Isaac Russell
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Isaac Russell

Band Americana Singer/Songwriter

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"RADAR: Isaac Russell"

First, forget about the fact that neo-folk troubadour Isaac Russell is eighteen. Or that he's from Provo, Utah. Or that he wrote and recorded his first album Elizabeth -- dedicated to his late mother, cancer stricken at the time -- when he was all of fifteen years old. It would just be too easy to write about Russell using the word "precocious" and "gifted" or play up his story and background, but that would make the angle more about him and less about the exceptionally promising music that he's been creating -- something a much larger audience will certainly get a chance to hear later this year with his as-yet-untitled major label debut via Columbia.

Produced by A-list soundman Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Ben Folds), Russell's new songs reflect his influences -- Bob Dylan, Elliot Smith, Ryan Adams, to name a few -- but it becomes clear pretty quickly that Russell has both his own voice and a batch of solid, thoughtful songs that belie his teen status. "House of Cards", a gently rambling folk/blues melody with a spacious sound and ornamental touches of pedal steel and harmonica while the chiming, John Mayer-ish "Lighthouse" brings Russell's wordplay skills and a nicely turned chorus hook into sharp focus. Stay tuned for release date details. - Direct Current Music


"Documenting Music: Isaac Russell"

If you've never heard of Isaac Russell, you should. So let me formally introduce him to you now, with perhaps his most aesthetically pleasing song to date - Elizabeth. If anyone knows the full Russell family story, then you know the hardships they endured. In fact, it is an unfortunate tribulation that many families experience. I, for one, have experienced it first hand, which is why this song has such a profound effect on me every time I listen to it. It's a story of loss, and the battles one undergoes when someone they love is diagnosed with cancer.

Isaac's mother died of breast cancer when he was only 12 years old. Like any death, the family took it hard. Isaac turned to writing as an outlet, and at the age of only 15, produced his first full-length album under the North Palette Record label.

The song "Elizabeth" discusses the families final trip as a family before his mother died, a trip to the beach. I'll admit, this song hits directly at home with me. My grandmother (one of, if not, the closest person in my life) died when I was 11 of cancer. The lyrics "they gave you pills, that made you swell...lost the hair on your head, self-image shot to hell" gives me shivers every time.

Please, take the time to listen to this song, especially if you have lost someone close to you. Its a great song for reflection. Below is Isaac performing the song: - Documenting Music Blog


"Refuled: [Automatic Buzz] Isaac Russell"

While planning the Refueled trip to NYC to collaborate with Levi's on the Refueled Levi's® Portrait Series, I thought it would be rad to shoot an {Automatic Buzz} session in the incredible workshop space too.

We found that word had spread of how the {Automatic Buzz} series was capturing raw moments with musicians and stylemakers. Lisa Michelson Sonkin, Vice President/Triple A & Public Radio Promotion, Columbia Records, emailed to let us know that newly signed Isaac Russell would be in New York the same time as myself and Refueled senior photographer Gustav Schmiege. One thing led to another and we found ourselves setting up in the Levi's® Photo Workshop with one of the most incredible young singer/songwriters I had heard in a very long time. What we captured that day was a very personal, emotional performance. The day was full of laughter and we all felt we had formed a life long friendship.

The day was also full of surprises. When we arrived at the workshop, there was a huge crowd in the main studio, each sectioned off in their own little photography set - shooting, gathering, hanging out, music pumping. We reminded the workshop crew that our shoot required a quiet space, as it involved audio for an acoustic performance. They replied that they had us scheduled in the downstairs studio space, which allowed for more privacy with a bit less noise. We said “Great”. Dan Connor, manager of the workshop said "Hope you don't mind a little nudity" as there was a fashion shoot going on in the space next to where we would be. It's New York, Refueled is about style, no problem. What we had pictured in our heads started to dissolve away as we made our way downstairs. I think Isaac put it best that same night during his performance at Sullivan Hall as he told the audience his day in New York. "I spent today shooting a video at the Levi's® Photo Workshop with the guys from Refueled magazine" he explained, "We shot next to a nude set. Let me say that they weren't exactly Playboy models. They were more like Craig's List girls". - Refueled Magazine


"FMOB's Triple A Conference: Day 2 HIghlights"

Opening the lunch was Columbia newcomer Isaac Russell, who captivated the crowd with songs that reflect a maturity well beyond his 18 or so years.

