by Diana Ciuca
Breaking the bonds of Soviet Rule, Mumiy Troll emerged as an incredibly successfull Russian rock band. The animated band members of Mumiy Troll are now traveling 40 cities in North America. I got the luck opportunity to interview the front-man, Illya Lagutenko, as the band traveled across Montana to preform in Canada. With a refreshing rock sound and unique history, this band is definitely worth checking out.
1. Being from a communist country, how have the strict regulations on rock music affected Mumiy Troll’s growth?
First of all, it was not anything like Music “traffic code” or an amendment in the constitution treating Rock n Roll as pedophilia…it was more like adultery:) You actually can do that if you find a right partner who agrees to conspire a little affair together. But if you wanna spice up your hot nights there is only you and no toys:) Its pretty filthy comparison. I guess but that was exactly the thing. Slightly risky, cool includes smuggled records and black market blue jeans. It was so easy to become a rebel in Soviets time.
2. What made you and the other band members rebel from societal constraints and form a band?
Funny thing is we were never considered rebellious , we just wanted the music on our terms, our outfits on our terms. It was more like teenage angst. But when you grow up in totalitarian society, strange things can happen. Only for having strange band name MUMIY TROLL (which is actually play on letters from moomintrolls, scandinavian fairytale characters) they’ll put you on pedestal of Most Dangerous Band in the world together with Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath. How cool is that? Never made an album and to already be in a same league, at least among your schoolmates?
Were there any musical influences which aided in the band’s development?
We did not have music stores. Soviet TV was not like anything western, so our musical tastes formed as combination of Italo Pop Festivals, DIY made Iron Maiden tshirts and smuggled new wave records. I was really open to any kind of new music. I guess I still can be good at Pop Quizzes regarding 80s music.
3. The band temporarily broke up because of the draft to the Soviet Army. Are there any other notable difficulties that the band members have encountered through the years?
It was mandatory. So we did not really suffer in the end. I just had two years to think about lots of things in my life. Soviet Union collapsed soon after that. So it was very discovering times for me. Just imagine – your life and your country changed almost overnight when you’re in early 20s. No more old doctrines, you’re free to go anywhere, feeling of total freedom. Many people could not handle that. However in my life searches it was close to perfection. I studied Mandarin and Chinese Economy. I went to China and saw with my own eyes how the Dragon grows, got a job in a City of London where a company’s bankruptcy sendt me on the street in a perfect time to witness Britpop all that cool Brittannia thing. So many great liife experiences only to prove that music is the only thing which I do really enjoy doing.
4. Mumiy Troll is a pioneer in Russian music because of its unique sound. What impact do you think that your music has had on setting trends in Russia and influencing society?
I guess we were just in a right time in a right place. In general my idea of rock n roll band has not changed since I was teenager, however life and music experience gives you a special intuition how to guide yourself in this world where everything been invented. If I’m not mistaken, there are the words “Honesty and freedom” describing rock n roll at The RNR Hall of Fame. This is what I was doing, always. I would not write about things which I’m not familiar with and I’m not trying to copy anyone else. You can not be Pink Floyd if you’re not actually Pink Floyd. Rock band is a combination of music tastes, abilities, characters. The moment you realize you just do your best at what you do, then there always people who appreciate that.
Every single label in Russia hated our first self-funded album; they said that “westernized pop rock approach” never sells in Russia. We had a hard time proving to distribution that they had nothing to lose, as they did not really have to invest anything – only to prove in year time that our record became a most significant record in modern Russia not only for sales figures, but also for the fact that it is not a niche thing. Everyone from ex-military pilots to teenage girls found something for them in my songs. I guess because it was time of new hopes in Russia (late 90s) so we kinda sang everyone’s hope on our own terms. That things really can be different and it works…
5. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, how do you think things have changed in Russia? What things do you like about it now that were not in existence before the fall of the communist regime?
Russia became oh so different – in its own way of course. I mean, you hardly recognize that Moscow in 1980 and Moscow in 2010 is the same place. But nothing really changed visually in many places. It’s quite difficult for people to absorb new way of life, new modern “capitalist” values. I do understand that. When you live for 60 years when they said right is right, and suddenly they told you right is left, it’s a bit surprising isn’t it? It was kinda safe and easy life – if you of course appreciate that someone controls you and actually tells you how to live your life. The moment you have a slightest idea that things can be done differently – goodbye Soviets. Then, welcome to real world jungle. But life is full of contrasts and I’m lucky to actually live many of them, not only read in a book.
6. You have gained international popularity through tours and even by participating in the Eurovision contest. Are there any specific places or events that you would consider to have made a huge impact on the band?
I guess its all coming in the future.:) Really we did not have anything special – we simply work hard, because to live this rock n roll lifestyle is a special reward which is more valuable than any chart position or awards ceremony. It’s just a lot of people dreaming about it, but not too many fulfill that dream. You gotta be realistic, have common sense but have enough courage to admit that every rose has its thorn.
7. Speaking of all these tours, how was your first tour in North America, and what made you come back again?
We’ve played selected cities like New York or San Francisco before, simply because they have significant Russian communities. However to go on 40 dates across whole of US Canada and even Mexico was quite a challenge not only from the booking agent standpoint also from the band’s point of view. Imagine Lou Reed goes on tour in China in 2012. Kinda start all over again to explain who you are to people who do not really care about your Velvet Underground background…pretty rock n roll-ish, uh?
8. How would you describe your fans, and how do you think they have changed through the years and through various social revolutions?
Our fans are sweet. And funny. You look at them in audience and you have absolute picture of modern Russia. People so different. This is what I really like. They are different breed of people. Maybe they’d never communicate in real life, but they come to see us. I guess it’s a quality of music and personal things. My band mates are totally devoted musicians; however, they will never bore you with their techniques etc. They’re fun people to go and play. We’re rather realistic, intelligent and GSOH about music industry truths . We were old enough to get success not to be starstruck. In russia being rockstar never paid as oil-mine ownership. So we’re still the same boys on the road. People like that attitude. We’re honest with them. To sing about outer space – you should spend some time there at least. We do.
9. Finally, what is the uniting force that has kept the band together for so many years even in the face of political danger?
I guess I’m a naturally born diplomat…in other life I’d lead UN or something like United Galactic Peace Corp. I’m sure I can handle that. 🙂
For more info, you can check out their site: www.mumiytroll.com, their myspace: www.myspace.com/mumiy, or the myriad of articles about their shows.