"One sits the whole day at the desk and appetite is standing next to me. ""Away with you,"" I say. But Comrade Appetite does not budge from the spot."
Lenid Ilyich Brezhnev (1906 - 1982) Russian political leader
Listen to the interview here .
worldbeatcanada radio: In the hands of poets, rock music plays an important role in chronicling modern history. Not so much events, places and times but by making a record of the collective spirit or psyche at history-making moments. Mumiy Troll (moo-mee troll) are one of the most influential bands in post-Soviet Russia, reflecting contemporary attitudes and swaying legions of fans to their ranks with their signature 'rock a pop' sound. Now, America prepares to greet Comrade Ambassador, the latest body of work in Mumiy Troll's recorded history. Frontman, poet, singer Ilya Lagutenko joins us to talk about it. This is an honour and a pleasure, Ilya. Thanks for being here.
Ilya Lagutenko: Absolutely! Hello everyone.
WBC: Congratulations and good luck on the North American tour.
IL: Oh, thanks a lot. Actually, it sounds like it will be like a chilly and freezing trip. It will remind us of Siberia probably.
WBC: No doubt! You've taken the time to provide English lyrics for the songs on Comrade Ambassador and the poetry is really striking. But, snow and cold are running themes throughout the tunes. How much does your heritage in Vladivostok impact on your writing?
IL: Vladivostok is the place where I grew up and where the band was formed. And, as you probably know, it was the biggest Soviet Navy base in the Pacific. In my years it was a really quiet town because it was closed, not only for foreigners, it was closed to Soviet citizens. So, it was a quiet, seaside town where young boys spent their leisure time on the beaches, sailing and dreaming about what can be there, somewhere beyond this horizon on the ocean that we could see. So, it's probably that same feeling that I'm still generating in my songs.
WBC: In most American popular music you're lucky if you get a few simple lines of doggerel that actually rhyme. Is poetry still an important cultural expression in Russia?
IL: When you talk about Russian rock music with anyone in Russia, the first thing people will tell you is that music is not as important as lyrics. Historically, rock music was almost banned in the Soviet Union, and underground musicians didn't have access to proper equipment and instruments. They kind of play more with words, trying to put sometimes secret messages, sometimes straight messages into the songs; which probably goes back even further to the singer/songwriters of the '60's in Russia.
WBC: What are contemporary Russians concerned with these days? Has there been a growth in say, organized religion since Soviet times? Or, has the love of money become all consuming?
IL: In one sentence - Times are totally different now to what I remember back in the '80's. Even in the '90's, because the change was so quick. Take myself; back in the '80's when we formed our first band, we couldn't really consider it as anything more than a hobby. We never thought that we could make a living out of our music. But, we try to compare what we have now and what we had before and, apparently, there were some positive and negative aspects to all of that, but most importantly, now, people are getting more exposure to the outside world. If you talk about musicians; now we can travel, now we can show what we really are to the world and vice-versa. Like, ten years a go, no one could ever have guessed what the exact situation of reality today would be. I would call it more exciting.
WBC: That's good. Excitement is good! Let's sink a popular Mumiy Troll rumour. You don't really tour abroad on a decommissioned military submarine do you? Because, we've seen Sean Connery in The Hunt For Red October and we know what can happen!
IL: It was one of my ideas. At some point when Vladivostok was opened to the general public, the Russian government decided that the old Soviet Navy fleet was no good anymore and they had to do something. We saw all those old ships and submarines being cut up for scrap steel, and I always thought, "Why don't we renovate one of those submarines into a luxury version?" But apparently people said military submarines cannot be used in international waters, you know?
WBC: Oh, I could see you starting an incident that way! (laughter)
This is the best music in the world, Russia's Mumiy Troll are on worldbeatcanada radio. To find out if their North American tour takes them near your neck of the woods, check out their comprehensive and English language web site at www.mumiytroll.com/en. Ilya Lagutenko is on the line. Ilya, let's talk about the rock a pop sound. I think that it's interesting that in Eastern European and Russian rock we seem to be hearing a lot of twangy, spaghetti western sort of electric guitars which are truly iconic North American sounds, but they seem to work so well in your music.
IL: Oh, thanks a lot! When I coined the term 'rock a pop', I made it up as a joke a few years a go because the Russian media is too serious about these things. You can't be poppy in rock or vice versa. If you are rock, you should be straight-forward, rebellious ... wearing black leather jackets. And, if you're pop, it's got to be sweet and lollypoppish. When people started to ask me what kind of music I play I thought it might be nice to create a new term. I remember when we were at a festival in Japan, and we were asked what kind of music we play and we said, "We play rock a pops!", because it was hard for the Japanese to pronounce.
WBC: You know, I love the artwork on Comrade Ambassador. It's beautiful.
IL: One of our symbols is actually a Siberian tiger. So, it's kind of a combination of the big cat and Superman. I call it "Super Tiger".
WBC: He's a very handsome beast ... definitely.
Why did you choose to do a cover version of California Dreamin'?
IL: The last two of our albums were recorded in California and we came here just by accident because before, we would record all our albums in London or Moscow. But, three years a go it started to become really expensive! Someone said, "Let's go to America because of the falling dollar." So, we just went online and Googled 'Best recording studio in Los Angeles'. That's who we came to Village Recorders. And, we are really grateful to all those people there. California Dreamin' is kind of our thank you, and to make it in Russian was quite fun. To be honest, the lyrics translated almost literally which is quite difficult to do sometimes.
WBC: Maybe The Mamas and the Papas had some Siberian in them?
Well, we want to thank you too, Ilya for taking the time to do this. We're going out on 'Musician' from Comrade Ambassador. What can you tell us about this song?
IL: What could be a musician's destiny? Let's put it this way. One day you can play arenas, one day you can sit at home and play for almost nobody. But, the most important thing is, you have to tell the truth in your songs.
Ilya Lagutenko was interviewed by Cal Koat for worldbeatcanada radio on January 14th, 09.