Ilya Lagutenko, an iconic figure in Russian music, has made his once local Vladivostok band, Mumiy Troll, into an international sensation. For many years now, the band has been on the road and has delivered a vast amount of strong, original material. And it’s no surprise that the collapse of the USSR and the end of The Cold War only brought more opportunities for Mumiy Troll to finally win over music lovers on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
Lagutenko is well known for his ability to connect with the fans in three languages: Chinese, English, and his native tongue, Russian.
Mumiy Troll’s first album in English came out in 2012, and was very well received by critics. Now, two years later, Lagutenko is getting ready to release another album and showcase the talents of all the bands on the bill at the V-ROX music event at the legendary Troubadour on November 23 (GET TICKETS).
The V-ROX concert event is a showcase where Mumiy Troll will present their hometown Vladivostok grassroots music festival idea. This event is aimed at creating an opportunity for the bands from “not quite” rock ’n’ roll countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, Korea, China, Singapore, and South Africa, to be discovered outside their home bases.
These bands are ready to collaborate, travel, share the stage, and provide amazing live shows where sometimes the language and the music genre are not that important.
In anticipation of the band’s upcoming show at The Troubadour, Lagutenko spoke at length about his plans for 2015.
NB: Ilya, I’m sure you’re aware of how historically important The Troubadour is for many musicians who get to play there. Its stage has seen such notable artists as Elton John, Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, and even John Lennon. After touring the world for quite a while and having seen so many significant venues, did you ever think back in the 90s, when The Iron Curtain fell, that you’d someday play in a legendary place that shaped the careers of so many rock icons – The Troubadour?
Ilya: To be honest, I do not really care about the heritage of those iconic venues, but being a music fan and a performing musician at the same time, every time I go to a show in different country, I value the venue from the standpoint of a potential show for myself.
I love The Troubadour for the sound and vibe. I believe its’ a great location for Russians in L.A., as they do not really seem to willing to go east or to Downtown L.A. It also has great line-ups everyday, and I thought it would be a perfect place to promote such a show where Mumiy Troll can play with other bands introducing each other to different audiences.
Also, I have to tell you that, back in the 80s, I hardly ever imagined not only that I can make my living playing rock music, but also I’ve never dreamed of even going overseas as touring musicians back in those years.
If someone would have told me that in 20 years I would be saying “Hi” to Mick Jagger at a private party, chatting with Michael Stipe, or sailing with Simon LeBon in Balearics, I would not have even commented on that. By the way, it’s always a bit frustrating to encounter your “music icons”, whether it’s people or venues. That’s why I prefer to hang out with bands or musicians who are still trying their best to explore the world in a way they have not experienced yet.
NB: Many critics here in the USA and other western countries compare you to David Bowie and Mick Jagger. How do you feel about that? Do you feel honored or do you feel that this comparison is irrelevant because your style is unique compared to theirs?
Ilya: It depends on the particular writer’s taste. We have just returned from China, and they labeled us “The Russian Beatles”, or Russian “Beyond” (a band from Hong Kong that made it big in mainland China and Japan); however, our music hardly has anything in common.
I can’t say my style is unique. It would be very stupid to say. I’m simply trying to write songs that would appeal to myself as a listener and trying to live many different lives while I’m alive. Exploring different music styles surely gives this opportunity for; together with the music you start to learn the background of genre, you kind of morph it through yourself.
NB: In 2012, Mumiy Troll released their first album in English: Vladivostok. It was partially an attempt to break the stereotypes Western countries still have about Russia. Now, two years later, having played hundreds of shows all over the world, do you think that the album achieved its goal?
Ilya: No… We spent lots of time and money on this self-released album. It was a great experience to work with American producers (Mike Clink and Joe Chiccarelli were involved) and simply to learn more about the people and their attitudes.
I guess for the guy that was in DIY music business for more than 15 years, there are not a lot of things to get surprised by. You are your own composer, lyricist, producer, agent, manager, even tax-planner, for goodness sake. Running a one band is no different than running a label. Size does not matter, and the amount of work and issues to deal with are the same.
The one thing I learned from my teenage years is that you just keep on recording if you have a song to record. This year, we are planning to release our first ever-recorded album on vinyl. We were teenagers, we knew nothing about the record business and techniques, we recorded ten songs, and shared them on the cassettes with our friends. It has never been officially published. I listened to it today and realized that it has some potential because it sounds like a starting electro-pop band these days. All pre-orders are sold out already :))
NB: Your new guitarist, Erik Himel, is American. Does it feel different to have a band member who doesn’t speak Russian? Did that change anything within the band at all?
