Stop me if you've heard this one before. UK singer/songwriter walks into a bar... well, at least I think that's what Sam Russo would like to do looking at the title of his latest album. But because of Covid-19, he had to stay at home and made this list of his top 10 punk influences instead.
If you haven't heard 'Back To The Party' just yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up now. It's really friggin' good. Or you can attend his release show, which is happening this Saturday at 1 ET on a screen near you. See you there!
The first ten seconds of “Ignition” by The Offspring
The first punk music I remember hearing and really relating to. I remember having my tape player and putting in this really uninspiring looking tape I’d borrowed from a friend. It just looked like shit. I assumed it was metal because it reminded me of “Load” by Metallica which had just come out but I remember taking it and thinking ‘The Offspring. That sounds way cooler than Metallica.’ and oh man was I right. I sat down on the school bus, put my knees up and stared out the window like always, then I pressed play. Hearing Dexter screaming ‘FUCK’ over and over and then the drums kicking in with that beat. I remember thinking I was going to die I was so happy. I felt like I’d found my soundtrack. I used to just rewind that bit over and over! That was when I realised eeeeveryone setting all these rules about what you can and can’t do in music and in life was completely full of shit. Not everything had to be nice, or macho or good looking, you don’t have to do or like what everyone else does, and there’s a place for everyone – even the misfits. No more sitting at the side of the disco wondering what’s wrong with me because I don’t want to dance to Backstreet Boys like everyone else – there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m different and that’s okay!
When I was a really little kid I discovered skateboarding and it totally changed my outlook on life. Paired with punk it basically got me through school and my adolescence. There’s no team behind you, no coach or ref or spectators, it’s just you and the brutality of concrete. There’s no judge besides you and nobody cares about what you’re doing. It’s rebellious, it’s liberating and it’s fun. Skateboarding makes everything a canvas. If you’re riding along on a skateboard, you’re leaving everything behind you and you’re creating art out of movement. You’re in the moment. It taught me to embrace and celebrate failure and to find the humour in fucking up. It showed me a world within a work and introduced me to incredible artists, photographers, bands and musicians, language, clothes, places and people. Skateboarding introduced me to hip hop, rap, funk all kinds of music I’d never heard before and it showed me places I’d never seen. I’d decided what I thought punk was by this point and getting into skating stopped me being narrow minded about it. Public Enemy was punk to me, skaters like Louie Barletta busting out crazy angular tricks in cardigans and argyle was just as punk to me as Corey Duffel and Dustin Dollin in their leather jackets. Tony Hawk was punk because he was goofy looking and shy, Chris Roberts was punk because he didn’t party, Rodney Mullen was punk because he was a nerd, Chad Muska was punk because everyone hated him! Skating gave me a physical outlet and a mental and spiritual vehicle to discover elements of culture that I had no access to otherwise. It always did and always does make me excited and happy. Even when I eat complete shit.
Julian Giles Harding
When I was 15 I auditioned on bass for a band called Cry For Vengeance. I knew the guitarist, my friend Billy, but none of the other band members. We got to the youth centre where they practiced and I this guy Julian was already there. He was pacing around rubbing the back of his neck looking tall, mean, and scary as fuck. I said “Hi, I’m Sam” from across the room and he literally looked up from his pacing, sneered at me and waved a hand in my direction like he was shaking salt on chips. I thought for sure he was insane and immediately wished I wasn’t wearing my X-Files t-shirt and camo shorts. He had a gold microphone that looked like it belonged on a kids karaoke machine in one hand and a wrinkled piece of yellow notebook paper in the other and he stood like he was about to run and headbutt me in the dick. The whole room was humming with electricity and anticipation and it all hung on this Julian guys’ next word. He lifted the rusty yellow mike to his mouth and screamed ‘THIS FUCKING SONG IS CALLED SONG FOR THE SCABS, FUCKING 1, 2, 3, 4!’ and we just ripped into it. He introduced it like there was 500 people watching and sang it like it we were headlining Woodstock. After every song he just got warmer and warmer and more and more talkative and excited and we started discussing music and films and school and books and by the end of the practice I’d joined my first proper band and become friends with someone who I wouldn’t go a day of my life without talking to for the best part of 20 years. It’s been like that ever since he’s always been there for me. He produced “Storm” and “Back To The Party” and I can honestly say I would’ve given up long ago if it weren’t for him. Not just on music, but probably on myself in a lot of ways too. He’s the funniest person I’ve ever known and the most original free thinker I’ve ever met. I’ll tell you about the time he took a keyboard to the face for me another time…
Pennywise – Live At The Key Club
My favourite live album ever, one of my all-time favourite punk records and relevant here because it really gets your imagination going. This album is as close to going to a punk show as you can get by just listening to a record and there’s just something about how raw it is that transports me to the show. The energy is insane, I love how fast the songs are, the crowd is going completely turnips and every time I listen to it I get lost in it and feel like I’m actually there. Cramps live at Napa and Johnny Cash prison records do something similar for me. There’s something really edgy and charged about the set. I will always go to that record when I’m pissed off or depressed. A real leaky old battery up the ass.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
They’re pizza loving mutants who spend most of their lives underground and fight tyrants in big machines – they’re the ultimate punks! I have always loved the Turtles and I think the duality of their fun-loving nature mixed with their shady, violent outsider lifestyle and freak status has always resonated with me on a way deeper level than a comic book or cartoon really should! I constantly agonise over who’s my favourite, I mean it’s obviously Donatello, but I’ve come to realise that we are all of the Ninja Turtles. The best of us just have more Donnie than the rest. Also, Splinter is my hero. Foot sucks, Cowabunga.