The Utah native is one to watch — look for his EP August 17. - The Top 22


"Editor's Pick: Isaac Russell"

Isaac Russell, the 18 year-old singer-songwriter from Provo, Utah writes and performs with a maturity beyond his years. Check out an exclusive video of Isaac busking in Boulder, Colorado…

We first caught Isaac Russell almost by accident– he was opening for Court Yard Hounds at New York’s Joe’s Pub in front of an industry-heavy crowd.

He held his own, in fact noting that he wasn’t used to playing before such a quiet and well-behaved crowd.

With a self-titled EP out on Columbia, Russell is now following the path of a developing artist. But even at 18, he’s had a bit of a head start, having recorded his first album while in high school in Provo.

Subsequent area gigs and iTunes sales gained him enough buzz to attract the major labels.

Influenced by Elliot Smith, among others, Isaac writes songs that are a bit heavier than you’d expect from someone his age– noted especially on Elizabeth, a song written for his mother, who he lost to cancer a few years ago.

Any of the songs on the EP would be a nice addition to acoustic specialty shows on radio.

After his performance at Friday Morning Quarterback’s Triple A Radio Conference, we caught up with Isaac for a busking session near Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. It was a blustery day, so while there’s a bit of wind noise on the microphone, it’s worth a look and listen nonetheless… - The Top 22


"CWMA showcase review: Velour Live-Music Gallery"

Four incredibly talented bands came together Saturday night at Velour for another amazing night of music showcased in the 2012 City Weekly Music Awards. The Folka Dots, The Mighty Sequoyah, Isaac Russell and The Moth & the Flame were the perfect combination of music to create a memorable Saturday evening, and there wasn’t a weak performance or song performed all night.

I’ve been an Isaac Russell fan for years, dating back to the time he went by Ruru. The first time I saw him perform “Elizabeth” at a show opening for Joshua James, I was hooked. Goosebumps rose up and down my arms, and I think a tear or two probably rolled down my cheek. I played his debut album over and over and thought the songwriting and musicianship incredible, especially since he was only like 14 when it was released. He signed with Columbia Records a couple of years ago and last night’s performance was the first time I’d seen him play in years. I’m happy to report that he’s still got that ability to capture an audience’s attention and keep listeners hooked on his every word throughout his entire set. He played by himself, switching off between acoustic and electric guitars. He started with a Ray Charles cover and then played a mix of some newer songs, as well as older, crowd favorites like “Elizabeth” and “House of Cards.” He explained the meanings behind each song that he played, giving the evening an almost “MTV Unplugged” feel, but what amazed me most about his performance was how silent the audience became the moment he stepped on the stage. Aside from people (myself included) singing along quietly, it was completely silent. I could hear each click of the camera shutter with each picture my friend took. - City Weekly Magazine


"Live at Paste - Isaac Russell"

Click the image to watch 18-year-old Isaac Russell's Live at Paste performance of a few songs from his self-titled EP, on Columbia Records. - Paste Magazine


"Isaac Russell"

On his brief debut EP, Utah singer/songwriter Isaac Russell finds a middle ground between soul and Americana, applying his rich croon to a spare acoustic setting and emerging with songs that are rich and rewarding. His songs may sound pretty, but that doesn't mean they're lachrymose: "You have made me a man, darling/ and I wish you well" he sings to an ex-lover, before slyly adding, "you and my best friend can go to hell." On "House of Cards," he skews darker: "Dad won't stop drinking/ and mom won't stop cheating the family, herself and me." This is what Russell does best, spiking delicate country songs with the bitter realities of life. - eMusic.com


"Isaac Russell"

What were you doing when you were eighteen? Isaac Russell was putting together his self-titled EP, his first major label release, a feat he achieved while still in high school.

What at first seems like just another young kid cranking out sentimental songs on his acoustic guitar is actually much more affecting than that. Isaac Russell had been playing the guitar for some time, but began writing his own songs after being inspired by his mother’s battle with cancer, a battle she lost when Isaac was fifteen. Subsequently, Russell turned to songwriting to cope with his loss. The result of that experience is the song ‘??Elizabeth,’?? named for his mother. A truly poignant and above all honest song, it discusses cancer and death without the hackneyed metaphors or euphemisms that could have easily ruined it.

