Saint-Petersburg based synth-laden post-punk duo The Bleak Engineers, made of bassist and vocalist Svetlana Zombierella and DJ/electronic musician Alexander Moralez, never seems to stop fueled by unrestrained energy, insatiable curiosity, and genuine passion, relentlessy involved in a plethora of projects. Finally, they’re going to release today the long-awaited 7-track debut album “New Frontiers”, via the brilliant DIY French label Six Tonnes De Chair Records.
Across a heady blend of live instruments, ’70-’80s vintage synthesizers and drum machines, comprised of lush, icy evocative synth flows and dismal deep winding bass pulses on the foreground, enriched by fascinating yet aloof, sometimes alluringly dual, vocals, the band distills hazy layers of immersive, melancholic, mournful melodies with unrelenting and enticing noir-ish beauty.
What were the trigger factors that lead to starting the Bleak Engineers project?
Svetlana: Thank you too. Being an 80s kids, our parents were listening to the music from bands like Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, New Order, Eurythmics to more commercial bands. Almost all the popular music of that time sounded with a touch of new wave and synthwave (even Soviet-wave). While absorbing that sound from early childhood, we got that love for this kind of music. Alexander was always stepping the way to electronic sounds throughout his childhood. As a teenager (and still) he was admiring some early hardcore/gabber music in Russia.
For me, to become a musician was luck and/or destiny. I get into underground and rock’n’roll music from 18 years old. So as we matured, we just returned to our roots, as the love to such sound (sometimes primitive) went with us throughout our life in parallel with other kinds of activity. We didn’t want to copy someone or imitate genres – we just did what we like for a very long time, mixing the sound in a way we like. So in the fall of 2017, we recorded at home the first composition called «Introspecto» and filmed a little video for it. That was the born of the project called the Bleak Engineers. For me was also an experiment, experience to start with another kind of music except for rock’n’roll.
How you describe Bleak Engineers’ sound?
Svetlana: It’s bleak, but not depressive. Our sound gets you into some middle dimension, where you can think about the ‘other’ things or stop to think at all..))
Alexander: “We love the sound of 8Os synthesizers, love the melody and melancholy (it is inspired by our city and surroundings); looping of compositions and transparency. We try to make not just a rock song or an electronic track according to the laws of the genre – we try to achieve a different effect by combining the incompatible. Also, our lyrics are not about sad things, but about what is inside us, in the world around us and in our dreams”.
What impact has had and still have Saint-Petersburg on your artistic development? Do you feel an integral part of its music scene? What Saint-Petersburg artists/bands would you recommend at the moment?
Svetlana: Actually we are fans of underground music and the real underground was in the 80s, early 90s. Digging that stuff from the past is the influence, not what’s happening nowadays. Saint-Petersburg was and I think still it is a capital for subculture music in Russia.
Alexander: I love my city and especially its suburbs, but I try to minimize communication with people here – it distracts from business and often draws me into a meaningless net. The music scene here is just as bad as the tap water. There are independent bands, artists and promoters, who support the industry from time to time: many of them do this because of altruistic motives. But usually, these bands and artists rarely get on the posters of significant festivals and scenes of major events, as well as promoters who are not specially noticed by large players in show business. That’s why we skeptically consider ourselves among the representatives of the St. Petersburg scene, where friends of promoters on stage often play than professionals and experts…
Our music is for people all over the world and does not have specific geolocation. There are many bands in St. Petersburg, both good and bad. We often attend concerts of various orientations: from rock’n’roll, garage, punk, hardcore, psychobilly to vintage chanson, death country, darkwave, and even opera music. I don’t want to single out someone so as not to offend others, but one thing can be said that there are a number of worthy artists.
Could you talk about your highly intriguing edits of songs from obscure Soviet wave bands of the past, for both the Transitive edit series and, more recently, the ‘I’m a Cliché’ one?
