Glitterer's Ned Russin on Feeling Lonely, Pennsylvania Punk, and Tumblr

Glitterer's Ned Russin on Feeling Lonely, Pennsylvania Punk, and Tumblr
Photo by Kevin Wilson

This is a free installment of Larry Fitzmaurice's Last Donut of the Night newsletter. Paid subscribers also get a Baker's Dozen playlist every Friday, along with criticism and thoughts around the music I've been listening to lately.

I loved Ned Russin's 2021 album as Glitterer, Life Is Not a Lesson, and the project's first full-band record Rationale is just as strong. I had a great time catching up with him ahead of the album's release about pulling a band together for the new record, as well as a host of other topics.

The first Glitterer release sounded like coldwave, which is a specific sound to be drawn to. Of course, every record since has stepped away more from it too.
It's the stuff that I feel like I was pulling from at that time—a lot more contemporary stuff—Sister Polygon, Sneaks. I wanted to do something that sounded like a punk band, but stripped-down and with rudimentary drum machines. I wasn't intelligent with what I was doing. It was more about letting the gear that I recently bought speak to me in its own way, and that was how I could make sense of it.

Everyone has a sense what they know and like when it comes to like writing music. Some advice that my friend got was that you have to find the music inside of you. Even when I think I'm pulling in these seemingly disparate influences, there's something innate inside all of us that just makes sense. I thought I was doing this minimalistic, dark, electronic punk project, but there's a somber melodicism to it. That's what is always there that I can't help, but stumble upon.

Tell me more about your creative process.
My thought process around any creative endeavor is to embrace an inherent logic in things. Music, especially, is maybe not even so complicated because there are so many clearly defined rules that you have to follow if you're making music that's coherent within the Western musical tradition. We have these notes, we have these scales, we have these melodic and harmonic traditions that have been around for centuries—and it's just baked into everything that you hear. When you play a note and a chord, there are only so many places that you can go from that spot that are going to make sense.

I'm just trying to find the logic that's apparent within the notes. I also want to leave room for experimentation, growth, change and all these big words that we throw around. But my internal musical subconscious is placed within this roadmap of however many hundreds of years of Western music. So I'm going to stumble upon something that's been done many times before me, and I'm just trying to find a way to make it make sense, sound nice, and achieve the musical and emotional goals that I'm either consciously or subconsciously looking for.

This is your first full-band record as Glitterer. Tell me how that changes things.
I'm just returning to what I'm used to. I've been in a band since I was 12 years old. Doing a band by myself for however many years was liberating in terms of foregoing simple things. If I had to make a t-shirt design for a tour, rather than debate all of these things—what color shirt, the size of the print—I just make it. That was so refreshing and simple. But I do miss those silly arguments, because that's what it's like to collaborate with people and work towards something.

The band came together pretty slowly. It was something that I started to figure out right before the pandemic. I finished Life Is Not a Lesson by myself in early 2020, and once shows were like a viable option again, it had to be a band. I couldn't be by myself playing music, because it's way too lonely and sad. So I put together a group of people and we started playing together. It was also nice to do this with a group of people who were new to being in a touring band. I think this was also the longest time that anybody else in the band besides myself had spent in the studio, so it was cool to see people experience that for the first time.

I want to go back to you talking about how it felt too lonely and sad to continue on as a solo project. Was that possibly brought upon by the pandemic? I know people are generally in a place where they really don't want to look back at that time, too.
It's weird, I was thinking about this today—how easy it is to minimize the feelings from our youth. When I was 18 years old, all these things that I thought were the biggest deals in the world have turned out to be not that big of a deal. Everything is fine, but at the time it was so deadly serious to me that I had to think of it in these really dramatic terms.

That's kind of how I feel about the pandemic now. At the time, it was really dramatic. A lot of people got sick and died, and that was a really hectic time and pretty scary, honestly. But looking back on my experience, a lot of the loneliness that I felt might've been self-inflicted. A lot of it had to do with the way in which I zoomed out in that time. I moved to D.C in 2019, so I was in a new place experiencing new things. While I'd been coming to D.C. since I was a teenager—I have a good group of friends here that I've known for a long time—I felt like I was still getting my footing. That was obviously completely screwed up.

Then I was at home trying to do the only thing that I could do, which was play music and finish the record. I thought that touring would pick up by the summer and obviously it didn't. It kept being this thing of, "Well, I'll just wait a little bit longer and read five books a week, and by the time the next month comes around we'll be able to return to normalcy." That kept getting postponed, I kept feeling lower and lower. It felt like the only thing that I enjoyed, the only thing that made sense to me, was never going to return. I really thought that live music was going to cease to exist.

The big intellectual project for Glitterer up until that point was to take on solipsism in this simplistic way, because the big moment up until that point was the Trump election. How did this lonely, selfish lifestyle lead us to this last terrible moment? I was writing a lot about how I thought that happened, singing about being lonely and selfish while being alone.

So not having anybody to play music with became a really sad thing for me. We still had a practice space, and I'd go every week by myself and play the songs with a sampler. I was just singing to myself about how lonely and sad this existence is while being lonely and sad—and there was a goal with the records where I was trying to figure a way out of that!

I realized the way out of being lonely is to be with people. I need to play music with people. It was nice to play music by myself a little bit, but that's not what i'm interested in. It was never my idea to be in a band by myself for the rest of my life. I like collaborating with people, I like being with other people. Getting back to that was important and necessary.

A lot of people say being in a band is essentially like being in a relationship. You mentioned being in bands since you were 12 years old. What have you learned about relationships from your experience being in bands?
I don't think I'm a great communicator, and that's something I'm still working on. Being in a band and working on something together is incredibly difficult, like being in a relationship. The risks and rewards in a relationship are entirely different—and playing live music, when it's really good, is unlike anything else. The highest high I've ever felt, the closest to true freedom that I've ever felt.

But the lows are way more difficult, and what I'm attempting to do in this later era of being in bands is realize that I'm not the best at being forthcoming with my own emotions at times. Sometimes that's because I have mismatched expectations, or a stubborn way of doing things, which I'm very aware of. But if we're all working towards this thing together, the bond that is there is what keeps us together—the shared experiences and shared goals. It's a beautiful thing.

I've learned to be more forgiving of myself and others, because it's really challenging to be on the road with other people for four or five weeks, being within five feet of each other for 24 hours a day. People are going to get bent out of shape, I'm going to get bent out of shape. You have to allow people to be upset, and you have to allow yourself to be upset—to be forgiving of that frustration, and allow everyone to get back to a place where you can return to do the thing that you actually like to do.

What's your level of interaction with the D.C. music scene these days?
D.C. is obviously one of, if not the most significant, hardcore punk scenes in the history of the whole thing. So I moved in being well aware of that and as an enormous fan. I have a good group of friends here who are all active making music and art. I probably go see more local bands than out-of-town bands at this point. But because I'm not from here, and because I come with such reverence, I'm almost kind of afraid of trying to be more D.C. than I really am. I'm well aware I'm from Pennsylvania, and that I don't have the understanding not only of the history of the people who are from here, but also the way in which the city's culture works.

So I try to just allow myself to be a student of all these interesting, creative people around me—a person who's engaged with and supportive of the scene, but also trying to not make it like it's my "place." I'm very aware of those somewhat arbitrary but significant boundaries. I just love the D.C. scene to this day. I'm happy to be a part of it, and there's a lot of really cool things going on. I'm not trying to make myself the center of attention by any means while still trying to help guide the scene.

Tell me about Pennsylvania punk.
The scene where I grew up is really peculiar. I'm from Kingston, a suburb of Wilkes-Barre. It's extremely insignificant, and yet somehow there's a long-running underground music scene from the early '90s. Theres a lot of cool and important bands that didn't make that much of an impression outside of the area until the early 2000s. There are bands that are releasing records, and I've met a lot of people as I've gotten older who are aware of those bands, but a lot of that stuff is still hard to come by. A lot of these bands that laid the foundation for the thing that I came to know and love just broke up, moved on, and either moved out of town or did other things—but nobody picked it up besides maybe the people from our town.

So when I started going to shows in the early 2000s, it morphed from this scene that was all over the place in a really cool way—where you'd have these nerdier, emo/pop-punk-ish bands playing with a ska band, a downtuned hardcore band, and a frantic screamo band, all these things coexisting together in this really beautiful way—to a scene that was just capital-H hardcore. Which I love, it's my bread and butter, it's the the first thing I ever truly understood.

I've tried to uncover that older scene as I've gotten older, where it was always changing and before it grew into this thing that it's known for. There's not a specific shared sonic identity across the most popular bands from our area. They all sound drastically different—it's not like there's a Wilkes-Barre sound, and that's pretty cool. But by the late 2000s, it was a place where there was a little bit more notoriety. It was cool to be a part of it, because it's still such a small place.

OK, so: According to Wikipedia, Title Fight's official website is hosted on Tumblr to this day. I find that a little fascinating!
Title Fight had a lot of failed web pages because we weren't good at maintaining them. When a record would be coming out, there wasn't any interest in creating something. It would always quickly fall apart. The Tumblr is the only one that is still up. In 2007, that was our main webpage. I remember posting tour updates on there—a little tour diary which I've gone back and deleted some things that I thought were embarrassing. I signed off on every tour diary like, "Party on, man!" That's not something that I really want to be associated with Title Fight.

Oh come on, that's great! It's from Wayne's World!
Yeah, it's hilarious when you're 16, but I don't think that represents the band very well—but I understand what you mean. Tumblr was where we posted all our stuff up until the first LP. It was that weird early age of social media in which you could actually engage with people in a non-major-corporation-algorithm-controlled way. I wasn't a Tumblr kid, but it did feel like a little bit more honest than the way things are now. Now it's a living artifact of what the band was, but it's not representative of the eras that most people associate with the band.

But those kind of were the days, in terms of communicating with people online in a way that didn't feel crazy and toxic. I hate that I long for the days of MySpace. We need to go back in time and tell ourselves that we're saying this right now, because we'll probably be blown away.

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Jamie Larson