It wasn’t his vocals that initially intrigued me, rather it was his skills as a lyricist. Full of precise and graphic imagery, the EP opener ‘??Lighthouse’?? begins with the line ‘??Testosterone driven boy grabs a gun and forsakes his toes ‘??cause war heroes are what we need.’?? It is likely that Russell’s real-life struggles have helped him develop his songwriting skills–he manages to talk about heavy topics without sounding phony.

The EP does have its lighter moments. ‘??Made Me a Man’?? would fit neatly on the Garden State soundtrack because of its quiet, synthy lead-in. ‘??Golden,’?? easily the most upbeat song of the EP, warrants comparisons to Plain White Ts’ ‘??Hey There Delilah.’??

Russell cites influences and childhood music tastes ranging from Elliott Smith and Bob Dylan to blues pioneers Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. His sound echoes the introspective music of Smith and also of Dylan’s son, Jakob’s, recent solo work. But Russell’s soft, yet resonating vocals are most like Jeff Buckley, especially in ‘??Elizabeth’?? and ‘??House of Cards.’?? Some of his songs lack a clear distinction from one another, but Russell has talent and heart, and since he is still only a teenager, we can expect lots from him in the future. - Tastemakers Magazine


"SXSW Preview - Isaac Russell"

I made a pact with myself about 4 years ago never to post major label schlock on Songs:Illinois. One reason for my boycott is that on the whole major label releases equate to overproduced, lowest common denominator crap. The second reason is that the majors aren’t thrilled with music blog coverage and I’m not that keen on having my site summarily deleted.

But I couldn’t resist with this new record by Isaac Russell due out in 2010 on Columbia/Sony. Isaac is a Provo, Ut based singer songwriter who has recently been on tour with Pete Yorn, as well as recording with Dennis Herring (The Hives, Elvis Costello, Counting Crows). I’m not sure how he got all these big breaks, but I’m willing to guess at least part of the reason is his hard work, his songwriting ability, and his velvety vocals. “House of Cards” is from that forthcoming, as yet untitled, major label debut. Catch Isaac Russell in Austin at SXSW on Wednesday, March 17 at 8:00 PM at the The Ale House. - Songs: Illinois Blog


"Review of Isaac Russell"

Isaac Russell, singer songwriter from Provo, UT. I remember first hearing of Isaac sometime in 2009 likely at the tail end of the local band Ruru. I was/had been out of touch with the music scene for close to 4 or 5 years and was curious to see where the moving local currents were occurring. Two names continued to appear Deseret Noises and Isaac Russell, formerly of Ruru.
At first,I was struck by how young Isaac appeared in his photo, yet how lyrically mature the music was; I was terrified that music has grown up without me. I felt like I’d returned to musical Neverland only to find the Lost Boy’s reading Dostoyevsky. But, it inspired me, however fleeting that moment may have been, in a world of musical ADD.

Fast-forward a year later to a random open mic at Velour. I saw Isaac perform and didn’t originally make the connection to the same young face I’d seen on online. He was much taller than expected and seemed much older. As I recall, he opted to play only one song that night, and stayed in the back speaking with other like minded individuals. At the time, the performances from this “cool club” of trendy dressers at the back of the room felt like a lot shtick, including Isaac Russell. In my mind, it was a lot of wannabe Bright Eyes’ and folkie revival which could only be expected from any college town in the mist of what some may considered this generations Vietnam, although instead of Dylan’s "Blowin in the Wind" it was replaced by Cohen’s "Hallelujah". The change from protest songs to songs more introspective seemed even more appropriate for a tortured "Me" generation.

Well, despite whatever false assumptions I created from that night in Velour, I carried those into my first true listening of Isaac’s self titled EP and I have to say, "these five songs are nothing short of amazing." The songs seem extremely personal and are always asking and occasionally telling of loss, love, faith, and family. Song’s like "Lighthouse" and "Elizabeth" are the Chicken Soup for the Soul of music. If you don’t feel something after hearing these songs, then it’s likely you’re emotionally dead. And, if you’re emotional dead, don’t check yourself into the psyche ward because they’ll never let you out you sick psychopath! These type of personal songs make it difficult not to love Isaac as an artist.

