These galleys don’t dock at Brighton Beach. AN interview with Max Pokrovsky in the Afisha magazine.
Max, a belated happy 47th birthday. One edition remarked on your birthday that you’ve taken over what Sparks started. Have you heard them? Do you you like them?
Thank you. I’ve listened to many of their albums and even been to a couple of their concert gigs in Moscow a few years ago (2006). We even chatted after the concert, and it’s something I don’t normally do. I don’t really think I can comment on this comparison. First, I can’t give opinions about myself, and second, I think the whole notion of someone taking over the tradition belongs to our recent communistic history. In this particular case they are talking positively – and surely I’m going to fight this approach, it’s very flattering. I used to listen to Sparks more, and now I listen to them less, but that doesn’t mean I like them any less. Time is flowing and you keep learning something new.
What do you find interesting in music now?
Everything. A while ago I seriously got into all sorts of electronic music – I can’t even name the artists, because I didn’t really go deep into club or underground and didn’t get stuck on particular artists. Galloped across Europe, if you know what I mean. Talking of world-famous bands, I know and love Daft Punk, but it’s hard to call them electronic; they’re an insanely upscale and talented pop band. I didn’t fail to notice the Infected Mushroom. I’ve always enjoyed all pop-implementations of electronics – what Madonna did with Orbital, the period when she was associated with Paul Oakenfold. Later I swayed towards rock; this happened thanks to Kasabian, whose concerts I never managed to visit because I’m always busy.
It’s clear that you listen to electronics from the last album of Nogu Svelo! But there’s pop-punk in your American album, “Max”. Where did that come from? You know, everything is so mixed up now. A while ago I released an electronic song, “Shopping”, as Max Pokrovsky. I’ve worked with different producers and in different production. Fast Food Kids by Max was made in Los Angeles with different producers, except for the song “Eat My Heart”, which we made with a dude named Shawn Gould. But it didn’t make it into “Fast Food Kids” and ended up in “Eat my Heart”. You’re right that this album is mostly punk – it’s the direction I worked in at the time. Extending my work in other directions was both difficult and, within this album, dangerous. As Nogu Svelo! we сan afford a portion of eclectics and mixed styles, but it’s not possible in an American album.
What do you mean by “can’t afford”? Do you set these boundaries yourself?
The album was intended as international, because in a way I’m an unknown artist. I mean it’s clear that for the Russian-speaking audience I’m a well-known artist from Nogu Svelo! And when you release an album as an unknown artist, just «because it’s fun to try», it’s stupid. Nobody on the market does that. I’m talking about mixed styles.
A music video by Max Pokrovsky in his English alias, Max, for the song “My name is Dick”.
It’s the sort of jokes we’ve got here.
Do you really care about the market, do you think in economical terms?
Yes, I needed it. Thanks to this album I accomplished three things: first, I discovered my potential to perform for American audiences and have an English (American) set list. I’ll get back to it as soon as I have time. We’ve recently started touring America for Russian audiences, but we’ve had neither time nor opportunities to work for americans. Naturally, no one can stop you from playing in a bar for a hundred bucks (and no one will play for $100), but money’s not the issue here. Westerners realize that artists don’t work for the money. Second, many songs from “Max” made it into “Nogu svelo!” album: for example, “My name is Dick” with Russian chorus. It’s vice versa with “Have a nice flight” with its English chorus and Russian coulplets. Third, I’ve set up the production and met new people. Some are more expensive and some are cheaper; some I want to keep working with, and less so with others. This is a part of behind-the-scenes, production lab routine, and it’s not interesting for a layman. Nevertheless it’s a huge event in our business.
Did you plan to hit the jackpot with Fast Food Kids with its songs such as My Name is Dick, SOS with chorus “SOS in the Ass”, or it was just testing the ground? Of course it was a gamble. You can’t expect to hit the charts unless you invest serious money. I don’t like this word, but I’m forced to. You need strength, you need time, and presence where there is demand for what you do. We spend over 90% of time in Russia. The fourth positive thing this album did – it greatly improved our concert sound. Songs like “We Wanna Show” and “Big Story of Little Lorie” took us to a new level. Did it require American production? It’s wise to say no, it wasn’t a must, but since it had already happened, we borrowed some of its elements.
Did you follow Ilya Lagutenko (Mumiy Troll) when he went West? I’ve heard something, but didn’t go into details. I know he and the guys had a nice tour and partnered with a very strong concert company. The last I’ve heard of them, they had a gig in the Troubadour in LA for a Russian audience.
There were some English songs in the earliest albums of Nogu Svelo! Why?
It was way back before I took interest in electronic music. Back then everyone sang in English.
