Radiant Radish Interview

Rusty Spell is best known to the Radish crowd as the solo artist who sang about boogers and telling us: "Yeah, whatever." I may be one of the few people in the scene who knows of Rusty’s many other projects like: The Mnemonic Devices, ‘nikcuS, and the Immaculate Conceptions. So I decided to get in touch with Rusty to let everyone out there know that there is much more to Rusty than just his boogers.

R.R.: First, of course, where have you gone, and what are you up to now?

Rusty: After I got my PhD at USM, I got a jobbie teaching writing and literature at The University of Texas Pan American. I live in a town ten minutes north of Mexico. I turned twenty-eight in January (which I mention since I bring up ages a lot here, and someone might want to know).

R.R. Who has the better Goodwill stores, Hattiesburg or Edinburg (I believe that’s where you are)?

Rusty: Hattiesburg, for sure. Oddly enough, Hattiesburg is also more cool in the thrift department than Austin (several hours north of here, where I go about once or twice a month), even though it’s supposed to be the hippest city in America or whatever. (And yes, Edinburg is the name of the place where I live. I only live in burgs.)

R.R. How did you come to play the instruments you play today?

Rusty: I can’t remember not playing drums, meaning that as a little kid I would make my own drum sets and snare drums and things out of other things: usually toys that weren’t meant to be beat on. I’m a natural at drumming; it’s the only thing I’m good at. I got better at it after seven years of training at school.

One day at a young age, probably when I was eight or something, I decided that the keyboard was the coolest instrument there was, out of the instruments that played notes anyway. The folks got me a piano, which was really cool now that I think about it, and also an electronic keyboard. I learned to fake my way on that, and now it’s what I use more than anything on my records.

For a long time, I resisted the guitar. It seemed like what everyone else was doing, or ugly, or something. Too rock and roll for me. But eventually I got one, when I was twenty-two. I downloaded a chord list from the web and taught myself to play. I fake my way through it too. I like the guitar now, and I’m using it more and more on records. I especially like my acoustic guitar.

I got my ukulele when I was twenty-five and taught myself how to play it too. I love it. It’s a ridiculously cute instrument. The other stuff I have is my accordion that I’ve had since I was twenty-two, which isn’t very fun to play just because it’s cumbersome... my harmonicas which I’ve been playing since I was seventeen (I’m pretty decent at harmonica)... and then random toys like jaw harps and kazoos and flutophones and piano boards that I’ve picked up here and there.

In the future, I hope to obtain a banjo, mandolin, a violin, and maybe some horns. I’m a jerk enough to think that if I own them I will be able to play them.

R.R. Do you actually use any or all of those instruments in your recordings. And do you have any kind of recording capability where you could like record a 12 piece Rusty band, kind of like Bugs Bunny in that baseball cartoon, but Rusty on musical instruments?

Rusty: Yes, I use them all. And, yes, I play them all Bugs Bunny style. I record everything with my computer, so essentially I have all the tracks in the world. Sometimes I keep the songs simple, but sometimes I pile them up with every instrument.

R.R. Can you describe your first live show?

Rusty: Like guitar, I resisted playing live for a long time. I’ve been making records since I was fifteen, and playing music long before that, but I didn’t play a live show until I was twenty-five. I opened for my friend’s band in Memphis, Tennessee. I just sat on a stool and played the electric guitar and sang some of my songs and some other songs. Kinda bland, not too bad, but mostly a prologue to what I consider my real live show – one that I put more thought into – one year later in Hattiesburg.

At that show, I decided that I would be bored if I had to listen to myself strumming by myself for another hour, so I used multiple instruments – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard, ukulele, and CD samples – and I also used multiple vocalists, asking some of the Mnemonic Devicettes to sing for me. So five different gals came and sang a handful of songs with me, to mix it up. That’s how I prefer to do shows, though I usually haven’t, the few times I’ve actually played. I also tried to do interesting songs: not only mine, but great songs that don’t get recognized too much by hipsters, like "Bootylicious," "All the Small Things," and "The Thong Song."

R.R. Most of the Radish crowd know what the comedic side of Rusty is like, but I’ve come to love some of your non comedic songs like "Our Hurricane" and even imagined them as bigger songs with more people than just a man and his keyboard/or guitar. Do you ever see yourself playing as the lead man in front of some sort of group instead of just you with the occasional guest musician?

Rusty: Part One: About the comedy vs. non-comedy of Rusty Spell, I usually don't even think of my stuff as funny. I don't make songs to be funny, generally, and I only know that they are funny when people laugh at them. But, yes, certainly some are more serious than others.

