INTERVIEW: Speaking with Fedor Svoloch of Theodor Bastard

INTERVIEW: Speaking with Fedor Svoloch of Theodor Bastard

Based in St. Petersburg, Russia, Theodor Bastard recently released the music video for “Les,” a track from their latest album, Volch'ya Yagoda. Founded in 1996 by composer and guitarist Alexander Starostin, aka Fedor Svoloch, other band members include Yana Veva, Kusas, and Alexey Kalinovskiy.

Initially, the band’s sound revolved around electronic, industrial, and noise music. Yet after Yana Veva came on board, the band’s sound took on edges of darkwave, world music, neo-folk, and trip-hop savours. With the 2004 release of Pustota, Theodor Bastard collected vast acclaim and has gone on to release a series of successful albums, including game soundtracks.

“Les” opens on low-slung neo-folk savours as Yana’s gorgeous voice imbues the lyrics with haunting colouration. An industrial trip-hop-lite rhythm merges with the traditional textures to produce a tune chock-full of nostalgia and introspective melancholy.

XS Noize had the opportunity to speak with Fedor, asking him about his influences and the inspiration for “Les,” as well as learning about “Siberian suicide-rock.”

What’s your favourite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

Our favourite music is most often the sounds of nature. You know, part of our band, including me - we live in Karelia in a distant village. We don't have a shower. This may sound strange. We have a good Russian sauna. It's so great to take a dip in cold water from a well or dive into an ice hole in a lake after a hot steam room. What song can be here? The best song here is the crackle of frost and the howl of the wind. But in general, I'm going to make a completely civilized shower here, seriously. It is a matter of time. But I'm not sure that when being in nature, you need any songs other than the sounds of nature. On the other hand, I love listening to music in the car when I drive into town. The way takes almost three hours, during which time you can listen to new music.

Who is your favourite music artist?

It's not easy to describe because we are probably the kind of people who can be called real music lovers. I can share my impressions of music with you. I really loved and love Igor Stravinsky, especially his "Symphony of Psalms." I loved the work of Eduard Artemyev and Alfred Schnittke, especially when they wrote for movies. But at the same time, during my youth, when being the head of a music label, I released albums. When being a journalist, I wrote articles about experimental electronic and noise music. And this was reflected in our early albums. I still really love the Radian project and projects like Pan Sonic. Coil certainly inspired me, and it was a great event - to be on the stage with Peter Christopherson during his last visit to Russia. I really loved Nurse With Wound, especially their album Sugar Fish Drink. And their Rock 'n Roll Station album. I also liked the Zoviet France project with their Loh Land album.

Of course, I was influenced by Massive Attack, and Dead Can Dance, although I have always found this music too light, but at the same time sophisticated and truly great. Brendan Perry is perhaps one of my all-time favourite singers. I consider him a warm-hearted storyteller who has been telling me lullabies before bed for many years. As for Yana, her horizons are huge; she listens to many different ethnic music and post-punk, whose names I can't remember. She used to like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, and she respects the classics and the very underground psychedelic bands. She and I both love FSOL, Bjork and Mum. I can also tell you that Laibach's Opus Dei album affected me strongly in my youth. I remember listening to it on a mono tape cassette player in the village and crying from the experience. I really cried, first of all, because I understood that it was such wonderful music, and I would never even come close to it as a musician. I would never create something similar in grandeur and in power.

And I still think so. And when Ivan Novak, the leader of Laibach, met me at one of the concerts, we exchanged records, and he said: "We (Laibach) make World Music, too, like you." I smiled when I heard that. I never thought about it that way. This is a very metaphorical remark, but this was a big event. When I was a boy, when I was listening to this recording on an old tape cassette player during a thunderstorm, did I ever imagine that I would meet its creator? Unlikely. A similar thing happened with the wonderful Swiss band The Young Gods when their keyboard player and I exchanged discs, and he asked for my autograph probably out of courtesy, hardly knowing who I was. It was terribly uncomfortable for me to give him my autograph because their album Only Heaven has a high-end value for me in music. And I am happy that fate brought me together with these musicians, that I attended their concerts, that I communicated with them live.

What musicians influenced you the most?

Psychedelic punk, probably completely unknown in the West, but which had great importance in Russia. These are no longer existing projects, as their leaders have died - Grazhdanskaya Oborona and Yanka Dyagileva. It was so-called "Siberian suicide-rock," desperate and honest.

What inspired your latest single/music video, “Les?”

It was not a "single" in the literal sense of the word. "Les" was one of the last songs written on the album. "Les" is translated from Russian as "Forest." Its lyrics: "The forest sings the last chants over princesses" are inspired by Federico Garcia Lorca's poem "Waltz in the Branches" - this is our poetic interpretation of its imagery. And the music video is about both a sense of home and a sense of danger. Do you understand? This duality in which you, breaking trees, picking mushrooms or fishing, sooner or later, you become food in someone's roots, beaks and fangs. As a director, I also had the idea to combine our rather slow melancholic music with the fast movement of modern dance. We had found a dance school called "Futhark Dans," very talented girls, and we had produced the dance together with their leader Elizaveta Antonova. We wanted to make something wild and frightening. I think it worked.

How are you handling the coronavirus lockdown?

In fact, it may be news for you, but there is no coronavirus lockdown in Russia. It, perhaps, exists in words and the media, but in fact, here in Russia, life is going on completely as usual, as it was before. People go to cafes and parties, take public transport and go to the mountains and beaches. There was one month at the beginning of the epidemic when the restrictions were stricter. Ignoring restrictions is a primary characteristic of the Russian personality. The bars worked illegally - a "resistance map" was made, making it possible to find a working bar. The clubs organized underground parties. The authorities tried to close something in one place from time to time, but it was reopened in another place. As for us, we play in the halls with seats: in philharmonic societies and concert halls, not in clubs. Such halls were closed indeed. And we have not performed a live concert for a year. But we have started composing music, and we also write soundtracks for movies and video games. I can say that the past year has been very fruitful and good for the band.

Of all the venues you’ve played, which was your favourite and why?

There was a "Red Club" in St. Petersburg; our success stemmed from it. Although we had been around for a long time, people began to go to our concerts there, and we became popular. When you work at music for so many years, such a first success is very breathtaking when you have put everything into it. It was almost twenty years ago, but I still remember that feeling. And in this club, we played on the same stage and then drank vodka in backstage with Peter Christopherson from the Coil band. It was my favourite band. This was Christopherson's last visit to Russia and one of the last concerts he played. And we made this concert as organizers.

Christopherson died in Thailand a few months later. The Red Club was closed two years after that; there is some trendy loft in that place now. In general, these days are memorable.

What’s next for you, musically?

We have already started making plans for a new album and for returning to live activities. We are scheduled to play at several festivals this summer. We'll do it just like in the good old days.

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