Ilya: I speak several languages myself, so I don’t have any linguistic barriers with anyone. I think I have a knack for languages. I need a few days in an unknown country to learn enough to find my way around. It’s also easier when you are in a band unless you join Beijing Opera music. Grammar is same in any language. It’s more about stage presence and simple human communication. I hardly would deal with the best guitarist in the world if he is a total jerk. To be together with someone on a tour bus is a challenge; even to be on stage for an hour is a challenge. That’s why our previous guitarist, who, in fact, was outrageously talented, lost his spot. When he was drunk, he was totally intolerable; so we called it a day.
These days, when you are touring internationally, you have to keep lots of expenditures in mind — visa issues, work permits, airfares and… if you are an indie DIY band (and we always were and still are), you have to think carefully about all of those things. So in ex-CIS countries, Western world and Asia line-ups could be a little bit different for us.
NB: Can you describe your experience performing at The Olympics in Sochi? Did the fact that it was the very first time after 1980 The Olympics took place in Russia and there was so much controversy about it make you feel somewhat pressured to do the best possible job, to show what you’re capable of as a representative of Russian culture?
Ilya: To be honest with you, I share lots of skepticism about how Sochi could host The Olympics. I was there many times, and I am not a really a big fan of the place. It’s sort of Russian “Miami South Beach” — you love it or hate it. But I was really impressed and touched how everything worked in the end. Russians staged a great event in all terms, and I was totally happy to be a part of it. I truly think that the level of hospitality was tip-top and sincere. We have played an open air in front of Main Arena, we had never played such a big show in Sochi, and I know we made lots of people happy!
NB: Since you’re doing a showcase in Los Angeles, do you have any thoughts of someday bringing the V-ROX Festival to the US? There are many Russians and Russian-speaking people living here. Do you think that would be a great way to further develop Eastern and Western relations?
Ilya: It’s exactly the case. I am involved a lot in cross-promotion of Western, Asian and Russian artists from both sides of The Pacific. There are a lot of exciting music acts now in Korea, China, Russia, and even in Mongolia. You would be amazed how some of those bands form “NOT QUITE rock ‘n’ roll countries” are much more exciting live than an average new American act. I always compare it to Asian fashion for instance – lots of very creative ideas come from there these days. The era of cheap counterfeits is over. There are also market opportunities for those acts there. However, it’s not easy to find an act that could be a niche and also have a universal approach.
This time, we have invited Benji Hughes and Chicano Batman to share the stage. I’ve been a fan of Benji’s music for a couple of years now, and I think he is the one of those amazing American songwriters who can be easily understood by the Russian audience. He’s like Tom Waits, and also has that Leonard Cohen-ish approach, which Russians love. At the same time, his tracks have uber-modern sounds. He’s got that weird charisma. Chicano Batman is the ultimate L.A. Latin band. Think The Sunset Strip vibe, but Tijuana in 70s. This is another good example of the bridge between cultures, music, heritages, and societies. All those are so different but ready to understand each other.
Next time we are going to bring some Asian acts and American hip-hop together. We are also building The Pacific Rim tour route for affiliated musicians. L.A. – Seoul – Vladivostok – Beijing – Ulan Bator – Moscow. It’s Trans-Siberian 21st century way!
NB: It is rumored that there is a new Mumiy Troll album in Russian in the works; it will be released next year. Are there any surprises to expect there?
Ilya: It’s called “ Counterfeit Copies” and we have just finished the artwork. My drawing has been made into the album cover by oil-painter in Dafen Village (a place in Guangdong famous for supplying hand painted copies of world art in amounts of millions to international markets).
NB: When are you planning of doing an album in English again?
Ilya: I guess tomorrow, we will release our EP Vitamins along with the video. The video will have a 3-D version too. It’s a mixture of radical manga about new Superhero called Utherus Man and a Mumiy Troll performance.
NB: You have also appeared in several films; the most notable being the role of a vampire in a highly successful Russian blockbuster “The Night Watch.” If you get a role offer from an American director, would that be something of interest to you?
Ilya: Evil guy in Bond movie! That’s the only one I could fit in. They’re always smart, good looking and live in modern houses. I don’t have to act then. And Russians are “in demand” again for bad guys (Laughing). So I stand all the chances!
For more information visit Mumiy Troll’s official website.
V-ROX official website: http://vrox.vladivostok3000.ru