on to tour with Al Stewart. Another good friend named Nico Ramsden ended up as Mike Oldfield's second guitarist for the live Tubular Bells performances. Another friend - Robyn Sylvester now plays bass for the Grateful Dead spin-off called Ratdog. I was so lucky to have had associations with these people. It was great knowing these musicians.
TN: And so at some point SL appeared?
RE: Yes. I had just moved to the USA and using another online program. At some point we heard about SL, how great the sound quality was and so we made the transition. We were all streaming on Day One.
TN: Are there others of that original group still here
RE: Yes, Frogg Marlowe was the first musician I met in SL. He was so helpful and so good at showing us the ropes. Also Neil Morrison; UFS Hyde (now deceased); Mel Cheeky; Cylindrian Rutabaga - I brought her into SL; Edward Lowell of course who owns the Stream Team; and DimiVan Ludwig who now owns the Hummingbird. We all had met in RL too - and then it all took off.
TN: *smile* And now, here we are - years down the road, still growing.
RE: Yes, the growth has been considerable, and it continues. We have to be careful. It can implode. At the moment we rely on courtesies and goodwill and trust. There is always a danger of the darker side of greed rearing its ugly head.
TN: What is your vision and hope for the future of SL music?
RE: I would like to see a full infrastructure in place which gives the musical community more stability; more systems and policies. I would like to see a policy of remuneration in place. But I do not think the answers are simple. And I have no intention of trying to address those now.
TN: Shifting gears - let's play "Desert Island Disk".
RE: Okay.
TN: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three albums would you want to have with you?
RE: I would take “The Magic Flute” by Mozart as one. *thinking* I’d also take “Flat Baroque and Berserk” by Roy Harper; and the first and eponymous album of Bert Jansch.
TN: Great choices. Not the typical "Freebird" response.
RE: Thank you. There are three things I look for in music. I want some genius, some poetry, and some skill. My disk choices cover those - the genius of Mozart, the poetic passion of Roy Harper, and the skill and precision of Bert Jansch.
TN:'s a tough one: where do you see those aspects in your own compositions?
RE: In terms of the genius, I aspire to mediocrity.
RE: In terms of the poetic passion I am learning the necessary skill of leaving more out than I include. And my dexterity is there through hard work and perseverance. There is not a huge amount to commend me, really.
TN: Well, I might argue. I believe that there are large amounts of those three qualities in your writing and playing. And I know I speak for many in your family in saying so.
RE: Maybe there is; it is not for me to say. Thank you for that. I have learned something important: sincerity and authenticity are the keys to writing good songs. Also having a capacity to listen to the sounds of everyday which envelop us; to use nature and its energy and rhythms. I try to incorporate my own experience. Does that make sense?
TN: Total sense. Thank you.
RE: I am entranced by the wonders of nature and I use that as much as is feasible in my own composing to draw hearts and minds in.I have varying degrees of success. Much depends on the receptive capacities of my audience. My audiences are astute and very receptive - actively so.
TN: Yes indeed they are. I’m interested in something of a technical nature but I’m not sure how it will translate into the printed words. But let’s try. Recently you've been discussing some "tricks of the trade" in concerts. For example, the use of various capos, etc. Can we discuss some of these techniques? Or is this not such great topic?
RE: No, no. It’s of huge interest.
TN: Well, how do you use the various tools at your disposal? In other words, we are "watching" you play, what are we seeing you do technically? I’ll issue a TECH ALERT for the readers just in case things get too techie here! lol
RE: I use a number of different capos. Full capos of course, and partial capos.
TN: For the reader, what is a capo?
RE: A capo is a device for altering the pitch of your strings. In other words, it effectively shortens the strings by clamping a rod across all strings at any fret. So if you play a C chord without a capo you are playing in key of C. But if you put your capo on fret 1, that same chord would be in key of C# (c-sharp), and so on. I often play C G D chords with the capo on 4th or 5th or even 7th fret. It enables me to use familiar chord families but at a higher pitch getting those beautiful high tonal effects. With the partial capo I can cover some of the strings, enabling me to play in DADGAD type tuning or open G tuning DGDGBD without retuning the strings.
TN: Leaving, for example, the deeper bass strings open?
RE: Exactly - allowing the droning effect suitable for celtic style music. My favourite trick is to use multiple capos.TN: *smile*
RE: …a full capo and a partial capo at the same time, or a full capo and two partial capos.
TN: Jeeez, really?
RE: Yes. I am writing a piece at the moment using a full capo on fret 2, a drop E capo on 4, and then on 6 a DADGAD capo - each capo getting progressively shorter.
