[ Q&A ]
Maurice Russ is just as important as any blocker, jammer or pivot in the Philly Roller Girls organization. Russ sings the national anthem, but that's putting it lightly. He wails it, he pounds it and he makes sure "The Star-Spangled Banner" could kick the ass of any other nation's anthem. A parts adviser to a BMW dealership by day, and rock star with his band Empty Shapes by night, Russ hooked up with the Philly Roller Girls at Hot Rod Hoedown before their inaugural 2005 season so he could write up the nascent league for Tric Zine. When their announcer dropped out in the middle of the season, Russ took over (he's since retired from those duties). When the same thing happened to their "Star-Spangled" singer, Russ issued some famous last words: "I made the mistake of saying, 'Why can't you find anyone to sing the national anthem? I can sing the national anthem,'" he says. "So I became the impromptu man to sing the national anthem."
Maurice Russ: Actually there was one by Marvin Gaye that I heard when I was a kid that is really cool. It's just him with a metronome in the background doing this R&B version of "The Star Spangled Banner."
CP: I was only familiar with your patriotic singing, so I was thrown off-guard when I heard Empty Shapes for the first time, especially when I saw you compare yourself to a droney band like the Dead C. I totally thought you worshipped at the altar of Steve Perry or something.
MR: I've been doing bands for a while and I'm more on the noise rock end of the spectrum. Mostly I'm known for my live antics. I'm not just gonna stand onstage and look at the crowd. I'm gonna be out and mixing. Usually there's some kind of sonic assault or dissonance going on behind me. ... I've done scissor kicks. A few times I've ended up nude [laughs]. I've been known to get on top of bars, I've been known to go behind bars and grab bottles of booze. It gets thirsty, singing.
CP: You've got a lot on your plate with a week of shows with Empty Shapes before the derby bout on May 2. How are you going to preserve your voice?
MR: That's going to be an issue. I haven't done four dates in a row in a while. So I'll have to not talk as much as I normally do because I do have the gift of gab and I'll have some licorice root to suck on. That's what opera singers use so I'm willing to give it a try.
CP: What's your roller derby name?
MR: When I was an announcer I had a roller derby name but everyone already knew me as Mo, so it never really stuck. My roller derby name was Marcus Hook, but only two girls in the league actually got it because most of the girls were from Jersey [at that time].
CP: If you rearranged an epic national anthem duet, who would your partner be?
MR: It's all according to feeling. A lot of the time when I sing the national anthem for the Philly Roller Girls, I don't know exactly how I'm going to sing it until right before I sing it depending on what mood I'm in. I could see me getting guttural with Rob Zombie or actually trying to harmonize with Al Jarreau.
Empty Shapes Thu., April 29, 9 p.m., $10, with Carlton Melton, Caterpillar and Bardo Pond, Johnny Brenda's, 1201 N. Frankford Ave., 877-435-9849, johnnybrendas.com Philly Roller Girls Sun., May 2, 3-6 p.m., $12-$20, Class of 1923 Arena, 3130 Walnut St., phillyrollergirls.com