Part Two: I'd actually love to have a real band that could back me for some live shows and for certain albums. I almost feel like I'd have to get famous first for people to want to "follow" me, though. I wouldn't want any of the members to have any input or anything like that. I'd be a real control freak about it. Mostly, though, I find that people get in the way, especially when it comes to making records. I like to make them fast, and often I make them when the mood hits, which might be at four in the morning. People are always slower than I am, or they have ideas about how music should be made that I don't subscribe to. And for live stuff, I hate rehearsing. They'd probably want to rehearse; if they did, I'd ask them to do it by themselves on their own time.

R.R.: With you being so far away now, how do any fans down here go about getting Rusty related merchandise?

Rusty: Rusty Spell Dot Com, baby (www.rustyspell.com). Just go to the Love and Letters section of my site, or the merchandise site. Everything’s for sale. Credit cards welcome. I’m constantly making records, so there’s plenty to buy: Rusty Spell, The Mnemonic Devices, The Immaculate Conceptions, ‘nikcuS, and everything else.

R.R.: Can we expect to see Rusty Spell anytime in the near future?

Rusty: I haven’t played in Texas yet. It’s such a pain for me to talk to people who run clubs; that’s why I have only opened for people in the past, though I suppose I was famous enough to have my own show if I wanted one. I don’t really know or care to know how the music world works. I need someone to take care of me. I’m kind of itching to play again, so I guess I’ll figure something out.

I’d love to play in Mississippi again. I plan on attending my ten-year class reunion in June, so maybe I can arrange something, who knows. The dressed-up, loud, Greek beer drinkers at Mugshots in Hattiesburg were crazy for me, which surprised me, though I guess it shouldn’t have. Frat dudes and sorority gals are certainly more "my people" than indie rock kids. There’s a certain genuineness to them that many overlook.

R.R.: Are there any current musical projects in the Rusty Spell story?

Rusty: Always. I just finished a Rusty Spell record called I Can Write These Songs, Now My Folks Are Dead, even though my folks aren’t dead. It’s a record containing "mature subject matter," more serious than usual, I guess. I also did a gospel record, believe it or not. Before that I did an album that everyone needs to hear called Plagiarism where every track is supposed to sound like an existing artist, though they’re all original songs. It’s supposed to be a game as well as an album: everyone is supposed to email me their answers of who they think I’m "doing."

My plans for the future is to do a pop tunes album (radio songs from like the past five years), a techno album, a Disney songs album, another Immaculate Conceptions album, and I’m just now getting the feeling that another Mnemonic Devices album is on the way. It’s been one year now since the last one. Oh, and a "field recordings" album, which won’t be music, just noises of things. I’m also going to help Tommy Burton with his second solo record.

R.R. You are one very busy man. So, Transformers or Ninja Turtles?

Rusty: Neither, but I guess Ninja Turtles if I had to pick. I never liked those "boy cartoons" growing up, though I watched Ninja Turtles for a few months. I never liked Transformers or G.I. Joe or Voltron or any of that crap. Sorry, guys. I know I’m dissing my own generation, but I was sort of a Muppet Babies / Smurfs / Misadventures of Ed Grimley kind of freak.

Also, I don’t consider myself much of an 80s fellow. That’s just the decade I grew up in, that and the late 70s. I used to consider myself a 90s guy, but now I definitely feel I’m a 00s guy. Maybe I’m just saying that I don’t have a preference for any decade. They all have their good and bad stuff.

R.R. What is your opinion on Smurfette?

I feel that most people need to realize Smurfette's origins: that she was created by Gargamel as an evil Smurf, and that she was only eventually turned into the good Smurfette we know by the magic of Papa Smurf. So all the stupid jazz about her getting it on with the Smurfs or whatever is ridiculous, since the Smurfs are asexual (though, obviously, have attractions to her that go beyond reproduction--they are romantic, but not for reasons that humans are romantic). Do I like Smurfette? Yes, I like her well enough. She likes flowers and she cries easily, two things that are often nice traits.

R.R. What is your favorite show you’ve ever played?

Rusty: That first Hattiesburg show was pretty special, but so was the last one I played, in Baton Rouge (as well as any show opening for The Robinsons). I remember it being possibly my best show, or most fun, but maybe that’s because it’s one of the few I don’t have a recording of.

Of course, I also get a kick out of playing drums for other bands, usually as favors. My first time was for a grunge sort of deal back in high school.

