Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pheaturing Neara Russell

Hey, kids, welcome to another entry of the Phile, for a Sunday. So, did you all fall back? Everytime I hear the word fall I squirm nowadays. For most people they got an extra hour sleep this morning, for me, it just confused me when to take my meds. By the way, I just took my afternoon dose and my arm is killing me and I am seeing everything in double vision right now. But here I am, still wanna give you another great entry. I can't postpone Neara's interview a second time. She was supposed to be here last Wednesday but I have to have surgery instead. Okay, that's it for my whining right now.  They're still dealing with Hurricane Sandy up in New York. A lot of people on the East Coast don’t have access to Facebook or Twitter. Everybody was like, "How am I supposed to complain about not having Facebook or Twitter if I don't have Facebook or Twitter?" That’s right, people had no email, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Or as AOL users put it, “Welcome to the party.” One good thing though, they didn't have the Phile either. Consider that a blessing.  A new report found that an American is arrested for marijuana possession every 42 seconds. And that American’s name is Snoop Dogg.  Michael Brown, the former director of FEMA who was forced to resign after Hurricane Katrina, has criticized the president. He said Obama may have acted too quickly this time... instead of taking the wait-and-do-nothing approach that worked so well during Katrina. That is an interesting point coming from a former FEMA director and current Applebee's employee of the week.  Mayor Bloomberg announced that all cars coming into New York City via the bridge must have a minimum of three people in them. Unless one of the people is very, very fat... in which case, two people but no sodas.  Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Nets had to cancel their big home opener the other night. Good news is, if the Nets can keep this up for eight more months, they could have their first undefeated season.  So, do you realize this is the last entry of the Phile before Election Day? I cannot believe it, Stephanie Cutter will not have a reason to be back on the Phile. Did you know each candidate released his own candy bar this week? Which one are you gonna choose?

Just for taste, I think I would choose the Mitt Katt.  Last week everyone was talking about how cozy New Jersey Gov. Christie and the President got. They acted like they were best friends. Just because this is how Christie showed the president around...

As I mentioned on the Phile yesterday and what I think is the biggest news ever, Disney, the greatest company in the world ever, has purchased Lucas Film, and now owns all the Star Wars movies. I was very happy to see that since then Disney has revamped all its Princesses.

Must be the Oxy talking, but that really turned me on.  So, who is a fan of Justin Bieber? I never really knocked him, but after seeing this photo of him, I don't think I ever will.

Look at that t-shirt he's wearing. Imagine how I would feel if Kelly Clarkson wore a Foghat t-shirt.  I have to mention this serious note real quick... most of you know that I grew up in Port Jefferson, Long island. Well, a family friend sent me this photo today of Port Jeff Harbor.

Apparently there have not been gas tankers in Port Jeff since 1993, save for a few fuel oil one to limit the amount of barges needed annually. I hope this eases the gas shortage up there. Good ole Port Jeff. Speaking of... from the home office in Port Jeff, here is...

Even though it was cancelled today, here's the
5. "I didn't think it was cheating to take the subway, so long as I was running in place the whole time."
4. "In hindsight, the tap shoes were a mistake."
3. "I shouldn't have employed the same training regime I used for Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest."
2. "I thought it was 2.62 miles and I trained for that."
And the number one common excuse for losing the NYC Marathon is...
1. "I started off with taping my nipples, but missed the race when it lead to a 4-hour journey of sexual discovery."

Well, Election Day is almost here, and I don't have politician here... okay, there is one, and he stopped to say good-bye and what he'll do if Obama wins. Please welcome back to the Phile, our friend...

Hello, Jason, I'm not taking any chances with this election. I figure if Obama wins, I'm going to Mexico and sneak back across the border and declare myself an illegal immigrant. Then I will get all the government freebies and live better than a regular tax paying American citizen! Adios Amigos!

