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Interview: Mumiy Troll

mit Ilya Lagutenko vom 4. Februar 2014 via Mail
Kaum eine Musikszene, wie die sowjetische, hat eine so turbulente und zugleich ambivalente Geschichte verzeichnen können. Schon durch das „Moscow Music Peace Festival“ hat man 1989 durch die Veranstalter eine Art modernes "Woodstock des Westens" kreieren wollen, während in den Jahrzehnten zuvor man nur für das spielen akustischer Rocksongs innerhalb von privaten Räumen polizeilich verfolgt und bestraft werden konnte. Die Beatlemania, eine bisher so noch nie dagewesene Massenhysterie, fand in der Sowjetunion als Untergrundbewegung mit unzählbaren Fanmassen statt und genau zu dieser Zeit formierten sich die ersten eigenen sowjetischen Rockbands.
In den kulturellen Wirren der Sechziger Jahre wurde das Fundament für die Gründung anmutig klingender Gruppen wie Maschina Wremeni, Aquarium, Nautilus Pomilius oder auch DDT gelegt, in den siebziger Jahren dann mehr oder weniger als poetisch geprägter Barde gegen den Staat rebelliert und der Rock in vollen Zügen gelebt.
Gleichzeitig ist dieses in vollen Zügen Ausleben des Rocks phasenweise ein für uns kaum nachvollziehbarer Kampf um das nackte Überleben in einer geduldeten Zone, bestehend aus ekstatisch gefeierten Volkshelden und der Verleugnung sowie Unterdrückung der Rockszene durch die offiziellen staatlichen Organe gewesen. In dieser Atmosphäre wuchsen Bands, wie Mumiy Troll auf, die sich 1983 noch als Jugendliche zusammen fanden und musizierten.
Später wurde in ihr Werk das hinein gedeutet, was angeblich den Kommunismus zu Fall brachte und bis heute sind sie in ihrem Land gefeierte Helden. Naja, im Grunde ist fast jeder vor 1990 aktive Rockmusiker im heutigen Russland ein Held.
Doch lest selbst, was uns Frontmann Ilya Lagutenko dazu im Interview erzählt hat. Viel Spaß dabei!

The Interview:

