Glitterer Steps Out On His Own
Ned Russin on moving away from Title Fight & making new music with (Sandy) Alex G
There’s a song on Glitterer’s official debut album, Looking Through The Shades, called “The News.” Unlike the other 13 tracks on the record, which are all speckled with synths and/or propelled by a thumping drum machine, “The News” is just Ned Russin singing a simple melody over an equally rudimentary bassline. “Saw my face up on the news/ It said now he’s gotta choose/ Does he want to be a singer or a saint /And I said neither,” are the final lines of the minute-and-a-half-long song, which ends with an abrupt pluck and Russin drawing out the word “neither” into the next unfinished measure.
Aside from being an obvious sonic misfit within the tracklist, the song stands out because it begins to paint a portrait of an artist internalizing the expectations of their fans, feeling pressured to exist within a binary, and then ultimately rejecting the presented options for a third choice. However, the decision is never made available to the listener. The song just ends, and you’re forced to either pick it apart and search for clues (as I’m doing here) or just take it for what it is and move on, as Russin would most likely prefer.
However, the 29-year-old presumes many of the people listening to these songs will opt for the former. Russin was (or is, as their status is unclear) in Title Fight, who are, in some circles, considered one of the most important punk bands of the 2010’s. The Kingston, PA quartet started as an amalgamation of scruffy pop-punk and precocious melodic hardcore, and then shifted into more classic post-hardcore — and eventually straight-up shoegaze — as their career climbed throughout the decade. However, less than a year after they released their ANTI- debut Hyperview, and at the height of their critical and commercial success, Title Fight just stopped. Outside of a handful of festival appearances and a five-date run in early 2017, the band hasn’t toured or released any new music, and they haven’t provided a reason for their sudden halt. And this has left a rabid cult fanbase hungry for answers to their mysterious disappearance, people who are aching to read into the lyrics of a song like “The News.”
During my phone call with Russin, who just moved to DC in June after living in New York for four years, it’s obvious that his other band has been on his mind, and that seems to be a source of contention for him. Looking Through The Shades is his third release as Glitterer in three years. Aside from some live drums and one guitar solo on this record (both of which are carried out by his brothers, Alex and Ben), Russin writes and plays everything in Glitterer (bass, synths, drum machine, and all the vocal parts). The album was co-produced by indie visionary Alex Giannascoli (aka (Sandy) Alex G) and Arthur Rizk, a revered hardcore producer who’s been behind the boards for bands like Code Orange, Power Trip, and Trapped Under Ice. The short, snappy, hooky, and tonally abrasive songs sound like a midway point between those polar opposite musical minds. It’s a far cry from anything Russin has ever been a part of before.
He and I chatted about completing his creative writing bachelor’s degree (which he began in January of 2016 and finished in two-and-a-half years), how he overcame the challenge of writing and performing without bandmates, working with Rizk and Giannascoli on this record, and his perpetual struggle to define Glitterer outside of the unavoidable context of Title Fight.
STEREOGUM: What interests you about creative writing?
NED RUSSIN: The thing that attracted me to writing was, I think, the same thing that attracted me to music. When I was young and getting into music the thing that was most exciting to me was how accessible playing music was. I think that’s what’s so transformative about punk and hardcore to me — is that you see people doing something and it seems like you yourself can do it. And there’s something about books that I was attracted to, because it seemed beyond my ability. But I just wanted to try it myself because I enjoyed it so much.
STEREOGUM: So when Title Fight was slowing down in late 2015, were you at somewhat of an existential crossroads? Given you were in a touring band for so many years and suddenly you weren’t going to be.
RUSSIN: I feel I’ve been in an existential crossroads my entire life — not to be melodramatic. There are very generic, clichéd expectations that you are faced with, especially if you are of a certain socioeconomic class and from a certain area. And I feel like getting into music at a young age sort of subverted that for me. But I still had always planned on being a normal person, whatever that means.
Going back to school was proving to myself that I didn’t just have to do music. Because to me it becomes scary if you’re only capable of doing one thing. You’re pigeonholed into a certain thing and that becomes kind of scary. Because life is long and music is a peculiar circumstance where your ability to do it, to a certain extent, relies on other people being interested in it. Which is not to say that if nobody gave a shit about what I did, I wouldn’t be playing music regardless. But I would be working a job nine to five and doing what I thought I would be doing as a teenager. Which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. But for however long, I’ve been on tour for six months a year, and that presents its own problems. That’s a difficult lifestyle to live.
