Frontman of the cult Ukrainian music group "Vagonovazhati", which was founded in 2013
Music critic Oleksandr Filimonov said in a review, “Geniuses do not notice vanity. They feel the spirit of the time, pass it through themselves and capture it. Vagonovozhati manages it like no one else". I agree with him. And you?
About the spirit of the times? I think ... probably, yes. Yes, feeling the present is important.
What is this spirit today?
It is freedom, on the one hand, and information overload, on the other. Everything is changing quickly.
You successfully started with music in the late nineties. In the context of making music, what do you think are the significant differences between the nineties, aughts, tens, twenties?
I started, probably in early ’92. This period is not very noticeable… I mean, there was no mass media; there was no Internet. It was almost impossible to just record an album, shoot quality videos, and find decent equipment. It was almost impossible to record electronic music. At a time when British, American, and European electronic musicians were already playing on cool machines — all these samplers, sequencers. At that time we could only buy Czech or Bulgarian custom guitars.
What do we have today? Every high school and college student has all the tools to create cutting-edge music. I mean any gadget: a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. And that's cool. On the other hand,
there is so much of this content that the listener can drown in it. How to find some pieces of content of interest to you personally is another question. That's what the main difference is for me. You can be who you want; you can do everything the way you want. After all, you can go to the store and buy any guitar — like Cobain’s, or Hendrix’s… There is a sense of an ocean of opportunities.
What is happening with music now — are there more pros or cons?
Hmm. Where better to choke — in a puddle or in the ocean? Someone got drunk, fell into a puddle and choked in front of my eyes. Someone bathed in swimming trunks and became the victim of a storm. I don't know which way is better. In a way, I'm not jealous of young people: a huge amount of information has fallen on them. Twenty years ago, new names appeared in very small doses. Someone helped. For example, there was one music critic from a large magazine. This critic said, “Be sure to listen to this band or genre”. And in fact, you had no choice. You were already a fan of the new band. You were already looking for records. Wait for someone to send you a tape from abroad? Hardly.
You see, there are two poles, but the approaches can be combined today. At the same time, try to "listen" to today's information flow, but not lose relevance and remain yourself. And be yourself. In general, I don't listen to too much new music. I have already found my style.
The oversaturation you mentioned leads to a devaluation of a popular song. Do you agree that there are no more Great Artists today and there can be no more?
On the one hand, it seems so, but at the same time, I recently saw a real stir around some shows. For example, 21 Pilots filled a complete Palace of Sports a year ago. I'm sure they would have done it a few more times again because the show is really cool. I may not like this music, but I can see how cool it is. These are really artists of such a stadium level. Imagine Dragons is the same story. They were without any unusual show program at all. Just some alpha male in shorts came out, and the whole stadium was his. Now it's all there. There are people who play, but probably with simpler equipment in smaller halls. I agree that they hardly have this "damn, I'll be a stadium star!" attitude. They just write music, post it on the Internet, and — boom! — all teenagers listen to it. I don't know what you can hear from the phone's speakers ... but it works! Young listeners memorize lines, without stadiums, just peer-to-peer sharing, which also works great today. So, we return to the statement "This way is possible, and that one, and that other one." Stadiums did not go anywhere. Great artists neither. On the contrary, at one time, not everyone managed to come to us, unfortunately. I am sure that a large audience would gather for a Radiohead concert now — or AC / DC.
Yes, but it seems as if these are stars shining from the past. And today we see the glow of the comet's tail, somehow.
Yes, but what kind of audience would Billy Elish have today If she were to go abroad? She is a completely new artist. Compared to the nineties, or even aughts, she is a modern, young stadium artist.
There is no arguing. How do young artists promote their music now? Are the opinions of professional critics and publications in the "big" media important now?
On the one hand, music magazines have almost disappeared. Glossy music or fashion magazines definitely had a "New Albums" section, reviews of new CDs, and solid tips. Something. Many things depended on the level of popularity of the magazine and the critic himself. Needless to say, some magazines wrote only reviews, and the audience listened to 100% of the records according to these reviews. Today it is almost impossible to get a review of an album. There are some interesting sources such as the website Neformat and a section of reviews in Varianty Lviv. The Lviv dude writes great there. Content of this kind is interesting to read in terms of gonzo journalism. The music itself in this context does not matter much. It's just a platform for writing cool essays. Such journalists just think more, weave references to some other groups, or cover echoes with other genres or artists.
Now there are surprisingly many complementary reviews in the music media. Is it better for a critic to be tough, or vice versa?
I don't even know what is better. I remember times of very bad, critical reviews. I can't say that it encouraged young musicians. When you are young, with a mobile psyche, and it seems that you are the coolest ... and here it is! At the very beginning of the path you "get a pavement facial." Like, what is that? What did you write here? Your own songs? No way! This negativity was very disturbing. On the other hand, if you're already in the serious business of music, be prepared to keep taking punches, including those of critics.
I can't write harshly negative reviews. Or give negative feedback.
I also can't.
As a musician, I understand — even the weakest song is the result of work. Sometimes it's really difficult work.
