Spencer Rush
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Spencer Rush

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The best kept secret in music


"Spencer Rush: Working for a Living"

by Donna Isbell Walker

There are a couple of ways to build a music career in 2004. The old-fashioned way is the one-fan-at-a-time method: playing night after night at small clubs, performing every obscure request yelled out by drunken bar patrons, selling CDs out of the trunk of your car.

Then there's the 21st century approach - e-mailing career updates to a fan list, selling your CD on your own Web site, partnering with online retailers to get your music out to people who've never heard of you.

Greenville singer-songwriter Spencer Rush is blending the two approaches in hopes of living out his musical dream.

"I want to make a living for the rest of my life," Rush, 27, said one recent afternoon as he sipped a glass of ice water at the Handlebar.

"There's so many (musicians) out there ... I could be the best thing that ever happened to the world, but that doesn't mean I would actually make it 'big.' And that doesn't mean that you're gonna get a Grammy and all that kind of stuff.

"My immediate goal is just to make a living. If I get signed to a record label or anything, that's great. I'll come up with different goals."

But for now, Rush is persevering toward his first goal. He and his guitar are on some stage or other nearly every night, and he has a standing Tuesday night gig at Wild Wing Cafe in Greenville.

Of course, it helps when you have influential people who believe in you. One of the people in Rush's corner is Edwin McCain, who heard him play at a party and ended up as executive producer of "How Is Your Life?," Rush's first album, "which means I paid for it," McCain said with a laugh.

At that party, McCain heard something special in Rush's songs.

"He demonstrated an understanding of songwriting that I think is unique," McCain said. "He really knows how to put together melody and lyric, and I heard a couple of his songs, and said, 'Man, that's really good. We should make a record.'"

The disc came out last summer, and it's filled with rocking riffs and thoughtful lyrics.

Rush is quick to give McCain credit for more than producing the album. He said he also can thank McCain for his regular gigs at Wild Wing cafes in Greenville and around the region.

"That would never have happened without Edwin, because the owner went directly to Edwin and said, 'Hey, who can we get to play Tuesday nights or whatever?' So he said, 'You definitely got to get Spencer Rush.'"

The regular gigs help fund Rush's music and give him the opportunity to be a full-time working musician.

They've also helped him build loyal local fans, including Javi Mendez, 27, of Taylors, who has been a fan for about three years.

Mendez appreciates Rush's sense of songwriting and music, particularly the title track of Rush's album "How Is Your Life?"

"I can relate to it ... analyzing the whole way he looks at life and the way other people look at life, and the different obstacles you have to go through just to make it," Mendez said. "It sends messages in a way, too. When you listen to it, you get bits and pieces of it. A phrase gets stuck in your head, and you get deeper thoughts about it."

Rush, a 1994 graduate of J.L. Mann High School, has a degree in media arts from University of South Carolina. But music was always a part of his life.

He learned the guitar at 10, started playing in bands at 16. Over the years, he has performed with Shades of Grey, Blinding Sol, and had brief stints with Five Way Friday and Marathon.

A teenage flirtation with basketball threatened to send him onto the hardwood instead of the concert stage, but Rush ultimately decided that music came more easily than jump shots.

"The laws of nature weren't going to allow me to play basketball, especially in the NBA. ... I'm too short. I would want to be a forward or something because the only way I could make a basket is under the basket," said Rush, who is about 5-foot-7.

It's moments like that when Rush's dry sense of humor slips in, when you see the funny guy lurking beneath the serious musician. He and his co-manager Marty Winsch of Mountain Entertainment, who joined him for the interview, trade barbs and banter like old pals.

But when they talk about the music, they're never flippant; the music is too important for that.

In addition to the road-dog approach to career-building, Rush is trying several new ways of getting his music out to the world.

One of them is a partnership with Aware, the record company that helped get John Mayer's career off the ground. There is a banner ad for Rush's CD on the company's Web store, Awarestore.com. There's also an insertion program, in which fans of specific artists, such as Angie Aparo or Matt Nathanson, will receive a three-song sampler of Rush's music when they order a disc by the other artist.

One thousand of those sampler discs will be sent out through the program, Mountain Entertainment's Julia Price said. The program has begun to pay off.

"We've gotten e-mails from random places around the country, people who come across it," Rush said. "That would never have happened before we were online. You'd have trouble getting your word out to Columbia from here. So now you can just expose yourself to the world."

In a world of record labels being gobbled up by bigger record labels and morphing into huge multinational conglomerates, Rush's way is the wave of the future, Winsch said.

"Things have gotten so streamlined with the record labels consolidating, distribution consolidating, that if you're not in that one-tenth of one percent of artists who have access to that infrastructure, you have to find other ways to promote your product," Winsch said. "With the evolution of certain online distribution tools, guys like Spencer ... are finding new ways to develop revenue."

Winsch lauds Rush for his discipline and tenacity, for his willingness to work for each fan.

"He sells records one at a time," Winsch said, and he isn't kidding. Winsch keeps track of how many discs are sold at each Spencer Rush show, and two or three CDs here and there add up to a significant number of records over the long haul.

A couple of thousand CDs might be chump change to, say, the Rolling Stones, but for Rush it means an exponential increase in the number of folks who hear his music.

Greenville is Rush's hometown, and like his friend McCain, Rush has no plans to leave. While it used to be that a would-be rocker had to move to New York or Los Angeles to build any kind of a career, Rush said it's not true these days.

"It's really not important where you live nowadays," he said. " ... Then again, P. Diddy's not gonna happen to walk in Wild Wing and see me play and go, 'Hey, I want to sign that guy.' That's the major advantage of living in L.A. or New York. But it doesn't happen like that anymore."

No, but Rush is making it happen his own way.
- The Greenville News


2005 - EP
2004 - How Is Your Life?


Feeling a bit camera shy


After playing music and touring for over 10 years, Spencer Rush has seen many of the ups and downs the music business has to offer.

It would be easy to gripe about luck and fate, but Spencer dismisses "bad luck" with a wisecrack, picks up his guitar, and moves on to the next gig.

Playing 225-250 shows a year gives him the opportunity to showcase his unique personality and undeniable ability to work hard, as well as his terrifically well-crafted songs. "He demonstrates an understanding of songwriting that I think is unique,” stated Edwin McCain when explaining why he wanted to be involved with Spencer's latest EP. Edwin brought in Noel Golden (Matchbox Twenty, Angie Aparo), who produced the 2005 EP at Sonica Studios (Atlanta, GA) and Edwin McCain's own studio (Greenville, SC).

Whether performing solo or with his full band backing him, Spencer Rush is in high demand...one listen to his songs or a glimpse at his calendar says it all.