Lagoutenko answers questions from Scandinavian fans

Voodoo, president of SMTF interviewed Ilia Lagoutenko, singer, composer and text writer of Russian Mumiy Troll on August 10th. The questions were formulated by the members of Swedens Mumiy Troll Fanclub.

Nine a’clock a friday evening in Copenhagen. It’s been raining all day but now it stopped. More and more people crowd the streets as Ilia Lagoutenko and I sip from our teacups at a small table outside a noisy bar. I have waited a long time to meet him and feel pretty nervous. He, on the other hand, seems very relaxed, happy and charming. He just got back from a very successful tour in Ukraine, which I totally forgot to ask about ;)

Ilia, what happened to the band Mumiy Troll after the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, May the 12th?

Well, firstly we recovered for two days — there was too much Champagne after the conference. (Laughs) You see, it didn’t really alter our plans for the future. We usually know where we are going and this was a kind of extra thing in our development, being a contestant was just a new experience.

How did it feel to represent Russia on the ESC?

That’s an interesting question, because in May I would probably have said one thing, but now, as the time passed, I say they’re just nice memories.

You are starting to sing in English again. Could you tell me something about how it feels to alter your language?

Oh, you’re thinking about our songs in English? I am not simply translating the Russian lyrics into English, because it’s simply impossible. I mean, it is possible, but I’m not really keen on that, so they will be kind of the same lyrics. You see, when I’m writing, I don’t usually write the words for the music or vice versa, I write the complete thing at the same time, so it’s music and lyrics, so they’re working together. That’s why, when I’m writing English lyrics for already existing songs, I’m trying to recreate the same atmosphere and the same `world’, lyrically, but not the exact meaning.

Are you writing new songs with English lyrics?

Yes, I have a few, actually, but we’ll se what will happen, because sometimes I have another challenge. For say, I’m writing English lyrics for an English song, and I like the melody, for instance, and then I will do Russian lyrics after the English, so there are many ways about it.

Is it a nine to five job for you to write music?

Not really, it’s more something to do when you have time. Then you have to feel like writing. The third thing is if you need to write (Laughs) because, honestly, a writer and a composer has a bit of kind of pressure. I’m not talking about my record company or fans, for instance, it’s just probably yourself. Something inside says `Oh, hey, come on! Come on! Write something because you can do it!’

Are you writing the songs for MT alone or do the other band members participate?

Usually we work like this: I bring the melody and lyrics to the other band members — and then it depends. For instance, if I bring a song that is more or less done, like Lady Alpine Blue, the band works on the arrangement only, but sometimes we have to change something musically or in the structure or whatever. We’re trying to find a balance so the song will appeal to all band members because when we play it live, we have to enjoy ourselves. And then the audience will enjoy it too.

Do you write for other musicians as well?

I wouldn’t say so but I have this experience. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult for me, but in my opinion there should be some kind of understanding between the author, the performer and me. That’s the first thing. And then I could probably write something for him or her. But I never actually wrote something somebody asked for, it is impossible. Some people ask. At the moment we are working in some projects… which may happen or not. We will see in a few months time. But those started with personal relations.

There is some really nice jazz in your music. Where does it come from?

From Yuri. He’s a big fan of John Coltrane and … you name it! The piano riff in `Nevesta?’ was Yuri’s.

Members have joined and left through the years. Is your band stabile now?

Yes, the situation has changed, I mean, like the last fifteen years. But the last five years we have been what people like to call a `professional band’ (although I don’t really like that word) making a living from making music. But you never know what happens in the future. I don’t really want to think about that.

You had the singer Olesya L’ashenko with you on tours before, but now she’s chosen her studies instead…

Actually, on our records, it is a British girl singing, her name is Ali Maas, she’s singing in a band now called Nine Sea Crossing. Olesya was singing just on one album, Shamora. She was touring with us. Basically, we were looking for some kind of female voice which you can compare to Ali’s voice on the record, and Olesya was the obvious choice.

Are you looking for a new backing vocalist for live gigs now?

No. We’ve had enough experience from touring with a girl. It is probably really difficult for the girl to be with the boys on the road, I mean just simply because of all these routine questions.

When you give a performance, what do you want the audience to experience?

I want to give them value for their money. You see, I learn it from myself. If I go to a gig, I want something more than listening to the music. Because I can listen to that at home — and probably in better quality. I want to give two hours of everything — of something you cannot get at home.

When you play in, say, London; do you meet a different audience — and a different reaction, perhaps?

Even in Russia, I tell you, we’re meeting different audiences. That depends on the venues. I know that some people, for example musicians, can say `All the people were sitting today! Disaster!’ But it just depends. I mean, I never judge the audience when there’s not so much excitement. You just do your thing and you can’t blame anyone for not jumping. Sometimes I don’t want people jumping. Sometimes when the audience starts to sing even louder than me, I want to say to them `Shut up, because I can’t hear myself…’ (Laughter)

Your lyrics are intriguing; complex and often rather serious, do you feel they get through to the audience?