Alex: Hi Mr. Lagutenko! Thanks for taking the time for this interview. How are you doing?
Ilya: Danke! You can call me Ilya. I’m fine, still recovering from a busy 2013: After this crazy sailing voyage around the globe, intensive touring schedules, setting up the biggest festival on Russian Pacific (vrox.org). It all went a bit mental - need to calm down really.
Alex: Your latest album „SOS матросу“ has been released in August 2013. Are you already working on new songs?
Ilya: Yes! I have been raised under soviet communist regime, we had to learn about five year plans to national economy, so I apply this strategy to album releases, ha ha ha! I have two albums now in progress: One is our English language album due to release later this year, and the next one is very experimental - totally electrocore. Our fans will be in a state of shock again. They want me to get back to pure indie pop ballads, but we also did Kids Lullabies album to keep them calm for some time.
Alex: How do you guys do the songwriting? Do you come with finish songs or is it more like having rough ideas and working them out in a jamming session?
Ilya: It's never been a template to it. I am the main songwriter and producer of most of our tracks. My band mates are sometimes to lazy to come up for rehearsals so I have to jam with people who sometimes have nothing to do with a band 's business. At some point you have to take decisions and that's only me who can do it. All musicians are very hesitating personas, so you need to nurture your "inner dictator" to get things done.
Alex: Could you explain to our readers how your musical style has developed over the years?
Ilya: The main idea behind my music was always like cooking a top delicatessen from the best ingredients you can find around. I introduced the term "Rockapops" in Russia and I think it covers every genre on this planet and has a very needed irony in its name! :)
Alex: And how important is it, to create his own music within a certain genre? I mean you can’t change a bands style from album to album without loosing credibility.
Ilya: You are right ... for marketing purposes if you succeed at something and then looking for a change-it, is a complete failure. But sometimes failure tastes much sweeter than a bland victory. I love to experiment with styles and fuse them together. Thats kinda DJ producer attitude, which really define today's music world.
Alex: What do you think about vinyl and it's current comeback? Is your current Album available on vinyl?
Ilya: Yes, thats great! I’ve been so stupid to leave my teenage vinyl collection to my childhood friend when I left my home town Vladivostok twenty years ago. I still love that VINYL experience, artwork ... I’m buying same albums (like Motörheads "Ace of Spades" or AC/DCs "Dirty Tricks" three or four times through my life). For the last three years we have released fife of our albums on vinyl. It's limited to a run of 1000 copies, but they’ve all been sold in advance. Guess it makes a perfect gift.
Alex: People tend to say that nowadays – especially in guitar driven music - every great melody and riff has already been played. Because of this, songwriting today is merely copying from existing music rather than creating something new. What do you think?
Ilya: I'm one of those people, who does not care about it. Human touch really is a great gift. Every guitar player plays the same riff different. Sometimes the worst musicianship got more popular cause it's got style and soul. Also there is nothing wrong with same three chords if they are right.
Alex: Looking back at you as a musician in the 80ies or 90ies, would you say that you're still the same guy? How has music formed your personality?
Ilya: Pretty, pretty sure that I’m still the same guy. Whatever happened in life with all that work and life experience just simply confirmed that whatever I thought in first turns out the way I imagined. But you gotta be persistent enough to transform ideas into reality.
Alex: Mumiy Troll was founded in 1983. What can you tell us about the circumstances you had to live in as musicians during the 80s?
Ilya: It was very different from today. We had very limited information about western pop music. Get your nose into Modern music was like joining semi-legal sector. To become a self-proclaimed rock band was cool, however you had no chance to share your music outside your bedroom or garage. But it's all in the past. I regret nothing. It was fun times. You did not think about music as your career, which was fun and sad at the same time ... maybe I could achieve more if I’d been more serious about what I'm doing, but hey - who we are to judge! Life takes you on a strange ride, really.
Alex: How did you experience the crowds back then? Was it possible to play frequent concerts or was it more like living from day to day without knowing what’s yet to come?
Ilya: We did less than 10 shows as a band during the first 15 years of its existence and probably more than a couple of thousand (!!!) shows for the next 15 years. Do you feel the difference? Of course we did not know that day will come.
Alex: How can I imagine the process of releasing rock music in the time before Gorbachev came to power? There certainly wasn’t any free music industry …
Ilya: It was easy. Something like we experience these days all over the world. You had so-called official music with great distribution network - something like MAJORs these days (you might like or hate U2 or Rihanna, but you can buy them at the store and you can tape this music to your friend, no one will bother). Or you can record your music and give a tape to your friend. Same with social network and Internet these days - your friend can introduce your music to his friend, his friend might find an idea of sell his tape to his friend on black market. You will never get a cent from that, but word will spread.
Alex: Bands like Maschina Wremeni said that musicians used to live in a twilight zone were they never knew if they would persecuted for their music or not. What do you think about that?
Ilya: Personally I’ve never been persecuted by KGB alikes, however Mumiy Troll once been labelled by "most dangerous band on the planet together with Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath" by my University Party Chief, however he had no idea that I study there he probably was impressed by the scary band's name :) "Twilight zone" was more about officials simply ignore the fact of existence of amateur rock bands like ours. But you had devoted fans just for the fact that you were in some band. Forbidden fruit is sweet, isnt it?
Alex: When releasing „Новая луна апреля” in 1984, what was your intention with that? can one understand it as a rebellion against the political system, or was it just a way to show your work and creativity
Ilya: OMG! It was a simple song about the girl whom our drummer failed to hookup. Then with all that Perestroika slogans media started to see the rebellion everywhere in the past. I always thought it was a joke - we were 14 years old probably, we could not care less about politics really.
Alex: All in all, would you say, that rock music and events like the famous Moscow Music Peace Festival had any kind of impact on the end of the Soviet era?
Ilya: Yes, they were kinda symbolic: New hopes, new horizon, but they were more like a celebration than the light in the end of a tunnel. We all knew the Soviet Union is done, but no-one really knew what to expect from the future. We thought it would be a never-ending free rock concert - the reality proves different.
Alex: As one can read bands like the Scorpions or Uriah Heep have been touring in the Soviet Union for the first time for like ten concerts in a row and they all have been sold out. That've been venues with a capacity of like 20.000 people. What would you say hast been the reason for this interest in western rock music?
Ilya: Great album covers. That's fact. Bands like Nazareth still play tours in Russia, cause they album covers were so enigmatic. Remember Scorpion's "Animal Magnetism" - as a teenager I was hypnotized by this image. Oh yes, music of course ... We have never seen those people live. They have been a big difference to whatever been played officially in Russia.
Alex: Generally, where would you see the similarities when comparing the Soviet rock scene to any other from the western world?
Ilya: Funnily enough all 80s Russian underground rock DIY albums sounds very similar to current western lo-fi scene. Just listen to Aquariums "Taboo" or Kinos "Gruppa Krovi”. Guess, because back then Russian musicians - including myself - been influenced by western music a lot, but knew nothing about sound production. Guess it’s happening now too, kids with modern technologies simply re-discover music of their parents. On the other hand I compare the Russian underground rock scene with what is happening with rock music in China now. It s not a mass market scene but it simply live its own life.
Alex: What can you tell us about your future?
Ilya: If I knew it ... I’m trying to expand my touring territories, probably more as a way to pursue new life impressions and fruitful collaborations. I’m lucky to have a very supportive fan base in Russia, which allows me to go further for adventure.
Moderation: Alexander Kipke

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