If you’re not using that talent—the thing that’s in your soul waiting to be accessed—it does become a dull depression.
Perhaps you could boil down the Rush Midnight ethos to this one simple missive: make them all dance—make them all feel good. Since amicably parting ways with Twin Shadow (as George Lewis Jr.’s bassist) in 2012, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Russell Manning—the brains behind the brawn of his own alter ego—has continued to champion what he once described to us as “romantic dance music,” alongside dextrous bassmanship, psychedelic textures, willowy disco rhymes, and a percussive slickness normally the domain of jazz funkateers to call his own.
With the steady unveiling of his new album, Delilah, Manning extends the Rush Midnight tradition with 10 new tracks pinwheeling from one soulful synth pop narrative to the next at the speed of mood, neatly boiling down his influences to convey an enduring brand of laidback euphoria, helping to dampen a world of chaotic noise that’s only exacerbated by an on-going pandemic that just won’t quit. And following through on the promise of a new monthly track, the foreplay continues with the third in line later this month, so stayed tuned for another prismatic offering.
Anthem reached out to Manning in Los Angeles ahead of our photoshoot to catch up to speed.
Hey, Russ. Are you in the mood to be interviewed?
Yeah. I’ve just been working my ass off on this show for HBO Max. I work for this guy Paul Stewart, a music supervisor, and our job is to get all the music so I’m doing massive pulls. I’m taking a break to hang out with you.
Before we get off the subject, how did you get into music licensing?
When I moved out here five years ago, I was trying to write pop songs for people and get a publishing deal. Then my buddy Rico [Martinez] introduced me to this guy he met at some music conference panel. This dude, Paul, is like an OG from LA. He was around in the ‘90s hip-hop scene. He got Warren G signed and hung out with Tupac. He needed help with these projects on TV and indie films so I just offered myself for free, which then turned into a paid gig. I’ve been able to somehow get my music in there, too, so it’s a lucrative freelance kind of gig.
That must provide new insights into your musicality, no?
From a musical standpoint, I first always think, “Can I make that?” because obviously there’s money in it, but a lot of this stuff I can’t make. I can’t make orchestral music. The soulful, bluesy classic rock stuff I can’t do either. But I became a better trap producer so I have a huge catalogue of just “urban tension”—for reality TV basically. [laughs]
You returned to LA just recently. Are you back for good?
I’m definitely back for the year. Last year, I was able to write all of this music so now is the fun part of releasing it one month at a time. LA’s a good place for that. The lifestyle and weather is always nice. I’m right down the street from Runyan Canyon so I can go jogging every day.
What would signal a return to normalcy for you in this pandemic?
Well, I’m a little over two weeks vaccinated so I’ve already been able to walk around without a mask on. Last year during COVID, we lived in a loft downtown. We had moved there in December [of 2019] and by March, everything was shut down. Black Lives Matter and the rallies were happening every other day. We were right next to City Hall. All the shops were closing. The homelessness was growing more intense. By comparison, that felt like we couldn’t even leave our house. I would get in my car in the underground parking lot and just zip out like it was a bat cave. I would go to Silver Lake or Echo Park or wherever and just zip back in at weird hours.
I think the pandemic also proved that, for a lot of people, the love of any place is conditional.
Yeah, I think it makes you choose a side. With New York and the virus, only certain people actually stayed there throughout it. Those are the die-hard New Yorkers. In going there, I just had to leave LA for a couple months to clean the palette. I loved it at first. The weather was nice and with the snow, it was all charming. Then I was like, “It’s time to go back. That’s my life [in LA].”
Take me back a little bit because you mentioned to me before that you were able to believe in music again during COVID. What had happened and how did you find your way back?
When this all started, I was confused: “What am I gonna do?” Production was ending. DJing gigs were ending. Then after I freaked out for a week, basically having the entire 24 hours to myself to do what I wanted, I realized, “Oh shit, I can work on music again for me?” So that was beautiful. I started digging in. I have this guy Jared [Frazier] who plays drums on the whole record. He was kind of my muse or one of my inspirers ‘cause I was able to send him demos and he’d be like, “Yo, this is great! Let me record drums to this.” It was having people help me finish things. It was sending out demos, some of which I had written many years ago. Adding live elements like drums and backing vocals brought them to life. I realized I missed that process. You really have to go in hard many hours a day for a few days to maybe finish one song, right? It can drive you crazy. But I would always leave the studio feeling super confident, feeling a swagger, and feeling like I have something to say.
I’m glad. The album is great. Years ago, you said so yourself that wasted talent is such a bummer, that there are so many people who don’t have that creative impulse to begin with.
When you neglect it, you end up getting depressed. It’s like not exercising. If you’re not using that talent—the thing that’s in your soul waiting to be accessed—it does become a dull depression.
I think there’s also something to be said about the ephemeral nature of just creation in general. Inspiration is not always there for the taking. A permanent hindrance or something much more catastrophic would be like Riz Ahmed’s character going deaf in Sound of Metal.
