Interview: Sam Russell

Dan McAvinchey: Sam, thinking back to when you started playing guitar, what were you listening to that influenced your playing and love for the instrument?

Sam Russell: When I started playing guitar, I was really into bands like Dragonforce (this would be when they released "Valley Of The Damned"), Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. I was discovering a lot of bands through my guitar teacher at the time, and also through friends who were into metal. Starting the guitar and discovering metal and rock happened at roughly the same time.

Hearing those high level players absolutely blew my mind in terms of what I thought was musically possible - but it was also very frustrating! There I was, a kid just starting out at guitar and I wanted to learn songs that were way beyond my ability level. It took me over a decade before I finally got a teacher that knew how to take my technique to the level that I wanted... but hearing those guys kept me pushing forward. I actually got to jam with Steve Vai a year or so ago, which was very rewarding! I think somewhere there is a tape of me playing the most awful rendition of "Crystal Planet" by Joe Satriani when I was 16 or so.

Dan McAvinchey: Was your latest album self-released, or did you seek out a label deal?

Sam Russell: My latest record, "Bach's 1st Cello Suite for Electric Guitar" was self-released. Looking for a label didn't enter my mind, I was powerfully driven to get the project recorded and released. I love creating things, so putting it together myself, while it was a lot of work, was very rewarding and also a good learning experience.

Dan McAvinchey: How would you describe your music to a person who has never heard you play before?

Sam Russell: Baroque, that has been tastefully taken to the electric guitar. I paid a lot of attention to the dynamics and rubato, I didn't want to "shred" through it with a metal sound. I like to think that if electric guitars existed in 1720, this is what they would sound like.

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Dan McAvinchey: What are you striving to achieve musically, particularly on your last album?

Sam Russell: My main musical goal is to have complete emotional control over the listener. I want to be able to dictate to you the emotions you feel an have you feel them to the very bottom of your soul. So that was the frame I was working in for the Bach record. It is going to take me a lot of work to reach that goal, but I am getting there step by step.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the chance to showcase your music before a live audience?

Sam Russell: Yes - I played at a few weddings with a very receptive audience. I am currently booking recitals at different classical venues across the United Kingdom for late 2016-2017, so I will be performing the pieces a lot in the near future - I am very excited about this!

Dan McAvinchey: What do you feel like has been your greatest musical achievement to date?

Sam Russell: It would have to be either: jamming with Steve Vai or releasing the Bach record.

Dan McAvinchey: From a publicity and promotion standpoint, what is working for you at the moment?

Sam Russell: This has been difficult for me. Best way I have found so far is getting reviews and interviews done, to put me in front of other people's audiences.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music lovers prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Sam Russell: Instrumental music is harder to do well than vocal music. Using the guitar as a ‘voice' as opposed to a rhythm instrument, or a lead layer is very difficult, compared to writing lyrics and singing. However, most people do not appreciate that aspect of instrumental music, it requires more focused listening than humming along to a simple beat and meaningless lyrics.

Dan McAvinchey: In addition to guitar-oriented music, what other kinds of music do you like to listen to?

Sam Russell: Baroque! Bach, Handel, Vaughan Williams. I also started listening to some of the New Wave of Retro music that is coming out - '80s synth music. The compositions are quite simple but employ a great use of motifs.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you have planned for the rest of 2016 and the beginning of 2017.

Sam Russell: I've been in the recording studio again recently recording a heavy metal album. The instruments are all finished and now I'm waiting to demo the vocals. Once the demo vocals are complete, I'll start submitting the tracks to the singers I want - I have a lot of very cool guests I want to get involved on the record!

I would like to thank my teacher and mentor, Tom Hess, for helping me attain the skills that I have and giving the me the opportunity to push forwards.

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English guitarist Sam Russell has recently become one of the few electric guitar players in the world to record Bach's first Cello Suite on electric guitar - creating the appropriately entitled album "Bach's 1st Cello Suite for Electric Guitar". Reviewers have commented on how well Russell has translated this Baroque music to modern instrumentation.

Dan McAvinchey conducted this virtual chat with Russell to talk about his early days, live performance and compositional approach.