Blood on my shirt , two ripped buttons Might ’ ve killed me that time , oh if I ’ d let him He ’ s slow when he ’ s drunk , and he lost his grip on me Now I ’ m running down La rue Saint-Paul Trying to get out from the weight of it all Can ’ t flag a cop ’ cause I know he won ’ t stop I ’ ll go see Persephone
– From “ Persephone ”
In 1998 , when she was around 17 or 18 years old , Russell moved to Vancouver , attended Dawson College , and connected with her aunt , a working musician in the city ’ s folk community . From then on , life was on a new path .
“ That ’ s where I actually started meeting a music community through my aunt , Janet Lillian Russell , who ’ s a beautiful singer-songwriter . She was a folky in Montreal , kind of in The Yellow Door scene , and then had moved to the west coast . When I moved out there , she started inviting me to her groups . You know , they would have potlucks and everybody would swap songs . She invited me to sing on her record that she made in ‘ 98 or
‘ 99 . I was 18 , I think , and it was Richard Bell producing it and all kinds of wonderful Canadian luminaries who have since become friends ; folks like Colin Linden and Bazil Donovan , Gary Craig on the drums . I got to sing on that record , [ All I Have ,] and that was my first introduction to the folk world ,” she reminisces . “ I didn ’ t know that people could write songs in that way . You know , I thought only dead German composers wrote songs . I guess Tracy Chapman was my first inkling that maybe that wasn ’ t true .”
In Vancouver , Russell quickly immersed herself in the folk music scene . She joined a Celtic bar band called Fear of Drinking , playing the penny whistle and bodhran ( an Irish frame drum ), and singing mostly traditional Scottish ballads . Around this time , about 2000- ’ 01 , she met Trish Klein of The Be Good Tanyas , and they quickly became close friends . A couple years later they would form a new band , called Po ’ Girl . It ’ s also in this time that she first met an American singer-songwriter named Jeremy Lindsay , who went by the stage name JT Nero .
“ I was really in the closet as a writer still at that point , but I remember going to Folk Alliance , just kind of roading for Trish because the Tanyas were blowing up that year , in 2001 , and it was really exciting to watch that happening . You know , people like Emmylou Harris saying they were fans and it was really cool . I remember just schlepping gear from hotel room to hotel room and hearing JT singing his beautiful songs and being really struck by his writing from the beginning .”
Russell ’ s embrace of the banjo is also thanks to Klein . “ She was the first banjo player that I met other than Kermit the Frog , who was my first inspiration ,” she laughs . “ Hearing Kermit the Frog on The Muppet Show was my first inkling that , oh , I love this .”
Forming the folk band Po ’ Girl with Klein around 2003 was a transformative experience for Russell . “ I couldn ’ t believe that anyone wanted to make music with me , or wanted to hear us sing or write or anything that we had to say . I fell in love with the folk community . I went to my first Vancouver Folk Fest and that was it , I just wanted to do that forever and ever ,” she recalls . “ I mean , it was the most joyful , restorative , healing thing that I can imagine . You know , to travel around with my best friends and make music for people , and I didn ’ t care if I had to sleep on floors , which I did a lot of at the time , and I didn ’ t care if I had to eat canned tuna to make ends meet . I knew I was a lifer from my first folk fest . And really , from my first time in the studio with my aunt Janet , I knew I was a lifer .”
It was while Po ’ Girl toured the U . S . and Canada with Nero in 2006- ‘ 07 that the future married couple fell in love . Also , around 2007 Klein left the band and Russell became co-leader with Awna Teixeira .
“ She and I continued holding the Po ’ Girl torch for a while , we recorded a few more records — Deer in the Night , Follow Your Bliss , and we did a live record . But I think it was around 2012 that Awna just felt like she needed a break from the road ,” Russell explains . “ We had been doing this very intense type of subsistence touring across three continents , 14 countries , and we were touring like 300 days of the year by the end of it . She had the moment of reckoning where she realized she needed time off the road . That coincided with JT and I getting more and more serious about writing togeth-
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