A man and his four cats. This is the party I’m greeted by when I walk into the apartment of Russell Parker, a multi-talent Orlando artist who makes music under the name Harsh Radish and shoots video with ORL collective Always Nothing. I really started getting into his glitchy brand of singer-songwriter/electronic sounds while touring with fellow locals, Slumberjack. The lyrics I heard were deeply personal, and the music presented along with them was wildly creative and engaging. Live, Harsh Radish is a one-man enigma, layering guitar, samples, drum machines, and his voice into one. Besides his creative endeavors, Russell is a just great person to have a conversation with. Enjoy.
matthew warhol: I wanted to start by going through everything you do, because I know you’re involved in so many different things. You do music as Harsh Radish. You work on the Aways Nothing videos. I know you work at The Orlando Science Center—also doing video stuff?
Harsh Radish: Projection.
matthew warhol: Am I missing anything?
Harsh Radish: I do some other—besides Always Nothing— I do some filmmaking stuff. I just recently helped a friend shoot her thesis film for grad school. I used to do a bit more filmmaking and photography stuff, but lately it’s been more sound oriented. I’ve been focused on all things sound, music—and also field recording.
matthew warhol: That’s like uh… like recording something on the spot. Like in nature or something? [laughs]
Harsh Radish: Yeah exactly, whether it’s in actual field or even in the parking lot.
matthew warhol: Where all have you been doing stuff?
Harsh Radish: You’d be surprised, once you turn on a recorder and put on some headphones, you hear thousands of sounds even just outside of my apartment. Last night, it was raining and there were some frogs. There’s a laundry room back there, and the dryer was running. You get a mix of everything. Some of it I like on its own and other times I’m collecting sounds to sample. That’s a big part of the Harsh Radish music, making sounds out of other sounds and finding sounds within sounds.
matthew warhol: When your recording, do you have an idea of the sounds you want, or does it come more organically, finding different bits?
Harsh Radish: Definitely the latter…
[One of Russell’s cats is scrapping something in the background. He tries to get it to stop.]
matthew warhol: Oh don’t worry, don’t worry about that. It’s fine.
Harsh Radish: …that was definitely a big shift in my music that really started with Harsh Radish. I was in a lot of bands, but the songs that I wrote never really got put out there. Before, I was trying to do the former where I had this concept of what the song was going to be before hand. But that would never work. I would always be disappointed because it would ever be what I imagined it to be. Instead of that, I started thinking about songwriting as like taking little seeds and letting them grow into something that I didn’t plan or couldn’t expect.
matthew warhol: How does that happen?
Harsh Radish: Sometimes it starts with something as small as a sample. I’ll have this sound that I can start sequencing in my OP-1 or the Octatrack there. Sometimes it starts with that or something on the guitar. Guitar was my first instrument.
matthew warhol: You let it happen in the moment.
Harsh Radish: Usually, it’ll be when I’m not trying to write songs; I’ll be like trying to practice for a show with a limited amount of time. Something will happen and I’ll have to record a little snippet on my phone…
[Another cat starts batting around a toy that bings every time it rolls. Russell tries to stop it.]
matthew warhol: No, I love it. Keep going.
Harsh Radish: …I’ll have to start collecting bits and pieces and forming them into something.
matthew warhol: Have your cats made it onto anything?
Harsh Radish: Have they? I think one of their toys did. I have some recordings of them meowing and eating and stuff like that. They definitely will.
matthew warhol: So, you’re album came out in late 2015?
Harsh Radish: Yeah, I’ve kind of been sitting on a lot of stuff trying to finalize something.
matthew warhol: What are you working on?
Harsh Radish: I’ve got 20, 30-something songs. I’ve narrowed it down, recently, to like 12 to 15 of them that I want to form into a new album. This one has been taking really, really long for some reason.
matthew warhol: Do you have a deadline for yourself?
Harsh Radish: It always gets pushed back. The current deadline is… sometime in June. There’s a lot of songs that are in a mostly finished state but I feel as a whole, there’s something missing.
matthew warhol: Do you do it all yourself?
Harsh Radish: All by myself.
matthew warhol: Listening back to the last record—I don’t know how much you’ve revisited it—what do you think of it now that it has been a couple of years?
Harsh Radish: I always feel like… it’s hard for me to get a clear picture of where I’m at now. I feel like I’m always a couple steps ahead of myself. The music that I’m going to release next is surely a progression from the last album. But I feel like I’m a step ahead of the music that I’m trying to put out soon. There’s a lot of weird projects that I want to do. I need to finish a lot of things I’ve already started, but I want to do something a little more conceptual. Like making a soundtrack for an imaginary virtual reality game—that’s an idea. It gives me some limitations. If I don’t have limitations, I’ll spend forever on something or never finish it.
[Another cat start scratching something.]
matthew warhol: Is there something new that’s happened in your life that you’ve been drawing inspiration from?
Harsh Radish: Talking about lyrical content… I always forget the saying… “seeing the forest through the trees?” So I’m not quite there yet, but from what I can tell this one has a lot more uncertainty that the last one. I think the last one had a little more optimism, but this one seems to be more… uh, seeing things as bigger than me or beyond my ability to perceive. Certainly, the political climate has influenced that.
matthew warhol: I think that’s a part of getting older. Don’t you think? Am I projecting? [laughs]
Harsh Radish: There’s an element of that, but it’s weird to think of growing as a person. I used to think you learn more as you get older but the older I get, the less I feel like I know. I think that’s what is reflected in the music.
matthew warhol: You were saying that when you were in bands before, that getting your own music out there was harder. What do you like about doing it all yourself? And what limitations are there?
Harsh Radish: We’ll see if this answers your question… I, I became a lot more capable from a managerial standpoint. I wasn’t really talking to anyone other than the people I was in bands with. Harsh Radish helped me start talking to people and participating in the music community. So many hard working people doing the same thing that I want to do. As far as the songwriting, it allows to me to waste more time, in a good way. I don’t have the fear that something isn’t going to work. I can be a curator of my own little experiments.
matthew warhol: You used to do a lot of looping, right?
Harsh Radish: It’s evolved over time. Initially, I had an actual loop pedal where I would make beats and sounds and stuff and have that loop. Part of me lost interest in that because, for me, it felt like kind of a circus trick. It’s totally like a valid, cool thing to do, but for me, it wasn’t what I wanted to focus on. I wanted to focus on the composition of the songs and some of the other performative elements. I still have some preset loops, though. It’s all up to me, what I have preset and what I play live. It’s whatever I feel like is going to bring out the most energy. I don’t want to leave too much for me to juggle, but I don’t really feel comfortable standing there with a microphone, not having my hands engaged at all.
matthew warhol: What else has changed?
Harsh Radish: It’s more freedom. I’ve given myself the option to make the songs a little more dynamic.
[The fourth and final cat climbs onto my lap]
matthew warhol: Aw, you’re cute.
Harsh Radish: She’s being very sweet.
matthew warhol: They just like me. So the last thing I wanted to ask you--this is because I was revisiting the album today--a line that sticks out to me is “Have you ever made a choice between your lover and your voice?” So I wanted to ask you that question that you ask to the audience. Tell me about where that came from.
Harsh Radish: Let me preface it by saying that I don’t want songs to be entirely inward gazing. I want to have something universal, but I don’t think speaking in vague terms is the best way to do that. I think speaking in about specific things helps that. I think that song and question are about commitment in the context of a relationship. When you share your life with another person… the question is are you giving up something essential about you? There’s a fear there, but it’s me quelling that fear.
matthew warhol: So it’s not necessarily a bad thing?
Harsh Radish: Not for me, but for someone it could be. There’s a part of me where I think changing yourself is really good. My partner and I balance each other out really well.
matthew warhol: I think, like you were saying, you can take your experience and apply them to something grander.
Harsh Radish: The intention for that greater thing is commitment to anything. You have a limited amount of time. What are you going to spend your time doing? You have an infinite number of choices. What has value?