FOR THE GENERATION. An Interview with Tommy Russell (MIMIC)
by Madison Deyo
Fifteen minutes outside of Chicago in the suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, 21 year-old Tommy Russell is hard at work blending together sounds that express emotions that are often too difficult to put into words, grabbing ideas and influences wherever he can find them, or where ever they manage to find him. Surfing across synthesized sounds that range from hypnotic to lustrous, producer and vocalist Russell (better known as Mimic) is in no hurry to slow down.
Q: Has the Chicago music scene influenced you at all ?
A: It has definitely been an influence on me. When I was in high school I was starting to hit lots of DIY shows around the city since my older brother played a lot of progressive hard rock / grunge outfits. From the fashion to the film to the music I feel Chicago’s artists are always driven to extend our creative plane, which I find both intimidating yet super inspiring. The constantly shape-shifting scene inspires me to reinvent myself as well. Chicago also carries a very supportive culture.
Q: Did you ever consider following your brother into the grunge / hard rock route ?
A: I’ve always followed in his footsteps artistically. Growing up I would listen heavily to lots of alternative rock, emo pop, and indie influences that he loved. As soon as he started making his own stuff I was obviously super big eyed to it all. Following him through the music scene helped me find out how it all worked at a pretty young age. Although, musically I never really created the same kind of sound he was aiming for, but listening and seeing him rock out for people immensely changed my take on it all. It was like being handed the playbook and scribbling my own game-plan upon it. I still want to start a band someday that’ll be closer to the grunge stuff, even if it’s just a fun little side project. For now, I’m delicately finding myself.
Q: Chicago is a huge art/music scene, did you ever feel like there were so many up-and-coming artists trying to make it that was no room for you ?
A: I think the more the merrier. I don’t feel like I should be noticed anymore than the next guy. I’ve never felt locked out or crammed, if anything I feel a sense of comfort and welcoming in the sense that there are so many people who want to be that next voice. It inspires me. It makes the Chicago music scene so important and diverse, it’s a collaborative effort from all of us, and it’s important to maintain the mindset of equals. Even though talent and entertainment is certainly scaled, I believe we’re kind of all in this spot to portray a sense of unity as a whole rather than individuals. We all have to get where we want to be together, and I think we do that pretty well. I often stand back to look at the big picture and as long as that “picture” is as beautiful as possible, I could care less about how big my presence is in it. As long as in participating in the “picture”, I content, and I feel like a very present part of it.
Q: The “big picture” idea is a great way to look at collaboration and where you fit in the chaotic world of music. On both of your albums (Watering Grass 2017 and Stripes 2018) you have songs featuring other artists. How did you come across them ?
A: I actually met Dylan (the feature on Mention from Watering Grass) at Kevin Abstract’s (Ian Simpson’s) “Death of a Supermodel” tour in March of 2017. We were some of the literal first people in line, waiting outside from noon until doors opened around eight pm. So Dylan and I, and a handful of other kids bonded that day over all sorts of our favorite music, artists, colors, foods, etc. Eventually when it came time to cut my record I knew I wanted to have someone on it who shared my interests and who I felt meshed well with my sound. After hearing most of his demos on SoundCloud I knew Dylan was the perfect fit. His writing skills are beyond me, his landscape of words can really dazzle the listener. We’ve only collaborated on a few things, but we’re still great friends. Maybe we’ll do another collab soon. As for FruitPunchLoverBoy (the feature on “Middle of the Meadow” from Stripes), I met him strictly through the internet just following one another on Instagram (though we plan on meeting face-to-face and having real, human interactions soon). Again, he was someone that I saw immense talent and someone who would compliment my sound nicely, so I reached out to him for a collaboration. He really tied things together with “Middle of the Meadow” and the project as a whole. He’s very much into his own world as far as his craft goes, and his range is endless.
Q: What are your views on collaborative works ?
