The Tim Version. They’re sneaky. When you first hear them, you think, “Hey, this ain’t bad. Pretty fast, pretty noisy, pretty good,” enough so that you’ll keep listening. And that’s when the good stuff pops out. Underneath the fast and noisy are melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Hank Williams or Jimmie Rodgers song, and muted guitar interplay that rivals that of Archers of Loaf and Leatherface. And the end result of the whole thing isn’t just “pretty good,” it’s pretty damn great.
Todd: So you’re a scientist, is that correct?
Russ: I am, yes, what could be called a scientist.
Todd: What are your daily duties as a scientist?
Russ: I deal with a lot of electronic stuff, basically control and guidance systems and stuff like that. The whole deal with that is that based on the application that they’re going to be used on, like let’s say you’re going to send a satellite into space, there’s a radiation environment that you have to be concerned about. I deal with making sure that the electronics will survive in the radiation environment that they’re going to be subjected to.
Todd: Were you interested in that as a kid, or how did you develop the aptitude?
Russ: It wasn’t specifically that. It was more due to the fact that when I was a little kid, I took an obvious early interest in science and my parents certainly encouraged it. My mom, being a big science fiction fan, would sit down with me and we’d watch Godzilla or Star Trek. She took me to see Star Wars when I was five, and she had probably read the Lord of the Rings series four or five times before the movie had come out. So I grew up with my mom encouraging that sort of thing. She knew I was interested in it and she encouraged it. I got very interested in science all the way through school, and while I routinely either got in trouble or just couldn’t get anything done in any of those classes, science was the one class that I usually did pretty well in. I majored in physics in school after trying to do engineering and hating it. I ended up getting a Master’s in physics and getting the job that you can get with a Master’s in physics, which is doing something like what I do now.
Todd: Does being in a punk rock band cause you any problems at work? Are there any overlaps between the two, or do you keep them separated as much as possible?
Russ: I try to keep them separated as much as possible. If people ask if I’m in a band, I just kinda go, “Oh… yeah, but you know…” People that work where I work at don’t even come close to understanding what it is that I do. I’ve even had my boss say that he’s concerned about the fact that I play in a band, in terms of my career longevity. It’s like, what are you talking about? I don’t make any money. I’d be eating dirt if I just played in a band all the time. Nobody really understands what it is that we do or what our main objective is, which is basically to just have fun and make music that probably a very small cross-section of the population will be interested in.
Todd: What conflicts do you have internally from being a scientist and being in the Tim Version? Is it a pretty nice synergy or are there things that you wish were better?
Russ: For fear of getting in trouble where I work, I sometimes wish that I had a little more choice about the sorts of things I work on. Just to put it as general as possible, the things that people tend to focus on aren’t the things that I necessarily think are that which benefits mankind. The tie-in with the band is, obviously, that being somewhat politically and socially aware and having a tendency to focus on things like that, there’s a clear conflict of interest between my ideological self – which I would like to think is the songs that we write – and what I do for a living, which is my realistic self. There’s just a clear head-on collision there. I try and walk that line as best I can, but it’s tough sometimes. Things just really get to me and that ends up turning into a song. I don’t know if that answers the question.
Todd: That totally answers the question. What I basically quoted was do you think that self-destructive behavior is contagious. That’s the line I was thinking of.
Russ: Probably, yeah. If you knew who I hang out with, yeah. I can think of a million times where I’d go, “Wow, if I was by myself, I wouldn’t think this was such a good idea.”
Todd: Let’s go to some concrete things. Can you explain the rock and roll bathroom?
Russ: That was awesome. When I moved into an apartment with the roommate that I have now, back when I was getting ready to start grad school, we had this idea to make a rock and roll bathroom. It was the bathroom that was downstairs in this apartment, and it had one of those light switches that was hooked up to an electrical outlet, so whatever appliance that you had hooked up to it would work. Like, if the switch was off, the hair dryer wouldn’t work, but if you turned the switch on, the hair dryer would work. We had the obvious idea to take a tape player and put Accept or Cheap Trick in the player and have a bunch of lights plugged into the power strip. At one point we had a strobe light but it distracted me so much. A fog machine would have been awesome, but that probably would have been too much. We had posters of Ted Nugent and Van Halen. I made a Van Halen shower curtain. That lasted for a long time. I was pretty proud of that. We just had all these tapes in there, and if you had to take a dump or whatever, you could pop in whatever metal or rock and roll tape you wanted to listen to. Take a poop while you’re listening to Kiss; it was awesome. It’s something that I’d really like to carry into my current house right now but I haven’t quite gotten around to implementing it yet. It was really a glorious thing.
