Honest music

Tell us about your musical background.
I started playing cello when I was 9 because it was big and nobody else was checking it out during the instrument petting zoo in the school’s cafeteria. When I was in my teens I switched over to electric bass to play rock n’ roll. I ended up studying jazz theory on the bass. I had also been toying with other instruments in those years, and recording them on a four-track cassette. That got me into recording and I ended up studying audio engineering at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Do you prefer certain styles of music?
I prefer music that is honest, regardless of genre or style. I’ve played anywhere from classical to electronica to country to Goth rock to metal to religious contemporary to RnB to avant-garde. It’s all just sounds that express different aspects of the human experience. The record I’m working on right now is cello, upright bass, mandolin, guitar, and banjo. It could be described as chamber music on traditionally bluegrass instruments. But my live set, depending on the venue, also has electronic pieces and lyric work that aren’t currently out on record.

Where were you before Breckenridge?
I grew up in Colorado. Between then and moving back, I worked on traditionally-rigged sailing ships on the east coast, and before that in recording studios in Woodstock, NY.

Tell us about the Breckenridge Authentic Music Project.
The Breckenridge Authentic Music Project (AMP) is my way of trying to encourage local musicians to refine the original music they’re writing into a finished product. It started because I knew some people who were writing really good songs that would never leave their living rooms. I wanted to use my background with music and recording to help get those songs out to a broader audience. We released “This Is What We’re Doing” to give a window into some of the music that was happening around the community.

And Songwriters’ Circle?
Songwriters’ Circle is an extension of that project. Part of helping musicians grow artistically and professionally was helping them start and finish their songs. As far as I knew there were places to present music (i.e. open mics), which was like Step 2 in the artistic process, but nowhere to work on Step 1. So Songwriters’ Circle started as a monthly group where people could come to get constructive feedback from other musicians in the community. The Songwriters’ Circle is nice because it connects the community while also helping everyone to improve.

Why cultivate a community of music?
I believe a strong music community contributes to healthy general community; it adds depth and cultivates character. There have been a number of musicians who have come through town seasonally with whom I’ve really enjoyed working, but they left for other opportunities. With a stronger music community, they might have more reason to stick around.

What did you think of last year’s Colorado Music Convergence?
I loved the Convergence! The Convergence allowed us all to make connections that would not have easily been made without it. There’s some cool stuff happening in the Colorado music scene, but it can be difficult to connect region to region. The Convergence allowed that to happen; it gave a forum for our collective identity to grow. What’s your take on the Colorado music scene? It’s great to watch it develop. When I was growing up, the scene didn’t seem to be all that prevalent. We’ve had some recognizable Colorado artists in the past number of years who have increased our visibility on the national stage. As a result, opportunity has increased for artists. The cooperative attitude of the Colorado music scene is really heartening across genres and geography. There are a lot of genuine people working together to overcome challenges and actualize opportunities.

I understand you also busk?
I like to sit in Blue River Plaza on summer evenings. You are right next to your audience, which is very personal. That close proximity has created some really beautiful interactions that wouldn’t have happened any other way. It’s also fun to let the kids (and some adults too!) try the cello. I remember how it felt the first time I put the bow on the strings, so I love passing that moment on to a future generation.

Where else have you played?
I’ve played in the middle of a river, on the deck of a schooner under sail, inside art installations, for a gate guard at a rodeo, off the ground in a tree stand for a solo performance piece called “Music for the Birds.” I really like to change the setting where music happens because it changes the way the music is received. A performance, at its best, transports both the audience and the player and creates a singular, beautiful moment. The non-traditional presentation strips away the audience’s pre-conceived expectations, allowing them to be more open to the performance and music, which can resonate at a deeper level.

From where do you draw creative inspiration?
In general, personal experiences. More specifically, the subtext of those experiences. Like writing about a landscape but not its physical features; writing instead about what that landscape generates introspectively. Describing a mirror by its reflection. Writing musical harmonies to the melodies of a specific moment or event. My creative inspiration uses life’s subtext as a catalyst for some cool musical sounds.

Russick Smith // russicksmith.com
Breckenridge Authentic Music Project // breckords.com/breck-amp
Songwriters’ Circle // breckcreate.org

Photos: Liam Doran