Today's pheatured guest is a fantastic singer/songwriter who is as cute as she is talented. Her debut solo album "Noise and Silence" is available right now on iTunes. Please give a warm welcome to the Phile... Neara Russell.

Me: Hello, Neara, welcome to the Phile. How are you?

Neara: Hi there Jason! I am doing great, how about yourself?

Me: I've been better. That's a very unusual name... Neara. I don't think I heard that name ever in my 40 plus years. Does it mean anything?

Neara: It sure is! My parents wanted a name that nobody else had, so I wouldn't have any trouble with TSA. My dad found the name in a Greek mythology encyclopedia. Daughter of Perseus, mother of Andromeda ... one of the few characters that didn't have seven heads or eat her own children. Also, she's a wood nymph, if that helps anything.

Me: You're from Wisconsin originally, am I right? Are you a Packers fan?

Neara: YAHHHHH Cheesehead for life! Though my parents are from Chicagoland, so I split my loyalties. And was vegan for a year, but missed my cheddar too much.

Me: You live in California now, right? Do you like living in California?

Neara: Sure do. I have great friends and work opportunities out here. The best part, aside from hiking in the hills and hanging on the beach within an hour's drive, is not having to worry about what to wear every day. What's the weather? 75 and sunny? Awesome. And avocados from the farmer's market are WINNING.

Me: Neara, I have to compliment you... when you were 10 you were an award winning pianist. Was that in school? What did you win?

Neara: Why thank you! I started competing in this great statewide program in Wisconsin called the Solo & Ensemble Contest, where musicians from around the state would gather for a day of friendly competition and rated performances. The sponsoring organization also had composition awards and honors ensembles, which I took full advantage of and loved. Will proudly admit to placing first every time ;-)

Me: Did you win the ASCAP Lester Sill Workshop Award? I interviewed somebody else who was a part of that, but for the life of me I can't remember who it was. Do you know who Lester Sill is?

Neara: Yes, I was lucky enough to be one of 14 advanced songwriters who met last year for a series of educational sessions in LA. Such a great experience! I think ... he was a songwriter??!

Me: How old were you when you started to play guitar? When I was 10 I was holed up in my bedroom reading comic books. Not much has changed in my life.

Neara: Honestly I don't really play guitar. Other instruments kept distracting me. I do play some bass guitar, though. And have never read a comic book! Does "Tintin" count?

Me: Sure, he counts. When you were 12 you wrote your first song. Do you remember what it was called?

Neara: "Dawn." A contemporary classical song for voice and piano. Wrote it in my sleep, lyrics and all ... literally woke up from a nap with this song in my head. Life has never been so easy since.

Me: So, who were your influences growing up?

Neara: I played lots of classical music, Bach and Chopin and Debussy. But liked listening to rock the most. James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Incubus, Alanis Morissette ... and my songs were often based on books and movies that I was into.

Me: Were you into the boy band thing?

Neara: Aw yeah! BSB all the way!

Me: I interviewed a lot of singers and musicians who went to Berklee, and you did as well, right? Was that a fun experience?

Neara: Graduating from Berklee is one of my proudest achievements. Even before college, I had attended their Summer Songwriting Workshops and loved the people on campus. Then I was offered a full-ride Presidential Scholarship and knew that Berklee was the right place for me.

Me: What did you study there? Did you like Boston?

Neara: I studied classical composition and contemporary piano/voice performance, which was the perfect challenge and a great way to develop my professional niche. I apply what I learned there to my professional life, every day. And Boston is the greatest city! Small enough to navigate and enjoy, but a good stepping stone for learning how to live in a big city. So nostalgic for the Charles River right now.

Me: Apart from recording your own music, Neara, which I will get into in a minute, you also play piano and keyboards for some other artists such as "American Idol" runner-up Haley Reinhart. I have a picture of you and Haley here.

Me: First of, I am a fan of "Idol", are you as well?

Neara: Yes, I loved the early seasons with Kelly and Carrie. They are two of my vocal idols. Kelly's range kills me every time!

