In anticipation of Tinyfolk's new album Sic Semper Equis, Russ (one half of Tinyfolk, the other half Meghan Lamb) was kind enough to answer my questions about his past, present and future. Now It's no secret I am a big fan, but I hope you can read his words and maybe get a greater sense of one of music's most inspiring and intriguing bands propelling us into the future.
Taken by Adam Zolkover
Foggy: What do you think of the term Lo-Fi and where do you think Lo-Fi music is going to go in the next couple of years?
Russ: I actually like the term lo-fi, unlike most genre terms that could have been used to describe any of my music. I think the problem comes when the term becomes something more than just a way to describe an act who uses a certain method of recording. I think lo-fi music is something that, for the majority of music listeners, will never be anything that they really hear any of, outside of perhaps a moldy peaches song on the Juno soundtrack (not that there's anything wrong with that), but I think lo-fi is important to the larger musical world in that it is a wonderful influence in challenging artists to think outside of the box. I don't think The Mountain Goats would have been able to make the studio albums they're making now if John Darnielle hadn't gotten his chops recording loads of hissy tape demos and selling them. I think the Mount Eerie is especially interesting, as basically he's gone from making lo-fi folk music to making something that is a somewhere between folk and Sunn O)))-style stoner metal. The only other band I can think of that's doing anything like that is someone like Lightning Paw. I think lo-fi itself will very likely stay where it is, but I think we'll see a lot of lo-fi musicians branch into very different genres and incorporate a lot of new things, many of which will push them out of the catagory of "lo-fi," for better or for worse.
Foggy: What stereotypes do you think go along with the term Lo-Fi?
Russ: I think the neat thing about the word lo-fi is because it's tied to a specific method of recording, there can be many different things that lo-fi can exist as. I've heard lo-fi country and lo-fi noise. I can't think of many other descriptors that can encompass both country and noise performers and not be seen as a stretch. I think it's cool. I don't think what I do is lo-fi anymore. Perhaps home-recorded (as I do record at home), but I think ever since I started using a condenser mic (basically Bill-and-after), I have wandered outside of the realm of lo-fi, except when I'll occasionally record something with some hiss on it. I think Tinyfolk's music is still very lo-fi influence, though, as there always has existed an element of sloppiness that I'll never quite be able to clean up, and I can't see that changing, no matter how hard I want it to sometimes. Hopefully it's endearing or something.
Foggy: What do you think of Twee? It is a category some would say a few your earlier albums fit into. Freak Folk?
Russ: I like twee. I think it's fascinating, and I love hearing all the different ways it exists/has existed. I'm not sure that many of my albums would fall under a strict definition of twee (i.e. one that is based around Sarah Records and Black Tambourine and full bands with drummers and jangly electric guitars), though I know some include Beat Happening (who kind of did both sometimes) and all the American lo-fi acoustic acts they influenced. There are loads of cutesy bedroom pop projects being created at any one time, and the word "twee" is definitely something that's being used to describe them, whether you think that's accurate or not. I'm not really in a place to say. Either way, I like lots of music of this type, though lately I've just been listening to other stuff, I still quite enjoy musicians like Dennis Driscoll and Rose Melberg and (of course) Watercolor Paintings. Not to mention stuff like The Sugargliders and Eggstone and the Television Personalities.
As for "freak folk," it's a descriptor I dislike enough to put quotes around it whenever I have to use it. I really dislike the emphasis on weirdsybeardsyness that the genre name implies, because I feel like it deifies the whole artist-as-madman trope but not in a way that seems aware of what it's doing. Maybe that's a lot of agency to put upon some sort of vague category. Probably I'm being somewhat unfair and generalizing. I like some music that people could call "freak folk." I like Little Wings. I like the Jeweled Antler Collective a lot (I'd been listening to The Birdtree a whole bunch when I first wrote the song "Antlers"). I guess there are a few Tinyfolk songs someone could call "freak folk" if they wanted to.
Foggy: Do you think promotion is a necessary evil or do you embrace the challenges?
Russ: Promotion has presented interesting challenges for me, and is really kind of fun in a lot of ways, mainly because I am so adverse to the way a lot of people advertise their music, and I think a lot of people are with me on that. I don't think the answer is to not advertise, because everyone advertises, they just do it in ways that don't always seem like advertising. And that in itself is probably one of the most interesting challenges. To come up with ways to make your music available to be found without seeming preachy about it in the least. I think the most common answer is to let a label do it for you, then it no longer becomes "Look how great this thing I made is!" but rather "Look how great these people are! I'm putting out their album, you should listen to it!" Which in itself is a lot more palatable to people. But smaller labels are usually run by one person, maybe two if they're lucky. There aren't usually people whose job it is to focus on just promotion, and there isn't usually any money to actually do any type of promotion that would cost. It certainly presents an interesting problem, and one that isn't easily solved, but I think in the long run its just going to make us creative people have to be creative not only in making music but also in how we present it to people.
A young Russ (and Meghan!), playing in a Lo-Fi stadium aka living room.
Foggy: Where did you come up with the name Tinyfolk?
Russ: It's a dumb story. Basically I was at a Mirah show and there was this girl that I had a crush on who was a friend of a friend. We were all there together and I was sitting next to her. She was a fairly small person, as am I, and someone else wanted to sit on the bench and I said, 'you can probably fit, we're tiny folk.'" I liked the phrase, so I made it an instant messenger screen name, and then a livejournal, and then it was my username all over the internet. When I got sick of playing music under the name "a pilgrimage to save this human race," I decided I needed something new. Tinyfolk was the first thing I thought of. I remember asking my friend Zeb if she thought it would be a good idea if I changed my band name and she said, "No!!!!! I love "A Pilgrimage to Save This Human Race." Then she said, "What would you change it to?" and I said "Tinyfolk" and she said, "Ooh! Yes! Do it!" So I did.
Foggy: Did you have any goals when creating Tinyfolk and if so have they changed? Do you have goals now as opposed to before or vice versa?
Russ: My goal when writing my very first pilgrimage song was basically to create something that could exist as a song in the universe. At the time I was compiling songs with the word "supergirl" in the title, as that was my nickname for my girlfriend at the time. I got the idea to record my own supergirl song, so I did. And that was my first song: "My Supergirl." No, you can't hear it.
After that, basically I was just so excited about making anything at all that it was just an experiment to see what I could pull off. And that's what it's been ever since. So, I don't really feel like I've had any goals with the project other than to follow my impulses. Which is why I switch up the way I do things a lot, to keep myself interested.
Foggy: Bill and Valley Forge were very experimental and purposely busy aesthetically, any reason for why you pushed away from the simple ukulele albums of before?
Russ: Basically I wanted to see what else I could do. When I was recording Love Doesn't Grow on Trees, the guy who ran the label that wanted to put it out, Erik from Agriculture Records, said I should add lots of things to the recordings rather than just singing and playing the song like I would live. He said "make it a masterpiece." Ever since then I've basically been doing the same thing, adding things, trying to make it a "masterpiece." Bill was the first time when I had the capability (thanks to PJ) to add a significant amount of things and make it sound okay. Valley Forge was the first time I had that capability without anyone else helping me. Sic Semper Equis is basically me stepping back and saying, "Well, I can do all these things. Now what do I want to do?"
Foggy: Why no ukulele on Jack's Broth your latest (CLLCT exclusive) EP?
Russ: It's amazing how perfect a classical guitar sounds after having played a cheap baritone ukulele for years. It's like they're made of magic silk sound fluid.
Foggy: So you have a new album coming out called Sic Semper Equis. Besides the fact that it will be entirely recorded in Apple's Garage Band is there anything else different about it compared to everything else you've done? In what ways is it the same?
Russ: Well, basically the fact that (apart from one song) I never touched an instrument making this album makes it hugely different. Also, the fact that I came up with the concept after having written one song and then wrote all the others after the concept makes it different from all the albums except the Cat Album. It's also much longer. The longest release I've done up until now is probably about thirty minutes, and this one's around forty-five minutes. That feels really good, especially because I don't feel like I'm someone who tends to stretch songs out and make them long, so when I write a five minute song, I feel like it's got a lot smashed into those five minutes. Probably just because I'm not totally used to writing five minute songs yet. There are more long songs on this album. Four of the tracks are over four minutes long, and one is just about fifteen seconds short of that mark. That makes it way different from any album I've written, except maybe Valley Forge, which had two longer ones. Doing the same vocal effect, drum machines, and generally keeping everything made in pretty much the same way made this album a lot different to make, though its stylistically all over the place more than anything I've ever made. Because I was using drum machines I could let my love of hip-hop shine through a lot more than I ever have before. This is probably the first Tinyfolk album that will rattle your subwoofer. And it will rattle your subwoofer. The first time I burned some of the tracks to cd to hear how it sounded in a car, I had to turn the volume way down because the bass was so loud. It was embarrassing. I guess that's what I get for making bass-heavy recordings on a laptop, where I can't get a good idea of how the bass even sounds. I had to go back and turn it down a bit in the mix.
This album is the same in that it's still me singing about animals, and that's really comfortable. It's the same in that I'm still a pretty silly guy, and that shows in my lyrics and some of the choices I made musically as well. I want people to laugh sometimes when listening to this stuff, but I also want it to be the kind of thing that doesn't get old after the joke gets old.
Also, I heard that Erykah Badu's new album was recorded in GarageBand. So, I'm in good company.
Foggy: If you could say one thing about Sic Semper Equis to prepare listeners for when it comes out what would it be?"
Russ: Here's the album's tagline: "Y2K was hard on us all. Goats, Deer, Horses. Centaurs. Everybody."
Foggy: favorite online community, social network or website (besides CLLCT of course)?
Taken by Adam Zolkover
So there you have it folks I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks to Russ for taking the time to answer my questions. I am saving a few extra questions & the responses to go along with my review of Sic Semper Equis. It is coming out soon so keep your ears posted. Learn Tinyfolk's music so everything you know will be deconstructed when Sic Semper Equis drops.
...AND SO I finally got my ass in gear and present to you a SUPER MIX. Not only am I presenting to you a ten song retrospective on the music of Tinyfolk, but a silly song I wrote and recorded about them and a collection of songs that showcase Russ and Meghan’s various (side) projects, collaborations and more.
"If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out" From Thirty-Six Cat Songs By Tinyfolk
"Millions Of Leaves" From Love Doesn't Grow On Trees
"Love Is A Thing" From Little Mice And Other Things That Go Skitter Skitter
"If I Were An Owl" From "Platapeasawallaland": A Rainy-Day Owlbum
"Really, Really Blue: A Tale Of Unrequited (Perhaps) Romance And Lizardry" From Bill
"Do Animals Get Lonely Late At Night?" From Pizza Under The Sea on Wee Pop! Records
"Stay Poor" From Life Is Easy: A Real Live Tigers Tribute
"Valley Forge" From Valley Forge on Sanitory Records
"Duke Of Earl" From Jack's Broth
"Thus Always Horses" From the forthcoming album Sic Semper Equis
My Ode To Tinyfolk on a super-secret EP coming soon!
Existential Hero-"Hey Russ, Why You Singin' 'Bout All Those Animals?"
Various (Side) Projects, Collaborations And More:
A Pilgrimage To Save This Human Race (The first incarnation of Tinyfolk with just Russ)-"Were You Dating Me Just For The Mix CDs?"
Bikeweather (A band featuring Russ from Tinyfolk, Isaac from Blanketarms and Adam from Jenny Is A Boy)-"And We Can Read Emma Goldman At The Top Of Our Lungs To The Tunes Of Car Alarms (Original Version)"
The Spooky Ghosts (A Lo-Fi Pop Duo With Isaac from Blanketarms and Russ)-"Solitaire is a Two-Person Game. You've Just Been Playing It Wrong"
Tinyfolk and Secret Owl Society (Secret Folk Collaboration)-"We Are Hedgehogs"
Iron Like Nylon (Meghan Lamb's solo outing, a must listen!)-"The Tolling"
Forever Wolf (Russ and Meghan's "serious" side)-"It's All Coming Back to Me (Celine Dion Cover)"
Dead Dead Meat (Russ's Horror Rap Project)-"Braaaaiiiinnnnsss"
Tinyfolk on Myspace!
Download Tinyfolk's entire Discography if you please on CLLCT!
Articles/Reviews of Tinyfolk on Foggy Ruins Of Time
Buy Valley Forge Split with Manipulator Alligator on Sanitary Records!