S, A: We were and are searching for some rare stuff to show for other people. Most of the edits are from the 80s-90s and are not widely known. Experimental and innovative music in a country (USSR), where was hard to find good equipment, instruments, synths. That was the real creative field for underground musicians.
We have a lot of rare Soviet music for personal use, but the quality of the originals sometimes is terrible. That’s why we made a series «Transitive Edit Series» with the edits and we achieved good results in that. We wanted to show some unknown Soviet recordings to the inhabitants of the world because there are really interesting and worth of attention material. Especially that series could be interesting for people who love digging deep in music and it opens the most experimental and underground period in USSR electronic music.
For «I’m a Cliche», run by Cosmo Vitelli, we did an edit on a Moscow band called Metro. Track «Unnecessary words» we made in a “DJ friendly” format with some long loops and it starts immediately from the drums. While original is a very rare home tape recording from the middle of 8Оs, we reworked every beat of the composition, restored it manually and Alexander remastered it at his studio «Dark Crusader».
Tell us about the process of recording the songs and writing the lyrics?
S, A: The basement could be a drum machine rhythm or cool synth groove…Later we add more synths, live guitars, if necessary, and the lyrics. We are making new stuff all the way, it’s a non-stop process and many ideas are flying around us. So we just pick up the ones, we are searching for at the moment…
- You’re going to release your debut LP, could give us a deep insight into it? the title, the influences, the recording process that has brought to the final result?
S, A: Yes, we are excited about.«New frontiers» is the name and I think it opens the essence of the album. New ways in music, style, and atmosphere, an experiment for us, for our listeners, new ways to change your mind. It’s our experience in music in that period, it’s made from different parts, like a human’s body. That’s not only the audio thing, which is not less important but also some imaginary (or maybe not) world we want to show while listening to our music. Like a soundtrack to another reality…that’s the main thing. Tracks were recorded at a different time, with different emotions all through the year.
Besides last year’s single “Introspecto”, which songs would you pick out as your favorites from it if you had to and why?
S, A: «Introspecto» was the first; «Multidimensional Way», which has 2 versions and we love both: more dynamic synth-wave, and the second one, which is more into post-punk, with live a bass guitar and some contemplative radio noises. «Amaryllis» is a neo-romantic song with lyrics, the only song we both singing, it has a nice and beautiful video we filmed in an outside St. Petersburg little town called Sestrorezk; «Rain» has a little story around the real strong rain the day we were recorded that song. Actually all of them are important for us. It’s different details of one big creative process. «Unconscious» is also a quite remarkable song, Go check the video by the way. It’s quite exciting: views on St. Petersburg and it’s surroundings, filmed on minus 17 degrees in February. Very refreshing memories…
Could you give us some updates about Alexander’s efforts as electronic/DJ/producer, Mosaique record label head and Svetlana’s guitar-driven R’n’R bands?
Svetlana: Alexander leads his own label [MSQ Records/Mosaique Records], where he releases dance electronic music. The latest release on vinyl was in July of this year, featuring some actual in electronic music scene names: Umwelt, The Horrorist, Alessandro Adriani, Morah. The highlight of the compilation Alexander’s track in collaboration with the nightlife legend of New York 9О’s – Oliver Chesler (participant of the cult documentary film Depeche Mode – 1O1) also known as The Horrorist – the author of the scandalous and banned on the TV hit “One Night in NYC”.
Well, he’s also launching his mastering studio DCSM (to help everyone in need of high-quality sound) and a series of visiting other countries showcases from the label. By the way, he also made mastering for the album: both for vinyl and for digital sales. For me also everything’s going well with my rock’n’roll career and Messer Chups. This summer we just have played few shows in Germany and Zurich supporting one of the most famous and legendary band Stray Cats. Was great! Besides that, we have many own tours in the USA and Europe, etc. By the way, check and pay attention to my and Alexander’s project «Zombierella’s Tentative Reels». Cool stuff! What is coming will be a bomb!
What’s your favorite part about playing live? Your highlights so far? Are you planning live performances to promote the new EP?
Svetlana: Well, it’s great to share the results of our creative process: psychically and as an audio visualization. I think we will do something in Europe soon. Even with The Bleak Engineers, we are more concentrated on recording the material, doing videos, the things, which are stamped in reality. We like to see the results, as the album release on vinyl. But agree, doing lives it’s an emotional and great process too, which is stamped into an artist’s and listener’s memory
The album will be released as limited vinyl 12″ with 3 different variants via the excellent French DIY label Six Tonnes De Chair Records. Does this mean how still relevant is for you the long-lasting physical edition against the cold, liquid digital version? Are you vinyl collectors as well?
Svetlana: Yes, we are vinyl collectors. I have a wide collection from vintage 50s 60s reunion rock’n’roll, garage, soul till 80s new wave and modern electronic. Alexander has been collecting vinyl since ’98, there is different music. He says during this period, he sold only one record!
Of course, it’s very important for us to publish on vinyl and remain the physical side of the story. This is the main value – you can touch the vinyl, you can look at it, you can listen to it, enjoy the cover and read the information. All rates of enjoyment! And of course, it sounds much warmer than any digital.
Vinyl is a real thing, collectible, long-lasting. It’s fetish!
That’s why we find very good connections with Laurent and his French label Six Tonnes De Chair. We both pay a lot of attention to the details of the release: design, quality, vinyl colors, even paper and it’s finish quality means a lot. But well, I couldn’t mention, that digital format is quite useful in the modern world. But it doesn’t have so much soul, as the vinyl.
Which new bands do you recommend?
S,A: We are listening to any kind of music, but we are more vintage and old school lovers. And probably we are too convinced on our own stuff now.
Which bands would you love to make a cover version of?
S,A: Actually we don’t do covers in that project. We have a side project with Alexander called «Zombierella’s Tentative Reels», where we are launching some covers in our own way. The first 7” single «Suicide Commando» was released a few months ago (Six Tonnes De Chair Records). Original was from the early 80s performed by a Germany no-wave band No More. Was covered later in the late 90s by DJ Hell. The idea comes from both of these versions. More stuff in this direction is ready to see the world…
Were there any pivotal records or live concerts that changed indelibly your perception of music?
Svetlana: Can’t tell that. My view on the music consists of little details I saw from different artists and different records. From live bands till underground electronic stuff. It’s some crazy medley in my head)).
Make a list of your 5 desert island albums …
– «Depeche Mode – Ultra»
Alexander: I think this band is unique regardless of the criticism addressed to them, and the album ultra is their best studio work after the departure of Alan Wilder and practical death David Gahan at that time. Plus, the lyrics of Martin Gore about the meaning of life are close to my feelings.
– «Duran Duran – Duran Duran»
Alexander: The first album of this band is simply divine. This is how early commercial music should sounds. We love it.
It’s a perfect 80s pop/wave band. Me personally I was paying less attention to this band when i was a kid, now I realize how perfectly done and great it is.
– «Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart»
Alexander: This song is one of the greatest songs of all time and the sound of the single recorded at Pennine Studios and Strawberry Studios is groundbreaking.
– «Blow-up the original soundtrack» by Herbie Hancock for Antonioni’s movie ‘Blow Up’.
Svetlana: It’s great jazzy lounge esthetic music, I just love it! It’s my anytime’s mood music.
– «Bauhaus» compilation 1979-1983.
Svetlana: Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins, David J, Peter Murphy is my favorite post-punk team…
Svetlana: So you see we are retro lovers. Actually I would take The Ventures album too, but it’s my personal choice forever.
Many thanks for being our welcome guest, just the last question: Is there anything I forgot to ask you and would you like to say?
S,A: Thank you for the nice interview and it’s great to know there are still many people, who keep digging music…It’s so important!
The Bleak Engineers‘ debut album “New Frontiers” is due to be released, Digital and 3 vinyl options, on October 25, 2019 through Six Tonnes De Chair Records Bandcamp.
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