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interview

Allison Russell

Artist

Allison Russell is a Nashville based, Montreal born Scottish Grenadian Canadian writer, musician, composer and producer. She is a founding member of three critically acclaimed groups - Our Native Daughters, Birds of Chicago and Po’ Girl. Her editorial writing has been published in No Depression and Rolling Stone. Her latest piece “Dream of America” was produced by T Bone Burnett and Colin Linden. She is signed to Concord Music Publishing - her debut solo album, Outside Child,  will be released by Fantasy Records in Spring 2021.  Russell served on the Nominating Committee for the Board of Directors of Folk Alliance International and was elected to the Board of Directors of the Americana Music Association this Year. She has a background in non-profit harm reduction and community service. She is a survivor, a mother, a vocal advocate for equality/equity and an anti-bigotry activist.

Allison Russell

Where are you based?

I’m from Montreal, Quebec, Canada- but I’ve been based in Nashville for 4 years.

Where do you work? What do you do?

I work wherever I am. Because of COVID I now work from home. I’m a writer, a musician, a mother. I primarily write (and record) songs and poetry. Essays and op-Ed’s occasionally. I’m working on my first book. I have primarily been a collaborative musician – I’m a founding member of Po’Girl, Birds of Chicago, Our Native Daughters, Capitol Sun Rays – but this year I’ll be releasing my debut solo album with Fantasy Records. I’ve been getting more involved in the music industry in Nashville – I’m currently sitting on the Board of Directors for the Americana Music Association, and helping to launch a Diversity, Inclusion & Equity initiative there. I’ve been amateur gardening  since the pandemic – my 7 year old daughter eats greens now  because she grew them herself! We feed all the birds in the neighbourhood too. Red Wing Blackbirds don’t play – they’ve even got the cardinals cowering…

What are you listening to?

Just now – Mulatu Astatke – Éthiopiques, Vol. 4 

Lido Pimienta – Miss Colombia 

Amythyst Kiah’s latest single Black Myself.

How do you discover new music?

I hear about it from friends and colleagues, often. I go down rabbit holes on YouTube occasionally – Tiny Desk in particular… 

Spotify – the various artist’s radio stations that pop up after I’ve listened to an album. Before the pandemic – I would discover new artists and bands at festivals I was playing with one of my groups. 

I have discovered new music from binge-watching shows with fabulous soundtracks – like Lovecraft Country.

What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services? Why?

Vinyl and digital. I love everything about records – I like listening to an album in its entirety – committing to the journey. Playlists and the digital realm are convenient and a good jumping off point to discover treasures that I then purchase on vinyl.

“I love everything about records – I like listening to an album in its entirety – committing to the journey.”

Where do you do most of your music listening?

Serious album listening at home in my living room on a second hand stereo – I don’t even know the make…Digitally  – often while outside gardening via a Bose portable speaker. During non-pandemic times – a lot of listening in the van or on the bus whilst on tour – usually via iphone and earbuds.

How do you find and listen to pre-release music?

I follow NPR, CBC, I love Tom Power’s q show on CBC – I follow music journalists whose writing I enjoy-  I keep abreast of Afropunk, Rolling Stone, Exclaim, Pitchfork, No Depression, Paste, Paper Magazine, Billboard etc to varying and intermittent degrees… I hear about friends and colleagues pre-releases – usually on Instagram  or a notification from DSPs like Apple Music and Spotify.

What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?

I don’t really spend any time on SoundCloud – I just use it to share pre-release music privately. My main frustration with Spotify and the like is that they don’t pay us ( the artists) a fair share yet. That is a battle we are fighting currently. I know Bandcamp is leading by example in remunerating artists more fairly…

How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?

Ha! I don’t. I’m haphazard and inconsistent.  I’ve been getting better about making playlists ad saving albums.

Discover the #HowWeListen Playlist

Listen to the #HowWeListen 2021 Picks playlist. Curated by this year’s interviewees.

Listen on Spotify

Do you tip other people off to new music? How?

Certainly – I talk about music that resonates for me to those in my sphere of influence both directly and via my social media platforms. And in interviews of course!

Anything you want to “promote”?

Each of my Our Native Daughters sisters ( Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla and Amythyst Kiah)  has a solo album coming out this year – I highly recommend checking them out. Smithsonian Channel is releasing a documentary about the Our Native Daughters’ journey on Feb 22nd. 

I’ve been wearing out Brittany Howard’s new album Jaime, Lido Pimienta’s latest record Miss Colombia – I think Dua Saleh is incredible. And I’ve been watching Moses Sumney’s Cut Me video on repeat – which he also directed – brilliant. Yola is a superstar… The Barr Brothers are an enduring favourite – long time Montreal residents, too.  Tanya Tagak’s music and her new book – essential… I adore Valerie June- she has a new record coming too… Montreal’s own Kaia Kater is fantastic. I’ve been falling in love with Ivy Sole. I’ve been hoping for a new K’Naan record for years – The Dusty Foot Philosopher is still one of my all time favourite records. Steve Dawson’s Music Makers and Soul Shakers podcast is excellent.

I made a Spotify playlist – Good Trouble –  recently on my Allison Russell Spotify artist page that features artists that I love – with a strong representation from fellow BIPOC/ LGBTQIA+ and Allies communities – decolonizing my mind one song at a time!

"Playlists and the digital realm are convenient and a good jumping off point to discover treasures that I then purchase on vinyl."

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