Oh yeah. I just watched that.
What can you do if your body just won’t cooperate?
In the last year, a lot of us were able to do what we wanted with people changing their careers, people moving back home, people moving out of the country or whatever it is. It’s like what Matthew McConaughey says: when you see those little green lights, you gotta fucking go for it.
How did you arrive at your new album title—Delilah?
It’s called Delilah because that’s what I called the little studio I used to have in Koreatown. It was part of my apartment; this cool teal, kind of aqua square room. There wasn’t much of a view, but it had a real vibe to it. A lot of the new songs I either started there or I worked on them a bit there.
With the unearthed demos, how many tracks are comparatively new?
I would say half of them are new new. I wrote those last year. Some of them like “Take the Long Way Home” are actually probably from 2013.
I already told you this, but I’m partial to “Swallow Those Tears.”
“Swallow Those Tears” is by far my deepest one because it’s about a breakup or the different phases of your relationship—the beginning, the middle, and the end—and knowing that your fate may not be together, but appreciating that love and those moments and those phases all the same. That was the most emotional one to write, and my friend helped me write it. My buddy Rico helped me tell my story and it was like, “Oh shit. This is so real. I didn’t even know we could get this real.”
How confessional is your songwriting, collectively speaking?
A lot of ‘em tend to be more about what sounds good phonetically where, later on, I plan to write a true story. But then sometimes those phonetics just sound so good that it’s like, “Why change this?”“On and On” is one of my favorite instrumentals and it has this groove that feels European—it feels like something that I love. As for the lyrics themselves, they’re poetry, but I’m not saying a whole lot. [laughs] It’s about making the listener feel good, feel cool, and confident. It’s a soundtrack more than like, “Yo, listen to me and what I have to tell you right now.” It’s more for you than for me.
Do you think the music would’ve sounded very different had the pandemic not been in play?
I actually have another project called Explorerz and I wrote [those songs] at the same time. Those lyrics are all about immortality: not giving a fuck and living on forever no matter what happens. So that’s very much pandemic-inspired.
In terms of releases, are you pushing both projects at once?
Dude, I’m not even doing good enough work at just Rush Midnight because of my life. So I just gotta delay Explorerz and this year focus on Rush Midnight. Once I feel like I have the momentum and the flow, then maybe we can start dipping our toes into dropping Explorerz tracks.
Another casualty of the pandemic is that you can’t road test songs. Is that sorely missed?
I liked [touring]—most of the time. [laughs] I don’t know… America gets pretty boring and it all looks the same. People say that of Europe, too, but I’m way more enamored by and excited to go over there more than I have. I haven’t been there with Rush Midnight. I’ve only been around the US and Canada with this project. When I used to tour with Twin Shadow, we went all over the world. But they don’t do that much anymore so it comes in waves I guess.
When do you imagine music venues will be back in Los Angeles?
I’ve heard of little shows popping up at weird invite-only events. DJ sets are definitely beginning to come back. Maybe by fall it will be back back. But at this point, the venues literally have their doors boarded up so even if they wanted to open, it wouldn’t be for another couple months. I just feel like fall is a safe bet. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to spend the money to reopen and rehire and then have to do it all over again.
When was the last time you DJed?
I DJed last weekend at a private event. I don’t know what the party was for, but it was at a hotel down in Newport Beach.
Uh, “cool” isn’t the word I would choose. [laughs] It was really shocking. I was shocked the whole night. People weren’t really wearing masks. I was like, “What year is it?”
It’s so nuts what’s happening in India right now, more than a year later.
Yeah. A lot of places are back to where we were six months ago. It’s crazy how I’m in this little bubble like COVID almost doesn’t exist. But I’m so lucky. With the DJing, maybe if I can make my way down to Miami I can do an Art Basel type thing or a III Points type thing. Those are the DJ gigs I look forward to: week-long events.
Have there been any permanent closures that really bummed you out?
I’ll be honest: I don’t know about music venues, but they were gonna tear down the Cinerama. I think now Netflix will buy it? That was the most tragic to me. I love going to the movies. I like going to the movies more than performances.
I mean, they’re the opposite. Going to a movie is almost like a safe place. It’s a safe evening activity. You’re not getting fucked up necessarily. You’re not going really far. You’re going to this room and sitting there. That to me is so fun and during the pandemic that’s almost what we all want. We all want that feeling of being safe and being able to go into these worlds. Don’t you ever feel like, “What if I could do something completely different?” I think working in film or being able to create films would be the move. Movies and music really are my two passions, and because I’m not involved in the production of movies, it’s just fun. I’m just being entertained.
How much of an optimist are you? Are you feeling positive as we move forward in the world?
I’m very optimistic. I’m also grateful for what I have and have been blessed with right now. I’m in a city that has all the vaccinations available. I have a lot of great people in my life—my family and friends and people older than I—who are still alive. Just knowing that people might die, even naturally, I want to take a snapshot of right now. Because the further you go, the more loss you’re gonna get. I’m thankful for so many people that I care about who are still with us.