A: When I think about collaboration I think about furthering myself as well as the others I work with. I will admit that I am a very independent artist at heart, I’ve always done it all myself from producing, to writing, mixing, etc. There’s a comfort I already have with myself and I think I can be somewhat selfish at times. However, I feel it’s important to explore something totally different while working with someone else because you can always have your own style, but when you free yourself from that pocket of comfort really beautiful things start to happen. You just entered a whole new world. I think of it like really well put together fashion-clashing. Polka dots, stripes, purples, oranges, blah ! Whatever you want ! It’s all yours.
Q: I noticed that Kevin Abstract (Ian Simpson) follows you on Instagram and your first album Watering Grass has some similar sounds to Abstracts’ American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story. Are you inspired by him at all ?
A: Kevin Abstract maaaaaan. I’ve been following him since forever ago. When he used to tweet out his phone number I would text him, he’d tell me to send him pictures of my family portraits with bananas or talking about the Austin, Texas heat waves. This was way before MTV1987 (Abstracts’ debut album) or anything like that. As he grew as an artist, I followed him religiously. If there’s anyone to study to a tee, it’s Ian. He’s a genius. It’s like he’s got superpowers. I’ve been lucky enough to meet him multiple times and have had some very important conversations, to me at least. He’s changed my life and I don’t know if he’ll ever know that. I’m influenced by him in so many ways, so I’m happy you hear that affect.
Q: Are any of your songs inspired by particular moments or people in your life ?
A: I’m always pulling from real life experiences and relationships and incorporating them into my art and music. I feel that my emotions and perceptions are the most accessible ways to connect with my audience and peers. However, I don’t like to put them right out in the open for everyone to see. I like to glitter my songwriting and production in mystical tongues and mysterious tones. I take what is familiar to one and let it live out within an environment unfamiliar to itself. That way, it draws a greater connection. It’s one thing to give people something a surface value that’s easy to quickly latch onto. Once they start digging for what’s beneath, that’s when I feel my writing has been worthy. I dig through my own memories and try to make soundscapes in relation to those emotions. That’s usually how a song begins for me. As for the people around me, I certainly write for them, about them, or with them. My girlfriend has inspired plenty of my vulnerable lines, mostly because that’s what cuts closest to the heart. She brings out so much in me, as do so many of my loved ones. I tend to look at all things in relation to those I love. Like a bird flying through the air becomes so much more beautiful to me when that bird drifts me to thoughts of my mother, trees become my brother, and my sister is a snowflake. Or how a gander at the sky reprises my desires for infinity. I’m very metaphorical. But I also like to write in narrative, like a story. It’s not always distant, abstract thoughts, sometimes I’m very literal. I’ll take my experiences and draw them up word for word (to an extent). Sometimes I’ll provide complete transparency in an ironic or playful way. There’s definitely a spectrum, and a place and time for everything.
Q: You can definitely hear the more metaphorical creative process in Stripes. Do you usually start with words and craft sound around them, find a sweet beat and write lyrics to pair or a combo of both ?
A: My process usually starts with making the beat or finding the right sound to accurately portray the emotion I’m aiming for. I feel the production of songs is what really makes people feel something, the words just help you work through those feelings. So I normally start with the production first. I’ll sit in my room with dim lighting, a candle or incense and flesh out the sound and the mood. Sometimes the writing first approach works well too. I often write poetry to keep my ideas afloat, so I’ll pull a poem or a few of them to place within a song. Sometimes I’ll make a painting to find the feeling, or listen to other artists, but at the end of the day it all begins with that emotion that I’ve accessed and birthed into the world.
Q: Paying special attention to the emotion the song evokes really helps the listener fall into rhythm, which is evident on multiple of your tracks. You released a single and an album in 2018, you got anything in store for 2019 ?
A: 2018 was fun. 2019 will be even more fun. More content for sure, but what that content is has no form yet. It’s slowly being pulled from thin air as we speak. Could be a song coming out in a few weeks, or it could be another album as soon as spring. Everything I make comes when it needs to come. I’m in no rush but I have no intention of slowing down either. We’re just going to have, as always. I’m also going to try my hardest to do way more live performances. I feel like more of an artist than I have before. I’m super happy, and I hope everyone else is too.
Mimic is the electronic hip-hop artist for a generation of forth coming artists,
a young man whose not focused on fame, but the pure, unfiltered joy of creating.