My only criticism, caution- or "don’t change a thing" for Isaac is: with songs so personal, what do you save for yourself? What was once yours, played night after night, soon becomes shared and eventually becomes theirs. Perhaps with "Elizabeth"’s deeply personal meaning, it should only be shared on the quiet moments in the halo of the spotlight, or the solitude of your headphones. As a video sandwiched between the Tyler the Creator and Beyonce seems very very wrong.


- Utah Band Review Blog


"Isaac Russell"

The world of the singer/songwriter is an overcrowded one. There seems to be no end to the number of white guys who picked up an acoustic guitar and decided they could write songs, usually half of them for the purpose of picking up girls. This means that it is vitally important for a songwriter to distinguish themselves somehow. They need to convince the world that their music needs to be heard and they have something different and personal to say. If they can't accomplish this, then they might as well hang it up, because they will be lost in a sea of generic music.

That said, when it comes to Isaac Russell and his self-titled EP, he has found his own voice. His voice has a very comfortable feeling to it, like something that wouldn't be out of place on the pop charts. But his lyrics are written with a degree of depth that sounds like he is saying something in his way. "Made Me A Man," for instance, is a superbly written song telling off an apparently unfaithful woman. The music moves along quickly, allowing Russell to get across the emotions of hurt and anger that the lyrics so effectively convey. The refrain of, "You have made me a man, darling, and I wish you well/You and my best friend can go to hell" is delivered with power and the music changes to an appropriate minor key tonality to give it a different feeling than the verses.

"Lighthouse" is also a well-written musing on death. It's a bouncy tune that belies lyrics that wonder, "If there's a light at the end of the tunnel/Is there a lighthouse at the end?" Asking the question of not just is there a light in the distance, but if it's even coming from anywhere or is it just a hallucination. And beyond that, who controls the light if there is a source to it in the first place? It's a simple song with more depth than a lot of songwriters would give to the subject. "Golden" goes back to the theme of heartbreak, with a more full musical backdrop to drive the poppy melody. It's written as more of a lost love song where Russell describes himself as, "A scribble in your book/An awful risk you should have never took." It's moving and personal and a highlight of the album.

This is a well crafted EP whose biggest flaw is that it's over too quickly. We only get a glimpse of the talented songwriter that is Isaac Russell and that just doesn't seem like enough. This worth the time for anyone looking for a great folk album from an up and coming artist. It will leave you, as it did me, eagerly awaiting a full length album. - Hybrid Magazine


"Isaac Russell returns to Velour to showcase upcoming record"

In 2006, a young Isaac Russell first tentatively took the stage of newly opened Velour Live Music Gallery with his brother Spencer.

At only 14 years of age, Russell clearly had a lot of talent, but as a fledgling artist at a brand new venue, he had no idea at that moment the incredible places the future was about to take him.

"Isaac has a unique history with Velour because he literally grew up on our stage," said Velour owner Corey Fox, in an email interview. "I've watched a lot of other artists grow as songwriters and performers over the years, but Isaac literally grew from a young boy just learning his instrument, to a fledgling songwriter, to a major label act. I couldn't be more proud of him and consider him and his entire family as part of the Velour family."

The change for Russell that threw him full force into the budding music scene in Provo and later head first into a much more expansive national music scene came when he was just 16 with the tragic death of his mother, who had been battling with cancer.

"It started initially because my mom passed away -- that kind of prompted some good subject matter and stuff I wanted to get off my chest," Russell said in a phone interview Tuesday.

According to Russell, before that point he had never really seen himself as a songwriter, but, because of that tragedy, he found himself pushed into a place where he needed something that his guitar alone couldn't provide.

Fox said Russell's growth as a musician after that was incredible, and it wasn't long before big things started happening.

"Isaac's first performances at Velour were in 2006," Fox said. "That was the first year we opened and at that time Isaac was just a little 14-year-old kid playing blues licks behind his older brother Spencer. His first solo show playing his own music was about a year later. ... My first impressions of Isaac were that he was going to be an amazing guitar player. That impression quickly took a backseat when he started writing songs well beyond his years after the tragic death of his mother."

