Interview By: Jim Markunas
I caught up with my friend, Jason Sebastian Russo, lead singer and principle songwriter of New York’s Hopewell for a quick e-mail Q&A. Hopewell’s new record “Good Good Desperation” is out on Tee Pee Records… Buy it!!!!
JM: Jason, you’re a veteran musician and very prolific. How do you manage to make each Hopewell record innovative and different from each record before it?
Jason: Jeeze, thanks. Well, my abilities and tastes keep changing. So…the music does too. Also, time keeps passing, advances in technology happen, my patience for trends wane, etc.
JM: Awhile back, you left your supporting role in Mercury Rev to front Hopewell. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve done to hone your skills as a frontman. How is fronting a band different? What did you learn as a sideman that you brought to your lead role in Hopewell?
Jason: Well, I guess the main thing that helped pull me out of my reclusive shell is playing a shit ton of shows. It starts to become fun. Now, it’s like brushing my teeth, or taking a shower, but in front of people.
As a “sideman,” I learned exactly how random and annoying band leaders/lead singers can seem. Honestly, I was the “lead singer” in Hopewell before I joined Mercury Rev – so when I returned my focus to Hopewell, I was armed with the knowledge of both sides. It’s a 2-sided dance, no one is innocent.
JM: You have a reputation for being a “work-a-holic.” Please tell us a little bit about the projects you’re working on outside of Hopewell.
Jason: Hmmmmmmmm…a solo record (http://jasonsebastianrusso.com) recorded in a cow barn the English countryside, a band with my Brother (the Silent League) & dear friend Bill Whitten (Grand Mal) called the Paxil Brothers, two film scores this year, a book about my father…
JM: There have been a few solo projects that you’ve done described as “twangy/alt-country” can you tell us a little bit about that?
Jason: I don’t remember talking about a twangy alt-country side project. There is a fair amount of acoustic guitar on my solo thing, but I made sure to use dead strings. I tried to avoid things that could be described as jangling or shimmery. Also, for the record, this is my first solo endeavor. It felt weird – as if I was cheating on myself – but good weird.
JM: Tell us about “Good Good Desperation.” Is there a story behind the album? What is the album all about?
Jason: The album is the sound of us touring a lot through the American west. When you are on tour with a marginally-appreciated, space rock band, you get intimate with feelings like desperation, loneliness, ennui etc. We realized though – after a bit – that we make our best music when faced with opposition.
We once played a festival that was flooded, we’ve played outside in 101-degree heat, we played outside in 40-degree cold (Joshua Tree at night – no exaggeration here – it may have been below 40) – these were some of our best performances. We excel when circumstances are desperate. Thus, good desperation.
JM: Hopewell’s music uses a lot of cool little effects (pedals, synthesizers, etc.) What kind of gear do you use, and what kind of experimentation with new sounds went into the making of “Good Good Desperation?”
Jason: Well, here is a sample of some of the more bizarre gear we use:
Ruggiero Phase Simulator
White Tuxedo Vibra-Trem (TVT-2)
Liquid Fuzz (LF-101)
Personal Pitch Pre-amps (sponsored)
The Tettix Wave Accumulator
EML Synkey Synthesizer
EE-1 Echo Echo analog delay delay
The Hazer (reissue)
JM: Who are your influences?
Warhol & The Velvets
David Foster Wallace
JM: If you could jam with any musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Jason: Uh, I would jam with whoever it is that invented the guitar – just to see the look on his/her face when I plug in.
Editor’s note: That would be Les Paul : )
JM: What can we expect from Hopewell this year? Any plans for a tour?
Jason: We just got done with a full US tour, coming up we are doing the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. Should be fun.
JM: What’s your favorite venue to play at?
Jason: I like Spaceland in LA. Or Glasslands here in Brooklyn. Or Pappy & Harriet’s in Joshua Tree.