It was Outkast who asked the question ‘What’s cooler than being cool?’ with the response; ‘Ice Cold’. Well if the question had been ‘What’s balder than being bald?’ the answer would definitely have been ‘Russell Kostulin’. Now before people start having a go at me, just the other night Russell and I were discussing how most of Scotland’s top musicians seem to be folically challenged. Stuart Braithwaite, Neil Pennycook, John McCusker and of course, Russell himself. All this talk of baldness should clearly indicate which one he is in the above picture. And yes, that’s me sitting next to him as in my spare time I double as his piano player for Mammoeth, in the same way he doubles as the Kays violin/viola player. So yes, Russell aka Mammoeth is one of the most talented musicians I know. Not only is he a fantastic violin player but he also writes and arranges all his own tunes and, as far as I’m aware, plays pretty much every instrument on his record bar perhaps the drums? This aforementioned record is very, very good indeed and contrary to how I described him once on the radio, he sounds nothing like a cross between Boyzone and FOUND. Russell is also my co-conspirator behind mini50. He’s a lovely lad and he’s taken the time from his hectic schedule to answer some questions in this the 5th interview for TSP.
TSP: So you were once Team Turnip, you are now Mammoeth. Can you explain what it was that made you decide to change the name having already written and released under the TT brand?
M: Well every time I said the name to people it raised eyebrows and seemed to engender an element of scepticism or ridicule so after a while I got sick of that and decided to go for something less jokey. Also I was so used to the name I didn’t realise how it would be perceived by others and what a millstone that woudl turn out to be – it was from my schooldays so I didn’t really think enough about it. Conversely, I thought about Mammoeth for way too long, I got well bored with it.
TSP: The debut album is coming out on mini50 in 2010 correct? Can you tell us a bit about the record? For those who don’t know what Mammoeth is all about what exactly can people expect?
M: That is correct. The style is what I like to call “sweetly, sick, sour-pop” which is a pretentious way of saying: melodic alternative pop with some (hopefully) dark and interesting lyrics. For the most part I try to deal with those themes in a slightly humorous fashion just because I like lyrics that raise a bit of a smile. The lyrics (thinking about it) touch mostly on loss or longing I suppose.
TSP: Do you have a planned release date and title for the record? (I really should know this!)
M: The release date is likely to be April but possibly May depending on a couple of contingencies which are still to be finalised which are preventing me from announcing/planning an actual date. It’s going to be called “Nascent” I think, as in new born cos it’s a debut, cos I like the word and because I look like a giant baby.
TSP: One thing that always amuses me is that I write dark music which often contains postive messages but gets called depressing, whereas you write upbeat pop music with a very dark content. Do you think the nature of your music gives you more freedom to be a little messed up/dark lyrically, and is there a deliberate attempt on your part to have this contradiction between music and content?
M: I think my music could be darker, I once wrote a very very pop song about a serial killer who kept trophies/body parts of his former girlfriends under his floorboards, but the lyrics got veto’d by my then bandmates so we rewrote it into what was a much better song lyrically. That was dark. It’s not a conscious decision as such, I’m just having fun. I like narrative songs, I like a darkly comic element and I like the juxtaposition between dark lyrics and the simple upbeat pop song.
Lyrics are very difficult to write, for me, so I need to find something that interests and excites me before I can muster the enthusiasm to complete them and black comedy is often what sparks that interest.
TSP: You’re not one for playing many live shows. This has a lot to do with the fact that your band is scattered across the UK. Is this something you plan to rectify in 2010?
M: I’d like to rectify this but I’d also like to be able to have a solo show that i felt was a pleasure to watch and that would hold your attention. I’d like to get a band together more often but as you know it’s a logistical nightmare and people have their own things going on so I need to learn to be more self sufficient but without losing as much impact as I currently do. I’m working on this…
TSP: Edinburgh is a recurring theme in these interviews but highly relevant I feel. How do you find being a ‘pop’ artist living and working in a city where the leaning is clearly more towards folk music? Do you find it hard to fit with what’s going on in the city or do you see your diversity as a positive?
M: Erm, i don’t see it as difficult to fit in as such, I think the city’s music scene is pretty open to whatever comes along provided it’s pretty good, and sometimes even if it’s not… But everyone is pretty friendly. Do I see it as a positive? Not particularly, I just see it as being what it is without pros or cons.
TSP: You pretty much score all parts to the music you write which must take a lot of time and patience. Do you prefer working alone or do you sometimes long to have others around you feeding into the creative process? Is it part of your character to drive forward on your own?
M: I don’t really score them, I can but it is very boring indeed so I get my sister to do it who can do it 5 times as fast. I love her. I prefer doing everything myself but working by yourself doesn’t always yield the best results – when I did the violin parts for a song of mine called Writing on the Walls, Robin (Housman, who produced the album) didn’t feel it was exciting enough so we worked for a long time to make them more dramatic and that made a massive difference to the strings in that song and all for the better. So another person’s perspective/opinion on things can really help and challenge you sometimes which is a good thing.
TSP: Got to ask the question. Who are your main influences or are there any artists who really inspire you to keep writing music?
M: I hate this question… my main inspiration has to be Sufjan Stevens a) cos he does it all himself and does it brilliantly, b) because he writes great tunes and c) because his instrumentation and arrangements are so good – he’s also what made me restart writing and recording songs back in 2005 or whenever it was that I started writing again.
But more generally I get inspired by everything whether it’s a forgotten jazz song from the 40s, a Cole Porter song or a Romanian folk dance by Bartok or any of the 20th Century Russian composers like Tchaikovsky, Shostokovich or Prokofiev or Girls Aloud or Fleetwood Mac or ping pong balls or whatever. These are all things that I’ve thought about pinching ideas from recently. All the normal contemporary influences too of course.
In terms of pinching though I think as long as you take the rough idea and transpose it into something new and fresh then you can pinch as much as you want. I’d like to think I have a clear enough sense of self to filter and twist those influences into something that sounds like me and me only, but I can only hope.
TSP: Any underground/unsigned bands that particularly float your boat at the moment?
M: I don’t get out to gigs that often so haven’t seen any local bands for ages.
TSP: What does 2010 hold in store for Mammoeth?
M: Some single releases, an album release, a few videos maybe, hopefully some touring, hopefully some reviews of the album, hopefully some acknowledgement outside of Edinburgh, a lot of recording (album 2 and 75% of album 3 are written – so I’d like to get started on the second one pretty soon before the year is out). And lots more hopefully.