With maturing and evolving music and an increasingly more powerful and personal sound, it wasn't long before others took notice of Russell's talent, and he soon developed a strong friendship with established artists Joshua James and McKay Stevens, owners and founders of local recording label Northplatte Records.

"They took him under their wings and helped craft his first album, 'Elizabeth,' when he was 16," Fox said. "It was that album that got him attention from major labels and eventually a deal with Columbia Records. Ironically, after sending Isaac all over the country to work with various big-name producers, Columbia Records finally went back to the formula that works and decided on Joshua James to produce his upcoming major label debut."

This debut album is the reason Russell is coming back to the stage of Velour for a concert on Friday evening with local indie artist Jay William Henderson and Alex Woods as Salazar. Those who are familiar with Russell's music can prepare to hear him in a whole new way, as the majority of the concert will include songs from his newest album that has yet to be released. As a special treat to those who can make it, Russell said he will be giving out a special one-day only download code at the concert that will allow fans a free download of several songs not yet released on the new album.

"It's definitely a release party because these songs will only be up for a day, and everyone at the show will get a download code," Russell said. "I am in love with Provo and could not be more excited for everyone to hear this record. I'll be playing probably four songs from previous records still, some that everyone knows, but mostly the concert will be songs from the new record."

Russell is coming to Provo for this concert after touring Europe with James and opening sold-out concerts for Adele, but said it's not the musical milestones such as that that mean the most to him -- rather it's the personal ones.

"A big thing for me right now is just that I'm genuinely happier than I was -- it's the little stuff that makes the difference," Russell said. "Your career comes and goes. If (getting a huge name) is the goal, then your whole compass of making decisions is off."

In regard to Russell's ever-evolving, guitar-rich sound that spans the musical genres of folk, blues and rock, he said he has one key goal in mind.

"I want my music to bring people happiness, a sense of worth," he said. "I feel like a lot of music right now offers escapism as opposed to a more introspective look on someone's life. ... I'm just trying to lend my hand to society in any way I can. If it inspires someone to try hard at a job interview or rekindle an old re - Daily Herald Newspaper


Discography

Elizabeth [2008] Northplatte Records
Isaac Russell [EP, 2011] Columbia Records
Untitled [in progress, 2013] Columbia Records/Call Me Judy Records

Photos

Bio

Isaac first picked up a guitar to play backup at the age of 12. Self taught, he was quickly on track to accompany his brother and then, just as quickly, developed his own incredible blues licks. His inherent ability and natural gift had him writing his own tunes in no time.

After the passing of his mother in 2005, Isaac channeled the difficulty of that loss into sophisticated composition. Much of the material he created by the time he was 15 would ultimately become ELIZABETH, Isaac’s first album. For Isaac both then and now, writing songs seems the only way through turbulent times.

The vibrant local music scene in and around Provo, Utah gave Isaac a stage on which to perform. He took advantage of open mic nights, and of the generosity of Corey Fox, owner of Velour Live Music Gallery, who gave him every opportunity to play.

With continuing encouragement from his family, Isaac put together a band and began playing local gigs. Enter producer and recording artist Joshua James and his producing partner McKay Stevens [Northplatte Records], and things started happening. They produced the fledgling ELIZABETH and released the album under Isaac’s then stage name RuRu, putting to tape an album that highlights the essence of Isaac’s songwriting and touches everyone who hears it.

At age 16, Isaac signed with Columbia Records. He went straight into the studio to record his Columbia debut. Released in 2011, his self-titled EP put him on tour with the likes of Jakob Dylan, Pete Yorn, on an unplugged appearance with the Courtyard Hounds and ultimately scored him an opening gig for Adele.

At 21, Isaac has returned to his independent roots. Summer 2013 he finished recording his first full-length album for Columbia, and got his first adult taste of what real soul-searching means. Not able to see the finished project through the same eyes, Isaac and his label thanked each other for the experience and shook hands goodbye.

Back with producer James, Isaac is on track to a career on his own terms.

He will be touring to promote the indie release this Fall.