I’ve always loved ‘em. Just a portal into another world. The ones that had the biggest influence on me are “When I Get Old” – The Descendents, “Down” – Blink 182, “Heroin Girl” – Everclear, “Same Old Story” – Pennywise, “Da Hui” – The Offspring, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” – Tom Waits, and “Back To School” – Deftones.
Just watch ‘em. Everything I love about music is in those videos.
I love Stephen King and his books constantly inspire me and help me relax and escape real life. I love a lot of literature and poetry, but nothing sucks me in like a King classic. My Mum got me into Stephen King and I will always thank her for that.
He just writes good shit. Sometimes trashy, sometimes dumb, but always fun. Pet Sematary in particular is a fave. I have a big old Pet Sematary tattoo. I love Stephen King’s life story too. Writing Carrie while supporting a family by working nights in the hospital laundry and writing all day in your trailer home, then his wife finding the manuscript in the bin and persuading him to send it out to publishers? Amazing story.
The Lawrence Arms
My favourite band. Most adults find it hard to pick a favourite band, I don’t. The Lawrence Arms are punk personified to me. Firstly, they’re the most intelligent, self-aware, funny, articulate and poetic lyricists ever. B.) They have consistently gotten better with every single body of music they’ve ever released. 4.) They sound like no other band – you can hear influences like any other band, but those influences are like riddles. You’ll be listening to a new Larry Arms song and second to second you’re hearing these accents, these little references. In one song you can just get all your bells rung at once ‘til you have no idea what’s going on – you’ll think you’re hearing a little Nomeansno for a second, then maybe you think you hear a quote from Joe Dirt, but it could be Gabriel Marquez, then you vibe on some obscure 90’s hip-hop and a little tip of the hat to Poison and then you’re in the middle of a boozey, life-affirming midwestern singalong and before you know it, it’s all over and you’re fucked. I could talk about this band all night but I’ll wrap up by saying that they are the best humans I know who play music. They’ve been so kind and generous to me over the years and who the fuck am I? I asked Chris for some advice about songwriting once and he put his arm around me and said, ‘I’m gonna be honest with you, Sam. Nothing fucking matters.’ Now THAT’S a pal. The Lawrence Arms. You’re either in, or you’re fucked.
Going to California
A special place for me. The history of CA, the culture, the art, the films, the music, food, politics, lifestyle, geography; everything about California interests me and influences my life and my music. I love the sun and sand meeting concrete, graffiti and grime. Desert, ocean, city, suburbia. I’ll keep this short because I’m literally obsessed, but I’ve never loved a place more in my life. Some of my best memories are of times I’ve spent in LA and all over California. I grew up with a pretty idealised and romantic view of life in California from books and movies and music but that didn’t in any way change how inspiring I find it. When I was a kid I did that thing where you write yourself a letter about the person you want to be – basically all I wrote was ‘Get to California’. Whether I’m getting California Donuts or Cactus with my lady or sleeping alone in a Super 8 in Santa Cruz, whether I’m playing a show at the Troubadour or hiking in the Hollywood Hills, going to a pool party with new friends, cruising overnight down the coast or swimming in San Diego, I’m just so happy and so excited to be alive. We made a classic California Punk playlist in the van on tour with Elway last year and it was something like 3 hours long. That’s a lot of 2-minute songs.
Best punk label of all time, sir. Because of Red Scare I’ve played all over the world with all of my favourite bands and I’ve been able to make whatever music I want, release it and have people actually hear it. Nobody gets to do that these days, it’s amazing. Tobias Jeg saved my ass, let me tell you. I’ve been to Enumclaw, fuckers.
Lacking the talent to actually play in a band, Tom decided he would write about bands instead. Turns out his writing skills are mediocre at best as well.