This month we're graced with an interview from Nashville's "newly" acquired Russ Pollard of Everest) and The Watson Twins. Russ has been writing and playing music for decades from Kentucky to California to Tennessee with acts including Sebadoh, Folk Impolsion, Alaska! and legendary bass player Lou Barlow (of Dinosaur Jr.). Read about his favorite tour (with a small act called Neil Young), being inspired to play music by his own grandmother, and which My Morning Jacket member he is collaborating with on a new project.
Where did you grow up? Do you think that had an influence on your inclination to play music?
I grew up in Fresno, California, a big valley in the middle of the state. There was a lot of beauty surrounding the town with Yosemite thirty minutes up the road, tons of lakes, and a lot of camping and fishing.
I think my grandma first inspired me to play music. Her father was a bandleader who could play any instrument and had perfect pitch. She inherited the goods from him and seemed to think they had been passed on to me as well. When I was 10, she gave me his sax and taught me how to play. It was a very big deal for me. I started playing in bands when I was in high school. Then Nirvana exploded right around the time I went to college, which led me to discover Dinosaur, The Vaselines, The Melvins, Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, Pavement, etc. My direction in life became pretty clear around then and I started playing music more seriously.
What instrument did you first pick up?
I became fixated on drums when I was really young. My grandma bought me a small kit from a little mom and pop called Arthur’s Toy store. Some of my first really vivid memories are of playing those drums in our den. We had these thick 1970s green curtains and I remember pretending they were going to open to a huge audience.
Did you have any formal study? How did you learn to play?
I never studied, just picked up things from friends who were better than me. I’d also listen to records and try to copy what I was hearing as best I could, playing along. I bought music books and read the tabs.
Who were your main early influences?
My dad listened to a lot of 70s and 80s country music when I was growing up. Willie Nelson was a big one. In high school it was big rock bands like Zeppelin, Metallica, AC/DC. I moved to Louisville, KY for college, got a job at a record store and things changed. My mind was blown by guys like Ornette Coleman, Rashan Roland Kirk and Sonny Rollins, Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits. I heard Can and Kraftwerk for the first time. It was the beginning of a lifelong education for me. After playing in a bunch of local, Louisville bands, I joined Sebadoh in 1997.
Photo by Jay Blakesberg
What was your first instrument besides your toy drum? What are you currently playing?
My first instrument other than a toy drum set was a Fender Strat. I currently play C&C drums with various mix-and-match cymbals. I play a 4-piece setup. My main Guitars are a 1972 Gibson SG and a 1960s Gibson Hummingbird acoustic. I mostly play through my Tungsten “Cortez,” which is a hand-wired copy of a 5Y3 Fender Deluxe. For Bass, I play a Gibson EB3 short scale with flat wounds. I love old flip top Ampeg amps and Ashdown makes a great new amp.
What is your favorite recording setup like?
I love recording with a minimal setup, the least amount in the chain as possible. For drums, I like to put an AKG D12 in front of the kick drum, a 57 on the snare and a pair of Royer or Coles 4038’s overhead. I usually like to have an ambient mic in the room as well as a little bit of compression and spring reverb. For guitars, I like small amps in the studio, a Fender Champ or Princeton Reverb. For Bass, I like to mic an old Ampeg portaflex. Vocals are awesome thru a good mic preamp, an old LA2a or a distressor, and I like a Nuemann u87 or a Shure SM7. I like to run signal through a 2-track tape machine for slap back echo.
Do you have an opinion regarding analog vs. digital recording?
I like the sound of tape and I like working on tape machines. I like the analog process, it’s how I learned to record and it’s what I prefer. Digital recording is convenient, fairly reliable and can sound just as good in my opinion. I know we’ve all heard it, but it’s all about the songs. If they are awesome, it doesn’t matter too much how you record them.
You've been around for a while in the music scene–I'm sure you've seen many studios over the years–do you have a favorite?
My favorite studio is Dan Aurbach’s Easy Eye Sound and I Love Roger Moutenot’s studio here in town. I record a lot at New Monkey studio, The home of Everest in Van Nuys, CA.
Photo by Sara Law
What is your writing process? Where do you get inspiration from?
I normally pick up an acoustic guitar and start playing anything until it sounds like a song, then I make a quick recording of it singing filler lyrics. Sometimes the first things I sing stick and I just edit and tweak the words around a theme or story until I have something. I’ll listen back and revise and edit some more till I think it’s done. This can take a day or a very, very long time.
Which players should aspiring musicians study and learn from?
Ringo, Elvin Jones, John Zorn, Richard Swift, John Fahey, Howlin’ Wolf, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Spooner Oldham, Neil Young, David Pajo, Questlove, D’Angelo, Carol Kaye, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Bo Koster.
How did Everest come about? Where did the name come from?
I started putting together some songs in 2004 while I was working at Amoeba in Hollywood. I’d come home from a day of work at the record store and get to work on writing songs. I eventually played these for my friends J Soda and Joel Graves and we started working together on some more ideas. Before we knew it we had a band. At the time, J and I had a studio in L.A. called Everest recorders so it seemed fitting to call ourselves Everest.
When did you move to Nashville? What drew you to the city?
I left Los Angeles for Nashville in 2013. Nashville’s got a cool and budding music scene, affordable housing, an abundance of studios and good vibes. I love Los Angeles but I was ready for a change and I really like it here.
What are you currently working on / any new releases in the works?
I’m currently working on a collection of songs and not really sure what I’m going to do with them. I’m also working a lot with my wife, Chandra Watson and her sister Leigh on some new stuff for The Watson Twins. I’ve got a little project started with Carl Broemel from My Morning Jacket, too.
What was your favorite tour you went on and why?
My favorite tour was when Everest went out with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Patti Smith was on that tour as well. It was a high point for us, to say the least, and I learned a lot watching Neil and Patti every night.
Where's the best place people can find more information about you / your band(s)?
Stephanie Nicole Smith is a visual artist and make up artist in Los Angeles, CA. You can find her work at stephanienicolesmith.com and follow her @stephanienicolesmith.
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