Today’s music scene is certainly one that’s filled with an array of amazing talent. It’s competitive just like anything else in this world that’s in high demand. A lot of people would kill for the idea of performing in front of crowds of people for a living. Concert goers mostly see what it’s like from their own perspective; the turnouts of people, the energy. Rarely do we get to see from the perspective of the musician, or think of the amount of work and dedication it takes to even get to that point.
DC is known for it’s politics, monuments and its culture. Within the culture is a history of music that spans as far back to genre styles like Go-Go. Jonathan Sherman (RVSSLL) is a local DJ to the DMV area who’s performed at popular venues in the city like 9:30 Club, U Street Music Hall, and Flash. He’s given us a full look into his start in the music industry, his inspiration for the music he creates, and how he stays focused in a saturated industry.
Describe your experience producing your first song?
The first song that I ever originally produced was “Alright, Goodnight.” It was produced on a plane from Boston to DC using a Novation Launchpad and Ableton Live. I’d always been inspired by Daft Punk and the “Nu Disco” sound, so I wanted something that reminded me of The Weeknd’s collaboration with Daft Punk that had kind of a soulful arpeggiated synth with consistent 115-120BPM kick that included a high-pass filter on the harmony and vocals.
I purchased a pack of samples from Novation called “Retro Funk” and started mixing them together in 8-bar measures using the launchpad and Ableton. When I finished, I knew I had an arrangement worthy of a proper mixdown that could be released. A few months later, JackEL and I got connected via SubmitHub and the rest is history!
What is the meaning behind your stage name (RVSSLL)?
RVSSLL is a moniker of my middle name “Russell,” which derives from the Hebrew name of my great-grandfather from Russia. He and my great-grandmother immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s to escape the Russian Revolution, and lived to be nearly a century old, so growing up, tradition and history was a huge part of my life.
I wanted a stage name that reflected that part of me, so when coming up with a name I first called myself “RussellRemix.” However, my friends and colleagues reminded me that the style of that name is more associated with an events company than a music producer, so with the name “Russell” already claimed on Soundcloud and Spotify, I changed the “U” to a “V” and dropped the “E” to make “RVSSLL.”
You’re DC based and have played at a handful of venues in the city (9:30 Club, U Street Music Hall, Flash). What has been your favorite set and venue to date?
This is a hard question, but probably my two favorite venues in DC are Flash and U Street Music Hall. Flash has a Funktion One sound system which is one of the best sound systems for electronic performance, and the community at Flash is always engaged in the music they’re coming to see, so you really feel like you’re a part of a special artistic community there.
U Street Music Hall is my other favorite venue and that’s primarily because of history and patron-loyalty. When I first arrived at American University, U Street Music Hall had opened and was one of the few places in DC where you could go to hear underground electronic music. Some of my earliest memories of being in the scene and being exposed to electronic music come from my time as a patron at U Street Music Hall. Other places that I’ve enjoyed performing and being a patron at are the Backbar of the 9:30 Club, Eighteenth Street Lounge, L2 Lounge in Georgetown, and Soundcheck.
Who has been your biggest inspiration to create music?
From an early age, I was fortunate to be around such a loving and supporting family that was incredibly creative. My mom began her career as a visual artist and fashion designer before building a successful career as a biotechnology entrepreneur, and some of my dad’s family went on to pursue music degrees from Berklee and Julliard and built successful careers as orchestral musicians and professors, so I had been surrounded by music for much of my life.
Music also became a major form of expression for me when I was younger. I learned to play the guitar and piano with the intention of eventually crafting my own sound. My love and appreciation for music began as a jazz pianist and guitarist. I always wanted to play like Dave Brubeck. I would spend countless hours listening to old jazz vinyl records from the great jazz pianists like Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, and Herbie Hancock.
Brubeck was my father’s favorite pianist and was one of those father-son bonds that carried us through some hard times growing up. I was inspired not only by the way Brubeck revolutionized traditional jazz standards, but also by the barriers he broke in the industry. So, a lot of my music channels my jazz beginnings and the sounds and tempos that would eventually inspire disco, funk, and soul.
How do you stay positive and optimistic in an industry saturated with musicians and DJs?
This is a great question and one that I rarely get asked. Within every industry, there are always positives and negatives. However, I think if you’re genuinely passionate about the work you do, then you’ll be able to find a happy medium and problem solve your way out of whatever challenges come up.
In just my first few years as an artist, I’ve faced a lot of adversity, but what’s kept me going is the immense passion I have for the music and the way it makes people feel. I’ve had so many friends, family, and fans come up to me after shows and tell me how much my music really brightened up there day.
That means a lot to me because I think it’s hard in today’s world with social media and technological advancement to find a genuine connection with people, and that’s what I’ve been able to find in the music industry. Every artist is truly their own entrepreneur and can chart their own path. You can also choose the pace at which you want to generate results and gain success, and that is a freedom that can be hard to replicate in other facets of life. The road to be a successful artist is long and difficult, but I genuinely believe those that stick with it can see their hard work pay off in the end.
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