On a Sunday evening in September Rich Russo was kind enough to take more than an hour out of his night to talk to AndrewWKMusic.com and a dweeby fan, me. Thanks Mr. Russo!
Im the plain text, Rich Russo is the indented grey text.
Rich Russo The Drummer For The AWK Band
Thanks for doing this I appreciate it. I know you’re a busy guy and it means a lot that you’re willing to take the time to sit down and do this.
No, it’s my pleasure.
Thanks for all the time and effort you’ve put into the AWK band, I know you’ve probably spent a lot of hours of your life that you’ve put into it, your sweat and blood and everything, and I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of the fans by just saying we appreciate all the work you do.
Well that’s pretty cool.
The community I’m a part of, I kind of just started thinking about this with a couple of fans and we realized that we know a lot about Andrew but we didn’t know a lot about the band members so I thought it would be a good idea to sit down and chat with you guys, just to get to know YOU and your experiences with everything. Obviously it’s surrounded by the subject of Andrew W.K.
Some of these questions are ones I thought of and some are submitted by other people too. Where are you right now in the world?
I’m at home in the Tampa area of Florida, I’m in a smaller city called Brandon
What do some of your close friends and family think of you being in such a big band?
Well they support me and think it’s great, they ask a lot of questions and of course a lot of times there’s not a lot of answers. As far as the word “big”, Andrew W.K. is not a household name as of yet. You know? Nine times out of ten people ask “who do you play for”? and I tell them and they go “Oh, I’ve never heard of him”. And that doesn’t mean anything because there is so many people on this planet and there is so many musicians out there. But the people that do know Andrew and love him, they love him to death and you really only know about him if you’re into that kind of music, rock ‘n roll, or if you tune into MTV, VH1, Cartoon Network, you know certain things. I think that maybe this year, well this year kind of put us back on the map. You know you have Andrew W.K. as a personality and then we always refer to AWK as like the band entity, so this is sort of a resurgence of AWK. At least when we started touring earlier this year with South by Southwest that kind of opened some doors for things to come.
Right you make a good point. I guess it’s relative, the term “big”. I know when he was on MTV
And by no means am I putting him down
Right, on MTV in 2002he was definitely probably more of a household name then he is now but he was one of the headlines of Warped Tour so, like you said, I think that would put his name back on the map again.
For the last few years its been a lot of solo gigs, speaking engagements and those kinda things. And you know, all us band guys, and girls, are happy to be out there doing it again because to be honest with you, he doesnt really require a band to be successful so were fortunate and thankful to be along for the ride, as we have been for all these years.
Cool. From 2006 to 2009, the AWK band was on hiatus. What did you do during that time?
I did some drum tech gigs, and I can sorta answer one of your other questions without you asking it, how did i get involved with Andrew. I went out with them on the very first tour as the drum tech. So when it came to downtime with us not touring, that was my other avenue to make money, as well as playing local gigs in my home town. I havent worked with any other bigger bands, as far as playing goes, but hopefully that will come.
I know you were involved with the Mike Pachelli album, is that right?
Yeah, are you familiar with that?
Ive listened to it. I don’t know a lot about it but I have listened to it.
Yeah, I guess youre referring to the one we did with Andrew?
Well Mike Pachelli was pretty much my first professional gig once i got out of the navy in 1992. I hooked up with Mike Pachelli and he has been a local big-name. He had a television show that ran for a lot of years before I worked with him, The Mike Pachelli Show. It was a video show that aired on Friday and Saturday nights, and his live band would play between videos and commercials, and they would have guests and give-a-ways. Ive done, I think, at least 5 records with him. So that album Electricite was a follow-up record to one I did with him prior to that called Noise Travels, which was just a guitar, bass and drums trio. And when we did the second one, he said he wanted to add an organ player, so I said well why don’t we add a piano? That album is more like a 67 Miles Davis kind of feel. Instead of a horn player, Mike played a lot of the leads on guitar that resembled a trumpet. Andrew did a fantastic job, sort of like [???] and Herbie Hancock. We didnt go into it to try to copy any artist, or say to Andrew can you play like Herbie, but that kind of feel came out. It was an unrehearsed, improv album. I really enjoyed doing that. Im trying to think when we did that. It was around that time when Andrew started working with a lot of artists and producing and stuff.
