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Episode 3: William Russell Wallace

Musician William Russell Wallace played a set and talked with host Connor McGovern in this edition of KBIA's Studio B Session, taped performances from KBIA's Studio B.
Peter Kamp
Musician and writer William Russell Wallace played a set and talked with host Connor McGovern in this edition of Studio B Sessions, featuring taped performances from KBIA's Studio B.

William Russell Wallace is a singer songwriter- and also a fiction writer - originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. But he’s traveled all over the country making music and touring, and he said all of those places are connected to his life and growth as a musician.

Wallace came by KBIA’s Studio B to talk about his journey as an independent artist, how living in mid-Missouri has affected his work and his latest album “Confidence Man,” which was released last January, 2022.

Here are highlights from the conversation between KBIA's Connor McGovern and William Russell Wallace.

William Russel Wallace on writing songs, in rehab:

After I left Montana, I moved to Gainesville, Florida, and I ended up in rehab in Florida - as Florida will do to certain people. But it wasn't all bad. Like, I wrote that entire record in rehab. And so it's a very important, very personal record to me. And I wasn't intending to go on the road again. I felt like I had moved past that part of my life. I felt like I was a fiction writer now and not a songwriter.

They told me I could bring my guitar to rehab. And it was my best friend there. And I sat and I hadn't written songs for a couple of years. And they just poured out of me. There's 10 songs on the record, but probably [I wrote] 17 or 18 while I was there.

And when I got [out of] rehab, we - me and my wife - moved back to Cincinnati. And that's where I'm originally from, Cincinnati. And I got together with some old friends. And the bar I used to work at was like, 'Hey, you wanna play some shows?' And so I kind of got a band together. And we recorded all of "Dirty Soul" in our practice space. And it wasn't even, like, intended to be a record, it was just us kind of fleshing out these ideas.

William Russell Wallace plays a set in KBIA's studio B
Peter Kamp
William Russell Wallace plays a set in KBIA's Studio B.

And then my wife got a very good job in California. So we had to move there. And while we were there, I was like, 'Man, these songs are pretty good. I think I want to put out a record again.' And so I put that record out and started booking shows again and went on the road. And I've been doing it ever since.

So it was kind of a weird, serendipitous thing. But yeah, I mean, looking back on it - actually talking to my wife today, and I was like, 'I think that's the best stuff I've done. I'm very proud of that record. Like, it sounds like a little more raw than a lot of musicians would like, but I think it's perfect for what it is.' And I'm really proud of the songwriting on it.

On his favorite artist and other artists that introduced him to the style of American Southern Folk that he loves and uses in his songs.

Tom Petty is - he's my number one. I have a half-hearted joke that I say that more people will call me when Tom Petty died than when my dad died to make sure I was okay. Which I don't know what that says about me, but I mean, he's the man. He's my all time favorite. He's always there. Springsteen is always there. Dylan's always there. With my harmonica, playing Little Walter. ... He's my biggest influence on the harmonica.

And like, a lot of the old soul music. I'm not a soul singer, but I feel like my delivery is always kind of a half beat behind the way like an Otis Redding or Sam Cooke would do. Not that I could sing like them. But I grew up listening to that stuff. So I feel like my delivery kind of mimics them even if the voice isn't as good. My bandmates get very mad trying to sing harmony with me because they're like, 'You're always a little offbeat.'

As a songwriter, the lyrics are always my favorite part. And what kills me is having to make them rhyme. And having to have a good melody. And then having to have the dynamics and everything. I'm like, 'Oh, I can just write words. Cool. I can do that.'

On how he almost gave up on being a songwriter, and how one fiction workshop led him to meet two of the most important people in his life.

Lyrics have always been the strong point of my music. I'm not the best singer. I'm not the best player. But I write down good words. ... I can write it.

And I got very lucky. I was living in Cincinnati, in something like 2012, I guess. And the girl I was dating at the time was taking classes at Cincinnati State. And I've always been an avid reader. My undergrad degree was in literature. So I've read a lot of books. But I've never really written much. And then one day I told the girl: 'I want to try to write short stories.'

And I wrote a couple short stories. And she was taking some classes at Cincinnati State, which is a Technical Community College in Cincinnati. And she was like, 'Hey ... They do a fiction workshop at Cincinnati State.' And I was like, 'Oh, cool. Like, that'd be fun to do. I've never done that.' So I signed up for one of those.

And this guy, Geoffrey Woolf, who's like one of my dearest friends to this day, he's now the Dean of Humanities, Cincinnati Technical State. He actually has co-written two of my songs ... And he like, mentored me. And he wrote my letters of recommendation. And, you know, if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have gone to University of Montana, which is like a top five program for that kind of thing. And that's where I met my wife, at the University of Montana. So he's a very important person in my life.

Yeah, so I still write fiction, like, I have a novel that I'm working on. I've got a couple literary agents I've been talking to about that. The differences though, and the reason why I went back to music: I need validation, the instant validation. Like, you know, I've written short stories that have won awards. I've been published in good magazines. But that's like, a year after the fact. I need the applause ... I need the dopamine fix. And you can't get that from writing fiction. You can get it from writing music though. Or not from writing music, but from performing music.

Sarah Petrowich studies cross platform editing and producing within journalism, as well as political science at the University of Missouri - Columbia.
Connor McGovern is a host and producer of KBIA's Studio B Sessions. He was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and will graduate with degrees in Journalism and Entrepreneurship from the University of Missouri in May 2023. Previously, Connor has collaborated on KBIA's Missouri on Mic, and he continues to work as a copy editor for the Columbia Missourian and a host on KCOU 88.1 FM.
Aaron worked as a full-time on-air host at KBIA from 2017 to 2022. He continues as the Managing Producer on High Turnout Wide Margins.