The Home Key, #5:

An Interview with Russell Potter


Rick Moody

  Russell Potter’s two albums, A Stone’s Throw and Neither Here Nor There, self-released on the order of forty years ago (1979 and 1981), are gems of a certain time, simple, expressive, personal, human-scaled. They consist, almost entirely, of the guitarist playing acoustic guitar instrumentals, somewhat in the style of the great pioneers: Robbie Basho, John Fahey, Leo Kottke. Potter pressed, assembled, and released these packages himself, sold some at contemporaneous shows, mailed some out, made hilarious press releases for himself, and all of this while living through his undergraduate ferment. That these albums became, in the years since their release, record collector gold, is perhaps not that hard to understand. Like other titles in the weird record-collector pantheon, Vashti Bunyan’s first album, or the works of Jandek, Karen Dalton, etc., Potter’s albums were manufactured in small print runs, a long time ago, and the auteur seemed to vanish from the musical world after the release cycle was completed. The difficulty of obtaining copies, is, after all, a primary motive in the collector world. The re-release of these albums this year (on Tompkins Square, the venerable label of acoustic and folk-oriented material) helps catapult Potter out of this rarified world of the collected, however, and back into the light where the rest of us, people who simply like good music, can acquaint ourselves anew with the college-aged Russell Potter, and his dream of John Fahey-ish life as a fingerpicker of note.
  And: the best thing about the re-release of Potter’s beautiful, melodically satisfying, and homespun albums is that Russell Potter never went anywhere at all. He had, it seems, no period of alcoholic oblivion or major personality disorder, there were no ravages of the opioid kind, but rather Potter went into that most monastic of hideouts, the English Department of a state school in Rhode Island. Indeed, Potter, is a tenured teacher of literature, with a book about hip hop under his belt (hip hop as a folk music!), and a novel (Pyg, 2011) as well. As becomes clear below, Potter still plays the guitar every day, and has lost none of his vitality as a player, is still animated, as before, by Irish music, by the country blues, by the hybrid styles of the great innovators of the acoustic guitar from the sixties and seventies. And he is a warm, funny, approachable person who has lived a whole life since he released his albums, one that has included marriage, family, and tenure. We talked by Zoom last summer. That my own undergraduate years overlapped with Potter’s (and his graduate education took place exactly where my undergraduate years had) made for a Venn diagram of shared interests and artistic inclinations. Potter is simply a decent, engaged, writer and player who I might have easily known, and now do, and now you know him too. He’s at work on some new songs, so with any luck, he’ll have another album before too much longer.

Rick Moody: I want to talk initially about how you came to be a finger-picking guitar player. And I think you’re from Cleveland. Is that right?

Russell Potter: Yes, that’s right

RM: So how did you encounter that music, old time folk music, in Cleveland, which is a noted rock and roll town?

RP: Well, it’s funny. Honestly, growing up in ‘the heart of rock and roll’ kind of put me off on rock and roll. It was the early days of AOR radio formats, and it was, you know, “Let’s listen to more prog rock,” and whatnot. And it was okay, but I kind of tuned that out at a point. I grew up in the eastern suburbs, in a place called Pepper Pike. There were things going on there like Devo and Pere Ubu that I only heard about after the fact, that I didn’t really know much about while they were actually happening. But I hung out mainly in the University Circle area, which is around Case Western Reserve’s campus. I went to an alternative high school—my family called it “the hippie dippie high school”—no grades, very loosely structured. It was in University Circle, and down the street from that was the Cleveland Music School Settlement. I’d taken piano lessons there as a kid and hated piano lessons and hated the piano. But when I was about seventeen or so I took an interest in the guitar, and it was really my teacher there, a guy named Don Swanson, who in addition to doing classical stuff did some John Fahey. He had transcribed tablatures. I said, “This is great stuff, give me more of these things. I’m tired of playing John Dowland and Bach, I want this stuff.” And that’s kind of how I heard about it. You know, back in those days you couldn’t just have a Spotify channel or anything, so I started haunting old record stores and trying to find more about this John Fahey guy. Most of his back catalogue was still in print at that time. So that’s where it got started.

