Timothy Russell, also known by his stage name Guilla, pays homage to the diversity of Houston. Guilla’s influences range anywhere from Björk to System of a Down which is easily seen in the variety of his music and it’s uniqueness. Coming from a mother who was an opera singer from England and a father who was a disc jockey in New York, it is easy to say that he rises up from his upbringing and embodies a musical legacy. Being born in Japan, he then moved to California, England, Virginia, and finally Texas, showing that the diversity of his experiences most definitely impact the versatility of his productions. Still fairly underground, Guilla is making huge strides to change that with appearances at SXSW, Whateverfest, Super Bowl Live, Warehouse Live, and much more. He has also submitted a wonderful rendition of “Death of Tomoe” featuring Alicia Gianni of the Houston Grand Opera to the NPR Tiny Desk Competition. To look a little further into the artist’s mind and the circumstances that got him to where he is, Guilla, a University of Houston alumnus, has given us the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions:
What was the start of your music career?
My music career was actually started at UH in 2009 when I transferred there from Chowan University. I was living in the Quads and I didn’t really have many friends at the time. On an act of randomness, I decided to start making beats in the courtyard of the Quads on my laptop, accompanied by a hookah usually.
I had been in band classes for 7 years from Middle to High school so I did have a decent background in music already but programming beats was a whole different animal.
Being a novice producer at the time, it was difficult for me to find artists who wanted to rap or sing on my peculiar productions. I decided to pick up the pen myself after encouragement from a friend. This is also when I started recording. I finished 3 projects, “The Failure”, “FYI”, and “Super Novas”, yet none were released. It was not until I met Blake Hunter, my manager, friend, and co-label owner that I decided to release my first project, the self titled Guilla album.
How does it feel to perform on large stages getting your, “big break”, in Houston?
It’s an amazing feeling to be booked to play large events such as The Super Bowl Live concert series and Whatever Fest. It is a huge honor for me to play these events when there are so many talents in Houston alone. It still feels like a dream to be honest. I really have been living that starving artist life though *laughs*. You have no idea how many times I have been booked for events where the year before I couldn’t afford to get a ticket for: FPSF, 8th Wonder Celebr8tion, SXSW, and more. I am originally from Virginia but Houston has adopted me for sure. I feel like a born and raised Houstonian at this point.
How does your large array of influences affect my music?
You can hear my influences in more of my production style than my rapping. My father was a DJ and had thousands of records in the house from the early 60s like Moody Blues all the way to 90s jams like Janet Jackson and Busta Rymes’, “What’s It Gonna Be”. My mother is an opera singer and lives in Italy and put me onto the Pure Moods CDs at a young age. I could go on for days about my musical influences and how it affects my music but the one who probably had the largest influence was Björk. My first exposure to her was the, “All is Full of Love”, record which blew my mind when I was a teenager. The experimental-ism of her work inspires me to use the idea of free thought and that when making art, there is no right or wrong answer. It just is. And people who try to tell you what your sound should sound like or your art should be like really don’t understand that art is about expression of oneself. It is okay to be yourself. It is okay to be different. You are okay…
Where do you hope to go from here?
I have aspirations to tour the East Coast. I would like to start in Virginia and travel North hitting D.C., Baltimore, Philly, New York, and Boston.
I am currently working on releasing a project I produced featuring a few artists from Houston such as Kay Weathers, Vicky Lynn of Black Kite and even a record of my mother I produced and recorded for her as a Christmas Gift. I am actually not on this album at all. I can’t really speak too much on it just yet but it is pretty much done.
I also finished another solo album called Crunchy Roll & Chill. It should be out mid-Spring, maybe.
Hopefully by next year I will have a deeper understanding what it really means to be an artist. I still have a lot to learn. This is what makes the journey worth it however.
Set List for Super Bowl Live, 1/29/2017: