by: Thomas D. Mooney
Russell Shahan, lead vocalist and guitarist of Red & The Vityls released their debut EP “Red & The Vityls” earlier this year. And as Shahan can tell you, it’s been a long time coming. Like he said during our interview a while back, he could have released some material years ago. But it almost certainly wouldn’t have something he would have wanted.
Sometimes you’ve got to let your songwriting and sound grow some roots. Shahan certainly has shown that he’s found a voice–not just in songwriting–but also in sound and vibe. You can just imagine Shahan letting all these different elements–Texas blues, swampy grooves, traditional singer-songwriter, and country to name a few–just simmer in a giant music pot. And even with fans, friends, and family all wanting a physical release for years, “Red & The Vityls” has definitely been worth the wait.
The EP just grabs you right off the bat with Shahan’s southern swamp blues anthem “East Side River Snake.” And he doesn’t really let go until the final track, “Bury Me a Hole.”
It’s just what has to be the first of many solid releases to come from Shahan and company. The fact that it’s just a five-track EP is somewhat a blessing and a curse. It leaves you after just about 21 minutes wishing it was at least twice as long. Course, that just means Shahan has gotten your attention without showing all his tricks.
It’s the perfect foundation that Shahan can build on. You can almost certainly add Russell Shahan to that ever-growing list of great Lubbock singer-songwriters. Pencil his name in.
We recently caught up with Shahan and tonight at The Blue Light (October 31), he’ll be playing along with openers The Chorderoys.
New Slang: You released the self-titled EP earlier this year. What were your expectations for the record?
Russell Shahan: You know, I didn’t really have any expectations. I’ve been doing this since I was 17 or 18–playing in bars and stuff. People have always wanted me to put something out. Something recorded. But in the back of my mind, I knew better than to record something when I was 18 and still new at all this. I felt like I’d have looked back and probably regretted it. It’d have been more recording it for somebody else versus what I wanted. So it took me until I was 24 before I was ready. Overall, I had those songs that had come together and at the time felt were good enough to put out and weren’t just–I don’t know how to put it, I guess they weren’t for nostalgic purposes–they weren’t for a frat or a Barbecue joint jingle or whatever. They were mainly for me. I was proud of those.
New Slang: You were mature enough as a songwriter and felt they stood on their own and were ready for an audience.
RS: Yeah. Exactly. Really matured as a songwriter. I’m really feeling like I’m coming into my own.
NS: You guys have been hitting the road a lot lately.
RS: Yeah, we’ve been hitting it quite a bit. I’d been doing it a lot anyways, just as myself. Doing lots of meet and greets and just trying to show my face to other crowds and markets and not being some kind of recluse. People sometimes think their further than they are, but if they’re not getting out there, they really aren’t.
NS: How is getting out there? How are these different towns receiving you?
RS: Well, I feel like this Texas scene is so saturated by the same people and they forget where they come from. Music should be able to move people–whether they actually listen to the lyrics or not. It should at least be pleasing them in that moment they’re in. I just feel it’s saturated with the same sounds–not that it’s bad music either. It just sometimes sounds like people are trying to sound like what’s already been done. With us, where we go, the people may not be at full attention or they may not be right at the front of the stage, but you can see them getting into the music. It really depends on me personally to get them to the front of the stage since I’m the one with the microphone. We’ve done a lot here recently. And we’ve been a lot more rehearsed and we’ve been putting on a good show when we’re out.
NS: What’s your plans for this coming year? You going to be hitting the studio again soon?
RS: My ultimate goal is to have another record out before 2014. You know, I write everyday. Not only is it a passion, but it’s a passion you can put towards a career and lifestyle. And that’s how I see my songwriting. And if it’s not an album out, I’d maybe like to do like a concept EP or an acoustic kind of deal. If I’m over here writing all these songs, we may as well be getting them out there. Or getting other people recording them. Like 6 Market Blvd. Those guys are like brothers to me.
NS: How’s that feeling? When someone not just covers a song of yours, but they’ve recorded it for their record?
RS: It’s awesome. You know, I wasn’t raised to be selfish. I’ve never been a close-minded or anything. So seeing someone else putting forth the effort of doing one of your songs–and not just playing it, but recording it–it’s awesome. It’s kind of like your baby. And seeing someone else come in and take the time to do that for you and themselves, it’s exciting. They really like my songwriting.
NS: Your music has more Texas blues rhythms and sounds. Like Dallas-Fort Worth bluesy. Where and why do you think those sounds and elements started getting into your sound?
RS: Yeah. Well, tell you the truth, my mom listened to stuff like Indigo Girls and lots of old country. My dad really never listened to music. I guess the stomp and groove just developed itself as I began playing. And I’ve always been interested in older music. Stuff like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. A lot of those old blues guys who were all about the groove.
NS: I think in real recent years, there’s been a cool bluesy bubble here in Lubbock. You don’t really think of Lubbock being a hotbed for bluesy music, but you and Grady Spencer for instance have a lot of bluesy elements in your music.
RS: Oh yeah. Grady Spencer is one of my favorite people–not just musically, but just a great, stand-up guy. That’s what this scene needs more of. Grady’s music really goes hand in hand with ours. We’d travel and play everyday if we could.
NS: What’s your overall thoughts on the current Lubbock music scene?
RS: Well you know there’s that common saying that Lubbock’s been supplying Austin with great musicians for more than 30 years [laughs]. You’ve definitely got to progress your sound and develop your skill or you’ll just get stuck here in the middle of nowhere. You’ve really go to push yourself. And I think that really reflects on the musicians in this town. There’s so many great players and songwriters, you have to get better.