Be prepared for a Russian invasion. No, the Cold War is long gone. This invasion will be a welcome one. On April 30 the Russian sensation LOUNA will release their first ever English CD, entitled “Behind A Mask”.
The CD, a compilation of ten of their best songs from their first two Russian language CD’s (“Let’s Get Louder” and “The Time of X”), has been a painstaking process of transcribing the lyrics into a completely different language, without losing any of the emotion or meaning.
LOUNA is an award winning rock band with a rabid following in the Russian Federation; winning the 2009 “Best New Artist of the Year” award from the Russian Alternative Music Prize (RAMP), as well as picking up the 2012 “Female Vocalist of the Year” Nashe Award.
The band (vocalist Lusine “Lou” Gevorkyan, bassist Vitaly “Vit” Demidenko, guitarists Ruben “Rou” Kazarian and Sergey “Serzh” Ponkratiev, and drummer Leonid “Pilot” Kinzbursky) have a sound that is undeniable and fresh. They rock hard, but with a message. Lou’s vocals are impressive, to say the least, and their songs are catchy with an definite edge.
They have performed on the main stage at every Russian rock festival and their influence is undeniable. This fall they will be featured in the MTV documentary “Rebel Music”.
LOUNA released their first two singles this past week in “Business” and “Mama” (Check out the video on this page) as well as making “Behind A Mask” available for pre-order on iTunes.
But my guess is many of you have never heard of LOUNA. In order to get a better grasp on who is LOUNA I was able to ask the band several questions to enlighten my readers, or in other words, to unmask LOUNA.
Examiner: Congratulations on the upcoming release of “Behind A Mask”. Please explain the concept of the album and who’s idea was it?
Vit: Thanks. We’ve been working on our international album for over 2 years. I can’t say that any of us really came up with the concept for the album. We all really did it together.
Lou: The name actually comes from a lyric in “The End of Peace,” but all our videos have always had masks in them. It’s kind of the common thread of our band.
Examiner: How did the process come to fruition?
Lou: In the fall of 2010 we were doing a show in Moscow at a club called B2 with a few other bands. Travis (Leake- American producer and lyricist) was there watching our show and our Russian manager introduced us to him and about a month later he emailed me the lyrics to Let’s Get Louder in English. We got together and worked out how exactly we would sing the new words and I was really shocked at how the vowels and accents and rhymes were all just perfect, even in another language.
Vit: And the main thing was the the meaning didn’t change. Of course, they’re not translations, but you know… the general idea is the same and in some places it’s even exactly the same.
Lou: But we kept working, on and off, for about another year or so. We recorded three tracks, and they just sat there for about a year in a computer file. Then at some point it just got really serious. We won the 2011 Rock Song of the Year award in January of 2012 and then Travis came to us with more lyrics for other songs and I had to start getting really serious about practicing the new lyrics. We set up several recording sessions and did even more songs. In early October of 2012 we finished the final vocal recordings and then Travis told us that he had Dan Korneff on board to do the mixing. We were floored.
Examiner: How tough was it to sing in English for the album? Some non-English speaking bands just mimic the language but don’t really speak English. How well does Lou know English? For that matter, does anyone else in the band know English?
Lou: Yes, I can to speak Engrish. =D It’s my second language, so of course I have an accent when I talk, and if you start throwing a bunch of weird expressions at me I might stare at you funny. The nice thing about recording an album, especially when your vocal producer is an American linguist, is that you can understand what you’re doing right and wrong. At first it was really a challenge because I never had to do anything like that before, but after a while, and especially on the last half of the album, it became really easy and now I can sing live without any accent really.
Pilot: Only two people in the group can speak English well, Lou and Rouben. The rest of us promise to work on it!
Vit: My English sucks, but I try. I answered everything in Russian and if I don’t sound like an idiot it’s because the translator did their job.
Sergey: I know the bad words and the names of alcohols.
Rouben: I studied English most of my life, and have a linguistics background, so English isn’t a problem for me.
Examiner: You have been called a protest band, a rock band with a punk attitude, and a socially conscious band. How would you like to be known as and why? Sorry, I know a lot of artists hate labels as do I, but to help potential new listeners it is a question that many of my readers want asked.
Pilot: I really don’t want to put a stamp on our work. If we see injustice and tyranny, we sing about it. If we see love, we sing about it. The songs are about what we care about.
Lou: Yeah, hate labels. We’re just a rock band. To me punk is about lyrics, not anything else. Let’s not categorize. We see a lot of stupid shit in this country and we sing about it. We’re not in China, we see the news from around the world and we can see that the rest of the world has a lot of the same problems that we do, just in different ways.
Vit: And our lyrics aren’t some obvious straightforward words like “Putin sucks” or something like that. We use symbolism and allegory. You can understand our lyrics however you want. What they mean to us may not be what they mean to you, but that’s cool and it’s normal.
Rouben: It’s really important to say that we’re not exactly against Putin, or any personality. We’re against the system that exists here in Russia. We’re for the ordinary person, the 99%. Even if you got rid of Putin and Medvedyev someone else would just come and take their place. It’s not that they’re the problem, it’s that the whole system here is just not designed for people who just want to live and work and have a normal life. This is the change that we want. We want our country to be just and treat everyone like civilized people just like you want for yourselves.
