Explosion to hit Jewish state?
Jewish Telegraph, August 2004
THE current situation in Israel makes rock star Russell Simins want to visit the country. The Blues Explosion drummer revealed: ‘‘My instinct is to go (to Israel). The situation there makes me want to go more than not go.’’
Simmins, who says he was born between 1960-something and 1971, added: ‘‘I’d love the band to go to Israel, but I don’t know what the rest of the band would think.
‘‘I don’t grandstand about political issues, but I find it fascinating whilst also disturbing.’’
Russell was born in Queens, New York, and grew up in a Jewish neighbourhood in Long Island. His grandparents were Russian immigrants.
Russell was barmitzvah and attended Hebrew school — ‘‘which I hated’’.
He says: ‘‘I understood more about Judaism as I got older but there are things I find disputable or that I’m not in favour of. Religion gets corrupted along the way.’’
He recalls Passover sedarim as a child but adds: ‘‘Once rock and roll happened, the seder became square. I’m not observant but I read a lot of books — I’m a religious history junkie.’’
Russell took up drums when he was six. A year later his music teacher gave him a kit that had once belonged to Buddy Rich.
‘‘I played drums for many years,’’ Simins says. ‘‘Then I stopped for a while but soon realised it was my life.’’
The juvenile Russell listened to the Ramones, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival . . . and Billy Joel.
‘‘It’s a Long Island thing,’’ he laughs, adding: ‘‘I used to practive the drums in the basement at home. My parents were cool and would let me play them whenever I wanted.
‘‘How many kids get to play drums at full volume along to punk records in their basement, whenever they want? It was so cool. My mum would come down and listen to me sometimes.
‘‘Maybe they thought it would make me like them more.’’
Russell became friends with Judah Bauer who had moved to New York from Wisconsin.
‘‘Just because of his name, don’t assume that he is Jewish,’’ he said.
‘‘There was a book about Jews in rock. I’m in it and so is Judah.
‘‘We met Jon Spencer. He jammed with us; our eyes met and it was magic.’’
The trio became the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. But why not the Russell Simins Blues Explosion?
‘‘I’d achieved my level,’’ he answers. ‘‘I didn’t need my name in it. People knew who I was and they knew who Judah was.’’
For the group’s latest album, Damage (Mute), they’ve changed the name to Blues Explosion.
‘‘It was God’s decision,’’ Russell laughed. ‘‘No, it was Jon’s decision. He was like, we’ve been a band for so long and evolved together into the Blues Explosion.’’
The trio started in the early 90s with distorted guitars and Spencer howling his vocals.
But by the release of their self-titled 1992 album, they had come up with their own distinctive style.
With the release of Extra Width in 1993, the group got some air play on MTV’s alternative rock show 120 Minutes.
New album, Damage, while being their most accessible, retains the band’s trademark dirty sound and frantic feel.
‘‘With each album, we’ve approached it with where we are in our lives,’’ Russell said. ‘‘We still get in a room and bash it out but the process is now a little longer and more deliberate.
‘‘But it’s still fresh and exciting. The last record was done in a traditional way. We’d do 20–25 takes of each song and use different amps and drums for each song.
‘‘But this time we spent three months in the studio and we’ve learned a lot about working with each other.’’
Damage includes the track Hot Gossip which features Public Enemy front man Chuck D.
‘‘He’s Jewish,’’ Russell said (he’s joking). ‘‘We had a mutual admiration for each other.
‘‘We had a song which we thought would be a good track for Chuck to add to. It had a political bent to it.’’
Russell, who also records solo material for Grand Royal Records, is looking forward to the forthcoming UK tour.
‘‘Crowds in Europe are a little different to American tours,’’ he said. ‘‘With US crowds, they’ve grown up with the same cultural references that I have.
‘‘There is an immediate camaraderie with the fans.
‘‘We have a great rapport with European fans too. They are just as enthusiastic.’’