Friday, April 19 2024

Welcome to an exclusive interview with Rusty Reid, the visionary artist seamlessly blending rock with a hint of country, known for his politically-charged singles such as ‘The United States of Selfishness’ and his latest release, ‘American Villain.’ Coming out of the vibrant city of Seattle, Rusty fearlessly confronts the urgent issues of our era, channeling a raw and unfiltered commentary into his music. Today, we embark on a deep exploration of the inspiration and creative process behind his most recent work, delving into the profound messages intricately woven into his thought-provoking compositions.

Hey Rusty, it’s great to chat with you again. Can you tell us what inspired you to write ‘American Villain’ and what message you hope listeners take away from it?

Sure, Matt. And thanks for the chat. You know when Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 the sane half of America was aghast because we thought he was a buffoon. But as his term in office unfolded, many of us realized he is not just a narcissistic clown, he’s an evil narcissistic clown. He’s so clueless he’s actually outfront with it. He adores and envies Vladimir Putin. Virtual dictators Modi and Erdogan and the Saudi prince are his buddies, and he swaps “love letters” (his phrase) with Kim Jong Un. I’m a bit of history buff, and I began to look back through American history and we don’t really have a super-villain. Until now. ‘American Villain’ was actually written four months before the 2020 election, so I wasn’t sure if we were soon to be rid of him or not. And as I was writing the lyrics I had no idea that he was saving the worst for last, actually orchestrating a campaign of devilish deceit and inciting a violent effort to overthrow American democracy. He tried to steal an election by claiming the other side had stolen it. When you think about it, that’s diabolically evil. It’s one thing to commit a crime, and additional ignominy when you try to pin it on some innocent party. But there is something even more alarming, even more diabolically evil than Trump himself. That’s his cult. My song is about them, too. At some point we will be rid of this charlatan, but what about his cult? That organism is potentiallty immortal! And they, too, are villains. I’m not a fan of the Jesus cult (or any religion), but he did have some great ideas. One of those was, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a quick, easy and accurate litmus test of what is moral, fair, just. And these people are trampling all over that concept, not to mention pretty much everything else their “Lord and Savior” had to say. This is no real surprise, because conservatives don’t really believe in anything other than I-Me-Mine. They believe what feels good. Their hypocrisy is miles deep. You can take any characteristic of Trump, or a snapshot of any particular thing he said or did, and flip it around so that a Democrat was and did these things, and they would go apoplexic. Conservatives would be outraged and up in arms if the Democrats, the liberals, had acted the very way they have. It’s not that liberals aren’t subject to hypocrisy themselves, but they are capable of self-reflection and actually do aspire to higher ideals. For sure, if a liberal boasted about grabbing pussy, gushed racist tropes, cozied up to dictators, spewed lies like a Gatling gun, demonized science or threatened democracy, they would have no future within the party. The more I study history the more I realize conservativism is the Ideology of Seflishness. What conservatives conserve is their own advantage, privilege and power. Nothing else. They don’t play well with others. In this country, they believe they are the “real” Americans and “real” Christians, but actually are the worst of both. Indeed, they are anti-American and anti-Christian. And the proof of this fact is that they swooned for a blatant conman who embodies all of the Seven Deadly Sins. I could go on and on, but suffice to say I had to write a song about the debacle, and hope that I’m not just singing with the choir but that some listeners may think a little harder or deeper about this wholly evil phenomenon — which, sadly, is not confined to the United States. I hope they will lend their voice and vote to stand up against the rising tide of authoritarianism, at best, real, deadly fascism, at worst. That this horrid and dangerous ideology is rising right at the very time that humanity needs to come together to solve the worst dilemma it has ever faced – environmental disaster – makes you want to just vomit. We are now in a complete cluster you-know-what. But, very importantly, let me just add that we liberals must not become them, we cannot lower ourselves to hate. We cannot abandon virtue. We must shun violence toward other living beings if at all possible. We can defend ourselves and what is good and right about the world, but we have to do it from a perspective of love, love of people, love of life (all life), love of the planet, love for the Universe. All of these people who are believing and behaving in such hurtful ways are misguided souls, they have been abudcted and emprisoned by the Ideology of Selfishness, which tries to get us too if we are not careful. We are liberals. We liberate. They need liberating. Love conquers, in the end. Hopefully. 

Can you share insights into your writing process for ‘American Villain?’ Did you start with lyrics or music and then how did it further develop from there?

There was an earlier song, simply titled, ‘Trump,’ that I dashed out, but decided it wasn’t what I wanted or needed. When the ‘American Villain’ phrase came into my head, the lyrics flowed out pretty easily. For the music, I figured this needs to be dark and dramatic, raw and stripped down, but maybe is intersected with a ray of hope. The basic chordal structure I had been noodling with for over a year, and couldn’t find words for. So when the lyrics to ‘American Villain’ came flowing out, I wondered if those chords would be appropriate, and sure enough… a match. I worked up a rough demo and sent it to my friend Daniel Ribeiro, a multi-instrumentalist down in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Daniel had worked on a few other songs of mine, and it’s like he sprinkles magic. He sent back more or less a full backing track with basic drums and bass, and those soaring slide guitars and keyboards. It just blew me away. The simple drums were replaced by Brandon Davis in Los Angeles, and one of my old Houston bandmates, Jack Williams who now is in the Dallas area, worked up a super cool bass part. I added electric guitars, and the vocals, and we had a record.