Todd: Why do you almost always play with that little Van Halen wooden block on your amp?
Russ: First of all, Van Halen is probably like my favorite band of all time. I can say some nice things about the Hagar years, but seriously, why beat around the bush? The David Lee Roth stuff is where it’s at, and seriously, that is some of my favorite music ever recorded. When I was nine years old, that was probably the band that got me into rock and roll. Scott, who I play in the band with, knew that for years, and he found it one day when he went home. He had been into metal since third grade. He got in trouble for putting Judas Priest in the tape player that was supposed to have the national anthem. He actually had this wooden block that he had made, like the crappiest Van Halen logo ever. It looked like he took a nail and carved it. He made it when he was in fourth grade, and he was like, “Here ya go. Put that up there.” I just kinda use it as something that I definitely have to have to play a show. It’s hard to play a show without that.
Todd: Like a talisman.
Russ: Yeah, it just has to be there. I can’t believe I haven’t lost it. There’s been times when I’ve been so blind stupid drunk that it shouldn’t have made it back into the trailer but it always does. It’s awesome, so hopefully, knock on wood, that will continue to be the case.
Todd: One of your favorite hats has a smiling sun on it, is that true?
Todd: Can you tell us the story about where you bought your hat a shot?
Russ: If I can remember. No, I know what happened, I heard about it the next day. It was one of those quote-unquote “tours.” We call it a tour but it was basically complete and total debauchery with a few shows in between. Like, “Let’s go out of town for the weekend.” “Yeah, let’s go to New Orleans! Run off someplace to be productive,” which of course it’s not. Once a year now, we kinda have this traditional New Orleans road trip that us and the Dukes of Hillsborough go on, and Grabass (The Grabass Charlestons) went on it with us one year. That was awesome. Last year, it was just us and the Dukes and Mike Collins and our buddies Adam and Dan, and we just went up to New Orleans. It was probably the biggest four-day stretch of gambling, strip clubs, and alcohol abuse in my life. By the time we got to Tallahassee, which was the last show, we were just kinda delirious. We played on the stage that Creed played their first show on, and I started yelling at the people at the bar, like how could they let that happen, how could they let a band like Creed get popular. I started yelling at people, telling them that they should get old and hate their jobs like us. I was just trying to be funny, and of course there’s some level of seriousness to all that, but there was also an air of sarcasm and humor, I hope. I ended up at the bar at some point staring at my hat, which has the logo for the Hagerstown Suns, which was the AA farm team of the Baltimore Orioles, which is my favorite baseball team, and Hagerstown is right outside of the town where I’m from, Frederick, Maryland. I ended up sitting there, staring at the hat, and at some point I just asked for two shots. Mike Paul was sitting next to me, and he thought I was buying him a shot, but I took the second shot and poured it on my hat and ended up naked in the van with tacos on me or something. It was awesome. I woke up with all sorts of drawing on me. Oh well.
Todd: Speaking of someone like Creed, can you take us through the process of what the Tim Version does when playing rock and roll?
Russ: Are you comparing us to Creed?
Todd: No, hold on, hold on. When you guys are playing rock and roll, in your liner notes, you say that the band sounds like a band trying to get laid, and a band such as Creed, sounds like they’re playing to get married. Can you describe the distinction in sound and approach that you guys do?
Russ: Well, I wouldn’t come out and specifically say that we sound like we’re trying to get laid, because even if we tried to, it wouldn’t work. We all have girlfriends and wives, so that approach would probably get us in trouble. It’s just my not-so-clever way of trying to say that nobody puts any heart or passion into playing music. That facet of music seems to be vastly underrated, you know? The ability that somebody has to translate their feelings to music, it’s art. That’s why there’s a difference between a flower that Van Gogh or Monet painted and the flower that’s hanging in the hotel lobby at the Radisson. There was something that was put into it aside from paint on a canvas. So many bands today – well, not just today, because I know it was the same ten, twenty years ago – they sound like wet noodles, and those are the bands that end up getting remembered. I’m not trying to make a case for us being remembered or anything like that, because we just have fun and by no means are we the type of band that’s sending people demos and CDs all the time and trying to get signed to Warner Brothers. We’re certainly not that type of band. We’ve never really intended to be that. All these bands are out there trying to play music instead of trying to do everything that you get from playing music or trying to maintain that rock star status.
Todd: It seems like people try to go for all the trappings but they forget the music.
Russ: People go for the vacuous commercial aspect of it rather than the artistic aspect of it. How many pop punk bands were there five years ago? Thousands. How many of them sounded as good as the Parasites or the Ramones? None of them.
Todd: I think that would tie into something else that you said, that subtle mistakes are part of the creative process, and how people think that everything has to be squeaky clean and perfect to be considered a song.
Russ: That’s kinda weird and sterile. There’s Thin Lizzy records, like the old Thin Lizzy with Eric Bell, I’m just taking that as an example because I can see it from where I’m sitting. During the solo, you can hear Eric Bell kinda flub something, but he didn’t go have Pro Tools erase that or anything. Uncle Tupelo, that Anodyne record, on “New Madrid,” there’s this banjo note that’s wrong. I notice it every time now, like, “Awesome! Uncle Tupelo made a mistake.”
Todd: It’s human beings. It’s the difference between monkeys and robots.
Russ: That’s why I like a lot of the newer bands that I like. They’re just the ones that have no interest in being perfect at all. That’s awesome.
Todd: Speaking of which, who would win this hypothetical battle: the Replacements or Radon?
Russ: Like some sort of swordplay or something?
Russ: Well, you’ve got Dave Rohm (vocalist, guitarist). He’s got science on his side. And the Replacements, as far as I know, never accomplished much of anything. I guess it would have to go to Radon, but I just wouldn’t want anybody to get hurt. I can’t think of anybody else that would be good with swords. If it were a drinking contest, it would probably go to the Replacements.
Todd: That would be pretty stiff, too.
Russ: Yeah, drinking would definitely be the Replacements but swords would go to Radon.
Todd: Being from Tampa, what Floridian authors have influenced you so much that they’ve shown up in Tim Version songs?
Russ: The obvious one would be Kurt Vonnegut. I don’t really spend much time thinking about anything that we’ve done, but Kurt Vonnegut did this really awesome interview where he said, “The best jokes are dangerous.” I thought that was awesome. I just think that’s so true. I stole it and put it in that one song, “No More Star Tattoos.” The title has probably made everybody mad, so that was the joke. I thought it was clever at the time, maybe it’s not now.
Todd: Any authors from Florida?
Russ: Oh yeah. Tim Dorsey. We actually have a song called “Tim Dorsey Writes Nonfiction.” The joke there is that he writes fiction stories. I don’t know how familiar you or anybody else outside of Florida is with Tim Dorsey, but he’s this author who writes these ridiculous stories that take place in Florida, and the first one’s called Florida Roadkill. It’s about this serial killer who’s a fanatic of Florida history, basically a genius. Tim Dorsey uses that position to satire and make a lot of social commentary about what’s happening to the great state of Florida, that it’s being bought up and sold to the highest bidder and turned into a theme park or a retirement home or whatever. At the same time I was reading that book, I was also on a canoe trip, and there was this beautiful river, the Anclote River. It’s north of Tampa. Parts of it were still beautiful, this pristine wilderness, but people had settled along the river and just started throwing their trash in it. And at one point, there was the beautiful spring coming out of the ground, and thirty feet from there, there was a washing machine. Someone just dumped their washing machine there. People’s ideas, years ago, were that you can dump anything into the river and it will just wash out into the bay, it’s cool. Tim Dorsey gets into a lot of the exploitation of Florida’s resources and things like that in his books. At the time I was reading Florida Roadkill, I went on that canoe trip and the words to that song just kind of came out.
