Allow me to introduce you to an R&B singer-songwriter on a mission to deliver a message to speak his mind through his music.
His name is Russell Elliot. This young man has made it his goal to let the millennial generation know that change needs to happen – that people need to be more aware and caring towards feminism and the LGBTQ community. His EP released recently on November 16th of 2015. He could not be more excited, and let me tell you, neither am I!
His music is astoundingly moving. It is powerful, emphatic, erotic, fluid, and informative. Each song carries through each sound and intonation with a hint of melancholy and willpower. For someone so young, it is refreshing to hear a new sound, a new perspective, for music, but also returning to what the power of music can do as a messenger to others, as a way to relate and connect the world to a single concept or idea for all to share.
I was so honored to be able to interview this undeniably rising star and his inspiring goals and dreams.
Neelu Mohaghegh (NM): Hi Russell!
Russell Elliot (RE): Hi!
NM: It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you (virtually)! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me and Verge! I know it is a very busy and exciting time in your life as you prepare for the release of your EP.
RE: My pleasure.
NM: So let’s get started: first off how are you?
RE: Wow, how polite. I’m well, thanks! Currently getting ready for my fourth show this week. Nice weather, good hair day… no complaints.
NM: What made you want to start creating music?
NM: How did you find your sound? How do you define your sound/genre of music? And is there a type of sound you were going for?
RE: I grew up on soul, Motown, and R&B from the 90s/early 2000s. I certainly listen to and have performed other styles of music but R&B/Soul is my default. It’s what comes out when I’m not trying to be anything but myself. As a producer, I’ve always loved texture. That’s where the dusky, minimalist vibe comes from. I like to create a tactile, spatial universe within which my stories can reside.
NM: Now we’ve all heard about your mission, and that is to stop the misogyny in the world and promote Feminism and raise awareness of the Pansexual and LGBTQ population! What is it that struck you to do this—to take on this as your own and to deliver it through music? Who are you trying to reach out to the most?
RE: Before it is anything else, I hope my music is honest. If my stories– and the pansexual, inclusive, feminist, social-justice-minded worldview they are communicated through– make someone feel connected, empowered, or visible, I’m extremely humbled and grateful. What more could a musician ask for than to have his/her music positively impact someone? I hope there’s something for everyone in my music but I think it speaks particularly to people looking for a bit more flex in what can sometimes be a rigid world.
NM: What is it about the mission that bothers you the most?
RE: I wish more music was mindful of its impact. I don’t understand artists who use their platform to debase, demean, or exclude groups of people. I’ve never come across a misogynistic or homophobic record and thought, “Yeah, that was necessary.” We can do better. We can communicate more responsibly– more empathetically. I’m trying to do that.
NM: What is one piece of advice you’d give to women out there if you could only present one?
RE: Don’t take no advice from no man.
NM: Is there a girl or special woman in your life?
RE: There are many (I love you, mom).
NM: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
RE: Touring. Dancing. Making love. Selling Records.
NM: So, I have to know, how do you maintain such beautiful hair?
RE: *hair flip* Girl, you know I stay on that Moroccan Oil hustle.
(Haha, yes, he is too great!)
NM: What was the familial background like– was your family supportive of your music career/efforts?
RE: My family is a beautiful fucking disaster. But one thing they’ve always done right is support my career. From an early age, they helped me learn to run a business. When I was 16 my parents took off work to drive me from DC to Nashville and stayed with me for a week so I could record my first EP. They are proud of what I do and do everything they can to support me. I got really, really lucky in that way.
NM: Why the choice to have foreign voices in the album track list?
RE: Fumando Espero– which I sampled in Around– is a beautiful, famous tango. Imagine a hazy, smoke-filled room. And in that room, you’re pining for a lover. And the bastard may very well drive you insane before you’re ever meaningfully reunited. I love that imagery. I relate to that imagery. Spanish was my first language, so the decision to sample it never felt foreign to me.
NM: What was the influence behind “Around?”
RE: A well-intentioned boy in college who wanted me but didn’t have the courage to do so meaningfully.
NM: For the music video for “Around,” what was it like making the video and seeing the song come to life visually? I am really excited and can’t wait to hear future projects!’
RE: Making the video was a dream. I’ve never met more generous collaborators than director, Zoe Rain & choreographers, Jeff & Rick Kuperman. They got to know my vision for the video better than I did myself. Yes! I’ve already got a few video concepts in mind for a follow up. Stay tuned!
(Here is the music video for the song "Around." Check it out!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaNoqShkHGA
NM: Do you ever wish to try out a different genre?
RE: I grew up playing classical piano which I’m slowly learning again.
NM: Who are you inspired and influenced the most by?
RE: Maya Angelou. Amy Winehouse. Lauryn Hill. Aaliyah. Audrey Hepburn. Poets. Essayists. Painters. Sculptors. Actors. Roxane Gay. Jessica Valenti. Meaghan Garvey. Artists whose creations endure and are timeless. Artists who speak specifically and relevantly to the present moment.
NM:Who would you want to have act as you in a film if someone were to do your documentary?
RE: Viola Davis. That woman is such a rockstar. Actually, add her to that list in the previous question.
NM: What is your favorite place in the world?
RE: I once went hiking in the Tennessee backwoods and bathed in the Cumberland River. I’ll never forget that spot. There’s a café in Paris on St. Germain where I left a piece my heart I’ll retrieve at some point. The Plaza Mayor in Madrid is living, breathing poetry. The Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan feels like home. Truly though, I belong in transit. I’m happiest when I’m traveling, touring, or exploring. I want to belong to all of these places and so many more.
NM: What is the music writing process like for you?
RE: Honestly, I feel pretty incidental to the process. More of a vessel for bringing the song into the world than its author. I usually write very fast, but lately I’ve taken to trying to slow things down and shape thoughts and images more acutely.
NM: Do you have a favorite song you wrote?
RE: Well, I’d tell you but all of the other ones would get jealous.
I’ll say this though: there are some bangers on my next record.
NM: If you could collaborate with anyone right now, which artist would it be?
RE: Kehlani. I’m vibing with her music so severely right now.
NM: (OMG, she is my favorite at the moment and I am so feeling her vibes too! That would honestly be so amazing if you, Russell, collaborated with her!)
NM: Again, thank you SO much for taking the time to speak to me and answer my questions! It truly means a lot, and as a big fan of yours, I want to be able to promote you, your music, and your message!
RE: Thank YOU! This was a blast. Let me know if you need anything further.
What an amazing person. I honestly was enchanted by Russell and his answers. He is a man with extreme charisma and understanding for the world and a keen desire to let his voice and the voices of others be heard. I am so glad I got to speak with Russell and hope to eventually speak with him again soon!
Good luck to him as he begins new adventures and future projects.