RM: And were there other people from that sort of American primitive movement that were influential? Or was Fahey a dominant influence?

RP: Well, he was a big figure. I also liked his mysteriousness and his weird liner notes. But there was that triple album of Fahey/Kottke/Lang. That was a big one. And I learned a lot of Peter Lang’s stuff too. It’s not as easy to play as he makes it sound. He’s a very, you know, stretch-your-fingers-out kind of a guy, Mr. Lang. And Robbie Basho—actually, I was in correspondence with him. This was around the time of my second album. I forget how we got in touch with one another. He was really trying hard to get gigs, and he’d just had that new album on Windham Hill, the one where he’s wearing sleeves with frills on them and looking very classical. I was trying to get him some gigs, and people at that time were like. “Who? Robbie Basho? Who is that?” Of course, nowadays he has this huge devoted fanbase and all these rereleases of previously unheard things and people are nuts about him, but at the time he was, you know … He was having a difficult time getting gigs, I guess. And then of course he died rather abruptly, something went wrong at the chiropractor, I’ve heard. Don’t know what that was, but it was abrupt.

RM: Did you ever see Fahey play? Would you have gotten interested during the lost years of Fahey, or which period?

RP: Well, I started with the early stuff. And that’s why in tribute to that I’m Volume I and Volume II, because I liked the idea of giving albums volume numbers, that sounds great. And I really liked the stuff up through, say, Volume 5 or 6, The Voice of the Turtle, Fare Forward Voyagers, that was sort of my Fahey canon. And then right around the time I took an interest in him he started to reemerge. And his Greatest Hits—a pretty ironic title—you could buy a tablature book for that, which was a godsend, because I didn’t have transcriptions of many of these things that would allow me to even know what tuning they were in. And you know the Vanguard albums to a degree… a lot of the later Fahey though just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Some of his very last stuff was very weird, when he starts playing electric guitar, and I think his health wasn’t good. It’s kind of scary stuff. But I like Fahey’s first seven, eight albums, those were the ones that I kept going back to. And of course I had to come up with titles for my songs that were as strange as his were, and that was another challenge. I just loved the whole Fahey atmosphere. Apparently, he was a very tough person to get along with, and had all kinds of issues, but since I didn’t know him in any personal way I knew none of this.

RM: Did you work in alternate tunings (like Fahey) on your pieces?

RP: Yeah, I mean pretty much. There’s some that are Drop D, and that’s about as close to standard tuning as I usually would get, but there’s a lot in Open D, Open C. The song “Dirge and Celebration in C Minor” is in an Open C Minor tuning that I cooked up just by dropping one of the strings a half-step. I loved the fact that if you had the bass notes you needed, then without having to do anything you could do all kinds of things with the other strings. So that felt liberating to me. It was also great because I was pretty good at reading tablature and I could never read sheet music, and if you did have sheet music, for alternative tunings it would be a nightmare to figure out where you were supposed to be on the fretboard. So that kind of felt like a breakthrough to me. I did go back nearer to standard tuning, on the second volume, some of the Irish tunes. I dropped the bass strings, so I’ve got a lower D and a lower G, but the rest of them are standard. Because it’s easier to get at the melody up there. Pierre Bensusan, if you listen to his stuff, he was kind of an influence on those arrangements.

RM: So you started really playing at seventeen?

RP: Yeah.

RM: How old were you when Stone’s Throw was finished?

RP: I was nineteen.

RM: So you made your first album only having played the instrument for two years.

RP: I played other things before. I played the mandolin for a couple of years—I think I mentioned that in my liner notes—so the idea of moving around on frets was there. But I also had a ridiculous amount of free time. I probably played and/or practiced, whatever you would call it, for eight or nine hours a day every day, as long as Mom and Dad didn’t knock on the door and say, “It’s time to mow the lawn,” or something. I was an only child, so I didn’t have siblings to come in and annoy me. So I just played like crazy. And when I got to Goddard I was still doing that. And then, again, it was kind of a very low-key alternative school, so, you know, take a poetry class, American politics, and underwater basket weaving. And other than that just play. Play, play, play.

