Mr. Russia still rocks without guitars

By Brianna Wellen

With a punk-garage sound and classic rock sensibility, Mr. Russia has made a name for itself in Chicago’s music scene through countless compilations, radio appearances and shows. The group frequents local clubs and performs in residence on the last Sunday of every month at The Burlington, 3425 W. Fullerton Ave. The guitarless band stands by each other as a family—the “Russia” family to be exact—with all members adopting the same last name to show their commitment to the band.

Riding on the success of its EP, “Training for the Gameshow Host,” Mr. Russia continues to perform locally and work its way toward recording another album. The Chronicle caught up with the band’s singer and bass player Ivan Russia to talk about writing songs, adjusting the band’s style and hating Vampire Weekend.

The Chronicle: How did Mr. Russia come to be?

Ivan Russia: The drummer Rob [Russia and I] actually started the band as a two piece after we had been in and out of playing with various people, and really decided we were dependable and we could do it sans guitar—just bass, drums and we could both sing. From there it expanded. [With] time it grew [and] we needed more hands.

The Chronicle: Who is in the band now?

IR: Myself—I sing and play bass. Then there’s Brian [Russia] who also sings and plays bass, Lindi [Russia] on keyboards and Rob on drums.

The Chronicle: What’s the process like making an album and writing songs?

IR: Having enough down time to write the songs, be happy with it, get the band to rehearse it where we’re happy with it and then have enough of those where we want to record them. We’ve gone about it different ways. The first record [included] the songs that had been in our set for the most part; they’d been played and played. We were pretty set in our ways. The EP was done really fast; lyrics weren’t done yet; things were still really new when we went into the studio. I think now we’ve kind of settled on a method of having things that are new but not too new.

The Chronicle: How has your style changed as you’ve readjusted your process and added more people to the band?

IR: Having a second bass player really freed up the capability. I can only sing and play so well, so having another set of hands and being able to layer melodies [and] adding Lindi on keyboards added an entirely different instrument that sort of added an icing to things. Fundamentally, the songs all still come from the same place, which is one melody where it starts. Now, it has more possibilities as far as where things get assigned and where things actually end up placed. The songs have gotten a little longer maybe, a little more freedom and looseness. As a two piece we were doing a lot all the time. Now we can kind of step back and come in and out of the song.

The Chronicle: You’ve publicly expressed a huge distaste for Vampire Weekend. What’s that about?

IR: I believe a song is innocent. There’s no such thing as a bad song. There’s a bad performance of a song. You can shellac a song; you can suck all the soul out of it or put too much into it. Then there are things that make me scratch my head and go “Really?” There’s something about this that gets under my skin, and Vampire Weekend would definitely fall into this. Why would you want to listen to Vampire Weekend when you could listen to Tom Petty’s “Damn the Torpedoes” and Paul Simon’s “Graceland?”

The Chronicle: What’s next for you guys?

IR: We are talking about recording. We have a lot of half-finished material. A lot of things we’re still learning to play and figuring out. We have a DJ residence at the Burlington on the last Sunday of every month. This month it actually falls on Halloween, so we’re working on assembling a solid set of front to back Halloween songs. Mr. Russia does love Halloween.

Mr. Russia will play at Reggie’s Music Joint, 2105 S. State St., on Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. To download their free EP, “Training for the Game Show Host,” visit