From leaving a job in electrical engineering to pursue music professionally to nearly having that career derailed by an unusual health issue, William Rustrum of Saint Luminus has experienced many of the ups and downs typically associated with a life in the modern music industry.
Rustrum, currently residing in the Los Angeles area, has been striving to provide audiences with a unique ambient musical experience, something that he found inspiration in after witnessing a fireworks display that served as a tribute to one of the world's most popular bands.
“The display was a tribute to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and they were syncing the music to the fireworks,” says Rustrum. “At the time, it really made me think about how music can stir emotions and help create textures when it is presented in combination with visuals. It was such a different experience from the loud and in-your-face metal music I was listening to up to that point.”
The inspiration discovered that night, along with Rustrum's interest in bands like Metallica and Megadeth, led to him picking up and learning how to play guitar. As his love for music grew, Rustrum found himself wanting to leave his day job as an electrical engineer to allow himself the opportunity to chase music as a full-time career option.
“I had earned my degree from Cal State Long Beach and my last regular job was technical support for a very large and expensive product,” he remembers. “I couldn't stand the work and I dreaded waking up every morning having to do it. It was quite depressing actually. I realized that I would rather have very little money and security while immersing myself in music rather than work at a job that I couldn't stand.”
The decision to pursue music for a living did not receive much support from many of those closest to Rustrum. While many of his friends were advising him to look at his music as a hobby, others were attempting to dissuade him from attending classes at the Musician's Institute in Hollywood, California.
“When I first told my parents that I wanted to become a musician for a living, my father told me that I only thought I wanted to do that for a living,” Rustrum says. “It was tough to go on without their support but they did eventually give in and now fully support me as best they can.”
But he did continue, enrolling in Musician's Institute where he studied how to read music, music theory, and how to play and improvise in several genres of music.
“MI wanted students to learn how to read and play contemporary music such as Funk, Rock, Country, Blues, Hip-Hop, R&B, and Pop,” he remembers. “I played in nearly every style of music at least once even if it wasn't my favorite type of music. To this day, I am still so thankful I went to that school.”
Armed with a formal education in music, Rustrum set his sites on the Los Angeles music scene as part of the Megadeth tribute band Hanger 18. The band was able to enjoy a longevity many cover bands never experience by staying together for nearly a decade. But his career as a professional musician was later jeopardized by an unusual condition.
“I noticed that my guitar playing was going down the toilet. It devolved to where I was only able to play using my pointer and middle fingers,” Rustrum explains. “I went to a primary care physician, a hand specialist, an orthopedist, and a chiropractor. Everyone had a theory, but without any pain or pinched nerves or broken bones, no one knew what was causing it.”
Several months after telling a sports doctor about the problem, the doctor e-mailed Rustrum an article discussing Focal Hand Dystonia. FHD is a neurological condition that affects muscle groups in a person's hand or hands leaving them unable to fully control their fingers. In the world of music, the condition is often referred to as Musician's Focal Dystonia. Rustrum's research into the condition led him to Guitar Principals founder Jamie Andreas.
“Jamie didn't view my problem as a medical condition. She thought of it as improper development in learning the technique of how to play guitar. She essentially made me learn to play guitar again from scratch. I was seeing wonderful results after a few months and, while I wasn't playing very quickly, I was hearing and experiencing things that I had never produced from the guitar.”
With his guitar playing skills restored, Rustrum turned his attention to his current project, Saint Luminus. The ambient musical experience from which he found inspiration in a summertime firework display has received his full attention and energy. And the unusual name for the act comes from one of Rustrum's most powerful interests: Cosmology.
“I love Cosmology because it defies common sense about reality,” Rustrum says. “It is incredible to think that human beings and the Earth are insignificant tiny particles compared to the Universe itself. If the Earth and all human beings suddenly stopped existing, the Universe wouldn't care. I like it so much because it stretches your thinking to the extremes.”
When he isn't working on music for Saint Luminus or soaking up the writings of people like Albert Einstein and Michio Kaku, Rustrum can likely be found training for triathlons. He has been drawn to the extreme athletic competitions since his first triathlon in Malibu, California nearly eight years ago.
“Despite the sports injuries and race results that were less than stellar, I keep doing it and try to improve,” he says. “But that sense of adventure and doing something I never thought I would do in a million years is addicting at times. Not too dissimilar from being a professional musician!”