Few people know that we were a part of the Moscow Rock Laboratory. Matrosskaya Tishina and Nad Vsei Ispaniei Bezoblachnoe Nebo sang in English. There was a wonderful band, Amnistia – those guys sang in English. Back then those who didn’t speak English sang in pseudo-English, and so did we. After all, English is perfect for rock music. Afterwards, when this atrocity which now calls itself show business began to grow in Russia (technically it really is show business, which doesn’t cancel the atrocity), and when Russian-language FM stations began to make a statement, it got obvious that those singing in English will go extinct. No one really disliked or dislikes Russian. Our first album, “Girls win 1:0” was all-Russian. Writing Russian lyrics has always been one of my strong skills. This was the sound of Nogu svelo! in the early nineties: you can really feel the Pixies’ influence (in the best sense).
What did you listen to back then?
I’ve always loved The Rolling Stones and I adore David Bowie. I only took a glimpse at what the guys from Nogu Svelo! recommended me back then, but it didn’t fail to influence me. Such superdudes as the Pixies…I love the Sugarcubes way more than I like Bjork’s solo works, despite all her originality. I’ve known them and I’ve listened to them, but not really avidly.
Where does this interest in promoting yourself in the West come from?
It’s not new, I’ve had it for years. The thing is, back then I couldn’t afford it. Technically.
What do you mean by “afford it”?
Find a couple of weeks, buy tickets. I’m overstating, we could buy tickets three years ago. But now we stand strong in Russia and it’s become apparent that time won’t roll back to 1991 or 1992 for no one. I’m not grumbling over this, but back then we were on fire, the very atmosphere of Moscow sparked ambitions, so it would take at least the same time. A few years ago I had a frightening revelation – I’ve run out of ambition in Moscow. I’m exaggerating a bit here, we’re about to release an album, and our main ambition is our audience which we love very much. But at the moment our interests have narrowed down to this. Naturally, we’d love to see the reaction in social networks, and I even appear on TV every now and then – otherwise they’ll forget me. I don’t think it really matters nowadays, but if it’s in small doses – why not, then?
In your opinion, what’s wrong with the Russian music?
(Long silence) It’s all cheesy (Lena, the group director, chuckles). Almost all of it. Naturally, there are guys that we, Nogu svelo!, have something to learn from. Guys like Slot have got some serious sound. But, first of all, there are too few of them. Second, I don’t really understand the lyrics component: teenagers scream along, but I haven’t got it yet. The second problem is actually two parts of the same problem: we don’t have rock stations. The only relatively big station is “Nashe Radio”, but it’s not open to modern sound. There are some strong individuals out there – I’ve never been a fan of Splin, but some of this dude’s songs are strong poetically and not half-bad melodically. But when was Splin founded? 1993.
But you’re still a part of this system and play by its rules?
We play when we are allowed into this game. Most of the time we aren’t. “Faberge’s eggs” were on air at one time, but they didn’t want “In100gramm”.
Yes, you wrote in social networks that they were afraid to put it on air because of “booze”.
It could have been be a good song. But the thing is, radio people nowadays are bound by fear of their stockholders and owners. It’s always been like that but now the situation has gone beyond reasonable. If you dig deeper in time, the situation with “Box” is very frustrating: in my opinion, it’s the strongest album. Back then we had poor management, poor discipline and so on. In this case it’s got nothing to do with discipline and management. I’ve got nothing against business. One of the sides of this problem is that for some reason Russian pop-music avoids hooks. The idea is that music must be dull – not just traditional, and not just cheesy, but dull. Any bright musical work scares the shit out of radio people – this won’t pass, the boss will fire me… Why there’s hook in other places, and no hook here? The half of production of, say, “Faberge’s Eggs” was done in LA. That’s when they asked me – “Where’s the chorus?”. (Lena laughs, Max addresses her) That redhead bastard says: there’s no chorus! And Michael remained silent politely, because he wanted money.
Speaking about radio – they’re discussing military machines for “Nashestvie” festival. What are your thoughts?
In short, they’ll make a military vehicle show on Nashestvie. They’ve brought a bunch of tanks and heavy artillery there. Andrey Makarevich refused to participate.
You know, we’ve had a very provisional relationship with this company, the one that organizes Nashestvie. The reasons for that aren’t very clear but a team such as Nogu svelo can’t afford the weakness of offering itself for Nashestvie. I think that even after several years of ghosting us, hypothetically, if Nashestvie considered inviting Nogu svelo!, they’d have to prove (pause). Their intent (pause). To see us at their festival. What I’m going to say now is very immodest but it’s a fact that even the organizers themselves acknowledged: Nogu svelo! is one of the strongest concert teams. Nogu svelo! did a lot – just recall our enormous weewee prop, and me riding it – to make the festival memorable. The organizers demanded scenic, visual props. We agreed to this because we were and we remain cooperative guys. Regarding your question – I’m abashed, I didn’t know anything about that. But my first reaction – they’d be better off showing string panties and bras and boas, and not exclusively on women. I understand they’re all into military vehicles now – all kids love tanks. But the time comes and they grow up – the question is, when.
The latest – the recent – video of Nogu svelo!, for the song “Oil”.