RM: Was Goddard College influential at all? Was there a receptive audience for this work there?

RP: Yeah, I think so. That area around Goddard—Plainfield, Montpelier—there was definitely kind of a folkie scene there, and a lot of Goddard graduates didn’t move very far away. They opened up vegetarian restaurants and then they’d have somebody play some music. Also, some artists in residence there were with the Bread and Puppet Theater, and there was a whole bunch of musicians and people who sort of gravitated around them. They would practice their pieces on campus, and you’d see these giant puppets coming over a hill. And there were a lot of other students who played. The big venue on campus was called The Haybarn. It literally was, formerly, a barn. They would occasionally have big-name performers there. They were all kind of folk-lite, it wasn’t hardcore old-school folk, but it was, you know, Mary McCaslin or someone like that, folk. My music teacher Dennis Murphy was a huge influence. He built the first Javanese gamelan in the United States out of old tin cans and steel drums, he would string his upright bass with fishing wire because he claimed that strings were too expensive, he played the oboe, but instead of a reed he would cut out two little pieces of a cottage cheese container and tape them together because it was cheaper than a reed and worked just as well. He had an Irish band, he had a medieval band, he had a recorder quartet, or quintet, sometimes, and yeah, he was a real guru for me, and he was just a crazy guy who did anything that was musical. He didn’t play the guitar though – but he did have a routine that he would do onstage called “Sego-ho-hovia.” He would take a classical guitar and fuss with the footstand and get everything just so, and then he’d just start laughing. That was “Sego-ho-hovia.” People were doing innovative things of all sorts, and it just sort of felt like why don’t I do something different too? And that’s where I met the guy who pointed out to me that you could actually make your own records, Larry Feign. He was an influence for sure, just in terms of boot-strapping yourself up and figuring out how you could get all the things you needed in order to make a record, which at first I said, well, how do you do that? You’re supposed to sign with a label, right? He was great. He’s living in Hong Kong now, and has been there for thirty years. He’s had success as a cartoonist and novelist. I don’t think he’s doing music anymore.

RM: In the notes on the Tompkins Square re-releases somebody says that your decision to self-release clearly had a punk influence. Or they invoked punk as a sort of like-minded approach to this self-releasing. Fahey self-released some, and I think self-releasing in the instrumental music world was not unknown, but you definitely would have been sort of at the same time as some of that punk rock stuff. Was that something that you thought about at all, or was this fellow who sort of put you in mind to self-release the kind of chief architect of that decision?

RP: He just planted the seed. He was actually graduating, he was on his way out, and I went back to Cleveland because he told me about Boddie Records. He had used them for some bootlegs or something. Boddie Records just said, you know, ‘Pay us the money, give us a tape, we’ll press x number of records.’ They would send you a little blank piece of paper with a circle on it and say ‘What do you want on the label?’ So it certainly fit with that DIY kind of aesthetic. They would press gospel music records, bar mitzvah 45s, all kinds of crazy stuff. It didn’t really matter what it was. But yeah, I think there was something of that, and of course that led, in an indirect way, to the bluegrass version of “Mongoloid". That was because Bob Frank, who was the lead guitar in The Hotfoot Quartet, knew Johnny Dromette, who was sort of the guru of Cleveland DIY. I think they borrowed the same radiation suits that DEVO had used, he did the mockup for the cover using Letraset and all these little things that he had. There was definitely a venue for that, I think. We went a couple times to the Disastadrome, which was the old WHK Auditorium, and saw people like Robert Junior Lockwood, who’s an old blues guy who kind of gravitated to Cleveland. I can’t think of any real punky new wave things that I saw because I was generally hanging out in the sort of folkie, maybe blues and jazz end of things. So that’s mostly what I would have seen around that time. Although I clearly missed out on a lot. Maybe the idea of doing it yourself was in the air. For sure.