Yes, absolutely. In general, as for the feedback — I have strange dialogues sometimes. They write: here is the track, what do you think about that? In this case, I clarify: is my review really necessary? I'm just a person who evaluates everything subjectively. I could wake up today on the wrong side of the bed, be in the wrong mood, quarrel with someone and, damn, here is your album now. How should I evaluate it? My opinion is not ultimate truth. And in general, I may not be the target audience of this music, I may just not listen to this genre. That's why evaluation is such a subjective thing ... We are all different, with different worldviews. By the way, any cult music guru and critic "shatters on the first critical review of your favorite band. You think, damn it, I trusted him so much! And he screwed up such a band, eh …
Can a talented musician become successful without promotion?
I think not. You see, "success" is a complex, a "mix" of different things. A little adventure, a little ingenuity, a little temper — boom! — there is success. The will of chance: somewhere someone put something and the right people heard it. And they said, “Oh, and who is it?! This is a future star, give them contacts immediately!” In the ’90's, everyone was looking for a sponsor. Musicians are not millionaires usually. They weren’t able to either buy equipment or rent a studio… That's why some of them had, say, a solid “guy” — someone with money.
This is a very unpleasant thing, to be honest. This was usually due to a relationship: singer- producer… In such cases, creativity was in the background. They earned money by playing somewhere on holidays in front of a financially successful audience. Well, you know…
Something like that. By the way, we (with “... and My Friend Truck — ed.) also had a similar performance. For real bandits.
Wow! How was it?
We came to the club. There were gangsters surrounded by girls in high heels
and short dresses. The atmosphere was, to put it mildly, "negative." Someone went out to smoke, and saw that these "visitors" had either weapons or something in the trunk of the car. It was a little scary. But in general, living and working in that system was sometimes scary.
Vagonovozhati made a chic soundtrack for the TV series "ZNO". Did you watch it?
I watched it after we made this song. When they wrote to me, there was no TV series yet. There were only a few scenes, but I didn't even watch them. I put three keywords from the title to a beat: sex, insta, and ZNO. We were simply given a synopsis along with the task of "making a song." I thought: if I were a teenager now, what would I say on these three topics? Of course, it's funny, because I'm an adult man — not like today's youth. The series itself, I think, turned out a little differently than planned by the director. Remembering My Thoughts Are Silent, I expected a more artistic story.
By the way, how do you like My Thoughts Are Silent?
It is one of the best Ukrainian films of recent times or the times of Ukrainian independence. Therefore, I would not like to criticize the director. I'm sure his career is only starting. However, it was strange for me to watch ZNO. I would like to talk to teenagers and ask them, “What do you think? Don't you think it's bullshit? You are not like that, right?” In general, there are funny moments in the series. Antonio has a funny sense of humor. There is modernity. But there is an unnatural language; in Vinnytsia they don't speak like that. But damn, I still think it's a starting point. Afterwards there will be something more interesting and cool. The attempt is credited, so to speak.
Speaking about unnaturalness: you sang in Ukrainian, and you sang in Russian. Now it’s only in Ukrainian but never in English. Why?
I don't know English enough to write lyrics. When I started playing music, I sang exclusively in Russian. Then I slowly began to switch to Ukrainian. Our all-Ukrainian album will be released soon — 20 years after starting in the group. Maybe in 20 years I will set a goal to sing in English.
English is a rather unnatural thing, but it was popular not so long ago among the "underground" scene. I sang and sometimes still sing in English (laughs).
Of course, bands that now use English are in a strange position. Once it was fashionable.
What has changed?
Previously, there was some foreign style in it: you were so fashionable and international. You were conquering the west. The Hardkiss gained popularity as an English-speaking band. Surprisingly, there were many such groups, but none of them gained popularity that way. The West listens to Ukrainian-language bands, such as DakhaBrakha, for example. Or a niche one like Stoned Jesus.
Also a niche. Metal. Stoner Rock.
Tell us about the plans of Vagonovozhati. When is the album coming out? Or EP?
An album-release show is scheduled for June 18. Quarantine helped us record this album. We were able to realize and comprehend this time as well as understand such phenomena as the creator, art, and time, or such things as a global cataclysm and a pandemic. How can you survive at this time? And what to do with it? Creating a record helped us calm down — just sit down and slowly start working. We were in no hurry. I think this album wouldn't have come out at all if it weren't for the quarantine. We would write it for another three or four years, constantly distracted by concerts, festivals, and personal affairs. The album is valuable for us. It is about our own thing, about that which is ours. It would be interesting to hear the assessments: whether the demand has really changed compared to our previous release. It seems to me that it reflects this time in which we all found ourselves.
What is the mood of the album?
The world is dying. A pandemic is the first loud call. Something needs to be done. We must have a plan B. There is no such plan now. We are cut off and closed in our homes. Somewhere in Europe, people get some compensation for this, and we just said, “guys, sit back and hold on”. The world is a difficult thing without a pandemic, but it is such a significant slap in the face to us humans who just shit on this land, especially for the last 100 years. Attitudes towards animals, ecology, and the state of the Earth — that's what really matters. Not nuclear power plants that explode and poison life.
Is this the spirit of the time today?
I'll tell you more. When we wrote this album, I was sure it was an album about death. But we threw one song out, and it changed. Now it's about life. The fact that sometimes death can come over to our place and say, "Okaaay, here’s another chance, the last one." The guy survived. But will he survive next time? “Eight knives are a spoiler.” The lyrical hero survived, and this is the main thing. However, next time he may not be so lucky.
Translated from Ukrainian by Kateryna Kazimirova
Frontman of the cult Ukrainian music group "Vagonovazhati", which was founded in 2013