You’re known as a proponent of same-sex marriages and overall support of gays. How did you react to the so-called law against the propaganda of homosexuality?
(Silence) I never actively supported gays, but that doesn’t mean I’m dodging the subject. I’ve always said that it’s wrong to bother these people. They’ve chosen to live this way and it’s their right. I’ve said it live on central TV, in particular. For me the whole affair around gays is made up of three components: first – the existence of gays as such, second – the issue of same-sex marriages, and third – adoption. I’ve got no question about the first one – just leave them alone. Haven’t you got anything more worthy to do? The second one is also understandable. If people want to legalize their relationship, to co-own and inherit one another’s property, have mutual funds – please, give it to them! You can live with a wardrobe chest if you want. I mean the financial and legal side of it. The third issue – for me, personally – remains open. I do understand perfectly well that a well-off family can give a child a lot in terms of upbringing, eduation, and happy childhood. But it also sets an example for the child. It’s my opinion. There is a serious “but” here: I’m a layman in these issues and I don’t know all the intricacies or stats. I may be saying very brazen things now, but, okay – it’s only a question I’m asking myself, I’m not stating anything – why control birth rates with wars when you can do the same with gays? People, who do so much for culture, for pop- and rock culture in particular, for club and electronic music? Where did house music come from? Just let these people be. There are way more serious problems on earth than all this horseplay around gays. We need to define propaganda here: if gays want to parade the Gorky street, or Tverskaya street, I think, let them. They must put up notifications a couple of weeks prior to the event – that there’ll be a gay parade. Those who don’t like it can keep their kids away from it. Be informed. This way it won’t be propaganda. I’ve no idea what our @#$% lawmakers were thinking about, but this is the idea.
You’ve appeared at biker festivals on many occasions. Why?
Because bikers like us and invite us.
Not long ago there was a question in your VKontakte group: why don’t you perform at the biker festival in Sevastopol?
Because we’ll be on vacation. I went to Crimea a while ago. Local musicians said that the number of concerts there dropped. You performed there this spring. Who invited you, and did you wonder whether to go or not?
Max (to the director) Where did we go the last time?
Lena (typing an SMS): I’m online with the organizer at the moment! In Crimea? On August, 9, last year. Or now? We went to Sebastopol. In the Bunker.
Max: exactly. You know, if there’s a club that’s inviting us, if it’s a club concert, what is there to think about? It’s our job! Crimeans aren’t inferior to other people. We’re outside politics, and… They asked me today on “Moscow 24” and it didn’t go on air – we know you’ve got family in Dnepropetrovsk. And am I supposed to conceal it, or what? I’m half-Ukrainian. Am I supposed to be afraid of it? There was a time when Bulgarians were executed for being Bulgarians. Here in the Soviet Union. And now I’m happy to be able to to to Bulgaria, I love this country. If I could go there earlier – I’d do that. All this hustle… But overall – with pleasure. Always with pleasure. Absolutely anywhere, any country. A while ago a very decent person wrote to me (I’m not telling the name only because I didn’t ask for permission to do so) that people in Kiev are missing Russian music. A while ago I needed to find contacts of a person. I called Skripka from Vopli Vidoplyasova. We had an absolutely normal conversation with Oleg. I think I’ve answered your question.
Do you ever think about how to present and promote yourself? Do you build a separate image for Russia and for the West? I’ve had such thoughts, but they come and go. The only recipe is – be yourself. As soon as you begin thinking about it and trying to predict something, it all turns into… nothing works out. On the other hand, it’s doesn’t at all mean that we don’t give a hoot. Few people in the Sovietland and on Earth have given such massive hoot as we have – with our concert in the Variety Theater.
Did you speak about your Crimean concert in the USA? If so, how did people react?
America doesn’t give a damn – in the best sense of this phrase. If you’re seen as an cosmopolitan, polite, tolerant person open to other’s opinions, you’ll always be accepted. America is a land of immigrants. There’s no aggression there! So you’re Russian. So what? “What do you think about what’s happening in Crimea?” And I tell them: “Guys, to me it’s a triangle. I’m in the USA now, and a part of my professionl interests is here in the US. I’m a Russian citizen, I love my country and I’m not going to speak ill of it to be liked by you. And I’m half-Ukrainian, so I’m not going to criticize Ukraine and Ukrainians to entertain others. That’s the triangle.”
Have you had thoughts of leaving everything behind, leaving the country and putting all you’ve got into working in the West?
My main task is being in Russia. Where you are is where you do things. Thinking is one thing and bringing thoughts into effect is another. I’ve had a whole lot of thoughts in my life and I’m sure I’ll have more. We’re on a tight touring schedule here in Russia. I’ve already told you we’ll have a vacation. Some of us will go to Turkey, others to Spain, and yet others will spend a couple of weeks toiling away on galleys. Which don’t dock at Brighton Beach, thank God. It’s a different country, after all.