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Published: 2016/10/01
by Larson Sutton

Push and Pull: Russ Lawton on Trey and Ray

Russ Lawton is enjoying a late summer harvest in Vermont; some relaxing time in his garden before he’s back on the drum kit. Between his work for nearly twenty years and counting as a timekeeper in the Trey Anastasio Band and his pairing with Trey band keyboardist Ray Paczkowski in their duo Soule Monde, Lawton keeps the grooves moving. He recently took a few moments away from the drums, and the vegetables, to talk to us about his band, Trey’s band, and about being a guy who just loves being in a band.

Let’s clear up any confusion: The what and how of the name?

Ray came up with Soule Monde. Soule, S-O-U-L-E (pronounced soul), is my middle name. We called it Soule (SO-lay) because people look at it and see the letter E, and it throws them off. Monde, as in Raymond. It was a combination of both of our names, and is one of those things that is open for interpretation.

How did this get started?

I was playing this little club up in Sugarbush. The guy had a Hammond B-3 in the club. Ray lives about ten minutes from my house. I asked him what he was up to, you know, “Do you want to get together on a Thursday night at this guy’s club and have some fun? Just bring your clavinet. It’s really simple.” So, we started playing. We’d also get together and do these little home recordings, write little songs. It started up very organically. I said I’d book some other gigs. People got interested in it. It kept snowballing. I’ve been in many original bands. When you find something special, you just keep going with it.

What’s the songwriting process?

Ray would have some songs, and I’d put my personality into it. I write a lot of beats, but I’m a songwriter, as well. With Ray, it was mostly instrumentals, I’d add maybe some beats and a bassline. He’s a really great collaborator. Or I’ll have a groove, or write an A and B section- a verse-chorus kind of feel- and he just comes in and takes it to another level. It’s pretty cool. I would say 90% of it is collaborative.

What I liked when I saw you perform is this sense that you two are zeroed in on the music at all times.

We’re going for it. Whether we play in my drum room or, obviously, when we are playing live, we are going for it every time we play. When we are improvising, we are trying to make it all balance together.

I think the way you set-up on stage, facing each other and almost parallel to the audience, accentuates that.

We set-up like a V (shape), almost. We started doing that as we were playing bigger rooms. There was space to do that. We can look at each other. We have songs, but Ray is a serious improviser. He starts pushing me, and I pull it back a little. We definitely communicate that way. He’ll take more chances because he’s not worried about another melodic instrument’s space. He can just give me a look.

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