Examiner: You have achieved a lot of success in Russia; from being named “Best new artist” by the Russian Alternative Music Prize, to the Nashe Award’s “Female Vocalist of the Year”, as well as several number 1 songs on the Russian charts. What do want to bring to American ears?
Rouben: More than anything, and about this I know I can speak for all of us, we just want to show the world that a Russian group has something to offer the world. There’s not one band from our country that has any standing in the world. For the whole world to believe that the best we have to offer music is Gorky Park and t.A.T.u. is really absurd. We are from the country that gave the world Tchaikovskiy, Borodin, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov and so many others. To believe that our country can not produce even one popular music group is just stupid.
Lousine: There are a lot of good young bands here in Russia. You will never hear about them even here in Russia unless you’re part of the underground scene because the old men who run the music system here don’t have any interest in western styles of music.
Vit: The success we have had in Russia in just a couple of short years still blows me away. It really gives me hope that there is a chance for a young Russian rock band to show the world that Russia has something to say and can be an important part of music.
Sergey: We’re not all criminals. Our grandmas aren’t in the mob, we don’t beat our wives. We’re like you, but just from the other side of reality.
Examiner: What makes you stand out (apart from the multiple awards and #1 singles you have achieved) from all the other bands vying to break into the American music scene? In other words, what makes you different?
Rouben: How many Russian bands do you know in America?
Vit: I think what we bring is something original musically and lyrically. There’s nobody in the US who makes music the same way we do, there’s lots of great bands but nothing out there sounds like us. One thing you will notice about our songs is that our lyrics have meaning and depth. That’s the main thing in Russia. People choose their music based on the lyrics, it’s maybe the most important thing.
Sergey: It’s really important to say that what we achieved in Russia we did without any help. Nobody invests money in rock bands here. Absolutely nobody. People just reacted to what we do.
Pilot: And people are the same everywhere really.
Examiner: Who did you grow up listening to and who do you listen to now?
Vit: My favorite bands are Nirvana, Billy Talent, Sex Pistols and lots of others.
Lou: I’m listening to Scars on Broadway a lot lately.
Pilot:. Queen, Sex Pistols, Metallica, Blink 182.
Sergey: I love Pearl Jam, Sepultura, Velvet Revolver and REM.
Rouben: Drudge, also Pearl Jam, grunge in general and Bon Jovi.
Examiner: What made you decide to take a career in music?
Lou: It just happened. I always knew I wanted to be a musician, but I never really studied professionally or in school. It just kind of fit.
Vit: It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s my life.
Pilot: – My ex-girlfriend. She didn’t believe in me so I decided to prove to her that I could be a success.
Rouben: I had lots of different options, especially in the sciences. I have been given opportunities to do my research work in other countries, but this is what I want most of all.
Sergey: There’s nothin else for me. It’s all I can imagine doing.
Examiner: What is your favorite song from “Behind A Mask”, and why?
Sergey: The End of Peace is my favorite, but there’s all good really.
Lou: I can’t really say, it’s like asking to pick your favorite kid.
Rouben: Business is definitely my favorite, especially the lyrics.
Vit: Hard to say really. Sometimes I like one song and then another. They all represent different parts of us. Maybe Fight Club or Business or Mama.
Pilot: – Mama and Storming Heaven. Not sure why, I just like them.
Examiner: Who does most of the songwriting?
Vit: I write the lyrics in Russian, and Travis writes the English. But we all write the music.
Rouben: A lot of our hit songs I started the guitar melodies and riffs, but then we all get together and they become something that is a combination of ourselves.
Pilot:- Vit writes the lyrics in Russian, and we all write the music together.
Examiner: Where do you draw inspiration for a song?
Lou: Life. So many people ask about influences, but really it’s just about life.
Rouben: I’ve come to understand that there’s a big difference between influences and inspiration. Maybe a feeling, or just listening to a song I really love and then I just take what I hear and change it until it’s something new.
Examiner: What has been your favorite experience as a band so far?
Lou: I love the emotions that I get from the people who come up to me and talk to us after a show or at an autograph session.
Vit: Playing the Nashestviye festival for the first time was really amazing. Tens of thousands of people at the biggest music festival in our country and we were invited to be on the main stage after we were only together for about a year.
Pilot: – It’s personal =D
Examiner: What is your biggest ambition, in terms of music?
Vit: Maybe like any other musician, we just want to play music and be musicians. Nobody gets rich anymore being a musician unless they were around before the internet. All we can really hope for is that we can do what we love and still keep a roof over our heads.
Examiner: I know you have toured a lot in Russia and main staged every major festival in Russia. Are there any plans to tour North America in the near future? If so, would you sing in English or Russian (The way Raamstein usually does in German)?
Lou: plans no, but we want to come. Before we can tour we have to have interest. But we think we’ll be there soon. There is no point to singing in Russian outside of Russia. We want people to understand us. It’s the same reason we don’t sing any of our English songs in Russia. It’s disrespectful to the fans who come to our shows to sing along and feel emotions from the words and music.
For more info on the band, check out www.lounarocks.com as well as their Facebook page.
I for one look forward to seeing this band and photographing them live sometime in the, hopefully near, future.