TN: Wow. So this all gives you more tonal coloration?
RE: Yes - exactly. I use two capos on the banjo. I have a full capo for main four banjo strings and a sliding capo for the high G banjo string. Many musicians here ask me about my use of capos.
TN: These are not commonplace techniques, are they?
RE: No these are specialized techniques. I’m currently experimenting with two new capos. One is called the Third Hand Capo. It enables you to clamp down any combination of the six strings - one string to all six.
TN: Realllyyyyy.
RE: Yes. And the piece de resistance for me is the Voice Capo. I just received this - it covers the first four frets enabling you to hold down any chord shape so you can set it to be clamped on say D chord enabling you to improvise all the way along the fret board. It’s perfect for the player wishing to be more adventurous and creative. It is not a substitute for being able to play the chords; it is really for advanced use.
TN: Now that you and I have discussed it I think the readers will be as fascinated as I am.
RE: I hope so. I actually gave a lesson on using the capo yesterday during a concert. People were very interested. And some engaged me in conversation about it long after the show.
TN: You also mentioned it at Twills the other day.
RE: Yes I did. I find any tools or devices for developing and discovering new horizons so valuable. Some players say a capo is a cheat device.
TN: pffft! It all serves Conscious playing.
RE: Exactly. I like the freedom to get my left hand secure and safe and allow my right hand to do the talking. It’s all in my right hand, Traci.
TN: Yes, you've told me that many times.
RE: It’s true. So when people ask me for twenty minutes to show them how to finger pick I smile.
TN: Excellent. Thank you for filling us in on that. End TECH ALERT here.
The flip side of this is that there is obviously a lot going on in a non-technical sense. Would it be fair to say that your impact on the audience has a spiritual component as well?
RE: Well, yes. I am playing a style which involves a huge amount of warmth and embrace. I am playing and tuning in with the sense of presence, of people - conscious people. I am feeling an energy, a sense of anticipation and elation; of mutual entrancement.To varying degrees I sense people are zoning in, if that means anything.
TN: Yes.
RE: I am playing rhythms and arpeggios; sometimes repetitiously, sometimes not. They are often in accord and harmony with my own bodily and organic functions. So heartbeat, cerebral rhythms are part of it. A sense of movement “from and towards” as T.S.Eliot says in the Four Quartets; a sense of the “Still Point of the Turning World.” “Neither flesh nor fleshless.” - all Eliot lines.It comes from a sense that the world is absurd but that this is one way of making some sense of it; a kind of ephemeral order. LOL I’m not sure the readers will want to read this.
TN: Oh yes. They absolutely will.
RE: Musically it falls into place.
TN: Russell, this is why you are called the “Music Whisperer.”
Your Listeners Want To Know:
TN: I promised a little surprise.
RE: Yes. Everything is a surprise to me anyway, Traci.
TN: I wandered among the Eponymous family a bit and pulled a few of them aside.
RE: And you found?
TN: I solicited some questions for you from them. *smile* Things they might never ask otherwise.
RE: Okay.
TN: No names involved. Ready?
RE: I sense a white knuckle ride looming - sure.
TN: Have you ever played with or for someone who is very famous?
RE: Yes
TN: I can't let you stop there. LOL
RE: LOL My first public performance ever was with Julian Lloyd Weber in a school performance. We played Sweet Little Sixteen by Chuck Berry. I played guitar and Julian played double bass (he is arguably the world’s greatest cellist) and some other boys played drums and guitar.I also played for a punk band called The Buzzcocks before they became the legendary new wave band fronted by Pete Shelley. He and I were original members of the Jets of Air - later to become the Buzzcocks.
TN: Awesome.
RE: Next?
TN: Okay. If you are done with that one we'll move on.
RE: Well, plenty of others but not as significant.
TN: Okay, next. If you could perform in any venue or location in the real world, where would that be?
RE: That’s a tricky one - there are so many wonderful venues. I do think Wembley would be a great place to play but probably too big for my kind of music. Something smaller. How about the Newport Folk Festival? *smile*
TN: Okay...just one last one from your family. What are you favorite foods? - and meatballs do not count.
RE: I like fresh food that tastes like real food; fresh fruit; vegetables freshly grown; seafood freshly caught. Pasta and mushrooms; pineapples and enormous plump pink grapefruits. Shrimp and lobster. Asian spices and rices. French red wine. I could go on.
TN: Yummmm. Yes, but perhaps it's time for lunch.Thank you so much Russ; the family had fun playing Three Questions.
RE: Thank you, Traci. You make a job into a pleasure.
TN: The pleasure truly is mine. And that IS the truth!


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