In your opinion, how does ‘American Villain’ differ from your previous politically-charged single, ‘The United States of Selfishness?

I think of them as siblings. ‘The United States of Selfishness’ was written shortly after ‘American Villain.’ And, it has a kindred theme. But this time we are taking a wider view, beyond a single person and his cult, and looking at social and political conservatism as a long and continuing threat. The slavers, the Indian killers, settlers rampaging across the continent, the Tories, the Confederates, the Ku Klux Klan, the Robber Barons, the commie witch-hunters, the corporate pirates, conservatives and all. Musically, these two songs are very different in soundscape and demeanor. While ‘American Villain’ is energetic and dramatic and charges defiantly into the fray, ‘The United States of Selfishness’ is a more contemplative lament with a fairly traditional chordal and melodic structure. Totally different set of players, as well. For this one I used a couple of Nashville cats, Jed Demlow on keyboards setting the mood, and Jason Roller on guitars. I’m playing along on electric guitar (you can hear me on the left channel), but that’s Jason on that amazing lead break. And my vocal approach is a little different on this song, a little huskier. It also has no background vocals. I felt it should remain just a single voice pleading this case. 

Do you think it’s crucial for musicians and artists to address political and social issues through their work and why?

I do. I think it’s crucial for every thinking adult to get involved and help address these multiple existential crises that we are facing, rising fascism and impending environmental disaster being the immediate very deadly threats. There are others: among them wealth disparity and our horrendous, cancer-causing, heart attack prompting, life shortening, planet ravaging diet. But our very societies are now threatened with dissolution. And this might not even matter so much if this planet becomes pretty much unlivable. Hello? Wake up! This is an all hands on deck timeframe in human history. We really are in multiple “cultural wars,” and to stand by and do nothing, to pretend it isn’t happening, to absolve yourself from any responsibility – for society, for your nation, for your world – is a form of extreme and absurd selfishness, and I would say, really, insanity. Certainly, with their platforms, their potentially very loud voices, artists and celebrities and politicians and other luminaries should figure out what side they are on and get into the fray. For artists, not every painting has to be “Guernica,” not every song has to be “Ohio,” not every novel has to be “The Grapes of Wrath,” not every play has to be “Hamilton,” but lend your voice, demonstrate you know what’s going on, show you have some values and ideals you are willing to stand for, even if it loses you some audience, some dollars. If you aspire to the least bit of real gravitas, you can’t be twirling on stage singing songs about how sexy you are while the world is burning. 

Rusty Reid

Having released the impactful singles ‘The United States of Selfishness’ and ‘American Villain,’ what can listeners expect from you next? Are there any upcoming projects or themes you plan to explore in your future music?

Yep, lots coming up. First, I’m remixing and will soon re-release my 2019 album ‘Head to Heart.’ This is its fifth anniversary. I have learned a lot about mixing since then and wanted to spiff it up so it sounds better. It’s my most important album. Every song is either philosophical, political and/or spiritual (not religious). I call it a “Revolutionary Manifesto in Song,” as it calls for great transformation of the individual and society so that we might all live in peace and harmony and sustainability and in love with each other and the rest of the world. A stretch? Hell yes. But if we don’t have some blueprint or framework for how all this all could work, if we just try, then we will never even get started. Certainly what we are doing now, and have been doing for millennia, has not worked out very well on the peace and love front. I also have three other albums, and a smattering of singles, already recorded and just awaiting final touches. Those will be released in the coming months and years. And then, yapping at me for attention, are a couple of books I’ve been slowly but surely compiling. At some point, I need to hammer those out. 

And, finally, for fun… With the intense themes in your recent releases, if you could choose any unconventional setting or scenario for a live performance of ‘American Villain,’ what/where would it be and why?

Ha. Well, I would hope it would be part of a concert, and not just a one-off, but the best place probably would be on the Mall of the U.S. Capitol, the very spot where Trump egged on his crowd to attack the symbol of American democracy, ideals and aspirations. His mob intended to rip down the most sacred precepts of our nation. America has never fully actualized those founding ideals – liberty, equality, justice for ALL. But ‘American Villain’ is a retort to the traitors… you’ll have to get past us first, because we are still determined to get there. And bring your selfish asses along with us into a better world for all.

And there you have it. Rusty fearlessly navigates the turbulent waters of contemporary politics, urging us all to wake up and face the challenges that threaten the very fabric of our society. As he teases upcoming projects and themes, we eagerly anticipate the continued impact of Rusty’s music on our collective consciousness. Keep your ears tuned for more from this artist who refuses to stay silent in the face of injustice and strives to create a soundtrack for change. Thanks Rusty.

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About Author

Matt Warren

Matt Warren is a Cheshire based musician who studied contemporary music and composition. When not writing for The Indie Grid he enjoys watching 'Breaking Bad' on continuous loop and going to gigs. Since a youngster his fave band have been 'The Beatles' (with 'Cardiacs' in at a close second)... and this still applies to this day.

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