by E. Ryan Ellis



Tropical Popsicle

Given the current sociopolitical climate between Russia and the United States, it seems relevant to take a sort of inventory of similarities: Nuclear proliferation, nuclear disarmament, heart disease, alcoholism, taming the wilderness, sexual promiscuity, YouTube memes, continental boundaries, expansion, work ethic. That’s about it. Getting down to brass tacks, there are a few things in which we can find very little commonality—music is one of them. In no small way, t.A.T.u. is the most important musical contribution from Russia ever, both in activism and in the private minds (and hands) of young men circa 2002 [this writer not exempt].

Moscow pop-outfit Pompeya is a move in the right direction of U.S.-Russian musical peace. Might we find true common ground in these tropical melodies? Might sales in vodka skyrocket? Might they carry the world on their Moscovian shoulders? Let’s take a shot of Russian Standard and mull over life, schooling, virginity, and music with the fellows from the Russian tundra.

How would you compare Russian pop music to American pop music? Denis: American pop music is sweet candy. Russian pop music is a pickle. Sasha: The first one is like ice cream and the second is like cheesecake. Both so sweet! Daniil: Russian Pop musicians are “copy and pasting” a lot from the U.S. and Europe, in [the] case of styles and sounds at least. We do have one guy, although he is Ukrainian. Ivan Dorn, I think he is pretty unique and avoids emulating styles of the West too much. Also we have some new bands, like Mana Island. Not quite so popular yet, but to me a lot of potential from them and this “new” generation of Russian pop music.

Did living [and recording] in L.A. influence you? Denis: Yes! Now I know my dream life: Drive an old Mercedes coupe, have a large house in Silver Lake filled with Bauhaus furniture and a collection of vinyl records. But then again, If I was not in Los Angeles, I could not dream of it... Sasha: Yes, now I’m wearing my beach shorts even during the Moscow winter. Daniil: Of course, everywhere we are has an influence on us. But we are free to create music everywhere!

There are quite a few adjectives that journalists have used to describe your music. How would you describe it yourselves? Denis: “Heroin disco.” Sasha: Philantropicalmisanthropic. Daniil: Pop. But from an ’80s perspective.

This issue’s theme is Back to School. Tell me about going to school in Russia, or Moscow. Denis: You’ll be smoking in the bathroom. There will be first time you have to fight. For lunch, you will be given chops with mashed potatoes and soup, called borscht. After lunch, you will throw a backpack with books from the fourth floor. And then you will get in trouble, and your parents will be called to school to reprimand you. Sasha: Haha yes, what Denis said. Daniil: We have 11 grade systems before university. There are different schools for particular needs. We have schools for Americans working in the U.S., math focused [and] language focused, and even school for “dumb” kids. I was told I went to this one...not so sure.

Were you jocks, preps, nerds, punks, etc...? Denis: In school I was hip-hop kid. I dressed like and listened to Cypress Hill, House of Pain, and Naughty By Nature. Even though
I did not yet understand English, I thought it was really fun. Sasha: We don’t really have the same stereotypes in Russia... We were just guys obsessed with music, but also doing some shitty stuff like pissing in school’s dressing room, drinking beer in restrooms, and drawing penises and pussies in textbooks. At the same time, I always liked literature, history, and art history, and always had good grades in those courses. Daniil: I’m a bit older than the other two guys, so when I was in school Russia was still USSR [and] I was “oktyabryonok” (from the Russian word October, the month of Revolution), which is kind of similar to a Boy Scout...but more political. We had to wear a special uniform with these pins of young Lenin attached to the front. I was a bit rebellious, so I wore the pins of my favorite rock bands instead. After USSR broke up, everybody started wearing whatever they wanted. So maybe I was a punk?

What do school kids do for fun in the streets of Moscow? Daniil: The same I guess...skateboarding and staring at their iPhones. Denis: We played football (soccer), broke into abandoned houses, and in the winter we played hockey and skated with ice slides. Sasha: Not sure. We aren’t kids anymore, and the kids now are so different.

What music did you listen to during your school years? Daniil: Dire Straits, Spandau Ballet, Talk Talk, Genesis, Prefab Sprout, and Megadeth. Denis: I had three periods of music growing up. The first time I listened to hip-hop (Cypress Hill, Onyx, House of Pain), I became obsessed for a while.  Then I fell in love with the group Queen...which moved to more heavy rock groups like Metallica, Slayer, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains. Sasha: I was a huge Beatles fan, but then I discovered Nirvana at age 11 and fell deeply in love with them. This led to some heavier stuff, like RATM and Sepultura/Soulfly.  Actually I still love all these bands. As I got towards the end of school, I was more into funk, especially Parliament/Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, and contemporary hip-hop stuff like Mos Def, Blackalicious, The Coup, and Stones Throw Records artists.

Any bully stories? Daniil: Denis was bully guy, weren’t you Denis?  He has stories I’m sure. Denis: No I was a quiet child. I may have behaved like a hooligan and fought a few times.... Sasha: No bully stories. I always avoided fights in school.

Any good virginity-losing stories? Daniil: No. Denis: I dated a girl for a long time and then we did it finally. Sasha: I wish I could, it was all pretty trivial and not funny or interesting.

Photographer: Nick Sushkevich at nicksushkevich.com and Alexandro Sergeenko. Stylist: Olga Bobrova. Groomer: Pavel Natsevich for theagent.ru.