STEREOGUM: The early Glitterer stuff in particular really sounds like music that you made in your bedroom. Was that the outlet you were trying to use it for? To be this thing you can do on your own as opposed to a band like Title Fight where you have three other members?
RUSSIN: Part of that was circumstantial. I was doing it on my own because it was literally what I could do at that time. Being in a band with other people is a really great way to play and write music, but I didn’t know enough people. I couldn’t afford to work on something because I was just itching to play. I wrote that first batch of songs from May to August of 2017. And by the time they came out I already had a show booked a week later. And the way it was working out it was like, “I don’t know how to do this.” And I don’t know what I’m doing, but I think that’s kind of what pushed me to do it. Because it’s nice and easy to feel safe but when there’s something that feels strange or challenging, those are the kind of things that feel good to embrace.
STEREOGUM: What felt so strange and unfamiliar about what you were doing with Glitterer?
RUSSIN: When I was writing the songs I was initially planning on playing bass live and singing. Glitterer is my first time using computer recording programs for more than demos, and I’m really unfamiliar with them and really not good at using them. So my original plan didn’t work out because I literally couldn’t figure out how to use Ableton correctly. My original plan was to play bass and sing have the drum tracks over the PA, and I couldn’t figure out how to do it.
And so the first show I just got up and I sang. Literally went up, plugged my laptop in, and sang over that. And that was a really awkward thing because the world that I exist in, and the world that I care about, is guitar music. And to show up there without a guitar with electronic drums with pre-recorded stuff and just singing is a really awkward kind of thing, especially when people show up expecting to see drums, guitar, bass.
So that energy was very much apparent — I mean, it still is apparent today. But at the beginning I felt very uncomfortable in it because I was accepting all that projected nervousness, and in a way, embarrassment. You get up there by yourself and people are like, “This is weird, I kind of feel bad for this guy. He’s up there and nobody gives a shit. Is this weird for him?” And you can feel that on stage. And at this point it’s turned into something where I kind of accept that and try to throw that back at people.
STEREOGUM: Did you have to teach yourself how to play keys, or was that an instrument you were already familiar with?
RUSSIN: Piano was my first instrument but I forgot how to play it. I would never say that I’m a competent piano player at all, but I understand it. Like, I’ve learned and forgotten piano two times now, and I would like to re-learn it. It’s corny, but I like to believe in the magic of the instrument. Which also becomes complicated because I push back on that idea a little bit, because there’s a lot of people who, in talking about their creativity, will chalk it up to magical aspect that you can’t explain. Kind of this thing of you either have it or you don’t, which I don’t buy into. You have to work at whatever you do. But at the same time I like to be surprised by where my fingers land. I like when I hit a note that I didn’t mean to hit and it sounds exciting to me and I try to pursue that. So that’s why I like playing keyboard at the moment, because I mess up a bunch.
STEREOGUM: So I know Alex G produced your last EP, and then you tapped him again for this album. How did that creative relationship come about?
RUSSIN: He’s a person who I think is just a great, really talented musician and songwriter. And he’s a person who I think just has a really interesting ear. What I said before about being the only person in the band, and not really having anyone to bounce ideas off of, that’s why the songs become short — and that also comes with this very heavy layer of doubt that I haven’t experienced before. Because even when writing songs previously, if you come with an idea and nothing changes, it’s nice to have that affirmation from people whose taste you trust. So to do something by yourself, it’s scary because sometimes you get too caught up in your own head and you can’t realize when you’re doing something bad.
So I kind of asked Alex to be my affirmation and he and I worked together on that EP [2018’s Not Glitterer] and it was just nice and easy. It was just cool getting to talk to Alex in the context of writing music. And then when I decided to do the LP, I wanted to work with him in a larger capacity. And then Arthur Rizk came along as well and it wasn’t planned that he was gonna be a producer. It’s just the way our process all worked. Arthur ended up helping a bunch, too. So Alex and Arthur ended up being co-producers on the record. Which is really cool for me because they’re two of my friends who I’ve met through music who have such different tastes and backgrounds, and we all collaborated on this thing that I think both their voices can be heard on.
