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Kerby's Exclusive Interview with Great White Vocalist Jack Russell

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Saturday, April 29, 2006 @ 4:52 AM


"I never thought of anything e

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Great White's performance on the recently released DVD VH-1's Metal Mania Stripped Across America Tour Live is not only the most gripping moment of the disc, but their haunting rendition of "Save Your Love" also serves as a salient reminder of just how good this band has always been and still continues to be. Even in 2006, Jack Russell remains one of the best voices in metal or any of its sub-genres-his vocals have a soul, clarity and attitude that still seem a perfect marriage with the music present in such stellar tracks such as "All Over Now", "The Angel Song" and "Rock Me." Whereas some tunes from that period may seem a bit dated or in some way lacking in substance, it still remains possible to this day for a person to throw in a tape or disc by Great White and simply get lost in the music. That might be the best remark that could ever be made about a band--to say that that a given group's music has the ability to transport a listener to a type of auditory headspace wherein nothing else really exists except for the feelings and memories evoked by a given song or record. That kind of magic simply suggests a level of skill and relevance that the majority of bands who are formed never have the talent or opportunity to produce.

To speak with Jack Russell three years after the tragedy in Rhode Island, it's obvious that the vocalist has had to work extremely hard to put the events of that night in a context that would allow him to be able to continue to function both in regard to his career or simply life in general. Anyone who has ever had an incident happen to them that is completely life altering understands that the there are stages involved in how one deals with such an event, and once the initial shock, anger and sadness subsides, the primary business for that individual concerns how to best try to rebuild one's life. In the case of Russell, Great White has continued to tour, record and their appearance on the aforementioned VH-1 offering as well as the upcoming release of a their Once Bitten, Twice Live album chronicling the last show the band did in 2001 before Russell went on to pursue a solo career is sure to guarantee that the group is certain to continue to be a hot topic of discussion for metal fans in the near future. It's just too bad that conversation all too often has to center around the senseless loss of life rather than simply be a joyful exchange about the group's considerable work-a collection of songs that have consistently proven to celebrate life, living and the entire range of emotions this journey encompasses.

KNAC.COM: Was the show at the Key Club for this Metal Mania Acoustic really special for you in any way or did it just happen to be another show that got recorded?

RUSSELL: You know, it's always fun to get together with all the other friends of ours that we hadn't seen in awhile and do a show. It was just cool to go and hang out with a bunch of our old buddies like Kip Winger--I hadn't seen him in years. It was just a good experience that kinda took you back to the old days…maybe back to the days where there weren't MP3's or whatever--back to the days before records were turned into CD's as opposed to having this big chunk of vinyl in your hands with artwork on an album cover, you know? Certain things just kind of got minimized.

KNAC.COM: Wasn't it a more intimate time in many ways as well? Back then, the interaction a fan primarily had for the most part came just from the audio, and most of the time, kids would just stare at the cover while they listened to the music. Basically, they were just left to create their own history and personality for the bands they were listening to.

RUSSELL: I never really thought about it to that extent, but it makes a lot of sense--it really does. I mean, the album and the liner notes really were your link to the band. It was special to sit there listening to the record while you checked out the liner notes. Then, maybe you realize, "oh, he wrote that song." Or maybe there were some special things in there like the Kiss Alive album or maybe the band wrote a cool message.

KNAC.COM: I'm sure that maybe to this day you probably could describe even the smallest details on the cover of your favorite records from back in the day.

RUSSELL: Right, look at the Led Zeppelin IV album cover--all the little details on the picture and the drawing on the inside. There were just so many cool things or Roger Dean's work on the Yes album covers was spectacular. When things got smaller, it was just like, "why bother making a kick ass album cover when people won't be able to see it, you know?"

KNAC.COM: All of that seems to go back to the question of whether music is designed to be a primarily auditory experience or whether it is sort of doomed to become this multi-media event. You've seen all the stages in your career--is a good song still a good song still a good song still a constant?

RUSSELL: That's kind of how I've always looked at it. A good song is a good song, and to me it's the singer as much as the song as well in a lot of regards. A good singer can sell a moderately good song. Maybe it's just me, but I'm missing the great voices--I'm just missing them. I think the 80's had a few or more than their share. I thought the 90's were seriously lacking because everything sounded kind of cookie cutter or homogenized. It was like, "this is the type of sound I'm supposed to have, so I'll sound like this. The whole bombasity or the electricity of the 80's was just big and huge. It was like it was supposed to be--it was bigger than life. Some day, they are going to be selling us records on a microchip--you'll sneeze, and you won't be able to find it in your carpet. As far as the one constant goes though, yeah, a good song is a good song. It doesn't matter who writes it or plays it or sings it. Throughout our career, that's why I've never had a problem with us playing cover songs if I felt like it because it wasn't like "gee, you didn't write that song." So what? It's not like I'm in a competition where it's like I'm trying to write every great song in the world. Not every great song was written by Jack Russell. I'd like to say that it were, but that just isn't the way it is. If I hear a song I connect with and go, "I wish I would have written that song", then maybe I just want to sing it. The hell with what anyone says about it. Some people want to go, "look, your biggest song was "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" and it was a cover song." Uh, yeah…and your point is?

KNAC.COM: Well, you know, people tend to like to take the negative attitude when it comes to someone else's success. In all, how would you characterize the life and career of Jack Russell? Can a whole life really be overshadowed by one unfortunate event?

RUSSELL: You know what? It was really fun. When you grow up, you always dream about being someone else, like "I really wanna be Steven Tyler or I wish I was Robert Plant." Then, when I got older, I was like, "it's really pretty fuckin' cool being me." I've had a really great time overall. I mean, obviously, there have been some ups and downs and some horrific tragedy, but I mean, for the most part, this has been my dream since I was a little kid. I always dreamed and knew that I was going to be a rock star. I never thought of anything else--I just knew I was going to be a rock star---I was kind of waiting for it to happen, so it wasn't a really big surprise to me. I would tell my friends, "I'm gonna make it." They were like, "how do you know?" I said, "I will. I guarantee it." They would just go, "ahh, whatever." Then, pretty soon these are the same guys who are sniffing around looking for tickets when we're playing the Forum. It really has been amazing. Everything I thought it was going to be like when I was a kid…well, it's about a hundredfold better than that. You know, making records and being in the studio and meeting all these cool people. I mean, Steven Tyler became a friend of mine, and this was a cat that when I was twelve years old that I pierced my ear because I saw him on a record with an earring on it. I used to fantasize about meeting these guys and talking to them, and then one day, he's just sitting in the back of my tour bus. I'm thinking, "this is really cool." One time, he called me on the phone, and it was at my house while I was gone, and I was so pissed that I missed the call, but I took the tape out of the old style answering machine, and I still have it to this day. "Hey Jack, how's it goin' man? Happy Birthday!" That is just one of my treasured things. My career in music has mostly been pretty cool. I highly recommend the gig.

KNAC.COM: Does that particular gig really exist anymore though? You guys were lucky enough to be part of an era that seemed to be a little more conducive to cultivating life long musicians.

RUSSELL: Yeah, it is kind of like those days are gone--gone with the wind or whatever.

KNAC.COM: People used to think that most of the disposable artists came from dance music or pop music or one of those genres--rock was supposed to be different.

RUSSELL: The rock thing was a little different, it was always a little more exclusive, and the people in it were supposed to have a lot more staying power. If you were in rock, it wasn't supposed to be one of these fly by night things. If you were in a rock band and you got famous, you were good for at least ten to fifteen years. No, it's not that way anymore. Today, the guys are in and out so fast you can't even remember their goddamn names.

KNAC.COM: It's almost like the scene part of music is dying out, and like you said, it has been replaced by MP3's, and fans just seem to be interested in whatever single they like at the moment.

RUSSELL: Exactly. There is no "rock star" mystique anymore. It's like the tour buses and the caravans, the entourage, and "what hotel are they staying at?"-no one cares about that stuff anymore, you know? Like you said, you can go on the Internet and find out anything you want--the guy wears this size fuckin' underwear, smokes cigars, and likes to eat shrimp on the weekends. It's like, "who cares? He's just like us."

KNAC.COM: Wasn't that one of the factors that eventually undid the whole alternative movement? I mean, it seemed like people got tired of guys who looked like they mowed your lawn going, "we don't really want this fame, and it gets so hard to express oneself in this oppressive environment." Do people want to pay to see that?

RUSSELL: Yeah, some guy up on the stage staring at his shoes. We're paying money to hear him complain about being there.

KNAC.COM: Then, when he gets everything he wants-

RUSSELL: He kills himself.

KNAC.COM: Ok, so if that was the ideal ending for a life of stardom within the alternative rock, how could anyone criticize the metal musicians of the 80's for enjoying themselves? You mean, the perks weren't a part of it? Did anyone actually believe that?

RUSSELL: Oh, of course they were. Are you kidding me? You'd get more pussy than a toilet seat.

KNAC.COM: Is that the type of behavior you don't want your rock stars engaging in?

RUSSELL: That's what makes it a cool thing to be a rock star-all the cool things that go along with it. To me, the fame was cooler than anything. To be recognized for something you really loved to do that, for me, was the core of my being was amazing. I mean, I'm singing all the time in the shower or whatever. It drives my wife crazy. I never shut up. It could be the middle of the night I'll be in the bathroom and she'll scream, "stop it!" I didn't even realize I was singing. It's just something I love to do. To be recognized for that and have people look up to you and idolize you is a great feeling. It really makes me feel like it has been worth something. It's kind of like God gave me a talent that doesn't make me special, but my talent is special. I don't just think I'm this really cool guy because of my voice-I think I'm a lucky guy. Whatever the planet that be or whatever powers that be are up there and gave me this voice. I'm just glad he didn't give it to someone else. Sure, I want go out there and use it. I was out there partying my ass off and getting' laid and hangin' out with models. Why not? What sane American boy wouldn't do that, you know?

KNAC.COM: Well, there is this perception that if you engage in those behaviors that you aren't serious about the music, never mind the fact that doing all of those things is probably what's giving you the inspiration to begin with.

RUSSELL: Exactly. There is the common ground right there. All those common things that happen whether you're a rock star or you're scrubbing floors. We all fall in love, and we all get our hearts broken. We all go through the same crap. That's what I like to sing about-just the real stuff. As the years went by, I thought I got better at it. The cool thing about music is that it was just always there. If you wanted to feel a certain way, there was a song for it. There is a song for every feeling or emotion. Say you just broke up with your old lady and you want to hit the road, there is a song for that. Music is just like this really cool drug with no side effects except maybe for some hearing loss.

KNAC.COM: In fact, you guys wrote one of the great songs that captured the whole vibe of "I'm out of here" called "All Over Now". That whole idea of "this room is just a mess, nothing's ever working and I couldn't care less."

RUSSELL: "Looking like a quarter when a dollar ain't enough."

KNAC.COM: Yeah, well what's great about that song is that even though everything is all fucked up, and the person has hit rock bottom, the music still manages to make you feel like everything is gong to be alright--that's freedom.

RUSSELL: That song was very empowering to me because I wrote it just as my first wife and I were splitting up. It was a really volatile breakup. I was singing "Save Your Love" and she was outside crashing her car into my car because I was going to leave her, and she figured if she wrecked the car, then somehow we'd be able to stay together. Female logic. (laughs) "All Over Now" is kind of like "I'm out of here, and I feel good about it. Things aren't great and I have no idea where this record is going to go, but I feel happy and I'm glad you're gone and it's all over now."

KNAC.COM: But what hasn't been 'all over now' has been your career. Great White has continued to tour and as you've said, you're still making music, do you still get letters from people that say that maybe you've been an inspiration to them in some way?

RUSSELL: Yes, it is amazing to me the amount of people who have stuck by this band and have let us know how they feel. It has been a positive experience more often than not. It has also been uplifting for me to know how many people out there actually give a shit. I get emails from people all over the world telling us not to stop or not to quit because our music has changed their life in some way and how Great White's music has been positive for them. That really made me think about how important-I don't mean to say how important our music is-but how important it is to some people. The one thing I never felt like I had accomplished in my career was the feeling that I had changed the world in any way. I was talking to my wife about this, and we were reading through these letters and she said, "don't you see that you have, Jack." I was like, "what are you talking about?" She said, "you've changed a lot of people's lives here in a positive way through your music, and in fact, you have changed the world to a certain degree."

KNAC.COM: If you've changed any one person's individual world, it does sort of validate your work, doesn't it?

RUSSELL: That's the point, and it's a pretty humbling thing. It's pretty heavy and it's also a lot of responsibility. I take what I do with a grain of seriousness-in the lyrics I write I try to be true to myself, but I try not to preach and tell people how to live their lives. I just try to talk about experiences.

KNAC.COM: Talk about a person experiencing a traumatic event where they find out who their true friends are…

RUSSELL: Of course, man. People were running for the hills after that one, you know. Some people stood by me while others were like, "Jack who?" It was kinda sad because some of the people I thought were my close friends and compatriots from that era were all of the sudden not to be seen. It was like, "hey, you want to tour with us?" "Nope."

KNAC.COM: And that's that.

RUSSELL: Yeah, after the dust cleared, things did get a little more back to normal, but you still know who your friends are at this point, and those are the people I hold in the highest regard. When the chips were down, they were there, and ninety percent of them were my fans.

KNAC.COM: That goes back to the adage about never knowing what you have in a spouse or a friend or a partner until you've either had a fight or faced some adversity with them. Sure, magnify that times whatever you want to, and that's what you were obviously dealing with in terms of the fire. From a human perspective, you had this huge, monumental loss that everyone knew about, but then you've probably had all these smaller losses since then that in some ways probably hurt just as much.

RUSSELL: Sure. People are going to think what they think, and they're going to act on the information they are given. Even then, some of them aren't going to get it. My shoulders are pretty big. Some families still want to blame us and me in particular because I am the voice of the band or whatever.

KNAC.COM: Isn't that just exemplary of our society anyway though? We have to have someone to blame-especially in a situation that turned out to be so dire.

RUSSELL: Exactly. That's just human nature. People are going to want to lash out or exact some type of revenge to kind of grieve-I get it. Thank God things have kind of calmed down a little bit. Life goes on, but it's still hard every day. There are still days where I break down and cry. It's like, "I miss my friends." I feel horrible that there are people no longer walking the face of the Earth because they went to see our show.

KNAC.COM: That's true, but no one is ever guaranteed anything including whether or not they will see tomorrow.

RUSSELL: I think things happen for a reason-I think that was meant to happen. I hate to say it, but I think that was part of God's plan. That's just how I view the world. That isn't to say that I'm correct, but that is how I personally view the world. I don't want people to misread that statement. I think things happen. I think whenever God or the universe or whoever is in charge calls and says it's time to go somewhere else, you've got to go. It's what I believe anyway.

KNAC.COM: That flies directly in the face of the idea though that as a person, you are guaranteed a certain amount of time on this Earth, and that if you don't get it, well, someone is to blame whether it is a car manufacturer or a doctor who couldn't keep you from having a heart attack. Do you think this attitude keeps people from appreciating the fragility of life?

RUSSELL: You know, that's one thing I really got out of this too was that just what you said, the idea of "the fragility of life" and how you have to really just enjoy each moment. As cliché as it sounds, you really do need to live each day as it it's your last. If you want to get anything out of life at all, you really just have to suck the marrow out of it. Every breath I take, I realize just how good it is to be here. I'm so thankful to be alive at this point because it could have just as easily gone the other way-you could make a right instead of a left, and you just never know. I'm here for a reason, and I just want to enjoy every day I have. Things that were important to me three years ago are maybe not so important anymore. Things were not so important, in the same regard, you know, my family and friends-things that are emotionally tangible--are what's important to me now. It's got nothing to do with material things at all.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, and if you don't want to play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" live, it's ok.

RUSSELL: If you don't want to play "Once Bitten, Twice Shy", who gives a shit? (laughs)

KNAC.COM: I'm sure that event had a way of putting regular life issues in a very definite perspective.

RUSSELL: If I have a bad night singing now, it isn't the end of the world. It's like, "you weren't a hundred percent-get over it."

KNAC.COM: I'm sure that it probably makes a person a lot more resilient as well.

RUSSELL: I just appreciate things so much more. Everything is just a little bit clearer and brighter. Things are just a little bit better.

KNAC.COM: Would you consider yourself to me more spiritual as a result of the tragedy?

RUSSELL: What it has done is reaffirm my spirituality. I've always been a very spiritual person-don't get me wrong-I'm not talking about religion, what I'm talking about is spiritual, and to me it is two different things. This has just brought into perspective for me, it was like, "This is something you need to be paying attention to, Jack. You're getting away from your spirituality and getting kind of caught up in 'this is how we live our lives. This is what we need. This is how many cars I want. This is how much stuff I need to have in those cars.'" It just turns into this gimmie, gimmie, gimmie, want, want, want and try to fill my house up with something cool. That's not what it's all about. I can walk around in the mountains today or take a walk in the desert and just enjoy a sunrise or sunset or watch an eagle fly over, and that, to me is more of a reward to see something like that. The big rewards in life are your memories. Your whole life you're just stock piling, it's like a bank account, and you're just stock piling this stuff so that when you get older you can replay them and just giggle your fucking ass off.

KNAC.COM: Whenever a person puts their faith in possessions or waiting on something, aren't they just setting themselves up to be unfulfilled?

RUSSELL: I see that happen to so many people where they plan for retirement, and it's like "click, and it's over." Why not enjoy yourself ten years before? Why wait for something like that to appreciate life? I really understand that now.


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