Interview: Sam Russell

Dan McAvinchey: Sam, you have a new album ("Impetuous Desire") out since we last interviewed you a while back, had anything changed for you as you approached recording these new compositions in the studio?

Sam Russell: This album is drastically different to the previous one - everything has changed! As I went to the studio for Impetuous Desire I still wanted to push myself to do as good a job as I possible could. The main thing that changed was the logistics. I had to organize the different session players, the photographer for the cover photo, an artist to do the booklet, and co-ordinating with Doro’s manager to fly out to Germany for her recording session. It was a lot of fun and a real eye opener into the enormous amount of work that goes into a record.

I loved every minute of it!

Dan McAvinchey: Have you ever had anyone compare your style of guitar playing to anyone else?

Sam Russell: I've had some people say they hear influences from Steve Vai and Joe Satriani in my playing, which makes sense as I loved those guys when I was growing up! I still listen to them a lot. Others have said I sound like a legacy from the '80s!

Dan McAvinchey: Let's talk about the process you used on "Impetuous Desire". How did you write the songs, did you collaborate, or work alone on the tracks?

Sam Russell: I used a mixture of approaches to write the songs on "Impetuous Desire". Half the songs were written with a “guitar first” approach. I would write the guitar riffs and then arrange the rest of the song around those riffs. On the song "The Darkest Night" I started with a bass riff and then wrote the guitar parts around the bass. "Longing" was fairly unique. For that track, I wrote a very simple guitar part, and then hummed melodies over the top. I wrote the melodies out on Guitar Pro and then composed a cello part based on those melodies. It was a very fun way to write!

I wrote all the lyrics after composing the music for the songs. I would play the song on loop with a pad of paper and a pen, and think about the moods and emotions that the song conveyed to me. I would then think of a plot or a lyrical theme to fit that mood, and start on the lyrics. I tried to stay away from too many heavy metal cliches, and only referenced motor vehicles in one song, "Passing Light", where a motorbike is used as a metaphor for escaping the past. The song "The Disciples Hand" was rewritten several times. I had several sets of lyrical ideas and complete lyrics that I would finish... not like... bin and start again. Some of them were terrible! But each set of awful lyrics moved me one step closer to something I was happy with.

"The Darkest Night" was based on the first three cantos from "The Inferno", by Dante. Condensing three cantos of writing was tricky, I had to take the key elements of the plot and re-narrate them. The 'viewpoint' of the lyrics in the song change a lot, which I tried to make clear by having different sections, and the vocalist added different backing harmonies for emphasis.

All the songs were then recorded with the full instruments and demo vocals. I worked with a vocalist to rewrite a lot of the vocal melodies, and I then rewrote 75% of the lyrics on the album based on the new melodies, but keeping the old themes. The difference in the quality of the songs was outstanding. I learned a very important lesson for composing vocal parts: melody first, lyrics second.

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Dan McAvinchey: Which of the tracks from your new album do you enjoy playing the most?

Sam Russell: This would have to be "Tonight" and "Waves Of Tomorrow". They both have monster guitar solos and fun riffs! "Leigh Woods" is also great to play, the chords in that song are pretty challenging. The solo is simple but has a great impact.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you gotten a new piece of gear, or a new guitar, that you found particularly useful while writing or recording?

Sam Russell: I wish! My gear hasn’t really changed for nearly a decade. Ibanez RG1570 (increasingly battered) into a Marshall JMP1, 50/50 rack and a 1960AV cab, with a TC Electronic G Major.

Dan McAvinchey: We recently did a survey where site visitors told us about their favorite guitar effect (delay/echo, distortion/overdrive, chorus, flange). Which is your personal favorite?

Sam Russell: l love using a dual delay on my lead guitar sound. I have a short high mix delay and a long low mix delay. I find it really thickens the tone out, it sounds great. It’s programmed into my TC Electronic G Major, which is a fantastic piece of kit.

Dan McAvinchey: How is it going with social media and promotion? Any breakthroughs you can report on?

Sam Russell: I got a great review on and have a few more reviews coming out soon. I’m working on putting together some lyric videos. Mega-babe Dani Divine posted a selfie in my band shirt a few days ago, that was pretty surprising! It looks way better on her than it does on me!

Dan McAvinchey: Where is your home base these days? How is the live scene there?

Sam Russell: I’m in London, UK at the moment. The live scene is doing well, big international acts come through frequently, and the underground scene is alive and well. There is something for all sub-genres of metal in London! One notable act on the underground scene is a band called Seven Sisters. I had a few ideas from them I pinched for the album!

Dan McAvinchey: What do you feel like has been your greatest musical achievement to date?

Sam Russell: Definitely having Doro Pesch sing on my record! She did an amazing job, was just the most incredible person to be around. Nothing beats being in a recording studio with professionals. It’s one of those moments you dream about as a kid learning to play, so it was great to fulfill it.

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, what are you looking forward to in 2018?

Sam Russell: Finish writing the second album, get some concerts going and put the next piece of my vision in place. I’ve got a lot of songs to write this year! Please check out "Impetuous Desire" and let me know what you think.

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First interviewed by Guitar Nine in 2016, English guitarist Sam Russell recently released his new album "Impetuous Desire", featuring all original material and representing the young shredders first venture into songwriting, taking catchy songwriting and seamlessly blending it with impressive lead guitar work.

Dan McAvinchey caught up with Russell to talk about his new album and what went into the recording process.