Photo by Jeremy Gordon
Joe Russo has been the Grand Master of Drumming for so long now that one could easily forget how many different projects he juggles, how well he plays within each of those acts, and how seriously he takes his craft. Then again, Russo’s down to earth humility, easy humor, and studied wisdom make it simple to remember just how good he is behind his kit, whether it’s on a stint with Furthur, which, of course, features the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, his time with Bustle in Your Hedgerow, a spectacular Led Zeppelin-inspired band, a new quartet called Rumble Dogs, or, his aptly titled quartet.
The formidably-talented drummer also spends time behind his kit with Shpongle, a downtempo/psybient band, an ingenious mixture of psychedelic and ambient textures, which plays two dates with Russo, at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom on October 28, and across the country at Oakland, California’s Fox Theatre on October 29. Russo is rightfully proud of his time with the influential Simon Posford-fronted band, as he is with Furthur, which begins another leg of their successful 2011 tour campaign in Manchester, New Hampshire on November 3. What is both awe-inspiring and miraculous is how many other projects the musician juggles betwixt these two triumphant totems.
Jambands.com got a chance to sit down with Russo as he celebrated a personal milestone, just days before heading out on his honeymoon after a September wedding. The artist is both a fine observer of his many projects, as well as being a deeply-committed musician. Whereas some less-gifted drummers may be willing to pound and thrash away, Russo is much more astute at how to listen, feel the vibe within any particular moment, and play as close to the heart as one can be. And that heart is big and exploratory as one can sense in this relaxed and informative conversation with the man behind the kit.
RR: How were the shows in California on the last dates of the recent Furthur tour, specifically at L.A.’s Greek Theatre, and then the stand in Monterey?
JR: They were awesome. Both of them were fantastic. I really, really enjoyed L.A. That venue is incredible; it’s a cool spot. The shows ended up being really great, we had a good time, and the weather held out for us. Again, in Monterey, kind of a total throwback crazy vibe, which was really cool. I know the crew wasn’t very excited to load in there, but other than that, the vibe was awesome. It is a really cool venue and a really fun place to end that tour, for sure.
RR: I imagine it is a difficult place to get in and out of…
JR: (laughter) Yeah, not really built for today’s production needs, but it was cool. Everybody had an awesome time. All my friends that I spoke with that were in the crowd said that it was such an enjoyable venue to go to a show at—security was super chill, everybody was having a lot of fun, and there were no hassles, so it was a nice way for them to end the tour, as well.
RR: Being in the Grateful Dead backyard, do you feel there is some sort of special vibe that takes place at that venue?
JR: I think so. That hometown connection to these guys and this band always makes those shows more special.
RR: Overall, how did you feel that whole leg went?
JR: It was good. It was definitely a lot of shows in that little window of time. I think it was 15 shows in 18 days. We were playing a lot. I personally felt the altitude this time at Red Rocks more than I ever have in my life any time being in Colorado. But, other than that, I think it was a great tour. The band definitely is flying on all cylinders, which is really exciting, to come in cold as we did on this tour and, right out of the gates, start playing some really great shows. I really enjoyed the Eugene [Oregon] shows. Those were super fun. If we had one more day off in that run, I think it would have made a huge difference. (laughter) It was a really really fun tour. We all had a good time.
RR: You’ve got another stretch run on the next leg in November.
JR: Yeah, that’s going to be cool. I am leaving for my honeymoon in two days, then I come back and go right into rehearsals with Shpongle, and we do a couple of dates, and then, I go from that back into another Furthur tour.
RR: Being recently married, it must be amazing to have all of these life events happening at the same time.
JR: (laughs) Yeah, it’s a little crazy. It’s awesome, though. We got married three weeks ago yesterday. Having the schedule of a working musician, I don’t have a lot of options, so…my wife just got home.
RR: Perfect timing!
JR: (laughs) Yeah. I had to leave for that tour after we got married, which was kind of crazy, but she got to come out to Red Rocks, so that was awesome right in the middle of that. Now, we finally get to do our honeymoon. It’s a bit of a hectic schedule from last month through December, but it will be awesome.