The synthesizer player and composer Gavin Rayna Russom continues to evolve as an artist and person. Eventually becoming a member of the band LCD Soundsystem was just the beginning for the transgender performer.
This technical wizard works by blending soundscapes, leading to intense solo work and occasionally playing DJ to the crowds most recently at Chicago's Berlin Nightclub.
What started as building equipment with budding musician James Murphy has now led to a life of world touring with the new number-one LCD Soundsystem album American Dream.
During the week of sold-out shows at the Aragon Ballroom, Russom made an appearance at the Soho House to speak about transgender topics on a panel and met up for an interview afterward.
Windy City Times: Were you into music while growing up in Providence, Rhode Island?
Gavin Rayna Russom: I was always into music; also, my family on both sides were musicians. I was born in 1974 and Providence was a bit behind other American cities at the time. I went to public school up until 11th grade. We had music classes and lessons. Music was always around…
WCT: How did you join LCD Soundsystem?
GRR: I started working with LCD in a technical capacity in 2002. I had been making music since I was kid, playing in lots of bands. I studied composition at Bard College and moved to New York after that. I wanted to incorporate visual arts with music. I started building my own electronic instruments so I sent out a mass email to hundreds of people because I thought it was a marketable skill. James Murphy was the only person that wrote back.
I became the in house engineer at the DFA Studio. The first project Murphy had me work on was rebuilding a Casio to make it more sturdy for the song "Losing My Edge."
I started modifying gear they had there. They had asked me to play synth on some live songs, but I moved to Berlin for five years. I opened for LCD when they came to town or at DFA parties.
When James started on the This Is Happening record, he asked me to be a member of the band. As the band grew they incorporated more synthesizer sounds and they had more of a budget to bring me onboard.
WCT: I watched you at Pitchfork and you seem like you have a great time being part of the band.
GRR: [Laughs] I try to keep myself busy because there is a lot of people out there! It is interesting to me because what I am doing is such a hybrid of technical and creative things. We might have breaks in the songs, but I am actually creating what is going to come three songs later in the set.
WCT: It goes along with all these DJ gigs you are doing.
GRR: Totally. It is how my brain works.
WCT: Your input sounds really vital on the new album American Dream.
GRR: It is a lot more synth. It was really a reboot when the band got back together. In some ways it was a continuation of the LCD story.
WCT: I like how American Dream starts out on the first track.
GRR: I think the sequence of the album is really incredible. As a whole album it is pretty remarkable.
WCT: People don't make a complete album anymore.
GRR: Yesto get to the second side of the record is exhausting. We had a listening party in New York for it. That was the first time I had listened to it as a whole. I was blown away by it.
WCT: Was there pressure to be more commercial?
GRR: Not on me, certainly. It really is James' project. He is really good at bringing together people who contribute to his vision in a specific way.
The first time he played me the new music I didn't think it was from somebody trying to make a hit record. It was somebody trying to dig into their aesthetics. Who knew this authentic record would be number one? It is very evolved and a progression from other things.
WCT: Are you still working on solo projects?
GRR: Yes. I have a pretty established solo career in the underground electronic world. While on tour it is pretty tough, but I have been doing musical sketches pretty much everyday. It is fluid for me with visual and art. I usually make my own record covers. I just self-released a new EP under one of my aliases called Black Meteoric Star. Everything is recorded live to tape. There is no multi tracking or anything. It is more punk in its aesthetic.
WCT: You work on movies also?
GRR: I just finished my first film project that I have done in a long time. It is called No More White Presidents. It is like an hour-long music video.
WCT: What is your favorite tracks to play during your DJ appearances?
GRR: I draw from a wide range of music. Jamal Moss, who is Chicago-based, is prolific.
Many of the tracks I play are from Chicago!
WCT: How was the experience of coming out as trans this year?
GRR: It is ongoing. The more I find my feet in transition the more I can connect the dots of my history.
In my early twenties, I didn't have the public presence that I do now. If I talked to someone back then I told them that I identified as female or as a lesbian. I felt comfortable talking about it.
It has been a long process. In between my twenties and forties I became more public. It felt weird to make an official announcement about it. Retroactively I became a lot more closeted.
I became a character I was playing when someone would read me as masculine. It is a big relief to be free of that.
It's been a pretty remarkable experience.
WCT: Did you hear from people about coming out?
GRR: Yes; after the article came out a lot of people have contacted me, mostly people who identify as trans fem, who are working through it themselves.
That is super-powerful to have a real connection like that. There is now a community out there to which I am connected.
I don't think anyone has been surprised, especially people who I knew when I was younger.
WCT: How are family relations?
GRR: It is complex and something to work through. My sister is a high school geography teacher. She is one of the first people I came out to. Her response was compassionate and welcoming. She took it seriously, but in a kind way. She is an incredible person.
WCT: How do you identify?
GRR: With "she" and "her" pronouns. Right now, I consider my full name as Gavin Rayna Russom. It is hard to navigate being well into my career. I will change my name legally at some point. People call me "Rayna."
WCT: You were given that name as a baby?
GRR: No. When I was a child before I could remember I would present as feminine to my parents and would tell them, "My name is Tina." I always thought I would go by the name Tina.
In my family, there was a tradition of using GRR initials. I thought throwing an R on the front of Tina. My grandfather is named Ray. I thought I made up a name until I heard about the main character on the TV series Nashville, spelled the same way!
When I introduce myself professionally it is Gavin but, personally, it's Rayna.
For more on Russom, visit GavinRayna.com; check out LCDSoundSystem.com for details about the album .