Me: How did you get to be a part of Haley's band? Did you know her before hand?

Neara: I played keyboards with Haley for her spring promo tour. She held auditions in LA for her band, and I decided to go all-out on my organ solo in the audition. Guess she was pretty stoked about that. We had a fun trip.

Me: You girls are close in age I imagine, so you must of got along pretty well, am I right?

Neara: Yeah, we had a good time on the road! I like hanging with other musicians in general, but it's especially cool when we're all involved in the same project and working towards the same goals. Haley likes guacamole as much as I do, which made tour dinners pretty awesome.

Me: I love guacamole as well. So, was Casey from "Idol" hanging out with you girls a lot? LOL.

Neara: Haha no, haven't met him ... though we've got some buddies in common. He's got a killer touring band, as well!

Me: Speaking of "Idol", I love your version of Kelly Clarkson's "Mr. Know-It-All". Phile readers and friends know I am a huge Kelly fan. She played at Universal Studios here in Florida a few years ago. The show was at 9 pm and I was there at 6 am to get a front spot. I probably was the oldest person there that early. Have you ever met Kelly?

Neara: Aw thanks Jason! I love love Kelly and am so jealous ... haven't seen her perform live yet. You've got dedication! Haven't met her yet, but sure we'll cross paths ;-)

Me: Do you think she heard your version of her song?

Neara: Who knows! That would be cool. I've had a lot of people really enjoy my cover, which is cool. I don't do cover songs very often.

Me: Would you ever audition for a show like "Idol" or "X-Factor"?

Neara: Yes, and I have. Surreal experience to spend the entire day in anxiety, get 40 seconds to sing, then realize afterwards that you were too nervous to give your best. I think the biggest challenge of auditions is maintaining your sanity and not psyching yourself out.

Me: You performed on "X-Factor" I remember, playing piano with one of the singers last season. What was that experience like?

Neara: What a production! That crew works around the clock. I played piano for two contestants on that episode, and had complete costume changes, ball gown, hair and makeup, a day-long procedure. They initially wanted me to wear a top hat. It was serious show biz. The actual performance was like a minute and a half, which is basically the story of entertainment. Ten hours of work for one minute of glory. So fun.

Me: Okay, let's talk about your own music. Your first album was with someone named Wendy Rowe and that was "Food For the Gods." There's a lot of songs about food on that album. Did you write all the music for it?

Neara: Ha, there sure is! Yes, I composed all the music, and most of the lyrics. One group of songs on the album featured my grandmother's poetry as well. "Food for the Gods" is an album of original contemporary classical songs, called "art songs," the genre that first captivated me as a songwriter.

Me: That's a kids album, right?

Neara: Interesting you would say that! That was not my intention, but totally a cool idea. I was certainly young when I made it.

Me: Was it your idea to do an album like that or Wendy's?

Neara: Wendy was my voice teacher when I was a teenager. We did a lot of cool collaborations. She was very influential in my musical development. She liked the first art songs I had written, and suggested I compose an entire concert's worth of work for us to perform together. I ended up with around 20 songs and organized concerts for us, and sponsored the recording with my own money. Buzz Kemper recorded "Food for the Gods" with us at his studio in Madison.

Me: I downloaded your own solo album "Noise and Silence" from iTunes and really liked it. Did you do all the songwriting on the album?

Neara: Yay, thanks for the download! Happy you enjoy the songs. Yes, that's all me and my nonsense. I had some great friends guest-star on the record, but the writing, performing, and producing was my job.

Me: When and how long ago was it recorded?

Neara: Those songs were written and recorded over a two-year period, while I was in college. I released some of them on my "Information Fiction" EP in 2008, then finished the rest after graduation. I was involved in so many college-related activities, that I wanted to have a complete project that was just for my own expression and development.

Me: I love the album cover for it, Neara. A lot of good looking artists, both male and female don't put their faces on the album covers. You have the looks so I am glad you did.