R.R. What is your least favorite show you’ve ever played?

Rusty: There was this thing at The Thirsty Hippo in Hattiesburg called The Minimalist Conference or something like that. They told me I had like an hour and a half, but forty-five minutes later they said, "Time for one more, Rusty." During most of the show, everyone in the crowded room was talking and I couldn’t hear myself. Actually, I should say that the first half of the show was my least favorite, because during the last half I didn’t care anymore and started playing things like "I Like To Eat Food" and the now-famous "Whatever" so I could sing (scream) loudly. I suppose that show changed a lot of what I do, positive stuff from a negative situation.

R.R.: In Baton Rouge you played a song you introduced as the Creed song, it didn’t really have lyrics but it was the best 90s Creed rock parody I’ve ever heard. Was that more of like an impulse song or is there any way I can get a recording of it?

Rusty: I think you are talking about the song "Pearl Jammin'." I don't remember it being introduced as the Creed song. That's a 'nikcuS song from our album Produced. Yes, you and everyone else can buy it at the 'nikcuS Productions Merchandise page at www.rustyspell.com. I wish I had a recording of the night I played it live, which was the first and so far last time it was played live (or played at all aside from the one time it was played--when it was recorded--since almost all 'nikcuS songs are adlibbed).

R.R.: How much of what you do live is impulse verses planned out?

Rusty: I generally come up with a set list and put the lyrics in order in my binder, since I don't have my songs memorized. I usually decide beforehand what instrument I'll use for the song, too, if I'm using more than just a guitar. From there, though, if anyone in the audience wants to hear something in particular, I'll try to play that, unless I have a good reason not to. While I'm playing any given song, however, certain new things come out that weren't planned. I almost always adlib the George Lucas song, or add new parts to "I'm Singin' While I'm Playin' the Guitar." It’s probably 50/50 by the time it's finished.

R.R. What is your political stance on the "Swiss Cheese vs. American Cheese" issue?

Rusty: The Swiss seem to remain neutral, which is often good, but they remain full of holes. We liked digital watches for a while in the 80s, but the traditionalists held out and won in the end. Eventually the digital guys started making digital hands on their watches, or putting both on the watch face. Both kinds of cheese are served as singles, and no one has beaten the Swiss there because they had things like "Souper Trouper," "S.O.S.," and "The Winner Takes It All." And "The Sign." Much better than "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

R.R. Tell us something about Rusty Spell that we don’t know.

Rusty: I sometimes dream entire (original) episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which I am Buffy herself.

R.R.: And before we bid you adieu, with every Radiant Radish interview, we come to close with the Radish 11. 11 quick questions, give the answers as quick as you can.

1. What CD is in your stereo (or car stereo) right now?

Rusty: The Apples In Stereo’s Her Wallpaper Reverie.

2. What was the last TV you saw (live or on video not counting news)?

Rusty: The Daily Show.

3. What was the last Movie you saw?

Rusty: Ghost Dog.

4. What was the last thing you did musically?

Rusty: Figured out an arrangement that combines The Bangles’ "Eternal Flame" and Shakira’s "Underneath Your Clothes" as a medley.

5. What was the last videogame you've played?

Rusty: Police Quest I.

6. What has been the best live show you've seen to date?

Rusty: The Magnetic Fields (Ben Lee opening) in 1997. Back when Claudia played her drum set and John played his super-phased guitar.

7. Worst live show to date?

Rusty: Modest Mouse were great, but I lost my hearing for two days because I thought it would be wise to lean against their amps. It was dull when I watched Bob Dylan because a bunch of old farts were dancing like hippies around me. Ancient Chinese Garden (an opening act) were the worst band I’ve seen, though. (Too long an answer.)

8. Out of all the many high school stereotypes, what were you?

Rusty: Nothing. I hung out with all types and became none of them. I won "Most Talented," if that means anything or answers the question.

9. Best lyric you can think of at this moment and who is it from.

Rusty: "When you’re old and lonely and the rush of life is past—days go by too slowly, and the years go by too fast." The Magnetic Fields.

10. Best words of wisdom you've heard or read? Music or non-music related?

Rusty: Everything you need to know about life can be learned from reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Kurt Vonnegut.

11. Finally, Last Words to anyone reading this?

Rusty: I probably love you in some way or another.

Check out anything and everything you need to know about Rusty at: www.rustyspell.com.

Copyright (c) Sep 2003 by Love and Letters Music