Le Vent d’Est // SHIMMERANCE Interview

Le Vent d’Est  Shimmerance Interview

After the promising first “Bright” EP back in 2017, Moscow-based 5-piece Shimmerance, made of Maria Kondakova (vocals), Nik Babukhin (guitar, vocals), Konstantin Gryaznov (drums), Mikhail Churikov (bass) and Yuri Yakovlev (guitar), have finally reached the greatly-desired goal of their Self/Titled debut album, and as if to confirm the current scintillating state of grace of the Russian reverb-drenched bands, does not disappoint, crammed with a cohesive and energetic, as much as melodic and introspective, guitar-driven sound that floats between shoegaze and noise-rock, in a dynamic and fresh alternation between distortions and reverberations, noise and harmony, light and mist.

  • Thanks so much for the interview. Let’s trace back to your personal roots, where did you grow up and how did you get into music? What’s your early cultural and musical background lies most?
[Nick, guitar\vocal] Hi! Thank you for inviting us, really appreciate it! I wasn’t involved in any musician activities like piano/guitar lessons or something in my childhood. For good I guess – because it’s hard to love music after all this time when you are forced to learn and play and repeat and stuff. When I was 12 my family moved to Moscow from Vladivostok and after few years I developed a strong desire to play the guitar. I’ve been listening to a lot of metal and hard rock music of any kind and eventually I started to play an electric guitar (i was 16 or 17). Playing distorted power chords and minor scales was such a pleasure. So I’ve been shredding all days long, learning stuff and trying to make my own music.

[Mariya, vocal] I was born in Northeast of Moscow, one of the biggest and the greenest districts in Moscow. One day at the age of four my mom had taken me to a children music studio, I’ve been so inspired by the atmosphere there and I started to attend these classes. We staged performances, short plays and full musicals. I have spent more than 10 years in that studio and at the age of 14 or 15, I realized that it’s time to upgrade my own vocal skills and I started to attend private vocal lessons. My mentor taught me the basics of sound extraction, facial expression and correct pronunciation…

[Kostya, drums] I grew up in Moscow. As a kid, I studied violin in musical school, didn’t like it much so there was a huge ten-year gap before I started to play again, now on drums. As for my background – my roots are in electronic music. I really liked drum’n’bass, house and trance music back then. Then I switched to post-rock, and over some time I grew up to like other styles which are played by real instruments. So for me, shoegaze hits that sweet spot between unique sound and something you still can play with real gear.

  • What were the trigger factors that lead to starting your Band? How did you meet you?
[Nick] In my early 20s I was trying to find a band to play with. At the end of the day, every band went on hiatus so i decided to make music on my own. I’ve been jamming with my friends, playing my music and covering interesting stuff. Eventually, my friend Kostya (drums) invited me to jam together (it was 2016 I guess) and it was a really interesting and fun experience. We started to jam quite often, trying different styles and sounds, aiming to create something interesting and original. So one day we decided that we need a real band to play with because it’s hard to create really complex music with only drums and guitar (and no live looping/recording experience). So we found Misha (bass) and our former guitar player Roma, and we were ready to write our own music. Soon after Sonya, our former vocalist joined us. We parted our ways with Roma and Sonya in 2017-2018. In 2018 my friend Yura (guitar) of fellow shoegaze band Ave Libermann joined us. I know Yura since the early 2010s, we shared the same rehearsal place and we were jamming together. Mariya (vocals) joined in a couple of months after the series of auditions.

[Mariya ] Once she has invited me to her band concert where I discovered rock music and felt the drive outcoming from the stage, and then I realized that I want to do the same… I had an experience in Rowena as back-vocal (Rowena-first EP) and in REVIL band as lead vocal. These two bands were not good enough to be satisfied with the result of collective creativity and a kind of communication between members. It was a hard rock experience but I wanted to sound lighter.

[Kostya] It’s actually a really funny story. I started to learn drums back in 2015. After a half year of practice, I wanted to know if I was able to play together with somebody. I asked my friend Kolya to jam with me, and he agreed. I knew Kolya from the time we played Dota2 together, the dude always had a guitar on his knees and played some funny melodies during the matches, so it was natural I’ll ask him.
To my surprise, the jam session went well and we continued. Then we realised we sound kinda dull and added another guitarist, then bassist and eventually vocals. So there has never been a plan to create a band. The band kinda assembled itself.

