Sound Advice: Lee Russell Pilots the Warship at Trees

Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we get to know the people behind the scenes in Dallas/Fort Worth music.

Lee Russell has spent the last 27 years doing live sound at just about every major amphitheater in the country, traveled the world with some really big productions, and is the man responsible for the jet engine sound system at Trees. It's his baby, and whoa, does it wail.

As far as live sound engineers go, he's one of the more courteous, laid-back ones out there. Not that the rest of them are necessarily grouches to deal with, it's just that the job presents the challenge of dealing with a lot of different, sometimes very intense personalities. Russell's emotional engine runs cool, though, and his happy-go-lucky attitude is a reflection of his love for the job.

That's quite a warship of a PA system over there. Is there a way to describe its greatness in laymen's terms? The Soundbridge system I have put into Trees is hard to describe in words. Much better to use your ears. It is loud and clean, with low end for days. My Deep Ellum neighbors hate me, I'm sure. When I was touring I used to mix on a lot of crappy systems. When I was presented with a chance to put a system into a club with a history like Trees, I wanted to make sure it didn't suck. I wanted something I would enjoy mixing on that people and bands would enjoy hearing. The whole goal was for bands as well as fans to feel like they had a big concert experience in the intimate setting of a rock club.

Is it the most powerful PA you've ever manned? Nah! I've been fortunate to have the chance to tour the U.S. and Europe with some pretty awesome bands. Awesome to me, anyway. It is the most powerful PA I've ever owned or probably used in a club our size.

I imagine it's been quite an adventure since Trees re-opened. Are the lots of great memories ? Adventure is usually a bad thing in this business. The best part is obviously having your friends and colleagues around all the time. I love the Deep Ellum community. As for memories ... everyone knows I have Alzheimer's! A definite high point was having the Deftones choose Trees for their latest CD release Webcast and concert.

Is there a national act that stands out as being the most challenging to work with? Actually, the national act crews are usually more high maintenance than the bands. It seems the bands you expect grief from are usually the nicest. For some reason, in my mind, I was sure Hank III was going to be a nightmare. Dude was the nicest guy on the planet. At Trees we have really been pretty lucky. Most of the national acts have been very cool. We are lucky enough, it seems, to be routed right after most national bands have a gig on a bad sound system. They are usually pretty cool and complimentary to me. Other staff members may have a different answer.

Same question, but with local acts. Unfortunately, with local acts, the ones that are most difficult are the ones that need the most help. Strange how that works.

How about local acts that have come into Trees and just killed it. There are a ton of great local acts. Now, remember, I'm an old-school rocker. Just because I don't like a style of music doesn't mean the bands are bad. Moving Atlas, Fair to Midland, Meridian, Slow Roosevelt and new band Fantasma are great. There are way too many. I've left out a ton of bands. DFW has a bunch of great bands! Forgive me, friends. Ayo put me on the spot here!

Did you ever think when you were a young music fan that this is what you'd be doing? Never in a million years did I think when I was listening to Tesla or Skid Row that I would be living with them in a bus and working in front of 15,000 people. I've had my CD collection shipped from Canada, and it's amazing how I have worked one way or another with 90 percent of artists I loved.

The Trees production crew seems to hold a pretty high level of hospitality when it comes to helping bands that come in. Is this due to the particular mix of personalities you have on board? A management policy? I've walked in the shoes of a traveling band or, if we are talking local artists, the shoes they want to walk in. So I respect where they are coming from. The staff lets me do what I do and I let them do what they do. We are all there for each other if need be. We came up with a system pretty early on that seems to work for us. [Owners] Clint and Whitney are also great to work with. They do what they do to keep us running while letting everyone do their jobs. Having an actual musician run a venue for musicians really is a plus.

I understand you have a few more tricks up your sleeve for Trees as well. Care to spill a few beans? A local record label featuring live recordings would be fun! I have multi-track recording capabilities back there. This year I'm going to take a huge jump into the video end of things -- lining up an eight-camera HD recording, switching and streaming system. It is a pretty exciting and scary endeavor, but staying at the forefront of technology is what motivates me.

There is a lot of great music not getting heard as much as it should be. I just want to stir up the scene and get people excited to see live music again. Live music has been exciting to me my whole life. I owe 99 percent of the credit to my wife. She has been my biggest support system. Without her I would have talked myself out of putting a system in Trees, as well as most of other ideas I have. There are truly a lot of great engineers and people out there that have been making the Dallas scene happen for much longer than I have. I'm just trying to jump in and do my part.

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Alan Ayo