RM: So did you sleeve them all yourself and mail them out all yourself?

RP: More or less. The Tompkins Square reissue is actually kind of nice in my mind because they’ve given it a real sleeve. What I had was a folded piece of cardboard. Lightweight cardboard. I think I paid extra for the folding, so it basically just opened up and it had a little shelf in the bottom you could put the LP in. And then the second one, I had it put into blank sleeves and I had the covers printed separately and die-cut, and then I would glue it on with rubber cement individually, each one. So if you come across one of those, I’m the one who glued it together. I still have a stack of those pre-printed covers. But that was the most expensive and tricky thing. The records themselves, if you got at least five hundred you were probably only paying a dollar a copy or something, maybe $1.25. The more you got, the less per unit. But then the covers, and printing, my god, that’s expensive. Tompkins Square reproduced the covers almost exactly as the originals. They had a guy who researched all the typefaces and everything. They didn’t just do a photographic replica, they reset it in similar type, color and everything.

RM: I do want to talk about Volume II as a sort of migration of interests and techniques, and I’m really interested in the Irish music thing that figures there. I’m wondering how that migration took place. And then, also, what about that crazy electric guitar piece?

RP: That was sort of my, I don’t know, [thumbs nose]. That was a sort of a tribute or an ode or something to old John Fahey. That was an interesting period. I had come back to Goddard, and some of the pieces on Volume II, like “The Voyage of the Nautilus” came from technical exploration. While I was in Cleveland, I’d had this handmade twelve-string guitar made for me by a guy named Don Banzer with a redwood top and it was beautiful, it had all these great resonances and harmonics and that’s what you’ll hear on that album. Unfortunately, he didn’t put a truss rod on the neck, so eventually it got terribly warped and was unplayable. But while it lasted it was fantastic. And then I think the other thing was trying to push the limits. With Volume I, of course, there were rag-timey things. I kind of moved away from that because it just felt too technical, and I wanted something that would spring out, and I wanted to evoke the stuff I had been listening to, not just imitate it. It was around that time that I joined Dennis Murphy’s Irish band, and we worked up an independent study in arranging these Irish tunes. I think I heard of these mainly from Dan Ar Bras, if you know him, he’s a Celtic style guitarist I think from Brittany, and Pierre Bensusan was another one who was just coming out with his first album there, Pres du Paris, and I heard these melodies and I was just like, whoa, this is great, how did he do that? I wanted to take some of the material I’d heard in that repertoire, and that we did in the band. The band was crazy. I mean, well, Irish bands are all crazy, I suppose. But it was the slower tunes with the airs that I particularly liked, and there’s a couple of Turlough O'Carolan ones, and then the fiddle tunes more with the sort of drone bass. You’re not really alternating the bass, but you’re focusing on upper strings and getting all the grace notes in there somehow. I found that really interesting and a good technical challenge, but I loved the music as well. The other guy was Eric Schoenberg. Did you ever listen to him?

RM: Uh-uh.

RP: On a technical level, he was the finger-picker’s finger-picker. He was so good, and he did these beautiful arrangements of Beatles tunes and Irish tunes and what have you. And then he and Will Ackerman and others of that ilk played in Plainfield at the Village Church which was sort of like the coffeehouse there, and I just loved his technique. “Planxty Irwin,” the nice air that comes after the electric tune is a pretty close copy of his arrangement of that that I saw him play.
  Also, I was frustrated with Volume I with the quality of the recordings. I literally just had a little reel to reel tape machine and a microphone, I didn’t even have a stand. I just put it on the edge of the table and started playing. That was about the right height for the soundhole. I wanted to sound better. There was a place called Green Mountain Studios, and at the time it seemed expensive, but it was probably only forty or fifty bucks an hour to record there. It was preparing for that, making sure that I made good use of my time, practicing the particular things I was going to do there. I can’t remember the exact genesis of the electric version of “The Dance Of The Inhabitants Of The Palace Of King Phllip XIV Of Spain,” but I think it was that someone around the dorm had an electric guitar. I messed around with it. I tried doing it slide on the electric guitar like Fahey did and it just didn’t sound right. But then I realized, it doesn’t have to be a slide tune, it’s just barre chords in Open C. I brought the guitar with me to the studio. At the tail out of that track you could hear the recording engineer laughing all the way through the soundbooth, so we tried to trim that out as best we could. It was just a hoot, just to see what I could do with that song to turn it into something else, that would make it as strange to itself as I could. I liked the results. Frets Magazine called it ‘fuzz-fractured and poisonously distorted,’ which I took as words of praise.

RM: The guitar tone is so much cleaner on Volume II. Did you use fingernails or did you use a plectrum?

RP: Always used nails. Still do. I would have some of those metal ones as a backup in case I broke a nail, OK, I’ll put that on that one finger. And for a while I used the heavy plastic ones. Fahey was very fond of those, but they make a kind of pinging sound when they hit the string. It messes everything up. I think there was some technical improvement, I was playing more and playing different kinds of things, when I was back in Cleveland I even played in some jazz clubs doing some backup to a friend who had a tenor sax, providing the chordal movements and things. It was just more playing, thinking, and listening to more music, and then deciding, yeah, I want this to sound good. I want a recording studio. In some ways you could say the recording value was part of the picture with Volume I, but I wanted something that sounded better. And I also had better guitars. I traded up a couple of times to guitars that just seemed more suited to what I was doing. That was good.

RM: You made these two records, beautiful artifacts of a time, and then you were silent, at least in terms of your recording career. How did the silence come about, and what did that mean to you? What was your reaction to the recordings, and how did that inaugurate your period of not recording?

RP: Even though it was fairly clear that solo acoustic instrumental guitar was not going to be like rock and roll, I took my records to gigs, five bucks for each one. I even sent copies of both of those to Takoma Records. I still have a scan of this letter on their stationery saying, “Dear music sender: We are sorry to say that your material does not correspond with our needs at this time.” When Will Ackerman played at Evergreen, which is where I transferred to after Goddard, I handed him copies of both albums too. I thought here, listen to these, maybe, you know, Windham Hill records. But none of these things came through, and around the same time I took—Evergreen has these intensive, yearlong courses called annual programs—an annual program called “Two Revolutions in Art and Thought,” consisting of romanticism and modernism. It was taught by an English professor who played jazz trumpet and another guy who was also a brilliant watercolorist and an operatic bass. So we’re listening to Berlioz and looking at Ingres, reading Byron, and I thought, this is great stuff, literature, I’m going to stick with this stuff. Suddenly that seemed like the path forward. I never stopped playing, but it just didn’t look like that was going to be the stuff of which a career was likely to be made. Again, I performed out there, I was still hawking records from the trunk of my car, but I couldn’t see where that would go. For some time I still had a bunch of them—then there was a flood in my parents basement that destroyed most of what was left of Volume I, but I had a stock of Volume II.
  Then there were the record collectors. Record collectors are a strange bunch. They’re excited about some of the same things you are, but in a very different way. There was Veronica Breth, I don’t know if you know of her, she was one of the first people back in the seventies to start selling old records as collector’s items, through a mail order catalogue system. She was very influential. And she was actually at one point going to reissue Volume II herself, but it was an expensive proposition then she thought that Tompkins Square might do a better job of that. Through her I listened to a lot of music I never would have heard otherwise, very, very strange tastes. I was listening to Popol Vuh, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream. I think some of that music was probably in my head around the time I did Volume II as well.

RM: Was it bittersweet, sort of realizing that the solo guitar thing was going to be on the backburner? Did you think of it that way?

RP: Well, it was a little bittersweet, yeah. Because I had focused so narrowly and put in so much time and thought and energy into that, and being an English professor wasn’t quite the same thing. And I came to that in a roundabout way too, I didn’t go straight at it. There was a period when I moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where my wife was from, and hung out in the sort of folkie, bluegrassy, honky-tonky music scene there for a while. And I think I might have even gone around and tried to get a gig or two. But it was there that I kind of decided graduate school was the way to go. So it was a little bittersweet at first. But it was a great conversation piece. You’d meet some new fellow graduate students and say, hey, have you listened to this album, it’s me! And they’d be like, well, okay, sure. This sort of rediscovery thing is weird. My tagline now is that I lived long enough to be reissued, which seems bizarre to me, because, you know, a few collectors and a few people who I had known at the time were the only people who were aware of the recordings really. But then I started listening to some of that stuff I listened to back then again myself because it was all being reissued. Suddenly there were all these reissues of Basho and Fahey and people like them that were suddenly coming out of the woodwork. And I said, well, this stuff’s back in style again. So I started listening and of course that got me playing again a bit more. Especially in the past four or five years, maybe a little bit longer, six years, I started both listening and playing and then starting to come up with some new material. Which is exciting. Who knows? I’m going to keep at it.

RM: And how long did you know that Tompkins Square was going to undertake to do this? Has it been a few years?

RP: Well, it was first with Veronica Breth, and she had her own label called Del Val, which, similarly to Tompkins Square, reissues private press records of various kinds. She uses the proceeds from selling one album successfully to pay for the next one, and one she reissued didn’t do terribly well, so funds were a little short there. But then she put me in touch with two people, Josh Rosenthal at Tompkins Square, and Rob Sevier at the Numero Group. Each of them had reissued one track from one of the two LPs, so that made me aware that there was interest. My first contact with Josh about the re-issues was probably about a year and a half ago, thereabouts. He was very excited and good to go. I was so happy that he decided to do vinyl instead of just downloads. It’s just so nice that it’s an album again. I bought a turntable. I hadn’t had a turntable for years. I bought one about a year and a half ago, and of course I’m buying again all the albums I used to have, which have gotten more expensive somehow. I think they pressed 500 copies or something, and they’re pressed in Canada by an outfit that I guess Josh has a vexed relationship with, he says “Oh, making an LP is a crapshoot. You never know what’s going to come out.” But they came out pretty well. I didn’t have all the studio tapes so they remastered them from a physical transfer of the old album. It’s been cleaned up, they took out some of the rumble. I think Boddie Records used recycled vinyl pellets or something, so if you listen to the original there’s this characteristic rumble underneath everything.

RM: They managed to master out the rumble somehow?

RP: Yeah, I mean it probably has a pretty distinct frequency range, and nowadays you can just take out that frequency range, or just make a very sharp negative EQ of it, and you can get rid of it without much loss to the neighboring frequencies. I was kind of shocked, because the other issue with Volume II is that I used DMX noise reduction in the studio, and unfortunately Boddie didn’t have a DMX decoder. The result was that some of the tracks I used the compression on came out sounding a little wonky. But they were apparently able to undo that to a degree. I was blown away by what you can do these days.

RM: One of your early scholarly works is about hip hop. Is that right?

RP: It’s true. That was my first book. And I guess that’s the other thing: even though I didn’t hold on to the idea of performing and writing my own material, I held on to music, and I was always doing radio. When I got to Brown in ‘88 I hooked up with a guy named Misha Elmendorf. He worked at the Coffee Exchange, he was like one of their first employees, and he was connected not with WBRU, because it was all programmed stuff, but he tuned into this sort of, I’d guess you’d call it underground radio. It was like the ancestor of internet radio. Very low-wattage set-up. Just broadcast at night and only the neighbors could pick it up, so the FCC was probably not going to come after you. And he was the guy who was really into hip hop. I hadn’t known anything about it. That’s another musical revolution that passed me completely by at the time. I had no idea. But as soon as I heard it I thought it was great. And I particularly liked the old school hip hop, the very mechanistic stuff, like when Afrika Bambaataa used “Trans Europe Express.” I loved that stuff, and I started doing a radio show on his thing, and then I continued. During my first job at Colby College, I had a show on WMHB. It came on I think from 3 to 5 in the afternoon on Fridays. I got latchkey kids in Maine calling me up and saying ‘Can you play “I Could Just Kill a Man”?’ Sure kid, don’t worry, mom and dad aren’t home yet, right? Back in the sixties and seventies I loved protest music. Phil Ochs was a hero of mine. I loved music that had political oomph, and hip hop, in that period I was listening to it, had a lot of that going on. Chuck D, Public Enemy, KRS-One, the sort of political side of hip hop was my niche. I got to meet Chuck up at Colby. He came to give a talk and I did an interview with him. I recorded it on a cassette player, and, I realized, in reply to everything he said, my reply was just ‘wow.’ That led to that first book, which I’m still proud of. Since then, hip hop has gone in a direction that has really lost my interest. It’s fallen from what I think of as its golden age. But I still listen to it in my car all the time.

RM: Can you talk a little about your creative writing, and how that fits into all of this?

RP: Sure. Before I was DIY music, I was DIY poetry. In my earlier teens I had already put out three or four books. These were printed on a Xerox machine, and then I had this big stapler that would staple through all those sheets, and I made little spines out of electrical tape, and put out three or four books of my own poetry. The other thing I loved doing was copyrighting them, so I’ve also actually lived long enough for my oldest copyright to have expired. It was in ‘76, before the Renewal Act came along. With the Pyg novel, that actually started with my job between undergraduate and graduate school, working at a microfilm company. I edited a microfilm collection called “The Eighteenth Century.” Our plan was to microfilm everything printed in English in the eighteenth century and sell this in enormous boxes of microfilm to libraries everywhere. So I was the “editor of the eighteenth century.” That eventually came back in the form of Pyg, because one of the things you would see constantly in the eighteenth century was some kind of trained or educated animal. Educated horses, educated pigs were popular. And I just thought, wow, that’s a fantastic idea. That’s kind of what that came out of. It got wonderful reviews, Canongate Books up in Scotland did a fantastic job. I think it kind of fell between the cracks partly because the cover made it look like a kid’s book. It was beautifully done, gold foil, nice fonts, it looked very festive, but I don’t think people quite got the idea that it was an adult novel. I’m still writing, still working on another novel that comes out of a research interest, in this case the Luddites and the early resistance to the industrial revolution.

RM: What direction might your music take now?

RP: I’m kind of going back to where I was on that second album and investigating some of those themes again. But it’s interesting because I’m much more of a relaxed guitar player than back then. Now I’m like, huh, okay, let’s explore this. So I have this sort of long, Fahey-esque piece called “Requiem for Nina,” for my son’s girlfriend who died unexpectedly, and it’s very much the alternating bass kind of thing. I also have an arrangement of a fiddle tune I came upon in my current interest in the history of exploration, “Air for Doctor John Rae,” which was written by Jennifer Wrigley, a contemporary fiddle player up in Orkney. Those are the two first pieces. I’m sort of re-listening, I guess is what I’d say. The first stage is listening and, saying, what am I hearing, and then the second stage, for me—in the old days I would just start playing right away, and of course I’d come up with something. But it’s a bit more organic this time. I definitely want to do another album. I’m going to keep at it this year and see if I can put together enough material that I’m satisfied with.

RM: How long would that be between records? Like thirty years?

RP: No, it would be forty years. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense to me. 1981 is forty years ago, but there you go, the calendar doesn’t lie. But that’s okay. Even having a narrative—because when you have more than one album, there’s already a sort of implicit narrative—is something. Right, you went from here and then to there, and where were you? It’s like Mississippi John Hurt being discovered in the hinterlands of the Mississippi countryside and being brought to the Newport Folk Festival, like, here he is. Playing the same tunes, like “Candy Man,” that he played in 1933. Okay. I’ll be like that. I’ll have to rediscover myself.

Russell Potter’s two albums are available from Tompkins Square at your local record store, and also here, at Bandcamp: