Russian female-fronted trio based in Moscow, IX REFLECTIONS, made of Joe on vocals, Alex (synths, guitars, vocals) and Lana (bass), have finally delivered their long-awaited debut album “Fragile Border”, ripe with synth-driven darkwave passion, contaminated by diverse sonic nuances, varying from post-punk, synthpop, to coldwave, gothic and synth-rock, blending shimmering and cold vintage synth-lines, haunting bass pulsations with dynamic and lashing drum machines, to fuel compelling emotional vocals, at the same time fragile and strong, infusing layers of whispering melancholy and soaring pitches of dark emotions, engulfing the listener into a gripping and captivating vortex on the edge of dream and reality. Let’s talk about it directly with the band.
Thanks so much for the interview. Let’s trace back to your personal roots, your earliest inspirations and influences that drove you to became musicians and form a band.
Lana: My biggest inspiration was my trip to Saint-Petersburg in 2016. It was a 3-day trip to “StarCon” festival and in my free time, I wandered along the streets and saw lots of bands and musicians. I was so impressed that they tried to express themselves, each in a special and unique way, that I started thinking about becoming a musician myself.
Alex: I didn’t even think of playing music until I was 18. I think it all changed when I bought a couple of discs with my favourite rock and metal bands’ complete discographies. And each had a bonus section with live music videos. And that was not the usual boring stuff that we had on TV at that time – it looked so cool and enchanting. After that, I got my first guitar for a terrifying price of $20. That’s when the fun began!
Joe: And I had a “Spice Girls” tape as a child… That’s how it all started…
How is born your attraction for the cold, dark and gloomy sound mainly inspired by the 80-s?
Alex: I grew up at the time when the Iron Curtain fell and a flow of VHS horror and sci-fi movies of the 80-s flooded our country. Cold synths, creepy noises and menacing industrial sounds had a certain impact on a child’s mind. Maybe this attraction started to form even earlier, as the soundtracks of many Soviet movies at a certain period of time were dominated by the sounds of the Polivox which is now considered to be one of the most aggressive, cold and positively creepy sounding synths ever.
Lana: When I came across this specific darker layer of music, I found that it was very close to my heart and touched certain strings of my soul. It was a great discovery for me.
“It took a lot of time and effort to get exactly the sound the band originally intended.” It seems that you are fully satisfied with the final results… Could you please deepen the concept?
Alex: Most of the time it was not even about the concept of the band, but about the overall adequacy of the sound. We contacted a bunch of mixing engineers and none of them understood the essence of the genre, because they specialized in metal or rap. They didn’t really listen to our requests, and the results didn’t satisfy us at all. At that time we couldn’t reach anyone who could deal with dark synth-based music properly and I had to mix our first single “Sleeping Beauty” myself. Then a mixing engineer Claudio Ramirez from the USA offered us help with the second single and he did his job perfectly! It’s a real pleasure working with him. So in the long run he was in charge of the sound on our album “Fragile Border”.
What impact has had and still has your city, Moscow, on your artistic development?
Joe: Moscow is cold as hell in winter, so everybody gets depressed. But everyone likes summer, so people party, chill, travel and do nothing. And this is why you only can really make music in autumn and in spring.
Alex: It’s hard to disagree, haha. Living in Russia makes music work seasonal. In other ways, Moscow is an enormous city with a long history and more than 12 million people living in it – it is a great cluster of energy and this is inspiring in many ways.
Lana: I come from a small town near Moscow, so the city gives me tons of inspiration and lots of opportunities for any musician. And also access to big music stores and fine equipment.
What’s your take on the contemporary Russian independent alternative music scene?
Joe: It’s vague, to say the least. I’d say that it’s in decline.
Alex: I think you need to be a part of the party to see what’s going on. My generation of fellow musicians was mainly inspired by rock, metal and grunge. And this layer of independent scene is long in agony. At the same time I read about super-cool and popular alternative bands that play arena-size gigs, but I’ve never seen the people who listen to them or even know the bands. I guess you need to be 15 to enter the club.
Lana: There are so many bands in Russia that it’s very difficult to find real gems among thousands of punk, rock and metal formations. It became even harder now, because the era of DIY music began, and you don’t even need to get out of bed to record songs. The other reason is the vast market of online promotion agencies that will make you over-the-top famous even if your music is junk. And you read headlines screaming about mediocre “stars”, while really cool artists remain obscure because they cannot pay for a promotional campaign.
Tell us about the process of composing and recording your songs, maybe also in some way influenced by the pandemic issues…
Joe: Alex usually writes all the stuff. And it usually takes a lot of time. And then he’s like: “Look, I’ve got a new song!”
Alex: I usually sit over the song until it sounds complete to me. When I show a new song to the band I usually see it as a finished entity. And it can be hard to make me do any alterations. But we always manage to work it out. I’m not a control freak or something – writing new music is just a bit too personal for me as I try to embody a certain momentary mood. After the music is ready Joe writes the vocal lines and records a demo. We give it a fresh listening later. If we like what we hear, we proceed to the studio and record vocals. Because of the pandemic, I had to record all synths, backing vocals and guitars for the album at home, but it turned out to be very convenient, so we’ll stick to this scheme for a while.
What are the creative influences on your artistic development – music, literature, visual arts, films?
Lana: All of it can give new ideas that may find their way into the songs, music parts, photoshoots or album covers.
Alex: The darker side of the culture of the 80s and 90s with its dystopian vibes, depicted in music, literature and art, has left its traces on my perception of the world. And growing up in a feverish Russia of the 90s also had its own influence – cloudy prospects in life, uncertainty, crime, generally low level of life, abandoned houses and construction sites, huge factories left to rust and decay, and the overall feel of decline in the air.
Lyrics reflect a liberation from the self, society and the past. What is the personal meaning of this journey?
Alex: The idea of liberation in songs like “Leaving” is quite simple. Since our earliest years, we are taught about our duties and responsibilities to everyone but not ourselves. We are told that we live to be useful to others, to work for the other guy who stands above you and this is just how it goes. For post-soviet kids like me, it is often even harder to resist this concept because we were taught to be “good” – moderate in our needs and desires, to be helpful, modest and polite and to respect the authority of all kinds. In modern times this obliges you to keep doing things you don’t like or totally disagree with. And before it is too late you must open your eyes and realize that you are no slave and you don’t have to waste your life for someone else’s sake. You should never forget that you’re a personality, not a machine programmed to serve and please.
While your shimmering dark sound could have nods to my fellow citizens The Frozen Autumn or Clan of Xymox, it’s also peppered with diverse elements taken from hard rock, metal, electronica, 80s electropop, on which the emotional and compelling Joe’s voice is perfectly at ease, atop the energetic and pulsating instrumentation. Could you talk about it?
Joe: It’s pretty simple – we didn’t have any reference song, genre or band and just used all the elements that we found appropriate. Our main aim was to create a certain atmosphere. And we made the most of the expressive means we had in our baggage. It was not a calculated choice, all these elements just blended in naturally.
Could you give in-depth insight into your album?
Alex: The title “Fragile Border” implies the thin line between identity and its reflections, dream and reality, material and immaterial world. The cover is a piece of art-therapy by my artist friend. It expresses her inner state during an episode of depression and shows suppressed anxiety, fear and pain, so it worked perfectly for our album. And what you see is literally a mixture of watercolours and tears. The work on the album was a kind of art-therapy for us as well, a way to speak out on the things that we were concerned about. We tried to break free from the routine, a sequence of personal disappointments and the half-asleep life on antidepressants. This influenced the overall pace and mood of the songs and the manner of singing which is rather detached and shows that the hero of the songs no longer has the strength and desire to suffer or scream, and it remains only to wearily state the bleak facts about the possible future of humanity. We needed a new vivid experience and decided to make music in a genre totally different from what we were used to. A vintage synth from the 70s, Yamaha CS-10, was behind all the core sounds in the songs. The album contains 10 songs. I’ll speak on just some of them. The opening one, “Reflection”, is quite soft and melodic, but already frightening in content. It immediately lays the foundation for the concept that runs through the rest of the album. “New Man’s Born”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Fade in the Dark” had already been released as singles and were accepted really well by the listeners, so they were re-recorded for the album. “Kangastus” is notable for being performed in Finnish. It’s also an “Easter egg” for the listeners, but it’s still dark and massive. “Too Late to Flee” is probably the most “rock” song on the album, both in terms of music and lyrics. And “Leaving” is the final “rebellious” touch on the album, at the very last moment making it clear that the fate of a person is in his own hands, which means that there’s still hope for all of us.
- What are the songs you are most proud of thus far?
Joe: “Kangastus”. I guess I can’t call this “pride”, but I’ve wanted to record a song in Finnish for a long time and I think that I did quite a decent job.
Alex: Yep, “pride” is quite a big word for our modest achievements, but my favourite songs on the album are “New Man’s Born”, “Fade in the Dark”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Leaving”. Every song on the album is really intense and atmospheric, but these 4 songs bring up the strongest images in my mind.
Lana: Each song on the album has its own charm, so I’d rather not choose anything specific.
What’s your favourite part about playing live? Your highlights so far? Do you play any cover versions?
Joe: I like all this buzz and fuss in the dressing room before the show, the blinding lights on the stage and of course the energy exchange with the audience.
Alex: Yeah, I guess it’s all about the magic between you and the audience. You also feel that you can speak out to the people who like what you’re doing, share your thoughts and understand you. Music works as a great uniting force, and when you’re up on the stage you can see it clearly.
Lana: And I like the fact that during a gig a larger audience sees the fruits of your labour, not just your bandmates.
Joe: Because of the pandemic we only had a chance to play once since its beginning, but we hope to make up for the lost time. And yes, we’ve got a couple of cover songs that agree with our style.
Are there any contemporary artists with who you’re particularly into or feel an affinity?
Lana: I’m into a band from Belarus called “Diversant:13” – I’m not sure I can still call them contemporary, though…
Alex: I’m into the older stuff, so I’m not very familiar with contemporary artists. I hear cool music now and then, but can’t trace it usually. I got a cassette labelled “TSTI” a week ago and it sounds awesome. “TSTI” must be the band name… “Amotivated Machine” from Belgorod sounds cool to me. “Drab Majesty” is a fascinating project, too. I’ve been to their show once and have a few records in my collection. A friend of mine also has an electronic goth band “Dance My Darling” which you might want to check out.
Were there any pivotal records or live concerts that changed indelibly your perception of music?
Joe: None I can recall.
Alex: A bootlegged album “Mutter” by Rammstein. My friends got it on a cassette originally from a Russian top-famous pop band. We passed it from hand to hand and each of us made a copy. When I first listened to the whole album I got a severe headache and felt literally sick. But soon enough my body accepted it and so I learnt that heavy and dark music can be cool!
Lana: Nothing really changed my music perception drastically.
Not easy, but please make a list of your 3 or 5 desert island ever favourite albums…
Joe: Behemoth – “Thelema 6”; Twenty One Pilots – “Blurryface; Lil Peep – “Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt.2, Bring Me the Horizon – “That’s the Spirit”; Celldweller – “End of an Empire“.
Lana: If I had a choice, I’d take my bass. Albums get boring over time, but a bass gives you unlimited fun and creativity.
Alex: Too hard! But offhand: Inkubus Sukkubus – “Wytches”; In Extremo – “Sünder ohne Zügel”; Subway to Sally – “Nord Nord Ost”; Danse Macabre – “Eva”; and two Russian bands: Korol I Shut – “The Acoustic Album”; Nogu Svelo! – “In the Dark”.
- Many thanks for being our welcome guests, your final words…
Joe: Thank you for the interview, Fabrizio. To everyone who reads this, I’d like to wish you physical and moral strength in these difficult times. And we hope to please our listeners with a small new release soon, so stay tuned!
Lana: Thanks a lot for the interview! Keep the spirits up, and if we’re playing in your town, don’t hesitate to drop by!
Keep up with IX Reflections: