After being in electronic pop band Jaenki for years, Kansas City native Russell Brixey is striking out on his own. And the result is something that feels special as if he’s waited years to unleash his calm, sincere brand of folk music. Talking about his new project, Brixey says, “’ve been in a lot of bands over the years. I’ve collaborated, co-wrote, traveled, and toured. What I haven’t done is sat down and recorded all the other songs I’ve written that didn’t belong with other projects.” Shaking the dust off these old songs, Brixey is coming into his own as a songwriter and performer.
“Midnight Swim” has all the trimmings of a late-summer love song. The lush harmonies give it that whimsy and wonder, and the lyrical content is all about a day spent with a crush. Listen to the song below, then read our interview with Brixey about songwriting, mountains, and recording!
There’s a lot of mountains around where you live, and do you think that scenery finds its way into your songs?
Brixey: It’s a lovely place. More so, where I’m originally from, has affected my songwriting. I’m originally from the Ozarks. I grew up in the hills, in the country, in the trees, and near water.
“Midnight Swim” is musically fairly simple, yet it’s lush and thematically dense. There’s a lot about the natural world and the freedom found there. What was the writing process like for this song?
Brixey: I had this random set of lyrics that I had been trying to fit somewhere; into different songs with just instrumentation and so on. Writing songs sometimes is like building your own jigsaw puzzle, and you don’t know if you actually have all the pieces. But I did, I was just looking for too many pieces. I sat down at the piano, structured it out, and kept it simple. I knew I wanted a female vocalist. I knew I didn’t want the music to distract from the lyrics and the mood. I felt like it worked.
“Turn our backs to the world for a minute” is not only a really good line, and perhaps it’s all the more relevant given the current attention economy. Is this song partially a reaction to social media?
Brixey: There is a place where I’m from, that’s special to me. It’s by the lake. I would go there really late at night and just swim. It was quiet and beautiful and no one knew I was there. For a minute, I could truly turn my back to the world. I didn’t intend for the line to speak of any current situation, but more of a reflection to anyone who understands how to turn their world “off.” It’s that space that everyone has in their mind, or place that they can go to get away from whatever might be going on in their “world.”
I have heard this new solo project is uncharted territory for you, as you’ve previously been in the band Jaenki. How is the songwriting different for this new solo record? Do you find more freedom in striking out on your own?
Brixey: I’ve been in bands for years and have never done anything for myself. I’ve always felt like I have been waiting on someone to finish something, and at times that someone has been me. With my solo music, I’m the one in control, and I’m the only person that can possibly slow me down. It’s very exposing and very liberating.
What was the recording process like? Where was this song made?
Brixey: My good friend Josh Johnson, “Ready Astronaut,” helped me record this track in his home studio. He is an amazing musician and recording artist himself and had everything set up and ready to go when I got there. We just started tracking to see how everything felt. It came together rather quickly. We did the entire track live, without a click, and then went back and recorded the backing steel, guitars, bass, and vocal. Lauren Price of Olivia Fox came in and did an amazing job recording harmonies on the track in a matter of what felt like minutes.
What’s next for you?
Brixey: I’m in no hurry now. I’ve always felt like I’ve had self-prescribed timelines and due dates. I’m just going to release one song at a time. I have a backlog of work and plenty to choose from. I would like to play a show in the future, but for now, I am focusing on my writing.