The Way We Get By: Tom Russo is Literally Stopping to Smell the Roses

The Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever guitarist is glad to have been forced to stop moving.

I’m at home in Melbourne, Australia. We would have been in the middle of a European summer tour about now. Instead I’m getting to spend some time with my wife and dog as we come into southern winter. I’m fortunate enough to still have a day job, so I’m busy enough.

We just released our second album, and it’s been surreal putting it out into the ether in this moment. The current protests in the States have re-energized people in Australia to address our own history of dispossession and discrimination against First Nations peoples, and restarted conversations around how relatively privileged people like us can utilize that privilege in practical ways. One exciting thing is seeing people talking about big ideas and challenging old assumptions around how society should be. Hopefully it can lead to some long overdue change.

If there’s been an unexpected positive from being in lockdown it’s being forced to stop moving. My world has shrunk in size from a fair bit of world touring this time last year to a couple of square blocks for the most part. I’ve been walking around my neighborhood in Brunswick a lot, without rushing to get somewhere. I’ve been looking up at trees and streetscapes and literally stopping to smell the roses in the old Greek neighbors’ gardens.

For me, the initial deflation of having our year’s plans cancelled has turned into a kind of creative liberation, where any pressures around touring or “album cycles” are off for the foreseeable future. I’ve been enjoying making music for the sake of it.

After all the work we put into the album, I felt drained creatively and didn’t touch the guitar for a while. I recently bought a second-hand TR8 drum machine that has all the classic 808 and 909 samples, and I’ve been teaching myself how to program drums. I have always loved hip-hop and electronic music, but never played with those genres in any serious way. I’ve been dabbling in making trap, house and techno beats using YouTube tutorials as a guide. It uses a different part of the brain to writing songs with guitars. I feel like starting out on a new instrument where you have minimal technical ability unlocks new paths for creativity, and refreshes my usual songwriting patterns by looking at things from a different angle. I’m not sure if my experiments in these fields are what the people are calling out for, but it is a lot of fun. I think the further you get from that sense of freedom and adventure, the worse any music you write becomes.

No one knows where we go from here, but I’m feeling grateful for the small green shoots that are emerging from the uncertainty and hardship. Hopefully from a band point of view, we get to play some of our new songs live in 3D to people around the world next year, but for now I’m happy in my little zone.

Sideways to New Italy is out now via Sub Pop.

(Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana)

Tom Russo is a singer, songwriter and guitarist with Melbourne band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Their second LP Sideways to New Italy is out now through Sub Pop.