An Interview With Ilya Lagutenko of Mumiy Troll
    • WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14, 2012

    • Posted by: Don Saas

    Last week, we had the opportunity to premiere the music video for "Fantastica," an old school, in your face rock track shot in the crater of an active volcano, from Russia's most popular rock band, Mumiy Troll. We also had the chance to do an e-mail interview with Ilya Lagutenko, Mumiy Troll's frontman. Mumiy Troll are legends in their homeland, but not well known outside of Russian-American communities in the U.S., but if "Fantastica" is an indication, they have the chops to make the transition to American audiences.

    How long have Mumiy Troll been performing together?

    I had my band which became MT since my teenage years; however it was only in 1997 when we secured the official release in Russia and went on our first proper tour. I knew all my band mates through the years but I had to take sole responsibility and hire them to keep the band running. We've been together for the last 15 years. It was not an easy path but we are still together.

    What has it been like transitioning from Russian language music to writing your songs in English?

    It's a really tricky thing to translate songs. What helps me a lot is that I hardly write any music to ready-made lyrics, it's a complex process based on pure intuition. So lyrics often play an instrumental role in the beginning and then I shape it into conceptual meanings. That's what I did to English songs. I had a Russian concept in mind and then tried to tell the story in modern rock n roll terms. It's more like if Tarantino would direct a movie based on a Leo Tolstoy novel. Also, I am a professional interpreter in Mandarin, so it helps too.

    Have you ever written music about the political environment in Russia and if so, do you have any specific feelings about the continued presence of Vladimir Putin at the head of your political stage?

    I've never identified myself with any political movement in Russia neither before or after Perestroika. I simply did not find it appealing enough for myself to write about that stuff. Maybe other protest songs were not really convincing for me. However, a long time ago, we were labeled the 'most dangerous band together with Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath' by my University Communist bosses. Today I am doing lectures on popular culture in my University and we all laugh about those Soviet stereotypes as Sex Pistols were not really about politics; it was a pure pop product of those times. Same as Mumiy Troll. Talking about modern Russian politicians ,trendsetters, oligarchs...I saw most of them in person at our gigs through the last ten years, some of them are really amazing characters; some of them are jokes...In my opinion Russian politicians are much better pro-showbiz persons than actual Russian entertainers. That's why I'd like to change the usual perceptions and try to show what is really there behind newspaper slogans, etc.

    Were there any American bands growing up that you feel influenced your sound?

    I grew up in the 80s and tried to catch the sound of really anything I could get. Western music was not allowed to be sold in Russia, so rock and roll records in particular had to be smuggled by sailors and foreign students. It cost a fortune to own an LP, so lots of music had been exchanged on tapes. The same way you are doing it now online. You get your friends advice and you listen to that...Kiss or Blondie, Kim Carnes or Cars, Dylan or Van Halen...we did not really mind the genre which was in fashion... I wanted it all at once. I guess this vast difference really influenced me.

    What were you trying to achieve sonically and thematically with Vladivostok?

    Vladivostok is not only my band's hometown which I am in a constant love/hate relationship with, it is also a great symbol which I identified myself with. It is far from central Russia (10 hours fight from Moscow), it is by the ocean... which was the eternal source of inspiration... there is also a great mystique about this place. The Ice Age did not come here; that's why we have jungles and tigers. Japan and North Korea are one night sail away. It's a place to rock really.

    The music video for "Fantastica" was impressively bad-ass. Were there any inspirations for shooting it in an active volcano or the harsh but beautiful landscape in general?

    We shot it ourselves while we were touring all of those places. You can see the volcanoes of Kamchatka, mountains of Kyrgyzstan and snow deserts of Chukotka. We really played a gig inside a crater of active volcano named Gorely, that grey steam you can see is acid poison... The moment the wind changed and it blew on us we had to pack and fly out as it became hard to breathe. I had a vague idea how and what to shoot and our tech guy Dmitro edited it himself... it is actually his very first video. We did it on our laptops while on buses and flights.

    Are you excited about the opportunity to expose your music to a larger audience?

    Definitely yes. I never give up an opportunity to play to foreign audiences. We tried ourselves in Greenland and China, Mexico and Japan. It is a great challenge to expose your craft to an audience who sometimes do not even know where to find your country on the map. Through playing live, I realized that our music has real potential to be understood.

    Is it difficult trying to counterbalance what you know works for your sound to Russian audiences and your base audience while trying to open up your sound's accessibility to a wider group of potential fans?

    Not really. We never really tried to adjust ourselves to market needs. That's why since day one, I heard that our music was too western for Russians, and that we did not stand a chance for commercial success. Our story proved that wrong. Time to test the West.

    If you could collaborate with any one artist or band still making today, who would you love to work with in the future?

    I always loved what Martin L Gore does [Depeche Mode's main songwriter], I think people like Danger Mouse would find it interesting to work on Mumiy Troll stuff, I guess the way David Bowie can mix genres and sounds is really close to what I'm doing emotionally. But I don't believe in professional collaboration. The best things happen usually based on human factor where people really respect each other.


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