Sam Russo recently released his new album, Back to the Party . Punknews' Gen Handley caught up with him to talk about the new release, leaving (and returning) to one's hometown, and teaching. Check it out below.
Sam Russo on his new album
Over the last decade, the world has witnessed a subgenre of acoustic, folk music branch out from the roots of punk rock, carrying on the path paved by artists like Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash. Singer-songwriters like Chuck Ragan, Frank Turner and Brian Fallon have branched away from their heavier focuses, reinventing themselves – sometimes permanently – into something simpler but no less impactful and fervent. The latest to wave the punk flag while wielding an acoustic guitar is Sam Russo, a poetic, passionate singer creating a serious buzz from the unassuming town of Haverhill, England.
It was in this small industrial UK town where Russo wrote his third record, the excellent Back to the Party. “This album is really about friendship and that feeling you’re kind of left behind,” Russo explains. “A lot of my friends moved away and I kind of found inspiration in that, still living in this town.”
Russo actually did leave his hometown for several years but eventually returned to be closer to family. It’s in Haverhill, where, ironically, he thought he couldn’t have a music career, that he has become one of the most promising singer-songwriters in the last 10 years. While Russo honed his craft and began writing better and better songs, a number of notable names like Dan Andriano (Alkaline Trio) and “Brendan Kelly (The Lawrence Arms) began to take notice, inviting him to join them on the road, exposing the Haverhill artist to much bigger audiences.
Kelly, Andriano and their respective bands are huge influences on Russo – a serendipitous life twist that isn’t lost on the singer.
“Nowadays, playing with those guys, hanging out with them and talking about music and being treated like a peer is absolutely fucking mind-blowing,” he says, shaking his head.
Russo was quick to realize that punk music wasn’t confined to just being electric and fast. Russo soon experienced and appreciated the accessibility and intimacy of acoustic songwriting, songs that he can write anytime and anywhere as long as he has his trusty guitar.
“It keeps things simple…it keeps you really grounded in the process of songwriting because you only have two tools – your voice and your guitar,” he says. “It really makes you hone the basics. And you get to connect so immediately to the people you’re playing to. I get to stand a couple of feet away from people and feel them singing back to me. You can hear everything, you can feel everything, especially when they’re signing along.”
It may be surprising to fans that Russo’s day job is as a tutor and guidance counsellor of sorts for more than 200 students. Russo says that some of them have discovered his other artistic persona.
“I’ve gotten messages from some students saying how much they like the new album. Although it’s hard to tell if they’re being sarcastic,” he says laughing. “They seem to like the fact that I make music videos. It’s weird…they’re kind of two different worlds and you kind of want to keep them separate. But it’s also nice when they bleed together a little bit. Music is the best common ground.”