Arthur Russell – a cellist, composer and producer active in the compositional music and disco scene of 1980s New York, for those yet uninitiated – left behind a seemingly inexhaustible body of stinkingly beautiful work. Thanks largely to the tireless work of archivists like Steve Knutson and the series of re-releases on his label Audika, filmmakers like Matt Wolf with his Wild Combination, as well of countless DJs and writers, in the last few years he has become a pretty well known figure.
But while his catalogue – from ‘World Of Echo’ to Is It All Over My Face, – are finally taking their place in the canon, he often seems spoken of in terms of the lone genius, the solitary recluse crafting heartbreaking works alone in some proverbial ivory tower, Arthur’s Landing are a bright reminder that he was, more than most musicians, an active member of a thriving scene, from programming at avant garde venue Lower East Side venue The Kitchen to leading Dinosaur L, he was an inherently social musician. The band/collective, made of Russell collaborators like Loose Joints-members Steven Hall and Mustafa Ahmed and inheritors like Nomi Ruiz of Hercules and Love Affair, they have just released an album of Arthur Russell covers with original arrangements on Strut, and we were lucky enough to grab a set of songs from the collective. Download it above, spread the word if you feel like it, and read what Ernie Brooks (of the Modern Lovers and member of ensembles headed by Rhys Chatham, Peter Gordon, and others) and manager Dan Mullins (who manned the wheels of steel for this mix) had to say.
How’s it going?
EB: It’s pretty chaotic trying get a band with this many diverse, creative, and frequently neurotic musicians all together at the same time and place as we in Arthur’s Landing prepare for our record launch at NuBlu on Monday. But we rehearsed during the Jet’s game last Sunday night. Talk about commitment!
DM: Well, very busy though!
Tell us a bit about the mix please?
EB: Listening to Romeo Void takes me back the early heyday of CBGB where I used to play, about once a month on average, in the semi-new wave/punk band I had at the time , The Necessaries (which Arthur was in for a time- he’s on the album we did for Sire). I love the clear, spare funkiness of the bass and drums on “Stay.” It’s nice to hear “That Hat” reissued- takes me back to when the Flying Hearts ( a pop band that Arthur and I put together) used to do double bills with LOLO at art spaces in Tribeca in the late 70’s.
Listening to these songs back to back makes me realize very clearly how much I prefer live drums to machines in the context of danceable music.
DM: The mix is exactly that, a mix of music one may find me listening to at any given day of the week. As I tell people, I spin records. Oh yea, the mix is 100% vinyl. It’s 45 minutes and it took me exactly that to spin. Along with that above philosophy, I guess it goes without saying I’m a disciple of David Mancuso. I grew up on producers such as Trevor Horn, Nile Rodgers, Thomas Dolby, Vince Clarke, Quincy Jones, Giorgio Moroder, Stuart Price, Chaz Jankel, Steve Lillywihite and Herb Alpert. One can imagine the diversity of artists and bands that covers. I’m the first one to tell people I’m a huge “pop whore.” I love my pop. With that, I love the EP format with its extended mixes, dubs and b-sides. Reading the names of these cut and mix masters lead me to individuals such as Francois K, John Morales, Greg Wilson, Jellybean, Ben Liebrand, Tom Moulton and Arthur Baker. Favorite band of all time is without a doubt The Police. I’m sure if you’re reading this, I know much more about music than you.
As we say, “there’s never any account for taste in this business” so as my classmates were busy trying to be musicians, work for a super cool indie label and produce their shitty music, I was studying champions such as David Geffen, Walter Yetnikoff, Clive Davis, Tommy Mottola, Ian Schrager and even Neil Bogart to an extent. History repeats itself and the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented.
What are you up to right now and over the next few months?
EB: Rehearse- often but never enough. Listening to old cassettes and DATs for songs and bits of music that we worked on with Arthur years ago- amazing what a richness of melody is there-sometimes hinted at in a totally rough, fragmentary recording that’s very suggestive and inspiring. Also finishing up on an album recorded with guitar player Gary Lucas (Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley) and his group Gods and Monsters (with Billy Ficca of Television on drums). It was produced by my old friend Jerry Harrison (who you may recall from Talking Heads, etc.).So I’ll be touring to support that project as well as to promote the Arthur’s Landing release.
DM: Touring, touring, touring! I’m busy fostering the Arthur’s Landing brand. Supply must be created, demand must be met, financial bases must be created and the value must be increased. Not unlike any other type of commodity whether it’s music or kitty litter. People do not buy music or any other commodity for that matter (indiscriminately) anymore, consumers buy brands. People are very much concerned with value whether they consciously realize it or not. They want something consistent and dependable. They want something that is sure to deliver. It’s all about increasing the value of which you’re trying to create or have already created. Google some of the name I mentioned above whether producers, artists or moguls. I’m currently managing several acts and record labels not limited to Arthur’s Landing such as David J. Crow and Statra Recordings. Oh yea, Google those names too. Actually, Google “google” as well because they will become the most important conglomerate the world has ever seen.
What are a few of your favourite memories/eras of NYC over the years?
EB: I love the early 80’s when New York was a big mess- dirtier, more dangerous, in all ways funkier, and the club scene was new and wild. I loved playing at Danceteria (and seeing Madonna doing her thing there before she made any records and all the No-Wave bands like DNA and the Contortions ). Also the Peppermint Lounge, the Continental, the Palladium, and especially the Mud Club where I also played and spent too many seriously late nights. As you might have guessed I was more of the rock than the dance world, although I saw my share of that, partly through hanging out with Arthur when he’d go to places like the Paradise garage. Watching the big blackout of “78 from LIC was also fun…..almost as great as this year’s blizzard..
DM: I’m 23 so I only used an 18 ID to sneak into Sound Factory a few times. It wouldn’t be right for me to speak about an era but I’ve had and continue to have great times with some even better individuals around NYC. However, I could talk about my 5 years up at college, SUNY Oneonta, but that may be better suited if Larry Flyntt conducted the interview. Imagine your best spring break and one of those Girl Gone Wild promo….but for 10 semesters. It was even better before the rugby team get booted off campus.
Where do you think the music scene in NYC is going? Where do you want to see it go?
EB: Right now there is an amazing amount of all kinds of music being played in NY. The number of bars that have bands almost every night throughout Brooklyn is astounding and a lot of the groups are really good. I count on my daughter Jessi (in her 20’s) to keep me up on the scene. I think it’s interesting that vinyl is coming back. I guess that show how much people appreciate something that can not be digitized the way so much is today. I also learned a lot about the current dance scene through working on the AL album with Brennan (Green) and heard a lot of promising new sounds at his studio in Bushwick.
DM: LIVE MUSIC– I don’t care whether it’s Matthew Dear or Deadmau5. We need more festivals. Festivals provide a great platform for sponsorships, branding, exposure and revenue streams not readily available for most artists, whether major or “indie.” I enjoy seeing people excited- one’s taste is neither here nor there. Music is just the commodity. Although intellectual property (not unlike any other type of property such as real estate, currency, equities, etc), music is still just the commodity or by-product that cannot stand on it’s own. This entire entertainment business is built on credit and the perceived value of one’s property. Although I closely guard the age old “art v. commerce” conundrum to my heart, I could really care less what it sounds like. There will never be another Prince. There will never be another David Bowie. As a matter of fact, where the hell are all the John Lennons nowadays? With the political environment and socio-economical conditions being what they are in this country, now seems like a pretty damn good time.