Clubland: Russell Brooks — a.k.a. Lord Russ — has new album, live show at Iron Horse in Northampton
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If Russell Brooks — aka Lord Russ, theatrical showman extraordinaire — has been seemingly silent for some time, it’s because he’s been busy hatching a new musical universe for himself: an epic concept album called “Heir of Mystery” and an avant-garde glam-rock show to match.
The psychedelic multi-media CD release concert will feature Brooks’ latest band (guitarist Grant Wicks, bassist/keyboardist Jason Mazzotta, and his longtime friend and musical cohort Brian Marchese on drums) playing the new album from start to finish, with surprises both musical and visual, at the Iron Horse in Northampton Saturday at 10 p.m. The Chandler Travis Philharmonic opens.
Best known to Valley music lovers as the leader of the long-defunct but randomly reuniting psychedelic party band The Aloha Steamtrain (this writer was a part-time member), Brooks is a consummate outgoing performer. He’s comfortable with himself and a crowd of any size, whether he’s impersonating Elvis for a rowdy outdoor throng on First Night, starring in a self-penned, one-man performance art piece, making clever repartee from a venue’s stage or leaving it behind to belt a randy rocker from a table top, with his shirt long gone.
But “Heir of Mystery” — performed, recorded and mixed entirely by Brooks with vocal and artistic input from his wife, Perry Carter — began with solitary experimentation, thanks to Brooks receiving some recording software from a friend. Though Brooks didn’t think of himself as the computer type, the supportive Carter urged him to jump in and learn how to use it.
The glitch-filled process was daunting at first and his computer crashed several times, leaving Brooks computerless for long stretches. The technological frustration almost made him give up, but despite the setbacks — and a day job eating up precious hours that could be spent creating — Brooks kept going and two years later, the record was finished.
Brooks appreciated that exploratory time.
“I suddenly had unlimited tracks and effects and keyboards to work with. I had access to everything I never had before,” he said in an interview earlier this week. “So I could just put on the headphones and disappear for hours at a time and emerge from my room and say, ‘Hey, Perry, listen to what I just did!” ’
Now the whole world gets to hear what Brooks created in his insular workshop: a thickly textured 17-song opus with surreal interludes that takes his longtime love of bands like The Beatles and The Moody Blues and explodes it into new territory, with drum machines and symphonic synthesizers, even moments that these ears hear as “techno raga” — swirling tones and pounding mechanical rhythms.
Brooks said that some of that influence comes from the two years that he and Carter were living in southern Florida.
“Spending time near Miami, it’s all just club music,” he said. “It tends to be pretty cheesy, but it’s also kind of fun and has this intense animal power, an ability to make people lose their minds and become crazy animals, pulsing with this backbeat.”
“Heir of Mystery” is Brooks’ first official recorded output since The Aloha Steamtrain’s final record 10 years ago, and even though the new textures are often more experimental than Brooks’ old band, any Steamtrain fan can jump on board the catchy guitar-driven tunes like “Can’t Go Slow,” “Cadaques Cabaret” and “Love Song Trilogy” (the latter has been getting airplay on The River).
The new album also includes a duet with Carter, a cover of Lee Hazlewood’s mysterious “Some Velvet Morning,” and Brooks emphasizes how much his wife helped make the whole thing happen.
“I could not have done this without her,” he said. “She’s a Renaissance woman, a painter and a singer; she’s my muse. She encourages me to be the best I can and inspires me to keep going when I feel like giving up, which is in my nature to feel like doing.”
Brooks is in “full steam ahead” mode now, taking the record and turning it into a live show. Since he spent years creating a soundworld of “10 Mellotrons and electric sitars and harpsichords and 10-part harmonies all going at once,” he’s taken pains to keep that aural psychedelia intact with only four musicians; he and the band will play live to pre-recorded backing tracks.
A recent rehearsal at the Brooks/Carter home was a full-on rock concert in a spare bedroom, with bamboo blinds on the windows, Lord Russ riding the wah-wah pedal, Wicks ripping some acidic leads out of his Gibson 335 and Ringo the doggie making an excited appearance once the volume stopped. “This isn’t for Dog Fancy magazine!” Marchese quipped from the corner.