  • Did you already have a set idea of how you wanted the band to sound or has it been a gradual process of discovery? What are the individual experience and strengths that each of you brings to the band?
[Nick] When we were jamming with Kostya the only idea was to create something huge, beautiful and epic, using a lot of guitar effects. The conception of the sound and music was a fusion of post-rock epicness, alternative fuzz, indie-rock melodics and tons of effects. So we decided that shoegaze is what we need to be. Our sound is what we love to hear and listen to – and since we listen to different music it’s our main strength. Everyone implements their thoughts and ideas to develop or to create something new of it.

[Mariya] Shimmerance is the first real project I’m taking part in. When I joined them most of the songs were ready, tracks structures were clear, but during rehearsals, it’s been changing. We worked on sound, it was like:

Yuriy: Guys, I brought a new pedal to let’s check it!

or Nick: Listen, everyone, listen: *playing a part of a template or a sketch*

Others: switch off this gadget, man, add this, and this, add more fat and switch on this pedal.. etc.

The path to perfect sound lay through constant change and experimentation.

[Kostya] From day one we decided we want to play our own music, and that music should sound fresh. We wanted to do something we can enjoy ourselves. We were new to shoegaze music at that moment, and despite its origins in the 90s, it still sounded amazingly new to us. So that was a good starting point. We don’t consider ourselves a shoegaze band now, though. Not in a canonical way at least.

Indeed, it was a very gradual transition. From learning how to reproduce that Slowdive or MBV sound and then accepting we don’t actually want to force ourselves into genre standards. You can see it in the album “Look At Me Now” is pretty much indie-pop and “Gone Everything” is basically stoner.

  •  What’s Moscow’s music scene like? Had and still has it in some way an effect on the band’s artistic development? Any new bands to highlight?
[Nick] Russian indie rock scene and shoegaze especially is really tight. We listen to each other’s music and share the same fans. Every new single or album is a reason to congratulate and to discuss. And I think we are somehow influenced by the scene, we are trying to recreate its features and implement them into our music. It’s not about ‘let’s create something like this’ but it’s about ‘i like this sound, can we use it somewhere?’. New bands to highlight – Bright Falls (not so new though but they had their debut LP couple of months ago), Siyanie (Shining) and Peach Gardens. Peach Gardens is a project of Life On Venus‘ guitarist, really nice EP.

[Kostya] There are many great bands and not many listeners. I guess you can say we ARE shoegaze in this regard. We really like Life on Venus, Neonic Sundrive, “Деревянные Киты” though none of these bands have influenced our sound.

  • In the last period, an increasing number of Russian dream pop/shoegaze bands are appreciated for the quality of their proposals, even over the LP format. What’s your opinion about it and about the contemporary Russian independent alternative music scene? Which new Russian bands do you recommend?
[Nick] I’m really proud of Russian shoegaze bands like Blankenberge and Life On Venus – they are of the best modern shoegaze bands worldwide. And they are not really popular in Russia (and so we are), you can barely see them on huge gigs or fests. The language is a reason – people don’t understand what they sing of and they can’t relate to. Shoegaze music alone is not enough to make people attend our gigs. This is our main problem – people want to hear our music and they want to understand what it is about. Russian language indie music is far more likely to be popular in Russia, its obvious. So we shall deal with it and carry on.

  • Lyrics in shoegaze music are often secondary, as submerged by the guitar noise… is it the same for you? What themes do your lyrics explore?
[Nick] We don’t use this ‘vocal is the sound’ cliche. I don’t really think our music is shoegaze. It is more like some kind of alternative/indie with a huge amount of effects and reverb. So we use vocal-like … a vocal. We sing with some kind of expressions, we don’t use as much reverb on vocals as usual shoegaze band do – but still vocal is not a primary component. The balance – its what our concept is. Don’t submerge everything into the reverb ocean – but make the reference clear. Lyrics are always secondary for me, I do them after the track is done instrumentally. So I have some vocal melody or a couple of words and I’m trying to make a song of them. My lyrics are just about everything, but some themes like dreams or reflections about our life are recurring. Anyway, I don’t think I write something deep or thoughtful, its just words to sing.

  • The band debuted in 2017 with “Bright” EP, then a long hiatus, could you tell us what happened until then?
[Nick] After we did ‘Bright’ we started creating new songs. I and our former guitar player Roma were principal songwriters – we were making music on our own. It was really difficult because Roma wasn’t really into shoegaze so we both were making different music in terms of concepts. So one day we parted our ways. It was clear that we’ve got two different approaches and backgrounds and we can’t create together. In a few weeks, our friend Yura joined us. His band Ave Libermann was on hiatus so I invited him to play with us. Its was really what we needed – he’s guitar playing and sound approach fits perfectly. Yura had to learn our songs a few weeks before the next gig so we rehearsed a lot. In a little while after the gig, we decided to part our ways with Sonya due to lack of involvement from her. Few months we were rehearsing new songs with me singing, looking for a new vocalist until we found Mariya. With her voice, we were ready to start again.

  • Have the new tracks been written, developed and refined over the time, or are the result of a few recording sessions?
[Nick] I write all the music and words most of the time. I make a demo using my DAW, playing all the guitars and bass using drum machines and then I make tabs to play. Then I write lyrics and vocal lines. The band learns their parts or creates something new at home and then we rehearse it – changing sounds, parts or concepts. Until we say ‘that’s the song’. Sometimes the song remains the same as I created. Some tracks are jam-based but it’s not usual for us. We haven’t got much time to play music together so rehearsal time is the time to play what you learn or create before. My inspiration is the music I hear and the concept behind it. I’m always trying to understand what makes the music sound its own way so I can decompose it and use the ideas in my own music.

  • Could you give us a deep insight into the influences, recording process and curiosities behind your debut?
[Nick] Here is so many bands we are influenced by so it’s impossible to count them. I’m influenced by 90s guitar music – Britpop, grunge, alternative. I like distorted guitars, I like solos, I like chorus and delay. I don’t use to playing riffs so I play mostly chords and solos, its quite an 80s approach I guess. The recording was a really fun process – we were on DTH Studio, its a cult place among Russian alternative scene. A lot of famous Russian bands did their albums here. So we were here, doing the best we can to create something epic.

Our songs are 100% ready so we don’t waste time to create the track – we spend a lot of time looking for right sounds and to add new layers. In comparison to our debut EP, it’s just another level of art. We work with a great sound producer who tells us what’s gonna sound good and what we better get rid of. We have a lot of amps, guitars and pedals, we discuss what gear to use, we turn knobs. Then we record and we listen to the result. Sometimes we decide to rewrite particular moments to make them even better. Every song is the new sound and new feelings, we have to consider its flow, we need to make every song special. It’s not enough to write a song – you need to make it sound just right.

[Mariya] If you think that you sound great, everything turns out wrong when you start recording. “Altered realm” and “Wasting time” were re-recorded twice. Once both tracks were ready we realized that drums are not so steady and my voice sounds a little bit sadly and classically girlishly. Then our sound producer said that we should sound like mayonnaise spreading on bread. He introduced us to Victoria, unrivalled vocalist and tutor, who gave us some use cases for recording and who has been guiding us during all vocal recording sessions. This success, a desire to make a quality product and new colors in mixes gave me more and more inspiration to continue this process. That’s why recording is not just a mechanical process, it is also a development and self-growth.

  • Have you any favourite tracks that would you pick out from the LP if you had to and why?
[Nick] I guess it’s “Mometasone”. I think it’s the last song I wrote for the album and this song really rocks. I’ve been using a lot of features I never used before. I really love that straightforward drive and guitar sound – 2nd verse especially, this change to clear guitars is magical. During lives we sing that song together, it gives the song some different feeling

[Mariya] It’s “Gone everything” for sure! A very expressive track that deserves special attention. In my opinion, it should be listed separately from others.

  • What about the band’s live experience so far? Can you recall your 1st gig as a band? What’s your highlight or best memory so far?
[Nick] Our first gig was 17.07.2016, St.Petersburg. There were only four of us, with no vocalist. I and Roma were singing. It was a bit … shoegazey. I wasn’t able to hear my voice, guitars were too loud, we were using every effect pedal we had. I think it was a distorted-reverb-modulated noise 80% of the time with out-of-tune vocals. But we liked it. We love gigging. Playing music live is the only way to show your passion and feelings behind every tune. Its the way you feel your own music and you want the crowd to feel it too.

[Kostya] I remember being scared AF at my first gig. Literally forgot my part during one of the songs, and had to improvise to get back. I only had a year of experience playing the drums back then. Somehow we made it and our audience of ten people didn’t even notice. Maybe because our live sound was shit at the time, so there was no difference between correctly played songs and mistakes. The highlight for me was when we decided we need to organize concerts ourselves and made a “Shoegaze Winter” gig, with bands we like and places we like. It was magical.

  • Are there any artists/bands with whom you would ever dream to collaborate?
[Nick] QOTSA. That kind of band where everything fits well. It feels like you can add additional guitar, keys, vocals, you can add horns or make it full synth. They can make a 3-chords pop song or 7 minutes epic with hundreds of riffs. Everything they do is right and matured, every note behind the concept. These guys are really kings.

[Kostya] Pinkshinyultrablast of course. Nothing would be cool too.

  • Were there any pivotal records or live concerts that changed indelibly your perception of music?
[Nick] Richie Kotzen – What Is… Love Richie, he is an incredible guitar player and an awesome singer. This album was the first I heard and it made an instant impact on my songwriting and guitar playing.

[Kostya] I’m a huge fan of Sigur Ros. First time I listened to them live at a summer festival in a huge crowd felt ethereal. That day I felt how powerful music can really be, how strongly it can unite people. I hope one day we can achieve something similar with our music.

  • What was the first-ever record you bought?
[Nick] It was an unofficial Offspring mp3 CD collection back in 2005 or 2006. My friend brought me a tape one day (“Ixnay on the Hombre” album) and I was amazed. So I decided to listen to more of them. Its was the peak of content piracy in Russia so you could buy any movie/game/music on burned CDs for cheap. One day I went to the local CD-market and bought Offspring mp3. Still love them, they are one of my biggest early influences.

[Kostya] It’s probably was ‘Demon Days’ by Gorillaz back in the 00s

  • Could you name one of your favourite albums, movies and books and why?
[Nick] One of my favourite albums is Swervedriver‘Mezcal Head’. I like this pure rock sound of the 90s with a touch of shoegaze. Crunchy guitars, lots of different sounds, thunder drums, the more-speaking-than-singing vocal of Adam Franklin and that feeling of gentle reverb just to make things not so obvious. I can listen to ‘The Hitcher’ all day long, such a song. Franklin’s guitar playing and singing style is a big influence for me. They are really what I want our band to be – the band on the border of alternative and shoegaze with a modern indie-rock approach.

[Mariya] Really it’s hard to name something special, but one of the albums that is still stunning me is “В руинах умирающей родины” (2019) by The Air of Hiroshima.

My favorite movie is “Guardians of the Galaxy, pt. I” and the book is “Hard to Be a God” by A. & B. Strugatsky.

[Kostya] Son Lux“Bones” for a music album, absolute bliss to listen as a drummer. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” for favorite book – many people consider it purely entertaining but for me, it has deep existential meaning.

  • What´re your plans for the future.…
[Nick] Looking forward to rehearsing and gigging again. I’m trying to make music at home but I miss rehearsals so bad. It’s just the way you live – make and play music with your band. And now we have to stay home and wait. I guess we’re gonna start playing new songs this summer. I’ve got tons of demos and ideas to be played so I can’t wait to play them. And we want to gig, to gig a lot. It’s so unfair to release your debut LP and not to promote it live. So gigging and making new music and what we gonna do this year. Being participated in local big fests is our dream actually.

[Mariya] Plant a tree, build a house, give birth to a son. Honestly, I do not have certain plans or goals, but I believe that you need to live here and now and engage in self-development.

[Kostya] Hopefully play some live shows! As everyone around we are stuck at home during a pandemic. Also, we couldn’t finish our music video in time.

  • Many thanks for being our welcome guest, just the last question: Is there anything you’d like to add?
[Nick] Stay home and safe, support your local bands any way you can, listen to new music. This is really hard times for every band in the world so stay positive and don’t let something bring you down. Keep creating, bad time gonna pass away and the new world gonna need new names.

Thank you WL/WH for inviting us, always a pleasure. Stay rock.

[Mariya] Yet we have Nick and his big motivative ass kick for others we will continue our creation. As many bands break up on the stage of recording, there is an advice for everyone to bring all the things to the end and continue to draw inspiration from everything.

[Kostya] Thank you so much for having us here with you!

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vent d'est

By Groupe Dziga Vertov, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin (1970)