Randi Russo has been performing as a female solo artist in New York wooing audiences and critics alike with her intensely personal style of lo-fi rock. Her music is uniquely original and often reflects her dark and humane views of the world (also see: PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Robert Lowell). Sheís a prolific songwriter with 2 albums and 2 EPs written under her name, the most recent of which, Shout Like a Lady (Olive Juice Music) is an excellent touchstone for her developing sound and identity.
Shout Like a Lady is in many ways an extension of her prior EP, Still Standing Still. The songs for Still Standing Still and Shout Like a Lady were all recorded and written during the same period stretching from 2002 to 2004. She decided to split up the session for release, instead of bombbarding her growing crowd of listeners with a giant disc.
Her songs are wholly her own works and expressions, but Randi shared with me that the most collaborative part of the writing process was often getting her focused. Ever motivated, ever expressive, Randi found that channeling her energies is the feat that proves most difficult. When we sat down to talk about her music Randi told me, "My biggest problem is that I get overwhelmed: Iíll come up with all these chords and I think I know what the song is about and then another idea comes and all these tentacles start shooting out."
Often itís precisely those tangential tentacles that prove to make Randi Russo so appealing. Her recorded works shift and buck, and refuse to be boxed neatly. Randi deftly moves from a sexy cynical growl ("Battle on the Periphery") to an introspective and softer croon ("Ceiling Fire"). "That Corpse" is a particularly dark favorite of mine on the record (in the vein of Smog/Callahanís more imaginative dark moments), and seems to reveal a blacker sense of humor than a passing glance at Randi might reveal. "I do have a sense of humor. I remember performing that song, and it really weirded out the audience." With lyrics like "Wanna be alone so I roll him / off the bed and out the door," I guess I know why the audience was weirded, but I so love it.
Her sense of aesthetic and worldview are also quite apparent in her visual art. When speaking about her drawings and her music Randi said, "They both have this dark undercurrent. Ö.. The lines are feminine and sort of Ďat a whimí. I could never do a comic book because I never do the same thing twice." Itís that same constant searching that seems so relevant to her music. Randiís self-awareness became increasingly apparent during our discussions. I was curious to hear her take on the many traps that inherently arise from being a beautiful woman onstage. Right from the get go, youíre objectified. Refusing to be bested and adamant that she be taken seriously, she made the conscious decision to lay her own claims on that sexual energy and ensure her own sense of control. "The way I dress at shows has become less inhibited," she said candidly.
Randi seems in many ways an artist in flux, striving to reach her next peak because of internal forces beyond her control. And she will keep pushing herself, no doubt. She had this to say about an early nervous opportunity in NYC: "The first open mic I went to was at the Sidewalk Café Ė I was shaking like a leaf and nervous as hell. I actually got a good response and got invited to parties afterwards and all that but I didnít want to go back there and I didnít want to go to any parties. I just wanted to go home. But I pushed myself, and I started going to open mics twice a week. But I remember at the beginning with the shaky leg and shaky hands and shaky voice." But she kept at it, Ďpaying her duesí and learning the tricks of a performer, eventually overcoming that initial shyness because of her driving need to get her music into the ears of her audience.
It is almost surprising that someone who had previously battled shyness would be able to sing such personal songs to a live audience, but Randi decided that to her "It feels liberating to sing those songs and let it out. I often think about performers that are intensely shy, but onstage they let it out -- like PrinceÖ Really, it comes from a personal place. I am the kind of person who is open about their feelings. People are able to be confident, or have swagger or attitude. For some reason, Iím not about that. And I try and use that." And she uses it well! Donít be confused though, sheís got a whole mess of moxy, presence, and talent and her discs will provide a satiating experience again and again.