Can you explain more about the transition from being the drum tech into being the full-time drummer?
Its kind of funny how it all worked out. The first drummer Donald Tardy was a high-school friend of mine and we lived like one street apart. And he was one of the guys that helped me get into drumming, I would go hang out with him and play on his kit, until I finally got my own. Later down the road he called me up and explained what Andrew was all about. He said we have a tour coming up and Id like to use you as my drum tech. At that point I didnt know that there were these roadies and techs who would set up stuff for you, I always thought you did it yourself, cos that’s what I did in clubs. We hit the road in January 2002. I was a newbie when it came to touring. Donald had been touring for years with his band Obituary. We all thought we were only doing this one month tour in Europe, a 30 day tour, and then it just snowballed. We toured 11 months straight. Then 2003 rolled around, we toured again. By the time 2004 hit I replaced Donald in the summer of 2004. He didn’t leave the band for any other reason than Obituary had obligations to fulfill with Roadrunner Records, they had one more album they had to start playing again. You know he’s still available and Andrew would still love to have Donald play if the circumstances were right. You know? If I wasn’t available or if Obituary was going to stop, which theyre not. So that was the situation wherelike your main question what kind of transition and stuff you know at first I didn’t do anything as far as the sound checks. But as the years went on I got more comfortable with the songs and started just doing sound checks and Donald didn’t have to come he would just have to come and and do the show basically. So you know for 2 and half years I knew all the material so that was a no brainer. And actually the first year we did ozz fest in 02’ and I had the opportunity to fill in for Donald once for ozz fest and then on a another tour he got sick and I had to fill in for him on an entire gig. And at that point Andrew was excited he had somebody that could fill in, in a pinch. Actually when the summer well it was a little bit before summer in May, April or May of 04’ we did a tour we actually started, half way through the tour we started setting up two drum sets. We had two drummers for a period of 20 or more shows. And it’s kind of funny because I’ve read stuff where people thought oh well this is the training, that this new drummer has to go through to get the gig and you know that wasn’t the case. I read a lot of flack and negativity and this and that. But to be honest with you, I don’t know have you interviewed Andrew much?
No I haven’t, I haven’t interviewed him yet. I plan on it but no I haven’t
Well this may change and this may not come up in his interviews but this is definitely something he’s conveyed to us band guys over the years. He’s had a vision to have two full bands on stage at one time performing his music. And actually having the two drummers was a step in that direction and he was thankful for the times that we did that, it was like a piece of Andrew WK history. And you can actually see some of that on the Who Knows? video, the DVD.
Yea, yea I remember definitely seeing like photos and videos of both you and Donald. It was Donald drumming too right or was it another drummer?
No no, it was Donald. Him and I have been the only two drummers. Besides Andrew himself. Andrew’s a phenomenal drummer, a lot of people don’t even know.
Yea, I know he does a lot of his own instruments. That’s really fascinating to think that hopefully one day two bands will be playing on stage. That will be super cool to see live. That would just be an incredible show. I mean the live shows are already have so much energy in them. And having two bands on stage at once would be insane. Technically is that pretty hard to do?
I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s ever been done. Other than I’m sure it’s been done at some of these big concerts like with Eric Clapton you know where there doing uh some kind of benefit concert where there’s a couple drummers up there and there’s 8 or 10 guitar players running around (laugh). So those kind of things are feasible but can any one artists afford to take 10 or 12 people out on the road? Well you can if your selling and you have number one hits. It’s hard to say these days with the music business. One of my favorite bands is an R&B funk band called Power of Power, you know that’s a ten piece band. There’s a five piece horn section and 5 piece band. So a tour with that many members it’s possible. You know like Parlament Funkadelic they tour with 10-15 members on stage. It just depends if you can survive out there.
Yea I could see how that would be costly.
I’m not putting it down; the genre, the music industry, or the music business but it’s not all like the movie “Rock Star” that’s what people always think, have you seen that? With Marky Mark?
