I don’t want to be labeled as anything,” says Wil Russoul. And honestly, one would be hard-pressed to find the right label for Russoul. Musician? Of course. After all, he sits in his office in downtown Aberdeen wearing a t-shirt with the name of his band, The Toons, and playing an impromptu song on his guitar. But “musician” falls short of adequate. Poet? Artist? Community organizer? Mentor? Yes, to all. And no, because each label only captures a piece of the picture.

Russoul himself suggests another possibility. “I’m human duct tape. I just see an opportunity, and I stick it all together. I stone soup it.” That stone soup concept has guided his life for decades. Based on an old French tale, stone soup invokes images of a community coming together to build delicious soup out of stones, something out of seemingly nothing.

For Russoul, stone soup took root in the late 1990s, not long after he moved to Grays Harbor. While playing music at a Montesano coffee shop, he realized that young musicians, too, needed a safe place to develop and share their music. But on his own he could do little. Soon, with help from 54 local volunteers and a motorcycle gang, Russoul built an underground club in Elma.

“It was amazing,” he remembers. “We sometimes had 17 bands in a weekend. We had up to 600 kids in there and never once had an incident.” The Bash, as they called the venue, launched hundreds of young musicians. Russoul guided the teenagers that formed his Reality Check team through the business of vetting bands and recording music. Stone Soup Records began.

Photo by Rick Moyer

Photographer and on-air personality Rick Moyer has known Russoul since those early days of The Bash and Stone Soup Records. “Wil is a dreamer and a promoter,” says Moyer.  “He loves people.  He has always been a guy that loves the creative process and shares it with those around him.”

Blending music with mentoring seems a logical fit for Russoul, a minister’s son who discovered a passion for music at around age 15. “I grew up deaf,” he explains. “When I got my hearing, the very first song I ever heard was ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ by Elton John. I knew from that moment on I wanted to make music.”

The beginning proved a little rocky. New to hearing and musically untrained, Russoul initially had no sense of timing or pitch. He traded a bow and arrow for a guitar and taught himself in part by following along with a worship leader at church. Because he had been told he could not sing, he read his own poems, accompanying himself on the guitar. Eventually, he started to sing.

Forty-five years later, the music continues. Russoul described himself once as “an eclectic acoustic rocker with country roots.” More importantly, he says, “Every time I write a song, it’s about a moment, about sharing that moment.” Those moments can be simple, like the glimpse of a stoneworker from the window of a train. Or they can reflect hinge points, like the song “Wonder,” which Russoul wrote at the passing of his father.

Photo by Rick Moyer

Sharing those moments on stages and street corners, online and even in quiet hospital rooms, he recognizes the healing power of music and art, both for individuals and for communities. “After all, isn’t that what the gift’s supposed to be about?” he asks.

To that end, Russoul has been instrumental in establishing a creative arts district in Aberdeen. And as executive director of the Downtown Aberdeen Association, he serves as a passionate promoter of the community he calls home. From creating walking tours of downtown to establishing a “Hive” for artists in the historic Becker Building, he works tirelessly to build a sense of place here in the Harbor.

Most recently, Russoul spearheaded the effort to acquire an iconic piece of Nirvana memorabilia, making it available to the community in celebration of Aberdeen’s artistic roots. Check out the Nirvana98520 Facebook page for details, photos and stories.

“This is what sells Aberdeen,” Russoul maintains. “It’s not just a product, not just the people. It’s the stories and experiences you are going to have.”

And if you want to experience Russoul’s music? Start by checking out wilrussoul.com and YouTube. With luck, you might catch him playing downtown at Tinderbox Coffee Roasters or hitting the stage with his band, The Toons. You will be happy you did.

Photo by Rick Moyer
Photo by Rick Moyer