Neara: Well thanks! My mom took that photo, and we collaborated on the design with my dad. A family effort that ended up being a hit. My CD manufacturing company, Oasis Disc Manufacturing, even featured the album design in their catalog. Pretty cool of them.

Me: You must be proud of that album, am I right?

Neara: My creative drive is very strong, and I relish every opportunity to focus on a unique project. That album was especially intensive. There will always be things I want to change in hindsight, but I am definitely happy with how it turned out and can't wait to work on the next one!

Me: Who plays on it with you?

Neara: Some great friends. Kameron Christopher rocked the saxophone solo in "Dumb in Love". I assembled a lovely chorus of teenagers for "Look for Something". They were all attending a summer program at Berklee when I coerced them into learning my song ... and they nailed it! My friend Taurees Habib helped me record a few tracks, and gave me invaluable mixing advice.

Me: Did you do a tour behind the album? Ever played down here in Orlando?

Neara: Not yet. The day after I finished the album, I jumped in the car and drove cross-country to LA ... and have been touring with other great artists ever since. Would love to play in Florida!

Me: You are also in The Backliners, am I right? Is that another band, Neara?

Neara: Yes, I am a proud member of the Backliners! We are a team of session/touring musicians in Los Angeles, working with local, national, and international artists. The founding Backliners had this innovative idea to form a band-for-hire and create a network of musicians and artists, and recently expanded to include some of LA's most active professional players. I've had so many top-notch gigs with these guys and am honored to be part of the team.

Me: And you write jingles? Is there anything you wrote that I would of heard?

Neara: Hmm ... I've written a few about dental floss and Polly Pocket toys, which you probably haven't heard. A a session musician, though, you can hear my vocals on "Dexter" and some cool indie movies. I love working for film/TV composers whenever I'm in town.

Me: You have something in common with my son Logan, and that is you were home schooled. To what grade were you home schooled and who did the teaching? Your mom or your dad?

Neara: Ah that's wonderful! Go homeschoolers! I'm so lucky that my parents chose to raise me that way. My dad taught me music, and my mom mostly covered academics. I was able to focus on music and study efficiently, with time left for entrepreneurial projects. I was technically homeschooled until college, though I did take classes at my local public high school. We joined a local homeschooling group for collaborative projects, and I earned an accredited diploma from Keystone National High School via online courses.

Me: Logan will be 13 tomorrow, and my wife does all the teaching. She's a lot smarter then I am. What was your favorite topic? Did your parents teach you music?

Neara: That's a great age to homeschool. Hope Logan is doing great! I did have an intensive music program with my dad's instruction, from classical piano to music theory to composition and improvisation. My parents are both self-employed visual artists, so we were all home working every day together. It was a strong family environment. I loved math too! Would wake up every morning and finish a math workbook before breakfast.

Me: So, what's next for you, Neara? Are you planning on a new album? I'm currently the touring keyboardist for Hollywood Records artist Bridgit Mendler. She just released her debut solo album this week, and it is out of this world! Everyone on her team is top-notch, and I'm so honored and excited to be working with her. That's keeping me plenty busy for the moment, so stay tuned ;-)

Me: Please come back when your next project comes out, and tell Haley or Bridgit I would love to interview her on the Phile as well. I hope this was fun... was it?

Neara: Thanks so much for hanging with me! Was so fun talking with you and your viewers. Will keep you posted!

Me: Go ahead and mention your website and continued success. Thanks again for being here.

Neara: Thank YOU for having me on your illustrious site! My website is You'll find plenty o' videos, events, and a community page. Take it easy ;-)

Well, that about finishes this entry. Thanks to Steven Folks, and of course the wonderful Neara Russell. The Phile will be back on Wednesday with singer Kati Mac. Tomorrow, like I just said, my son will be 13 years old. A freakin' teenager! I'll leave you with a photo that's just over 13 years ago. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

No comments: