“I have been spaced out for a long time and I am on my own wave”
Svetlana Surganova’s interview for “Moskovskiy Komsomolets” newspaper
By Ilya Legostaev
More and more often, in our non-album time, large-scale, complexly designed records are released. It’s a bit weird, but pretty interesting. In June “Svetlana Surganova and the Orchestra” released the album “Vse Budet” (“All Will Be”), and in the first days of October released was the final part of the dilogy “Zavtra” (“Tomorrow”). No wonder, twenty-one songs, ranging from pop to alternative rock, are a good reason for conversation.
The presentation of “Zavtra” (“Tomorrow”) was much more fun than you might expect from a concert where not only merry songs were played. Svetlana Surganova artistically raised a shot of tequila for the health of all those present, and it seemed that even those who drank mineral water got warm.
Later, a couple of days after the concert, Svetlana was combining lunch in an Italian restaurant with an interview and attempt to understand the work schedule.
One cannot deny that the ambitions of the singer and her band correspond to the scale of the double release. The band is looking forward for a tour, is going to organize concerts so that the live show could go with an online broadcast for those who do not have the courage or QR code to attend the concert.
The industry has been in a fever for over a year now, and each artist is trying to develop his/her own survival strategy. Svetlana Surganova, after the battle with cancer in the nineties, knows quite a lot about survival and, probably, that is why she has the ability to separate the important from what does not make much sense. This skill, combined with a musical instinct, has a good impact on her career.
Svetlana’s position after leaving “Nochnye Snaipery” was less favorable than Diana Arbenina’s. But in a rather short time she managed to construct her new model of music, which turned out to be very viable. Her orchestra is already eighteen years old, eleven studio albums have been released, and still the journalists have not come up with a clear designation of the music of Surganova and Co. We are making another attempt to figure it out.
– Two albums only a few months apart is a step that might be described as far-fetched. Why did you decide to release new songs this way?
– The gap in time between the albums was artificial, I was simply asked not to release everything at once. Anyway, it is difficult for people to digest twenty-one songs, so it is better to offer smaller meals, food is better absorbed this way. And two events are better than one.
– How long did it take you to write twenty-one songs?
– The material itself was invented two years ago in just two weeks. It took me six months to write the lyrics, then we got the vision of the way these songs should sound. Most of the time was spent on mixing and mastering. I must also mention that during this time we managed to finish construction of our studio and record all the material in it.
– Judging by the sound it seems like you were recording two different albums.
– After accumulation of the ideas, I made a selection and out of forty or forty-five sketches I chose about eighteen. They were conventionally divided into “lyrics” and “schizos”. At first I wanted to title the album – “Lyrics and Shizos”. But the idea was rejected, we had to find the way out, and the title “Vse Budet” (“All Will Be”) appeared. It’s reliable and positive. Ballads and light, I dare say, pop songs are included into this album. But “Tomorrow” for me is a multifaceted word, here are hopes and prospects, and a lot of questions, fears, expectations. This is an album, which includes compositions that are weird in terms of both music and texts.
– Has anybody assisted you with the sound?
– No, everything we did by ourselves. But for “Volchitsa” (“She-Wolf”) and “Liven Osenniy” (“Autumn Shower”) when Andrey Kharchenko helped us in production, he worked with Max Fadeev for many years. The rest was done by our musician Mikhail Tebenkov, and further efforts in production were made by Vladimir Mekhnin, our sound engineer. We did not look for outside people, because we wanted to get some kind of our own experience, to try to do everything on our own. Probably, in me there is something from the handicraft, it is interesting to conceive, bear and give birth, without any surrogate obstetric aid.
– In “Zavtra” (“Tomorrow”) you can hear guitars in the style of “Kino” and alternative rock, while some songs from “Vse Budet” (“All Will Be”) could be included in the repertoire of Alla Pugacheva or, perhaps, even Irina Allegrova. Flirting with the pop is clearly not a mortal sin for you, is it?
– I grew up with the Soviet pop music and I don’t see anything wrong with it. Someone likes to criticize such music and sees only negative of the Soviet musical past. But I am a positive-minded person, so in the Soviet period I see a lot of positive moments. Nowadays we could learn a lot from it.
– Still, the Soviet regime could not be characterized as easy for the musicians. At least just a few people were allowed to express their opinion, even in music …
– But just look at the ideas, they were brave, almost revolutionary. Just listen to the early Pugacheva – absolutely crazy songs, in a good way. Nowadays everything must be formatted either according to the requirements and format of radio stations, or to some average musical mentality. Previously, the people pulled themselves up to the art, now the opposite is true. There is an audience with the most unpretentious requests, and everything is created for it.
– Is it possible to say that after eleven albums you have a good idea of the needs of your audience and, consequently, the band has found its sound and the sound is definite?
– No, we still have a kind of chatter. We like to play one way today and another tomorrow. I am not sure whether it is good or bad, but we are not “Picnic” band in the nicest possible way. At some point they’ve found their own sound and are always recognizable. This is their thing. But we are always different. Maybe because we are still karmically young and we are looking for our own note. Just like in that joke about a young and an experienced musician. The young man is passionately performing Santana in the passage, but his hat is empty. While the old man is playing something simplest, but his hat is full of money. The young man is only looking for his note, while the old man has already found it. We are probably still young, although our hat is not empty.
– I have no doubt about that. It has always seemed to me that a considerable part of your repertoire is perfect for a salon concert for the people of wealth..
– Of course, we have some admirers who work for large resource-based companies, the spouses of, if not the first, then of the second persons in the companies would invite us to their private parties. Things happen.
– Was the lockdown hard for you?
– Personally, I had no time to notice it. I had to finish construction of “PushkinRyadom” Art Space, where we were recording, to come up with a record, to set up online broadcasts from our small cozy hall, where you can give home concerts, usual concerts, solo performances, lectures. And all this, from renovation to the current project, was created in a year and a half. So it was tight. I used to turn switches: the manager, then the producer, then the poet, then the musician. I was forced to become a multifunctional girl.
– “Surganova and the Orchestra” exists since 2003, perhaps, you had enough time to learn not to pay attention to the seething musical fashion. Did you succeed?
– We’ve never had doubts or questions whether we are doing the right thing, but we follow the fashion. We use innovations in our musical experiments. But we take tangential trajectory, without slipping down into the momentary standards. Still, Makarevich was absolutely right when he wrote: “Not worth our time to knuckle to the mutable world”. I do not really agree with his next phrase “Much better if it knuckles to us.” I don’t want anyone to knuckle to me. I just want to be independent and free in terms of self-expression.
– Nowadays many of your colleagues use a certain scheme of self-promotion in the industry. Participation in large TV shows is its part. But you seem to have avoided it …
– God forbid! We have partners who help us in business, but we have established a very natural collaboration. We did not insist. I was pleased to receive offers. But to tear off the T-shirts and shout “take us! give us money! we will fit any position!” – no, this is not my way.
– There were offers you’ve said, what kind of offers? For example Diana Arbenina has recently starred in the TV series “Fortune Teller”, and it was not a cameo, but a full role. Have you been offered to work as a TV host or as an actor?
– To star as an actor, you need to be an actor. I performed as an actress on several occasions. In “Swimming” by Baudelaire staged by Ilya Moschitskiy, in the play “My Happy Life” with Svetlana Ivannikova. And there was a wonderful musical and poetic performance by Veniamin Smekhov “Pushkin”. But I’m not an actress at all, though I have the highest respect for this profession. To my mind, great actors are like demigods, they bear great responsibility for shaping the tastes of generations. And to be such, you need at least talent. But if I get an offer, of course, I will think it over, although I do not strive to be an actress at all.
– Nevertheless, in the album “Zavtra” (“Tomorrow”) you were pretty good starring as a poet and composer concerned with what is happening in the world. The title track “Zavtra” (“Tomorrow”) and the song “Curator” are kind of reflection on disturbing news, aren’t they?
– Well, there’s that as well. First and foremost they reflect my personal experience, but something of the universal is also there. No sense denying – I freaked out. It turns out that I, a pure lyricist, am also concerned about some social issues. The most frustrating thing is the devaluation of values and flatness of interests. The focus of attention is on wrappers, they seem to have forgotten about the filling. This is disturbing. A while ago I wrote one line “Candy wrappers, candy wrappers, candies eaten before us …” Maybe a whole song will appear, if nobody steals it.
– What is the current state of that famous Petersburg spirit, which is largely responsible for informal music in Russian?
– I can’t judge. I have never had deep knowledge of the theme. Although I remember the rock club at house 13, Rubenstein street, and the flourishing of this culture. It seems to me that in those days there were much more reasons for writing songs. There were more experiences, more feelings, events. One could feel the soil, how something strong and touching was growing. Now life has become much easier, and people have smaller troubles. There is some kind of fatigue and emotional impotence. There is no such passionarity either in the nation or in the musical sphere. Maybe it’s the physiology of life. Inhale, exhale, ebb and flow, ups and downs. And now we see no rise, but rather a decline. These are my superficial reflections on the matter.
– And nevertheless, people say that it is still better to create in Saint Petersburg and to sell in Moscow …
– I always knew that these two cities were simply made for each other. (Laughs.)
– As far as I understand, while you were writing the new songs a lot of events were happening. What music accompanied you at that time?
– I understand you as a journalist indeed, this question is legitimate. But I have nothing to please you with. I don’t have any mobile track list. Mostly I listen to classical music. I am now in the Richter period, I want to listen to all his works. And the first place is taken by Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Nobody performs it better than he does. Also my listening focus is on podcasts, lectures, You Tube channels. “Eschenepozner”, Galina Yuzefovich, lectures by Dmitriy Bykov. I am watching again Yuri Lotman’s lectures with great pleasure. And there are various audiobooks. I listen again to Akunin, Vodolazkin. In general, there is less music now.
– I’m almost afraid to ask about something modern …
— Imagine Dragons. Are you surprised?
— Yes, mostly.
– I adore them. This is an amazing production project, precise and detailed, and I am especially glad that their songs are not devoid of melody. It’s catchy, which happens quite rarely.
– Did any of the rappers impress you as a poet?
– My love for rappers started with 2H Company. Our guys from Kolpino are very smart. And I, as a grandmother of female rock, can say that they are dinosaurs of domestic rap. Well, Oxxxymiron, of course. If there is an educational background, Oxford University or good reading, people are good with words and freedom of expression.
– But the vocabulary of consumers for some reason is not growing. Have you ever had doubts that your songs might not be understood?
– Well, it’s all nonsense – trying to knuckle to someone. You should broadcast only your own experience, your thoughts, attitude and love for the world, broadcast without regards to what others say. Imagine if da Vinci or Mahler lived looking to others … Nothing would have been created. You can’t please everyone. You can and should please only yourself, so that later you will not be ashamed in front of yourself. In this regard, I have been spaced out for a long time and I am on my own wave, so things that are happening here now do not really concern me. Probably, God has created me for some of his purposes, and I try not to interfere with his plan.