Russ: “I’ve been around long enough to know that you catch a big song, and then it dies off and you’re on cruise control in the in-between, just kind of waiting for the next big moment. So I’m just riding the wave, trying to be more present and soaking all it all up.”
Alice Gee | 29/07/2022
As I move through the illustrious Mandrake Hotel in the heart of London’s Marylebone, I find Russ amid his shoot (all be it low key). Having flown in on the 15th I imagine he’s had a few days to settle in from the jet lag that comes with a long-haul flight from Atlanta. Russ moves around The Mandrake Library in a bold blue, pink, and yellow Celine jumper, with a calm attitude before taking a moment to sit with me. As we chatter back and forth about his arrival in the UK two days prior, I start to get a good understanding of Russ and his character, seemly forever upbeat, open, and passionate about whatever speaks about. Although it’s the first time we’ve met, I’d imagined he was going to be outgoing having been able to capture the attention of millions of fans both online and in person. When it comes to the idea of success Russ is quick to tell me “I think success is in the journey itself”. Russ has gone from creating beats in his basement at the tender age of 18 to debuting his music in the top 10 of the US Billboard. If that’s not the pinnacle of success as a musician I’m keen to hear how Russ gauges his success.
“I don’t think this is my destination. Even when I had no fans and no hits, I was successful, because I was on a path, and I had a definite aim. All of those moments, before some of the more, I guess, tangible results were imperative for the whole journey. I’m now trying to settle into this life.”
There’s a kind of contentment in Russ as he tells me a little context about the moments before his “tangible” results. It seems to have come as a bit of a shock for the platinum selling artist. “I’ve been in shock, unknowingly for, five, six years, which has made me anxious along the way in a fear of losing everything”. It’s interesting to hear, as to the naked eye you wouldn’t assume Russ is scared of failing to move at the pace he’d like. “I’m just trying to focus on being patient,” he tells me. “If I don’t have everything I want by tomorrow that’s ok, I need to just breathe.” Although he doesn’t need to convince me, from the buckets full of talent he encompasses and from the dedication of his fans, I find myself wanting to delve a little deeper into what feeds the insecurities even imposter syndrome he’s opened about. “Even on photoshoots, it’s always like, why did they want to shoot me? What am I doing? Who am I kidding? I think it’s a natural feeling, imposter syndrome. But I think it’s about not taking yourself too seriously and just having fun with it, embracing the unknown. I think the unknown freaks everyone out, it freaks me out but there’s no way to plan for this in life, you can think or know you’re going to be successful but, you don’t know the fine print. So, it’s just about being patient and accepting the unknown.”
When it comes to embracing the unknown, it’s safe to say I’m no poster child, but to have come to understand every one of us is no stranger to experiencing the fear surrounding the future, it’s a comfort to hear Russ touch upon our natural instinct to run from it. “I think naturally as humans, we want to resist the unknown. As soon as we get into some, unfamiliar territory, even when it’s a positive unknown it’s our instinct to think no, get out of here, get me back to something familiar.” It’s a method of management Russ has only recently come to terms with as he mentions the kudos he believes his 38 self will have for him looking back on his early day artistry. He tells me about the encouragement he’s received from fellow musicians quoting me the advice from John Mayer “you need to take your coat off” before following his initial trail of thought from the question “But it was all new, you feel anxious, you feel overwhelmed, and you don’t want to screw up. You’re so focused on perfection and progress that there’s a lot of psychological warfare that goes on.
As we pause for a moment to talk about the idea of warfare, I ask do you think you’re having more fun with it now, wondering if he feels present in the place he’s in at the moment. “I think I thought I was having more fun when I was younger. When you first blow up, your first solo show, your first platinum song, or your first album, you’ll find you aren’t always very present. It is sensory overload.” As he takes a moment to reminisce about the early years of his career he pauses to think before saying “damn I don’t even think I was there (mentally) for that. With his latest song doing super well, possibly on pace to be my biggest song ever he explains “I want to just ride the wave because I know from experience it passes.” Russ continues “I’ve been around long enough to know that you catch a big song, and then it dies off and you’re on cruise control in the in-between, just kind of waiting for the next big moment. So I’m just riding the wave, trying to be more present and soaking all it all up.”
Speaking of being more present, the moment presents itself to speak with Russ about the release of his Wall Street Journal best-selling book ‘It’s All In Your Head’, a mental health focusing memoir designed to help fans and readers get out of their way. Having been a passionate advocate for mental health over the past 10 years, the book goes further than his rise to fame and the music industry, delving into delusions, persistence, and gratitude. As someone who seems to walk at his own pace, I want to know not only the about hopes for the book in terms of those who read it but whether it had been a journey of self-discovery and acceptance for himself. “It was nice to write down my belief system at the time for myself, but the whole goal was to provide people with an alternative to how they are feeling. I’m aware that my way may not be the way for others or the only way to think about things but I figured while I’m here, and while I have people’s attention, let me try to help as many people as possible. If it’s worked for me maybe it can work for you too.” It’s interesting to hear Russ break down the book and its intentions with me, he lights up, telling me “I still say to this day, I think the book is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done” with a smile that could tell a million stories becoming my favourite moment of the interview so far.
With Russ finding so much joy in the moment I take a moment to connect the dots asking about the motivation behind him opening up about his mental health experiences and how they connected to him when writing his book. “I felt that if I just sit here and do nothing, I’m gonna spiral. I need to give my brain something to do. I think my way of coping was making music. Writing it wasn’t even necessary, I was feeling inspired.” Before telling me the inspiration came from his mental health journey. “It’s so strange because I was the kid who had no anxiety, no depression. My anxiety and depression didn’t hit until post success. The pressure
that I put on myself to be all these great things and do all these great things, the pressure that I felt from the industry meant I burnt myself out and I didn’t have good coping mechanisms. At one point I was overeating. I didn’t have healthy ways to deal with my anxiety. I would do anything to distract my brain including staying in the studio. That’s how I made a bunch of my songs but at the same time, it wasn’t healthy, I had such a lack of balance.”
The lack of balance appears to me from our conversations as something unsustainable whilst providing him with a moment of adrenaline and no way to deal with the crash.
“The crash is so crazy, but it’s a juxtaposition. You see you play an arena, and it’s such a high and then you go to a hotel room and it’s dead quiet and you’re by yourself. It was strange to go from feeling like you have so many people who know you to go back to a hotel room by yourself. It’s such an isolating feeling. I’m not looking for like sympathy or woe is me, I’m just making an observation. It’s an interesting dynamic to be onstage with 1000s of people singing back your words, feeling like they’re relating to you to being super lonely. But I’ll figure it out” It seems a harsh reality that coincides with the job followed by even harsher words.
I don’t think Russ is anywhere close to complaining, more so outlining the reality of life on the road that tends to be hidden by the flashing lights. It’s an observation that is perfectly healthy to outline as I ask how he’s managing to cope with it.
“I think control what you can control and let go of trying to control things you can’t. That’s hard for me, though. I’m a bit of a control freak. But I think that behavior or being a control freak is often fear-based behavior.” Having experienced these moments in his narrative I’m eager to ask about the ways he’s helping artists that I’ve heard about whether it be his book, investment, or his
recently co-founded music label DIEMON. “I think the book is great. And I can tweet great things, and say great things in interviews that try to help artists, but I feel like I need to do it for real. I want to be hands on helping artists. That’s the goal of the label. I just want to help artists that I believe in.”
It’s obvious as we sit and speak about the little things in the closing moments of the interview how little money and fame genuinely matter to him other than his priority to take care of his family. What’s important to him is what aligns with his soul. And as for the future, as he tours Northern America with Europe to follow later in the year, he’s leaving it to the expert, “I think you make plans and like God laughs, whenever I try to plan things that’s where a lot of the anxiety comes in. Things have always worked out for me in my career, even when I couldn’t see that. So, I’m going to be present and leave it up to the universe to figure out the fine print.”
Words: Alice Gee