From the Working Musician: Interview with Russ Irwin

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Recently, Russ Irwin stopped by our headquarters in Oakland and played a few songs from his new album, Get Me Home, for our Pandora employees. Russ was in town to play Oracle Arena with Aerosmith, a band he’s been touring with for 15 years.

We talked with him about how he became a successful “working” musician and what it’s like to play with performers like Sting, Duncan Sheik, Bryan Adams, Meat Loaf.

Check out what Russ had to say:

When did you start playing music?

I started at 6 or 7 years old playing the drums. At 8 or 9 I started playing piano. My older brother is a drummer and listened to Aerosmith, Rush, Zeppelin – he was a big influence on me.

What musicians do you look up to?

I love everything, especially classic rock, Beatles…and Zep, of course. I’m also a big fan of Billy Joel, Elton, the Police. Songwriters really impress me. Later when I moved to New York I was exposed to classical and jazz and got really into that side of things.

When did you start doing this for a living?

Right at 18 years old I started playing professionally in New York. I was lucky to meet Billy Idol‘s drummer at the time and he hooked me up with gigs. I was playing every night and practicing with multiple bands all day. I was probably in 12 projects at a time so it was rehearsal all day and gigging all night. At that time I was playing mostly rock and pop gigs, some jazz. The hardest thing about it was carrying my gear around, I had to ride in cabs around NYC with my amps and often multiple keyboards.

What’s the weirdest gig you’ve played?

When Aerosmith was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame we played one song but nobody told me what it was going to be. I had to quickly adjust to playing Paul Shaffer‘s gear and figure out the song.

What instrument would you play if you had time to master a new instrument?

I would learn to play bass well. I already play keys, guitar, drums and some bass. My favorite songwriters are bassists – Paul McCartney and Sting. I’m really impressed by how they can build melodies around their playing.

How do you pass the time on the road?

Lately I’ve been doing small gigs and interviews to support my solo album while on tour with Aerosmith. I love meeting new people. When I was on tour with Sting we played a lot of chess.

You mentioned Sting as one of your heroes, what was it like to tour with Sting?

It was a dream come true.

Obviously you are comfortable with being on stage, how does playing your solo work differ from playing with Aerosmith? Do you crave the spotlight?

It’s different playing solo than with a band, it’s more pressure to play solo. The biggest difference is in finding my singing voice. It doesn’t matter how many people I’m playing for,

I want my voice to sound good.

What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out?

Practice hard and try to be nice. It’s important to be a team player. I never felt very competitive about music but some people do, I never liked that toxic vibe of competitiveness that happens with many musicians.

-Aaron (Community Manager)

Aaron Morgan

Sr. Social Media Manager http://www.pandora.com/profile/pandora.aaron

4 thoughts on “From the Working Musician: Interview with Russ Irwin

  1. I was listening to the Elvis Presley station and the music was great. I knew a lot of the songs. I got emotional and started to cry because Elvis started this kind of music. There was something about this music that you don’t hear today. It was clean, comical and it had something special to it. Thank you so much for having this music and playing it. Back in the 60’s I remember a department store downtown would have this music heard outside the store and inside they sold 45 rpm singles. I remember being at a hobo party and a record player played Chubby Checker’s twist songs. I remember twisting to the music and twisting up and down. The young people really enjoyed it. Thanks again.

  2. When I have selected Journey, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Eric Clapton, and REO Speedwagon why do I get every few songs stinking rap music?

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