Todd: Your grandfather has a barbecue recipe? A lot of people have spoken very highly of it.
Russ: Oh yeah, man. I can’t give out the recipe. My mom made me promise her that I wouldn’t give it out, but it’s this great barbecue sauce that I remember from being a little kid. My mom would make it, we’d go over to my granddad’s and he would make it, and part of the reason why I could never accomplish any form of vegetarianism is that I have this massive weakness for barbecue, as I think most of the people who grew up in this part of the United States do. It’s just one of the greatest things in the world. The fact that I tried to be a vegetarian makes me appreciate those smoked ribs so much more. I’m not trying to be a smartass when I say that, it’s just so good. I remember the barbecue sauce from when I was a kid, and one day I was kinda freaking out and I was like, “Mom, you gotta come here to make that barbecue sauce.” You can put Schlitz beer in it, or Milwaukee’s Best or any of the quote-unquote “crappy beers,” and it’s great barbecue sauce. It’s real spicy.
Todd: Which do you think are more fun: D&D conventions or comic book conventions?
Russ: They both have their fine points.
Todd: Have you ever worn a costume to either one of them?
Russ: No, I’ve never gone that far. I threatened to once. Of course, it would all be a huge joke. I like going to the comic conventions because I’ve never collected comics. My roommate has, and the reason that I’ve never liked collecting comic books is because they just make me nervous. Those things can be worth so much money, but at the same time, I love the stories. Going to comic book conventions, I get to pick up graphic novels for cheap. And you said D&D conventions, I don’t think you researched this enough. They’re more like game conventions. Being the uber-nerd that I am, I love playing games, I admit it. Any kind of game, I’m basically into it. They’re both a lot of fun. I got made fun all through junior high and high school for that, so I’m certainly not scared of it now. Bring it on.
Todd: You’re also the CEO of Sooooo Intense Records, is that right?
Todd: Can you give people an idea of the criteria that there is to sign a band? Do they have to have songs about pizza or a love of country music?
Russ: There’s certainly no criteria other than you have to hang out with me and Mike Collins long enough for us to go, “Totally.” Mike Collins is the chairman of the board. There’s no criteria. You’ve just got to be awesome. We’ve never signed anybody to anything. It was more of a way for me… I hear a lot of people play a lot of really good music. I also hear a lot of record labels pressing a lot of crap. That’s stupid. They should be pressing this. And then the light bulb goes off. Me and Mike decided to do this because he’s up in Gainesville and he’s got that end covered, and I’m down here and I tour enough that I see stuff. I think after Vagina Sore Jr., which is my other band, we’re going to put out this other band called Tricycle Farm from Chattanooga, and they’re just awesome. It’s one of the dudes from the Morons, this guy Brian who’s a great guy, and Joe Smith who’s a great musician. They’re not only a great band, they’re awesome people. The other criteria was that they were willing to let us pay for a record pressing for them. Not really any set of requirements. You won’t get famous by putting out a record on Sooooo Intense, but you will have a record.
Todd: What inspires you to wear flip-flops and Panama hats? Seeing so many bands over the years, I’m uptight about certain things. You guys broke my almost decade-long rule: if you have flip-flops, I turn around and walk outside of the club. But you guys were great. How’d you come to that? Is it just for comfort?
Russ: Seriously, I think it’s just a Florida thing. Just about everybody I know down here wears flip-flops. It’s so blazing hot ninety percent of the year that pretty much the only time you’re not wearing flip-flops is like January. Even now, I wore flip-flops the other day when it was pretty warm outside. When you’re on tour in the summer and it’s hot outside, why the hell not? I really caved in in Japan when we were over there and my shoes were wet from rain. I said to hell with it and got a pair of flip-flops, and I loved them so much that I wore them the rest of the tour. The hat was something that Tomo, the drummer from I Excuse, gave me when I was over there. He bought it at a market for ninety yen, which is like eighty cents or something. I made it my tour hat, part of my little costume. There’s a purpose behind everything. It just might not look good. Never too concerned about that. You tour with Davey Tiltwheel, you’re not going to look too pretty anyway. Might as well look ridiculous.