Tuesday, February 24, 2009, 08:29 PM ( 2933 views ) - Interviews - Posted by dagmarsieglindeRussiaís Mumiy Troll were in Seattle earlier this month for their sold-out show at Chop Suey. Iím guessing theyíll play an even larger venue next time they come here. The very charming and very handsome performer/singer/composer and emperor of rockapops, Ilya Lagutenko sat down and talked with me before the show and I canít recall what it was that initiated talk about the Russian Blue cat, but thatís where we started.
Ilya Lagutenko: They make the mistake and call them British.
Q: I used to have one of those cats.
IL: My wife has two of these and they are most unfriendly. Itís like that saying, dogs have bosses and cats have staff.
Q: Thatís right. Are they nice to her?
IL: Theyíre nice to her Ė theyíre nice to themselves mostly. They wait until all people leave the lounge and then they sit on the sofa and watch TV. The moment you get into the room they [leave].
Q: I was actually going to ask you about cats. I was reading about you being a spokesperson for Siberian tiger conservation. Have you been able to go see them?
IL: I saw them in the zoo but not in real life. I heard them in real life when I was in university and we did our ecological lessons. We had to study ecology. I studied Chinese Ė Mandarin and we went to the Far East of Russia, in the middle of nowhere. It used to be a pre-Chinese inhabitance. The weather was so bad Ė for a whole month. When you dig dirt for ecological purposes it has to be dry and if it rains you have to wait four or five days and sit and do nothing. One night we heard these really strange sounds and itís not a dog Ė you donít have dogs in the middle of nowhere. Itís not like a roar you hear in the movies. Itís kind of haunting. The next morning the local ranger told us not to go to that part because tigers had had a party, killed a wild boar Ė it was their space. They know youíre here and you know theyíre here. It influenced my music style, in a way. Iíve been doing this charity work for the last seven years and itís a Russian-British organization. I met with this lovely British lady who worries about our tigers more than any one in my hometown, which is supposed to be doing more than any one else. My hometown is mostly famous for its biggest rate of crime, the most political battles between mayors and governors, shortage of hot water in the winter. Now itís all those demonstrations against economic policies. People always know about Vladivostok Ė even in Russia Ė only bad things. Thereís nothing wrong with it, itís just for some reason people only hear bad news about it.
Q: Thatís terrible.
IL: Thatís why I wrote one of the songs, Vladivostok 2000, a rock hymn. It became a big hit in the whole of Russia. And I do the charity Ė at least weíll keep the tiger alive.
Lagutenko @ Chop Suey 2009 - photo by Dagmar
Q: When you first started in the Soviet Union you would get jailed for playing shows?
IL: Now when I try to remember those Soviet times it makes me laugh to be honest. When people tried to [say] music was bad and rock concerts are something like putting a swastika flag on the Kremlin. . . It was the same kind of mad idea Ė it could never happen. Rock music was a bad word. We didnít really feel any ideological or political message, it was a game for us. It was a toy, for me personally. We were so secluded in Vladivostok. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg they had their big underground scenes. They had really big bands Ė some of them still going on now Ė and great musicians. In our hometown thereíd never been a movement and I knew about the rock bands from Japanese magazines sailors would bring from Japan. Youíd tune into AM radio and hear some American radio station which would broadcast for American soldiers in Okinawa and then [youíd] hear [static] and Michael Jackson and Rockwell. Somebodyís Watching Me - what a song. I still have tapes which I recorded from the radio. It was terrible quality. It was random music experiences Ė sometimes my mother used to have Elvis Presley or John Lennon solo albums and I remember we had this tape at home. On side A was Deep Purple Live in Japan and the other side was soundtrack to Emmanuelle, this erotic movie from the 70s. Both things were cool because it was so different from what you could hear on our radio and on our television. It gave you a landscape to dream and fantasize about something. It gives you inspiration. We created our own world without knowing what we should create. In the end we had two or three rock bands in town and we created our own club and we would see each other. In a way itís similar to whatís going on now with the Internet. When you donít have a big promotional tool, like television or a company with some idea of how to promote you . . . it was basically, I like this band and I can reference it to a friend. Thatís probably why at some point we were as popular as, like, Black Sabbath. So coming back to the question about being jailed Ė it wasnít for [us] being so scary it was just some people in our local communist party who were supposed to do reports for their bosses . . .weíre fighting western influences, these rotten capitalistic influences so what shall we do? Black Sabbath Ė banned. Mumiy Troll, what the hell? Banned. We were on the same scale. Every week young communists would go to meetings and say, those guys playing rotten western music, theyíre bad guys. The government hates you and it feeds your teenage ego.
Q: Were your parents musical?
IL: Not at all actually. My father died when I was a small kid and my mother worked hard. She used to work in [todayís terms] the fashion industry but in those days there was no fashion industry in the Soviet Union. It was government orders to create peopleís uniform. Basically she was designing dresses and stuff. For fun she designs for theaters. She was supportive of my music interests. The circle of her friends were artists so I grew up in a so-called Soviet bohemia, if there is any. Vladivostok is a port city, a sailorís place. Itís a really young city.
Q: She let you go on a choir tour when you were a little kid? How old were you?
IL: Yeah, seven. It was my first tour of Russia.
Q: Did you decide then that you wanted to be involved in music?
IL: Not really. It was just for fun but at some point me and friends decided weíd like to be in a band but we understood that itís not the thing to which to devote our lives. It would never work because you cannot be a musician on your own terms. At that time, to be in a band was like another galaxy. You have to choose your profession so I entered Far Eastern University to study Chinese and Chinese history. While I was studying the Soviet Union collapsed and everything went topsy-turvy. In one day all those ideals just collapsed. If yesterday you felt like Big Brother was watching you and you had to follow the orders and your bosses would check how you behave in society . . . in school we had not only marks for knowledge for math but behavior. Good, bad . . . you can study very well but not behave good. How they judge it was on their own terms. And suddenly thereís no country and no one to judge, you can do whatever you want. And what about work which you have to provide for me? Forget it. You just find it yourself. Thatís why some people feel frustrated in Russia because at some point, okay we didnít have enough choice and freedom but at the same time it was a predicted life. For many people it was okay. You have a flat and your factory will hire you for life. For me it was challenging because you can travel anywhere you want. I used to live in China and England. I used to work for an investment bank in London and Iíve been involved in building toll roads in China. You have too many things to try out. At some point I understood I wasnít enjoying do all these entrepreneurial things. When I was in England a friend of mine said, letís just record an album and release it in Russia. The music market started to grow and you can sell CDs, play music and sell tickets. Why not? We tried and we succeeded. Now it sounds too easy. It was probably the cheapest studio in London that we could find. When we brought it to Russian labels they said it was too western, too good and I said, before you told me itís not quality enough. Ten years before it was too lightweight and ten years later itís too serious and radical. Historically it was the biggest-selling indie album ever in Russia, which basically showed to other people in the business rock music can sell. Before that no one really believed rock music could sell in Russia. It was at the same time as all those British bands like Oasis so thatís why they call us Britpop in Russia because I did the album in London. Itís nothing to do with Britpop. Then all this stuff started about how I defined the music so I made up this term, rockapops. It still sounds Russian. Now Iím the emperor of rockapops. Iíve always been fascinated that someone created the term rock Ďní roll out of nothing.
Q: I havenít seen the film you played a vampire in, Night Watch yet. Do you plan on more acting?
IL: I do not really enjoy acting, to be honest. Actorsí work is hard work and youíve got a hundred people around you. Youíve got the director, who knows what you have to do. There are probably relations between actors and directors if youíre doing it full time but Iím not a natural-born actor. As a band, in a way, youíre free to do what you want to do. I was obsessed to see all my favorite bands from the 80s and itís boring when you see it live. Great songs but live . . . lots of current bands, when they do the same stuff thatís on their records Ė do I really have to listen to the same quality CD? I like the real experience of today. I remember I saw U2 once and Bono was like, excuse me Iíve lost my voice, and I liked it more because I need energy, right now. Itís based on communication. We never rehearse, I think itís a waste of time. The audience will never be the same, weíre never the same because me and you Ė weíre not the same tomorrow as today. For us thatís the most important thing, right here right now.
Mumiy Troll returns to the States in March 2009.
More of my photos from the Chop Suey show can be seen here & here.