Musician, performer, producer, engineer, director, band member, recording artist … Russell Wiener wears a lot of hats, on stage and behind the scenes, but he seems to like it that way. With 20 years in the Los Angeles music industry under his belt, he’s got a lot to show for it and just keeps on generating more good vibes and making more tracks.
At University High, he started a band as a group project for a class assignment on Dante’s “Inferno.” It took them long over the deadline, but they made an album, with each of the nine “circles of hell” as a song. “That started us down the path of music,” says Wiener. He is still in touch with the other two band members who continue doing projects in the music field.
There was a piano at his home growing up. Out of six Wiener children, only five were “forced” to take lessons, says Wiener. No one turned into a musician. The sixth child, he had to teach himself to play. At the University of Arizona, he designed his own degree program combining music, recording, technical and media arts. That solidified his interest in the recording industry and after graduation, he headed straight to L.A. Rather than be a stereotypical aspiring musician waiting tables, he interned at recording studios until he met musician and producer David Pack, the co-founder, guitarist and lead vocalist for the ’80s band Ambrosia.
As Pack’s personal assistant, Wiener learned more about engineering and soon took over the boards himself. He continues to work with Pack as a producer and tour manager for live events, and as his studio manager. “He taught me a lot about the industry,” he says, and they remain associates. “That’s a rare thing that it’s worked out long-term.”
While Wiener has played with many bands, the most notable may be The Title Trackers. “We take classic albums with no title track, and write and record satire songs answering the question: What might it have sounded like if the artists HAD written a title track?” he explains. With long-time buddies Andy Hill and David Tokaji, the concept started almost as a joke, until they actually wrote and recorded a track and realized they might be on to something.
Their debut album three years ago, “Lost Title Tracks” got great reviews. Alan Parsons of The Alan Parsons Project said, “The concept is brilliant. Hats off to you.” Another fan of The Title Trackers said, “Your love letter to rock n’ roll is truly beautiful.” The band has performed across the country. In December, they will begin work on a new album, targeted for 2020 release.
Wiener also is the music director at Beber Jewish Summer Camp in Wisconsin. He started there as a camp counselor when he was in college. Nine years later when a former campmate and friend became camp director, he called Wiener back as an artist-in-residence. That evolved into a full-blown music program that 12 years later is thriving. “I get out there as much as I can in the summer,” he says. “It’s a fantastic experience. Camp keeps me grounded in having fun with Judaism.”
Between bands and working with Pack and the summer camp, Wiener has a home studio and guest house where he produces music for clients. Many he calls “north of 40,” who always had the desire to record buzzing around in their minds. “It’s a fun thing to help people realize their vision and see it come to fruition,” Wiener says. He has several client album launches coming up.
Wiener had a busy summer on the road producing six shows for Pack with other headliners, half a dozen gigs for The Title Trackers and working with four to six clients at any given time. He gets back to Tucson a few times a year to see his mother, Betty, and his sister, Wendy. At age 42, he’s clearing time on his calendar to prepare for his November wedding to Mika, a classically trained cellist and photographer.