You know especially like my family members they see that movie and they go “oh wow, it must be great” well it is but it’s not like that movie I’ll tell you that much.
Andrew, he’s a drummer himself. I heard he’s kind of particular about the way his music sounds and the way he wants things played did he give you any special instructions in how he wanted you to drum?
Yea he did and he also gives you some freedom as well, so mainly he wants you to play the songs like they are on the record. Which was kind of hard for me to, it wasn’t like when I started playing I wasn’t hearing the music for the first time learning it from the record. To be honest I didn’t have much listening to the albums cause I basically hooked up with the band we started rehearsals and we started touring. Sofor me hearing the band, I really heard what Donald played every night, for hundreds of shows. At that point it didn’t matter what the record was like, I knew these songs as they were played live, and the songs are different live from the album too. So that’s the thing there would be extended versions of songs and different things or so basically Andrew had a few specific things he wants to hear. I’m a totally different drummer then Donald as far as my style so he was happy to have that, so I mean I was basically taking Andrew’s ideas from I Get Wet and The Wolf albums and taking Donalds ideas from the live shows and combining those drum parts and putting my style over top of it, and not changing anything it’s like any drummer that gets a gig with a band that maybe rotates members or something. We have a certain freedom but we also have certain constraints. My drumming style comes from more of a jazz background.
Yea, that makes sense.. Some of the songs are naturally not going to work out the best live if you played them exactly the same as they were on the album, cool. I know you were credited on the Close Calls album for drumming and for obvious reasons, because you’re in the AWK band but did you have any involvement in actually recording that album or any other albums or recordings?
Yea, I played every song on Close Calls as far as, you know there’s other releases. I think the main close calls has 18 songs on it. And every song has drums, you know there’s a couple songs like the first two a couple little speaking things but the only song I didn’t play drums on was “Slam John Against A Brick Wall” so the rest of the album I’m playing and actually that album was the first album he used band members on. So all the other guys are on there as well. There is one song on Mother of Mankind called Vagabond or it might be titled I’m a Vagabond we all played on that as well. And I recorded some other songs with him that didn’t make the release so I basically spent 6 days in the studio with him and tracked about 18 or 20 songs.
Wow so it was recorded pretty quickly.
Yea, yea I think that was February of 06’ is when we recorded that.
So some of the tracks didn’t make it on huh?
Yea some of the stuff didn’t make it and I couldn’t even tell ya what songs they were (forgot) well I think a lot of them were actually on Mother of Mankind but he didn’t use the tracks, he went ahead with his own tracks on some of the songs. You know cause when you demo songs especially Andrew he plays all the instruments you know? And for whatever reason it could of been time or quality or you name it you know?
So what did you think of the music, I know you said you had a jazz background in drumming and everything, but what did you personally think of the music upon becoming a drum tech or actually then becoming the drummer?
Well um it was definitely a new sound for me and I really enjoyed it. At that time I think, going back to 2001 I was playing drums in a Country band and then it was kinda like “hey I’m quitting your band to go on the road to be a road-y” and they all looked at me crossed eyed like “are you serious?” cause you know any musician wants to continue playing they don’t want to sit on the sidelines, it’s like being a football player and never getting put in there. It was a big step because it was almost like joining up with a group and touring and not playing drums for two and a half years, you know what I mean? When I was doing line check for the sound-man you know you’re hitting the base drum and then the snare you don’t get to play and then get to practice so you know over the course of time I kind of lost, not really lost skills but you know I basically had a couple of years where I didn’t play. It was different. But the music I was playing before that I was playing a lot of blues music too and a lot of the blues drumming, some of the drum patterns like I’ll refer to where the bass drum is played on every quarter note we call that four on the floor. And it’s real similar to dance drumming such as a lot of Andrew’s songs were. It’s four on the floor throughout 90% of the songs. So for me like hearing that and playing that it came a little more natural to me cause I was used to that you know? I kinda knew from Donald that eventually that was going to have to leave and put Obituary back on the road but I didn’t know 100% that I would be the one getting the gig but I knew in my heard that I would be perfect for the gig. So with that in mind I learned the material and I was able to fill in like I told you earlier a couple times in with no rehearsals and just play the gigs. Those could of been my audition times cause I think until I had to fill in for Donald Andrew didn’t know I could play, I mean he knew he had musicians as techs but to what ability he had no idea. Like our guitar player Ken he was the guitar tech before he got the gig.