Well, the music and the lyrics are equally important. I hope they both get through. But I don’t want people to `understand’ my lyrics. I want people to feel them. It is not important to me what you think about them. I have heard so many funny explanations of my lyrics and some of them are really… I didn’t even think about all the different things they could mean… But it is interesting to learn they mean something; it means I am clever! (Laughter)

I have been wondering about Zhabri; is it about evolution in any way?

Well, not exactly… I like the word Zhabri. You know, I’ve lived near the sea almost all my life and I was in the marine… When the air gets foggy, most people find it heavier to breathe, but I think it’s much more comfortable to breathe in moist air. So maybe I have Gills. (Laughs) In times of trouble in the world, I can simply dive away!

I ask you this because the bones in our bodies are actually made out of the original bones of the gills a long time ago.

Really? I had no idea! (Laughter)

Are you a poet?

I do not consider myself a poet. But they say the greatest poets didn’t consider themselves poets. (Laughs)

You seem to be such a happy person. How do you do it? Some younger fans of SMTF want to know if there’s a certain trick to it.

You will learn it in twenty years time! (Laughs) As you’re getting older, you’re getting happier and happier! Because otherwise you’re dead!

Most people your age don’t by far look as happy as yourself! How do you achieve this?

It’s an attitude, which you can build inside. If you want it. If you don’t want it, fine. I don’t want to waste my time with tears and depression. It’s not for me. But if you feel like being in a bad mood, so OK, feel it.

But if people around you think you’re strange being so happy all the time?

Well, at least I’m happy. (Laughs)

Did anything special in your childhood have a major effect on your life?

I probably wasn’t that attentive when I grew up, so… As a child I thought I stood a chance to become a cosmonaut. There were some people flying to space — why not me? But now I’m quite easy about it, because we have no regular flights to Mars. It’s the 21st century and we don’t even have holidays on the moon. And probably it wasn’t only me who was dreaming about it when I was a kid. There were other people who also wanted to live in the 21st century and live a different day-to-day life. But then, you see, in twenty years, nothing changed — in general. Now we have Internet. Internet and mobile telephones probably make up for it.

Now it looks as if you turned out a perfect rock-hero. I see no drugs, though… ;)

I just compensate the drugs with sex! (Laughs) And when I sell ten million albums all over the world, we’ll get back to this discussion.

And then — what do you dream about doing except for your music?

I dream to clone myself and lead ten separate lives in different places, doing different stuff. So maybe then I’ll have one of me to lead a proper Rock `n Roll life style. Drugs, vodka, everything… smashing windows (Laughter) But now I am only one so I have to compromise.

What are your good personal characteristics, do you think?

It is hard for me to characterise other people, even, but I guess I am kind and understanding.

Do you have any bad qualities?

Of course not! (laughs) I am ideal!

You live in London, you were born in Russia — where do you belong?

You see, I probably belong to the people who surround me. And it doesn’t really matter where they live; London, Moscow, Copenhagen… I mean, I quite like some of the places I’ve lived, but others — not really… I am originally from Vladivostok in the Russian far east, and it’s similar to how Australia was one hundred years ago. All kinds of people came there. But I am pretty happy travelling around and I don’t really have a place where I feel…
It’s not a `gypsy’ attitude, I am more of a modern traveller. The world is changing and we have all these communications systems now and transportation so it’s easier to commute. I feel pretty lucky myself that I got this possibility to move around.

What were you doing in China for two years?

I studied there! And I worked as a translator, an interpreter of Chinese, Russian and English. I translated all kinds of texts but not literature, because I studied history and economy, not the Chinese language itself. I translated for example a text about the structure of a brick manufacturing plant. And for the Chinese delegation on a visit at a nuclear station. I worked for a company that was running fashion boutiques… I mean, I did everything!

The song Devoshka seems to be special to MT and their fans. Everybody knows it and it seems to be almost your trademark. For example, you sang it in Ukrainian on your tour in Ukraine recently. Why is it so special?

It’s just a hit song! And I think it is appealing also because the girls can identify with the girl in the song, and the boys with the boy in it. But maybe it is a kind of magic about it too, because on one special occasion MT were asked to sing one song in Japanese. We let some Japanese people listen to our songs and choose which was most suited to translate into that language and they chose Devoshka!

Which one of your albums do you like the most yourself?

Actually, I prefer any of our singles. I like to listen to different mixes.

Are you a vegetarian? There have been some discussions about it amongst the fans.

No! But I ate only vegetables for a period of eighteen months. Once at a vegetarian picnic party, I brought blini with caviar. That wasn’t very popular! (Laughs)

Thank you for your time and attention, Ilia!

You’re welcome. And do say hello to all of the members of the fanclub!