by Lizzie Morelli
I had the privilege of meeting Russ Lawton and Ray Paczkowski when their band Soule Monde opened for Spafford in Boston. The name Soule Monde is derived from Russ’s middle name “Soule” which he shares with his father and Ray came up with “Monde” as a play on his name “Ray-mond”… “It’s open to interpretation so at this point it is just like whatever, just come to the show”(Russ).
The two musicians have long careers behind them and the culmination of their talents have amounted to something really special. Both Russ and Ray are members of the Trey Anastasio Band and had driven down from Vermont for the show. I was sitting backstage at The Sinclair when I heard them sound check. For a two-piece band they really deliver unbelievable sound and raw emotion. Their symbiotic relationship is represented in their ability to react and feed off each other. Lawton is able to respond to Paczkowski while still holding down the pocket and the grooves are complex and exciting.
The guys from Spafford seemed humbled to have two musicians of that caliber open for them and I felt lucky to witness two generations of musicians sharing their craft and their stories with each other.
Following the gig Russ agreed to speak with me about his life in music, here is that conversation.
When we spoke you said TAB (Trey Anastasio Band) was about to get going again have you started rehearsing yet?
Yes, well next week I will get together with the percussionist but I practice my butt off on all those songs ahead of time, that’s what I do.
When did you first start drumming?
I started drumming when I was ten years old. I was a kid. I was in the drum and bugle core outside of New Bedford where I grew up in South Eastern Mass. Then I got a drum set when I was about twelve. I had a paper route and I got myself a drum set.
Did you know that you wanted to be a musician early on was that something you always wanted to do?
Well, yes and no. I knew I wanted to have it in my life. I played everyday and it was really, really important to me. Ya know, music and buying records and playing in a band but after high school I kind of vacillated one summer and had an apartment and I realized how hard it was to be a drummer without living in your parents house where you could play your drums without getting arrested or something (laughing). After that when I was eighteen I was like this is what I want to do. I want to stay home at night, every night and practice and after that I got into my first band.
Who did you start playing with originally?
I started playing with this good friend of mine, Les Kuipers down on Cape Cod. We go back since high school. I went to high school down on Cape Cod in Yarmouth. He is an amazing guitar player who still plays. I played with him and a couple other guys. I was in this other band with this guy Bobby Santos, these guys are really crucial in kicking my butt to be a better drummer and the bass player was Doug Windish from Living Colour, he has moved there from Hartford.
When did you meet Trey (Anastasio) and start doing that?
I started doing that in 1998. Coming up on twenty years, man! April 19th, we opened up Higher Ground when it was in Winooski the original one.
Who else have you toured with?
There is this band that was named Zzebra they were in London. I played with this guy Lofty Amao. That was how I got to Vermont. They were huge in Europe but never really big in America. I played in his American version of Zzebra. I did original bands in Boston and LA and I was just like a band guy. I would just get together with my band and then we would get signed a record deal…but nothing really took off until I met Trey because he was really well known. I was the guy slugging it out for years and years. I never really wanted to just be the guy to play with somebody famous or whatever… if that would have came about I probably would’ve done it but a lot of these people I played with are my really good friends who I still keep in touch with. If I am in LA I hang out with the singer from Zzeebra if I am in San Francisco I’ll hang out with the guitar player. Ya know we still keep in touch.
I feel like these things manifest themselves. I like the dynamic of musicians inspiring each other to work together.
That is kind of what happened cause I got into Trey Band because I know Tony the bass player and we played in the same club. He would come see Zzebra and I would go see his band Kilimanjaro. We were on the scene together and we would always say one day we are gonna play together. That is what Trey said the first time he heard Tony too and eventually it materialized. You are fans of each other’s playing. It’s really cool. So yeah, Tony would come and I would’ve just been signed to Atlantic Records or something…but then eventually I was independent and it worked out.
When did you first put together Soule Monde?
About 2008. I met Ray and he lives pretty close to my house down in Middlebury (VT) and I said lets get together. I had this idea of doing a duo with a keyboard player with this other guy and it didn’t work out. When I played with Ray we really clicked. It was something we would do once a month, then twice a month. It was a slow climb but then it took off and we are working on our fourth record. It’s been really great. When things naturally, I mean I have always been a band guy, like “Let’s start something!” as opposed to jumping in into someone else’s world, which can be cool too. I am really into the entire creative process.
Ray was playing an organ in Boston correct?
Yes, he plays a Hammond B3 Organ with a left hand bass opposed to the pedals and he has a Clavinet, which is a really important part of his sound and a Wurlitzer piano too. So that funky kinda “wamp wicka wamp”. I know Red (Keys/Spafford) was saying he has like a sample and was asking about that and he said there was no comparison. It was great to meet all you guys too. That was like the best night we’ve had in so long. That club is so cool, ya know I grew up there and the club thing can get a little rough but they are like the nicest people there. We drove back home after because we had a gig but I was so inspired after meeting all of you guys. We will see you all in Colorado too. (Soule Monde is supporting Spafford again on November 9th at The Ogden Theatre in Denver).
Do you have a story from touring you can share with us?
Maybe just some drummer showing up… Stewart Copeland. Actually, very early on 2001, Dave Matthews showed up. Those guys were just really starting to hit big. He showed up in Richmond. You go backstage and you meet the guy and have a drink with him and he’s just a super cool guy. Ya just don’t know, sometimes I meet people and I am like why did I have to meet…laughing…but he was just a super great guy and it was refreshing.
It must be surreal to meet younger musicians who you have influenced?
Yeah I mean. We are just a bunch of dudes. I forget that I am older now. I played with this one guy and he said “Hey man, I saw you when I was like fourteen…!” and I am like “When you’re fourteen you’re very impressionable…(laughing).” I have been kicking around a long time. You appreciate it you know what I mean? I am excited…Russ and I just booked a couple of gigs and I am still like a little kid and excited.
It’s cool that different generations of musicians can inspire each other.
I love it man. I have a bunch of drum students at the college and they are so inspired. I come home buzzing. It’s great. I would never think…I remember I was hanging out with Lofty and we were hanging after the gig and I found out he was my fathers age. He didn’t look it…but I was going “I never believed I would be playing in a band with this guy who is totally teaching me so much. I mean half of my style, what you hear with Trey Band on those cow bells and African beat, I totally learned from this guy. I never would have thought. Now it’s my turn and I am hanging around the younger musicians and I think it’s great we all learn from each other.
It perpetuates good music and good-vibing and it is just such a positive atmosphere to be around… I am not a musician and it inspires me.
Yes. Exactly and that is what it is supposed to be. The other day I have a couple young students at the high school and they’re having some trouble with this mambo beat. I went in yesterday, helped them out, gave them some hints, heard them with the band. Walked out of there. They were so nervous but excited. It’s great. You make friends for life. I see some of my students on tour now. I go to their gigs and stuff.
Last questions is when can I come hang out in Vermont?
(Laughing) Any time we are around. It would be amazing. Let us know. There are little gigs on my website that you don’t hear about. Some little out of the way gigs.