STEREOGUM: What sounds did Alex and Arthur contribute that you think you wouldn’t have been able to achieve without them?
RUSSIN: There’s some cool synth stuff and piano stuff that Alex was the main player, the main creator behind. The guitar tones, which were inspired by demos that were completely accidental, Arthur took that and ran with it and amped it up. It’s funny because speaking about their different tastes and backgrounds, Arthur would reference black metal records for synth tones. Like, “Oh, let’s put some black metal bells over this part.” And the guitar tones, the stuff we were referencing, were not at all in the wheelhouse of what Glitterer is pulling from. But when he said it I was like, “Let’s make it more like that.”
STEREOGUM: It seems like there are lyrics on here that are directly referencing your music career. Specifically in the song “The News,” where you appear to be singing about other people’s reactions to your artistic endeavors. Am I off?
RUSSIN: Speaking about intentions is difficult. There’s something that I’ve been playing around with in my head, about this idea of, like, a hyper-specific reality that is not relatable to people. Because I think the way you write music is, you’re talking about your life but you want people to relate to it. I think the stuff that blows people away, and the stuff that I’ve always been blown away by, is this kind of idea that there’s this thing that feels so incredibly personal to you, that feels like nobody else knows about it, and somebody will talk about it or sing about it or write about it and it sounds like you and them are the only ones who understand it. But really it’s this secret, universal idea.
The thing about music and being in a small touring band that has no real-world importance is that you lead a really weird life that’s not really relatable. I’m not saying it’s special, it’s just this weird kind of existence. Going to really cool places, not being able to see them, having to wake up at 6AM to drive 12 hours to get to a show to eat whatever food you can find. It’s just this cyclical, strange existence of never being anywhere and being everywhere at the same point.
So yeah, I don’t want to go on record saying this is what this song is about to me. Because in a way I want people to have their own selfish interpretation of it. And I think a lot of it is gonna come back to people trying to say what they think I’m singing about in my own life. Which is fair, that means a lot to people. I think people relate to things when they think they understand a person or like a person better. And that’s fair, I’ll never take that away from somebody. But I want people to put their own lives onto the record.
STEREOGUM: But in a way you kind of want people to get it wrong? Or maybe not wrong, but to not fully comprehend what you’re saying?
RUSSIN: Yeah, I’m just not interested in correcting people. There are people who’ve come up to me and asked me what certain lyrics mean and I’m very reluctant to tell them. I’m also of the school of thought that when you start to define what something means, you kind of lose the meaning. I’m just straight lifting this from school, but this was explained to me really well in English class when this professor said the middle of a spiral is what a story is about. And when you talk about it you’re essentially going further and further out into the spiral. Because the more you try and say what it is, the more you have to say.
STEREOGUM: You seem very thoughtful about this music you’re making with Glitterer and it’s obviously a very different thing than Title Fight. But I’m sure you have people all the time asking, “How does this relate to Title Fight? When’s Title Fight gonna come back?” With this band, are you trying, in any conscious way, to separate yourself from what you’ve done in the past? Or is this just a continuation of an ever-evolving creative life?
RUSSIN: You’re right, people are always asking me these things and I’m not upset about it. I push back at it sometimes, because people especially like to kind of tell me who I am or what I’ve done. And I just don’t particularly agree with that. But at the same time, yeah, I’m in Title Fight. I did that, I’m not upset about that. I’m not ashamed of it. That’s a huge part of my life and a huge part of my identity and a huge part of my understanding of how music works, and how art works. But at the same time, I think I am a person beyond that.
And so I think maybe that’s been one of the most complicated things about trying to do this so far. It’s a weird thing to try and do something different because people always have expectations about who they think you are and what they think you should be doing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely fortunate to be in the situation that I’m in where people have been interested in listening to what I’m doing for however long. But I don’t want people to listen just because they think it might sound like what a band might’ve done.
But it’s really hard to remove the context. We were able to build up a really great network of people who were interested in the stuff we were doing, and now I have access to that … I’m not ashamed to reach out to people I think would be interested and say, like, “These are new songs I wrote. But how do you do that and not have it be, “Ned from Title Fight’s solo side-project.” Which I guess will just come with time. It’s not something that I know how to navigate and it’s something I think about. But I hope it’s something that people will be open-minded to.
Looking Through The Shades is out 7/12 via ANTI.