is ,’ and that was it ,” Russell says . “ It was this strange thing where he started having these vivid dreams about me and my childhood and starting to write about it , and then I was at the same time writing stuff . It was our first time being separated , too , which was interesting , because JT and I had been just joined at the hip , pretty much , but that Native Daughters tours was the first time where we weren ’ t together .”
From that moment on , the flood gates opened . For the next three months , the songs poured out of Russell . She ’ d take these new , deeply personal songs to Nero and they ’ d finish them together . In the end , nine of the 11 songs on Outside Child are co-written by Russell and Nero , but it was clear once they began recording that these songs were Russell ’ s , not for Birds of Chicago .
The recording sessions for Outside Child were produced by their friend , Dan Knobler . They ’ d originally met at Jack White ’ s Third Man Records complex in Nashville , and they loved his work on Erin Rae ’ s album . He got brought into the Birds ’ inner circle , playing gigs with the band , including a fundraiser at Ida ’ s school .
“ It was sort of a serendipitous thing where I found that I had this Canada Council grant , the Sound Emporium [ studio ] had four days suddenly come through because a session had been canceled , and Dan was available , so we just said , “ Let ’ s do it , let ’ s just make a record .” And honestly , I was still in denial that I was making my solo record ,” Russell says . Aside from the last song on the album , “ Joyful Motherfuckers ,” which they finished writing in the studio , the other songs were all written between July and September 2019 .
“ It became clear to me and to everyone else that this was a record that I would have to release in my own name , because it was all my story ,” she explains . “ It ’ s hard to describe how difficult , psychologically , it was for me to put myself forward and use my own name . Both Dan and JT were very encouraging in that way with it , saying , like , ‘ This is not a Birds record , this is clearly your record .’”
They were quick sessions , with Russell and the band performing each song only three times . Generally , it was the second take that made the record . The one exception was “ 4 th Day Prayer ,” which they did four takes of because “ that one was harder for me to sing in the early days , emotionally .”
After those sessions , though , Birds of Chicago went back on the road and the new-recorded album sat on the shelf . But once the pandemic forced them to stop , “ We really had the opportunity to think about how do we move forward through this ? How do we continue living ? How do we support our kid ? We realized it was writing , our work , that we had to dig in on , and we started trying to find a team really systematically . For really the first time in our careers , we tried reaching out to publishing , reaching out to other artists . I had the intuition to send my record to Brandi [ Carlile ] when we were still looking for a label home .”
SONGS OF OUR NATIVE DAUGHTERS LP COVER , 2019
At the time , Russell and Carlile were more acquaintances than friends , having crossed paths a few times at festivals where they shared a bond as touring mothers .
“ I DM ’ d her Instagram of all things . Like , Music Business 101 , that ’ s not how you do it !” Russell laughs , explaining how she got the record to Carlile . Carlile ’ s wife , Catherine , was clearing out the messages in her socials a couple weeks later , saw the DM , and remembered Russell . Thankfully , she passed the album onto Carlile .
“ Then one day my phone just started blowing up at about 11 o ’ clock at night . Brandi is an avid fisher and they live close to Puget Sound and they were out with their girls on this boat and listening to my record , obviously at the end of the day . She just started blowing up my phone , song by song , freaking out about the songs ! It was so surreal and wonderful , and then we ended up having a three-hour conversation when she got back to land .”
Things happened pretty quick after that . Most importantly , Carlile championed the album to Margi Cheske , president of Fantasy Records .
“ Brandi has just been amazing … she ’ s a chosen sister at this point . But also , how generous she was with just sharing her experiences in the industry because , of course , she started as a solo artist . She ’ s always been solo . So , she ’ s had a wealth of experience in that realm , and has been so generous in sharing with me and I ’ ve learned so much from her . I really have and from Catherine , her wife , who heads the Looking Out Foundation , and she ’ s just a brilliant , caring person ,” Russell says .
Though she ’ s currently a solo artist , Russell is quick to credit her “ chosen family ” for the success of Outside Child . So many people from her professional past , from Klein and Teixeira in Po ’ Girl , Birds of Chicago ’ s former tour manager Susie Bolter (“ Ida ’ s second mom ”), to Kiah and Giddens in Our Native Daughters , to her publicists and manager , throughout our nearly-two-hour conversation , Russell refers to so many people as members of her chosen family . It ’ s because of her past that she keeps those she loves so close and continues to get as many of them involved in what she ’ s doing as possible .
“ It ’ s been really , really empowering and joyful , taking back my own narrative . It feels like so much of the fallout of abuse , your body heals and all of that . But the psychological wounds are deeper and silence was a huge part of the training and the programming that my adoptive father put me through . I was never to speak of any of it and I was never to have a voice . So , reclaiming my own history , and transcending that history , by the grace of the community that I find myself in , and art and chosen family , and I find it very healing now to sing the songs ,” she says . “ I just think about not taking any of it for granted . But also , the work that I do is the work that I ’ m called to do , and I ’ m going to keep doing it no matter what , just as I have for the last 20 years .”
Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Musician
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