Ok yea, Ken Andrews?
Yea Ken Andrews. But the first two albums I really enjoy I get wet and The Wolf but I mean I guess I’m biased cause I like Close Calls the most maybe because I played on all the songs. The drumming is a little different, the drum beats are more like mo-town on speed. There kinda faster four on the floor where the snare is played at the same time, on the down beats so it’s really more like a mo-town record. There’s one song on there “Don’t Call Me Andy” I mean that’s kinda like a mo-town record but a lot of them, you know like I said, some of the songs on there have that up tempo mo-town drum groove, where especially live we play them live so theyre intense. Did you happen to catch us on warped tour Rich (me)? Did we play anywhere you saw us?
I didn’t I was in Denver at the time and so I had something else. And I was like going nuts that day cause I couldn’t make it, I was so frustrated. But I know you guys are doing like a cover song tour or something like that. So hopefully I’ll catch you that time.
No, well it’s not a cover, it’s a tour where were going to be playing Andrews music so I don’t know where you got the cover info.
Oh really? oh ok I heard that from Frank. I think that’s where I
I think that might of been what we were told until some more info came. It’s a Dos Equis Most Interesting Show In The World tour and you can Google it, and it’s already getting started to get promoted just Google Dos Equis most interesting show andrew wk and that will give you an idea and you can actually see some of the previous tours, this is the third year running. I’m guessing until we actually see the run down that were playing 6-8 songs throughout the course of the night. It’s a one hour show like a variety act like a Las Vegas type of Circus O Lay kind of show where theres magicians, illusionists, or dancers. I really don’t know the script and sketches yet until we get up to rehears in a few days but it’s going to be fun!
Well that’s good news to me cause I rather listen to Andrew W.K. songs then you guys covering songs, rock songs, or whatever, so good news!
Yea I could only imagine we may play something else like during a magic act or something we might even be doing some improv stuff but I don’t think we’re going to be playing white snake songs or anything like that (laughs). So it won’t be a cover band gig.
Ok cool! Going back to Close Calls I know a lot of the songs, especially on warped tour, a lot of the Close Calls songs werent played but you did do some Close Calls shows in Asia, what was your experience with that, playing those shows & songs live compared to playing I Get Wet and The Wolf songs?
It was a nice variety. Actually on warped tour we played “You Will Remember Tonight” so that was part of our set, I think the Warped Tour set was pretty much all I Get Wet with the You Will Remember Tonight song and We Want Fun which was not on any album just a solo thing but the Asia stuff we did there’s some Youtube stuff out there. We kind of took a chance with some of the stuff we did. I think we did Pushing Drugs, I Wanna See You Go Wild, Into The Clear, Slam John Against a Brick Wall, which is great to play live in the band, The Moving Room, now rich, do you like Close Calls?
Yea I love it!
I mean obvious you like everything Andrew does (laugh). Now for me that’s one of the best songs all together, The Moving Room is just phenomenal.
Oh yea I love that song.
So playing that one live was pretty killer. Oh, One Brother was another one we did, that’s a pretty cool song.
Yea I’m looking forward to more shows where they play more of a variety of his whole discography.
Yea when we do a band tour again Im sure we’re gonna do more Close Calls songs, you know Vagabond is going to be a cool one live. I want to play When I’m High, and I don’t know if you’ve checked that out, that’s a drum song, the drums are all over the place, it’s phenomenal. That one and Into The Clear, like when we were in the studio tracking it, I just kind of went for it and the guys were like “alright that sounds great!” (laugh).
Yea I love Close Calls, I think it’s really underestimated actually.
Yea there’s some people that dog it but their eyes aren’t opened or their ears aren’t opened.
So what’s the most memorable show you’ve ever played?
Probably, well theres a couple of them, one is um I think we did the Summer Sonic in 06 in Tokyo was the last show we did and that was pretty cool. We must of played it could of been 20,000 people out there. And what was so cool about it, we were somewhere in the middle during the day and there’s a lot of stages. I think the big head-liner for that day was Lincoln Park or somebody but the stage we were on was inside and I think the headliner I think was Tool. But we packed that room, no other band that day had the audience that we had in that room. So it was kind of like, it was the coolest to know that we had a bigger draw then like AFI and Tool and all these other bands that were on the stage that day. The other one was actually in 04 or 05, we did a show in Taiwan and it was a double drumming show, both Donald and I and we were on the beach and we were setting up during the day and we see one or ten or twenty mosey onto the stage and there would be a few more hundred, then a couple thousand, we weren’t the headliner that night but we were band before the headliner, well by the time we went on we must of played for 50,000 people. It was phenomenal so that was one of the most memorable ones as well.
Is that the one on the Who Knows DVD, it kind of starts the DVD that way?
I think so there’s a lot of wind, it was like three days after that typhoon over there and there was still a lot of after effects so it was pretty crazy.
I don’t know if you know this but the Japanese version of that DVD has that whole show on it I think, if we’re talking about the same one.
What DVD now? The Who Knows DVD?
Well there’s an American Who Knows DVD and then theres a Japanese version and it has like that whole 45 minute show on it, as the bonus footage.
Yea i didn’t know that! I never tried to play the Japanese version because of the format difference. I was told you could probably play it in a computer but you can only change the format once or twice until it changes it completely I don’t know. How are you able to play that? Do you have something special?
Um well kinda, I just have a software that I rips DVDs, I backup-ed the DVD, and when I copied it you can de-authorize the region on it and it was just some software somebody told me about, then I was able to watch it. It was pretty cool though.
I’m not familiar with that stuff maybe you could burn it, with Andrews permission, actually yea that would be cool cause I would love to see that stuff.
Yea it’s a cool show.
We had Big Daddy with us are you familiar with Big Daddy?
Yea, Big Daddy!
Yea he was like the announcer, he actually came out at the Taiwain show and did a little backing vocals and stuff. He’s cool. Andrew let the tech’s get involved a lot, we had guitar tech’s that came out and sang backing vocals here and there so that was pretty fun. There was another guitar player that you might not be aware of that played that Taiwan show cause Ken wasn’t available. So if you watched it he was the guy wearing the Orlando Magic T Shirt.
Is his name John Sutton?
John Sutton, yea!
Yea, I don’t know a lot about him but Frank kinda gave me the heads up that he was in the band temporarily.
This one was sent in from a fan, he asks “Do you have any crazy stories from being on the road?”
There was a time when I got food poisoning, I remember it happened on a day off and buying some fried chicken out of the deli section of a grocery store in the middle of no where and actually I ate it, Donald ate it, and Gregg ate it, and I was a tech at the time. Well it affected me and I got sick and I had projectile vomit and diarrhea. We had a gig the next day and I think I stayed in a hotel and basically just sipped on vitamin water until I was nursed back to health.
And I think the next day we had another show, this is when Donald and Gregg who also ate the chicken, they were sick. They couldn’t do the show either so that’s when I filled in on drums and John Sutton filled in on bass. Cause he was our tech he had to learn that song that day (?) where I was kinda like pre-ready for it. So that’s like a memorable bad time but gone good. I got to play the gig you know?
So you played it even though you had the food poisoning?
I felt better, I had it the full day prior to be nursed back to health with vitamin water. Yea I was still a little under the weather but not as bad as Gregg and Donald like I was feeling it the day before.
Good thing food poisoning only lasts a day or two and then it’s hopefully gone.
Yea you got to flush it out of your system. You know that question, that’s a good question to whoever sent it in, but to be honest with you there are so many good memories man, it could take a long time to explain them all, I’ll just give a quick run-down. The very first show, we did Dublin Ireland, we were walking around the dressing rooms and the first guy, Rock Star, I came across was Joe Eliot from Def Leopard and he’s like looking for Andrew cause he had got a copy of the album or something and was a big fan, you know so I held the door open for him and he was like “Cheers mate!” and I’m like I didn’t know what “Cheers mate!” meant, I’m like I don’t have a drink in my hand we’re not “Cheers-ing” anything. I had never been to Europe and I didn’t know that really what he was saying was “Thank you”. So I mean stuff like that was cool and to walk up on the bus and see Kerry King from Slayer sitting on our bus, or everything that happened the first year of touring, we did SNL, we did Conan O’Brien twice, I think we did the Carson Daily show, I mean all those things were surreal, nothing that I ever expected out of a music teacher when I was 16 starting to play drums or 13 learning to play drums that I would be around these people or on these TV shows sitting on the sidelines. So there’s a lot of cool things, so that was a good question.
Definitely, well those were good answers. This is also another one that was sent in. I think this comes from “Indiana”, “Have you noticed much a difference with Andrew and with the state of the band when you guys were on a major label and now that you aren’t?”.
Uh, not really. All I can think of as far as the major label stuff, I was never really as a tech in the know with whats going on with a lot of that stuff. You know Andrew is still pretty much the same guy from day one, I mean the first year on the road was a difficult period for a lot of us that hadn’t toured before and a lot of personalities clashing or getting along. It took awhile to get use to people so it may have taken a good awhile like a good year, not to get use to Andrew but to just figure him out. Cause the first couple of years we had the same band members and all the same crew. And we were kinda like, I don’t want to say very segregated as far as band and crew but we definitely had six or seven guys operating on one schedule and six or seven guys operating on another schedule, so stuff like that. We didn’t spend a lot of time together. The very first tour he had a keyboard player named Jeff Victor so we actually had 7 in the band and 8 in the crew. So you go on your first tour with 15 people and a lot of them you don’t know and you’re still getting to know them and then the tour ends. Then we went on the next thing, we didn’t have Jeff Victor, we didn’t end up taking a lighting guy, so then we had less crew members. Then you tour without a monitor guy so then you have one more less crew members. Over time we actually started, us other crew guys, we started pulling the weight of the other guys and then it eventually got to where Ken and myself who were techs, when we became band members we didn’t have techs, we still set up our own equipment and were still loading in and loading out the trucks with the local stage hands and stuff so you know as far as if anything changing whether were on a major label or an independent label I never really saw, you know anything. As far as personalities changing? No. I really don’t have an answer for that other than, not much! I took a long time to get to that answer but sorry.
You know a lot of it between the times, you know a lot of the down times, was just waiting. Whether it was waiting for a label, or it didn’t really matter all that we knew we were just waiting to get the email saying “are you available for the next tour?”. That’s how it is with any hired musicians that are in a touring band. A lot of people don’t realize this isn’t six or seven people that formed a band together. Even though were the same guys, pretty much, I mean it’s almost a new band right now but you know were still the same guys out there touring, we’re hired musicians and it’s not like, no other band member contribute to the writing of the music or any of that. I mean we are a band but were not like high school bros that got together twice a week and wrote songs together.
How do you feel about the AWK community, kinda like the fans, the vibe, and kind of what it stand for and everything?
Well I think it’s a pretty fun and I think everybody I’ve met along the years has always had a positive attitude towards the music, and you know a lot of times you meet these kids and I’ll call them kids cause even if someones in there twenties and thirties and there younger then me I call them a kid, even the fans, generally you meet them after the gigs. And I think over the summer at Warped Tour after we would play I would kind of hang out at the merchandise and I was surprised to the amount of people that like would be able to recognize me maybe not by name but would be like “man that was a great show!” or this or that. So his fans are die-hard you know what I mean? There’s a small percentage of people that have either turned or when they say they don’t like something and then they stop listening to him. But that’s with anything so, to be honest with you I wish we could start all over again like 2002 and tour 11 months straight like we did the first year, cause that would be cool.
I would think that would be cool too.
And the fans are great! The shows are positive and energetic and that’s what we get out of the fans we give it back to them.
Cool! Thanks for your time! Lets do this again sometime!