It’s hard to summarize Will Russell and his contributions to the world in just a few paragraphs, as an entrepreneur, Russell helped pioneer things like the internationally famous Lebowski Fest, and on the local front, WHY Louisville, a curio shop that played to his strengths: a legit love to make Louisville a weirder, and more culturally enriched landscape. After some very public struggles, Russell has come back stronger and happier, looking to pursue new projects like The Marvelous Mystery, a kind of reimagining of the Why Louisville brand, as well as the Everything Will Be Okay Project, which will be using a non-traditional approach to normalizing the topic of mental health by reaching a broader audience through special events.
As a former patron and supporter of WHY Louisville, and lover of all things Lebowski, I figured now was as good a time as ever to reach out to Will for an interview. Thankfully, he agreed to answer a few questions…
Never Nervous: What’s the story behind Marvelous Mystery? Who all is involved?
Will Russell: The Marvelous Mystery is a re-imagining of WHY Louisville and will feature shirts designed by some of our most talented local artists including some of the classic WHY Louisville designs and new ones as well. It will start as an online only store and we will also be having pop-up shops around town with the hopes of opening a storefront down the road.
My partner in the project is Lorna-Mae Ward whose background is in managing local businesses such as Please & Thank You and Heine Brothers. We’ve got some extremely strong artists doing some new designs and we are hoping to have the online store live by August. If all goes well, we have bigger dreams in mind but we will save that unveiling for later.
NN: How much of an extension of WHY Louisville is this new venture?
WR: WHY Louisville is really just the starting point of The Marvelous Mystery. We’re kind of picking up where WHY Louisville left off. It is based on the same concept of providing affordable, wearable art and supporting the local creative community but the brand will move more towards a retro roadside attraction and souvenir shop. The tagline we just settled on this morning is “Inspired Souvenirs & Spectacle.” Not unlike WHY Louisville, the envisioned storefront will be an experience and will have carnival elements, oddities, curiosities and the like. Oh, and we’ll be selling t-shirts too!
NN: Tell us about the merchandise that you’ll be offering. Will designs be solely Louisville-centric?
WR: We are starting out with a select number of designs which will be comprised of about half of the classic WHY Louisville designs which we are re-licensing from the original artists. The bulk will be new designs, some of which will be celebrating Louisville and Kentucky (as well as Kentuckiana!) and some will just be designs that we like. The designs will not be limited to local themes. A cool t-shirt is a cool t-shirt and we like cool t-shirts.
“A cool t-shirt is a cool t-shirt and we like cool t-shirts.”
NN: When will you be officially open for business? Or are you already?
WR: We are in the process of getting things ready and are hoping to launch the site by August of this year, possibly sooner. We also have a secret underground space to host art shows for our contributing artists and will be having art openings with a pop-up shop element as we move forward. More will be revealed…
NN: Are there plans for a Marvelous Mystery brick and mortar shop, or is the plan to stick to online retail?
WR: Starting online only and seeing how it goes. Based on the response we’ve seen so far, which has been overwhelmingly positive, a storefront is looking likely in the not too distant future.
NN: It’s hard to believe that Louisville will host it’s 17th annual Lebowski Fest. How has it evolved over the years?
WR: Lebowski Fest has been the same basic formula since we did the first one in 2002. Gather fans of The Big Lebowski, watch the movie, enjoy some bands, wear some costumes, drink some White Russians, bowl and abide with some of the warmest most accepting people ever. And I’m talking about The Achievers here, and proud we are of all of them! Once we added live music in 2004 with My Morning Jacket, we’ve traveled all over the country and overseas meeting amazing fans and interesting characters alike. It has been a natural zesty enterprise.
NN: How did you end up getting involved with Lebowski Fest to begin with?
WR: I co-founded it with a guy named Scott Shuffitt back in 2002. We had no idea it would be such a thing. Who knew?! We were both huge fans and spent most of our time quoting the movie back and forth. One time while selling some shirts at a tattoo convention, some guys in the booth next to us joined in and started quoting with us. It was in that moment that we realized we were not alone and there were other like us. We had no idea just how many.
NN: How will the 2018 LF go-around differentiate itself from past fests?
WR: This year is the 20th anniversary of the film so we are working with an art gallery in New York to host a Lebowski art show here which will raise money for Wellspring Mental Health Services. We are partnering with Against The Grain Brewery this year and they are hosting the art opening and pre-party with King Kong on Thursday, July 19th which adds an extra night of fun to the event. This year is also the return of bringing in national headliners and we are very excited about having Murder By Death play this year along with the guys from The Deloreans doing a live tribute to the soundtrack and Louisville’s up and coming comedy/music man Howell Dawdy.
NN: Of all the memories celebrating Lebowski Fest over the years, is there one or two that you personally cherish over the others?
WR: Definitely the first time Jeff Bridges came to Lebowski Fest in LA around 2005. He was just as cool as you would hope he would be. He wore his jelly sandals he wore in the film and let me try one on. He made me take my sock off which was a little gross but as soon as I stepped into that legendary jelly, I felt the calmness of The Dude wash over me and I have not been the same since.
“Jeff Bridges was just as cool as you would hope he would be. He wore his jelly sandals he wore in the film and let me try one on.”
NN: What’s your favorite Cohen brothers film NOT called The Big Lebowski? And what’s so good about it?
WR: I am obsessed with Coen Brothers films (obviously.) Raising Arizona was the first I saw of theirs and I have loved it ever since. I watch Fargo every chance I get and No Country For Old Men is just fucking excellent. The ending dialogue by Tommy Lee Jones with his brother is just devastating in the best possible way. I also love how they give all of their psycho killers terrible haircuts. Bardem’s bowl cut in that film is very special and really adds to his creep factor.
Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? is delightful as well. I could watch their films over and over and over again and still adore them. Lebowski, which I’ve seen hundreds of times, still makes me giggle out loud which baffles my special lady friend. It’s like listening to my favorite album. I know what’s coming but I can’t wait to experience it again. I don’t know how to explain it but that movie is absolutely magic. It is not uncommon for me to just think of a random quote from the film throughout the day and have a little moment of joy all to myself.
NN: What is the best thing about the city of Louisville?
WR: I appreciate how good the community is about supporting local businesses. People seem to really get the whole “keep Louisville weird” concept and that if you support independent businesses, your city and the culture will be more interesting.
“People seem to really get the whole “keep Louisville weird” concept and that if you support independent businesses, your city and the culture will be more interesting.”
NN: On the flip side, what do you consider to be the worst thing about Louisville?
WR: I would like to see a more cohesive and supportive creative community. Cities like Austin and Portland are incredible because the creative people really support each other, turn out for all the weird events and celebrate people’s efforts which in turn makes for a stronger more vibrant creative culture. I’ve seen a lot of cynicism and negativity when people put themselves out there and I’m not a fan of it. One of the things we will continue to do with The Marvelous Mystery is try to nurture the creative community and make this city an even better place. It has been said, “haters gonna hate, creators gonna create.”
NN: Before you go, tell us about one record in particular that you’re really into lately. What’s blowin’ your skirt up, Will?
WR: I’ve really been into the the Day of the Dead tribute album which is a bunch a Grateful Dead tunes re-imagined by some of my all time favorites like The National, War On Drugs, Jim James, Bill Callahan, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the like. And I know this isn’t cool, but I fucking love the Grateful Dead. Music is such a huge part of my existence and I try to spend an hour every morning walking in the park and listening to music. It’s great for my mental health, which is much better now by the way.