Published on March 16th, 2016 | by The Beige Baron1
Interview: Zoryan from Nameless
Speak to Zoryan of Ukrainian band Nameless for a few minutes and his enthusiasm for life and for music can’t help but rub off, even with a few thousand miles of fiberoptic cable separating you.
He’s eager to talk not only about his own band — and how its cool garage-hippie vibes helped rekindle an art scene from the ashes of Soviet occupation — but also about the vital music that’s emerging from Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and in particular, his home town of Ternopil.
He answers my questions with good humor and with the insistence of a person with something to say: even as Ukraine’s conflict with Russia enters its third year, Zoryan remains optimistic that indomitable DIY spirit, coupled with the internet’s power, can “break [global] borders more effectively than revolutions or wars”.
Inspired by the interactive nature of web-streaming multimedia projects such as Anton Newcombe’s DEAD.TV. — which invites viewers to watch and even participate in the arrangement of music as he gives insight into his studio processes, Zoryan and Nameless are now in the midst of a similar project called “Let’s Unite with Us” that aims to bring people together to create music collectively.
Pretty much anyone with an instrument and an internet connection can now contribute to songs that are being assembled, piece by piece, into an “almost symphonic sounding” album that Zoryan hopes will one day be performed by all its varied composers on the same stage.
While Nameless has covered a lot of different musical ground in its 24-year career — a skim through their free catalog of music turns up everything from folk to conventional rock to garage to post-punk — it’s clear that the band’s modus operandi lies in the spontaneous energy of playing live, and the need to keep forward momentum, to keep creating.
I’m curious, though, as to how Zoryan and Sweetlana have kept the group together for so long, since 1992?
“Indeed, our band was formed on February 29, 1992. So we can only celebrate our birthday once every four years [Laughs]. Initially, it used to be a teen obsession that has gradually grown into a lifestyle. The group has steadily transformed into an art movement, where music is simply a part of our broader interest in visual art, literature, and theater.
Ukrainian counter-culture was strengthened with a huge layer of folklore.
“The structure of our art and creativity itself turned out to be so gripping and diverse that it became possible to devote our whole lives to it —from the simplest punk to an attempt to comprehend the processes that are taking place in the world philosophically.”
BNU: I came across your band while exploring Soviet-era punk on the internet. I was fascinated with the story of Yegor Letov and how “subversive” music was made during that period. You guys grew up when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, how aware were you of censorship? What changed when Ukraine returned to independence in 1991? Did any of that kind of underground music reach your ears, or were your early influences all from outside?
Zoryan: Yes, undeniably we grew up against the backdrop of the Soviet Union’s decline and fall. Soviet rock music (Yegor Letov, Boris Grebenshchikov, Viktor Tsoi, Alexander Bashlachev, Sergey Kuryokhin, etc.) played a big part in the ending of the Soviet epoch.
The leitmotif of [Letov’s] creativity is the tragic perception of a man who has to live under a set of circumstances where epic failure was the only thing he could wish for his own country. We were all experiencing something alike during final years of the USSR. However, in those days, Russians and Ukrainians were already interpreting such concepts as “freedom”, “freedom of speech”, “freedom of creativity”, and “individual freedom” in a different manner.
After the USSR collapsed, the impact of Russian rock music diminished significantly, and not least because Ukrainians perceived it as the music of the former metropolis. Ukrainian counter-culture began to emerge basically from zero-point, and it was strengthened with a huge layer of Ukrainian folklore.
As for censorship, it should be mentioned that people shared music underground, as extra attention from the repressive Soviet authorities could lead to some serious trouble. But it was The Velvet Underground and the art movement around it led by Andy Warhol that had the greatest influence on us personally, not the Soviet rock.
BNU: Having experienced the music’s power manifest in that social change, did you ever want to communicate any kind of message or make a statement with your own? Or does music serve a different purpose for you?
Zoryan: We’ve also thought about this issue. What is our music, what are our messages? And, ultimately, we found out that almost all of our songs have social overtones, talking about the problem of an external environmental pressure on a person, and how that person can preserve his or her essence and nature under this pressure.
Almost all of our songs have social overtones, talking about the problem of an external environmental pressure
There’s a lot of irony and sarcasm in our writing emanating from the idea that opposite things are really the same thing. Whether you are being manipulated by forces “good” or “bad”, they ultimately want the same thing from you: obedience and absence of critical thinking. And this applies equally to religion, education, the state, and other institutions.
In the globalized world, this problem is starting to get much heavier. Living in Ukraine, a country that has already had to withstand Russian military aggression for two years alone, you realize it clearly. And certainly this war has had significant impact on our work.
BNU: Regarding the conflict in Ukraine, are you guys safe? Is it true that some Ukrainians want to reunite with Russia, and others are strongly opposed and want Ukraine to remain independent? Is there tension within the community about this? Is feeling divided along cultural or ethnic lines?
Zoryan: It’s a question that needs a long answer. But first, you must know that we are safe. Ternopil is in western Ukraine; it’s 1,000 km from war. But that doesn’t mean we feel free from war or peaceful.
The biggest mistake the world media makes is to think that this is a civil war. It is pure bloody Russian aggression against Ukraine. It must be clear. It’s the same aggression that occurred in 2008 when Russia attacked Georgia. Everyone in Ukraine is trying to help our armed forces protect our land from Russian aggressors.
The greatest futility of this war is that the Russian soldiers are like real terrorists without military epaulettes or chevrons—they called it “hybrid warfare”.
Ukraine was occupied by Russia for more than 300 years. The history of Ukraine is one of constant struggle for independence against a bloody Russian regime. We paid a very big price for it. Same story with Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, for example. These countries were occupied by Russia, too, at different times. But nobody is ever told [by the media] that people in Poland or Finland want to reunite with Russia. They feel a constant threat, too.
Musicians who were trying to play “modern rock” in Ukraine are five or ten years behind the global trend. They breed a simulacrum and call it post-modernism.
Russia has a much bigger and stronger army, nuclear weapons, tanks, missiles, and a powerful air force. They started this aggression two years ago, after an anti-corruption revolution in Ukraine, when our country was very weak. They thought it would be easy to occupy Ukraine again.
But look now—they are still in same place as two years ago and every cell of a united Ukrainian body resists them.
That’s all I can say about “divided on cultural or ethnic lines”. We have played many concerts to help raise money for this deadly struggle.
BNU: What are some other misconceptions about culture from your region? I haven’t heard that much mainstream music from Ukraine, apart from EuroVision, but there are several hugely respected black metal bands and electronic artists from Ukraine. What difficulties have you faced getting your music out into the world?
Zoryan: We did not choose an easy path. It’s probably our main problem as a band. While the majority sings in foreign languages (Russian or English), we have chosen Ukrainian as our native and natural language with an extraordinary palette of imagery and metaphors.
Generally speaking, we never followed [local] mainstream world music, as we noticed that those musicians who were trying to play “modern rock” in Ukraine are five or ten years behind the global trend. They breed a simulacrum and call it post-modernism. For instance, the “Muse-mania” that occurred last year in Ukraine: just think of it, of the time when Muse first popped up, and when the mania for this kind of music appeared in our mainstream. [Laughs].
So the “Ukrainian mainstream” is also the subject of ironic humor in our work. In the end, we believe that artists do what they do [to please themselves], not to please someone else—that is also our aim.
It truly misrepresents Ukrainian music and art when the world regards us acting here within the paradigm of some kind of mythical Russian culture, like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin and all that kind of stuff. In fact, it was Anton Newcombe and his artistic conception that had biggest impact on us—to make music not for sale but for your own benefit, development, and self-education.
BNU: So how did Nameless first meet and what were your early ambitions? Has what you want to do with the band and music changed over the years?
Zoryan: We met when we were 18 or 19 years old, so our ambitions were focused on success with the opposite sex, and music drew our attention away from the other attractions of life, alcohol and drugs. From a young age, music and lyrics enabled us to survive, and when mature, formed our identity.
BNU: From what I’ve seen on YouTube, you guys seem to like just hanging out and jamming. But for a band that has been together for so long, you don’t seem to have made a lot of full-length studio records? But many live bootlegs, radio shows, singles … you prefer more of a live setting than going into a studio to make a full-length record?
Zoryan: Full-length, high-quality studio records do exist. The difference is, not being rich people, we have always been glad to accept any invitation to make records on someone else’s gear for free. We’ve loved the radio broadcast format since childhood, where it’s possible to play live on the air, to talk to people on the phone.
We are huge fans of amateur TV, and operating on scarce resources it’s possible to provide internet broadcasts. Hence, such a large number of “live recordings”. However, we are proud of those pieces that we worked on in the studio. In most cases, we try to achieve the energy of a live performance, we don’t dictate rhythm section capacity, the bass and drums are recorded exactly the same as the other instruments. In short, we aren’t perfectionists. We don’t lick off the extra noise on our records.
On the other hand, when we got lucky, we did record full studio albums. This has developed into an overall strategy, to attract the maximum number of people with their own equipment to save our own small resources. So, we went one further by using the internet as an instrument for remote collaboration and sound recording.
Today the internet breaks borders more effectively than revolutions or wars. And we have found soulmates far outside of our own country, expanded our musical outlook — something we once couldn’t have even dreamed about. We believe if John Lennon were alive today we would definitely bе internet friends with him [laughs].
BNU: A common thread in your music seems to be an element of psychedelia. What is your attraction to psychedelic rock music?
Zoryan: At some point, Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre transformed our perception of the world and of psychedelic music in general. Although, it hasn’t been that long since we got into BJM, from about 2008. Before then, we were attracted to psychedelia, but it all was about British and American psychedelic-rock classics, like Pink Floyd, Doors, Jimi Hendrix.
But the greater layer of music remained hidden from us until we have started to open it with BJM and dig it out with Anton Newcombe on his live Internet program DEAD.TV. He is one of the few successful, self-sufficient artists who are generous in sharing their knowledge and igniting people all around the world with their example.
We also are inspired by the phenomenon that many call the French Psychedelic Revolution. This has motivated us to try several Francophone songs.
BNU: Can you describe how your local scene has changed over the years? What is it like now? Ternopil is a center for the arts in Ukraine, right? What are some other good bands you guys like playing with?
Zoryan: Ternopil is a small town of about 250,000 right in the heart of western Ukraine. Absence of industry and the large number of students has transformed it into creative youth center. In the ’90s, amateur bands could play at youth arts festivals only few times a year. That’s how we used to live at the start, from festival to festival.
At the end of that day, we organized ourselves towards a DIY system. We realized if we combine the efforts of many, we can achieve more. This is how an entire art movement emerged: rock club first, and the entire direction came later, and that has manifested in the most trendy underground music of Ternopil and of Ukraine.
Today, festival and club culture are developing tremendously. There are so many places to perform and there are many infant formations travelling in different directions. Here’s some of our friends, who are actively working in studios and performing. It’s not the Ukrainian mainstream, of course, but very popular in the underground: Zsuf, Omodada, Tik Tu, TPVG, Los Colorados, Red Cardinals, Ummagma, LBB, Hych Orkester, Dobro, Perkalaba, HZV, Dach Daughters, Olovo, Zapaska, Sasha Boole, and Mandarinaduck.
BNU: Speaking of other bands, your latest project is based on inviting other groups or musicians to contribute ideas that you are producing into an album. Can you tell us more about that?
Zoryan: New-Year traditions and celebrations in Ukraine are terrible. Basically nothing happens from December 19 to January 20, because everyone gathers around the table to celebrate with their families. Everything stops, except for the food service and entertainment sector. So we decided to spend our time more efficiently and made some recordings during this period. The internet makes it possible to involve like-minded people from all around the world in the music production. And, most importantly, makes it possible to find such people in Ukraine.
We have recorded more than a dozen songs in this atmosphere and invited other musicians to participate in the record remotely. Starting from simple acoustic guitar and vocals, we’ve received compositions with almost symphonic sound. And it’s without any digital processing or costly equipment. Just with a little help from our friends.
It’s all in the open and you can follow all the stages of transformation of each track, from raw mix to the next improved and expanded piece. This is an actual exploration of new possibilities offered in a modern world without borders. You still can join our project too, by the way — simply record your instruments on existing songs and send these tracks to us. You can find out more here:
BNU: What’s your opinion of the revival of psychedelic rock in the last decade or two? Are there any bands you would love to jam with?
Zoryan: I think our neo-psychedelic sound is being influenced greatly by Ukrainian folk music and world psych-folk scene. However, in general, most young bands in Ukraine admire shoegaze and stoner-rock more.
Electronic musicians contribute a lot to the development of Ukrainian neo-psychedelia as well. Our band is trying to experiment with everything that crosses our path, from inventing new sounds to recording audio books and radio plays [Laughs]. This is where the dreams about people we’d like to jam with on one stage come from: band like Undone, Kingdom of the Holy Sun, The Liminanas, Juan Trip, Hurricane Heart Attacks, Black Market Karma, Al Hotchkiss, Mike Cormier and The Volta Sound, Magic Castles, The Sun Blindness.
BNU: Are you going out to tour soon? Where can people from outside Ukraine buy and listen to your music?
Zoryan: Now we are working mainly on our New Years’ project. It has gained a bit of publicity and recognition, and so it must be brought to completion. And then we aim to meet together with all the musicians who took part in the project and play all these songs on stage. Apparently, this is the main task for this year. As for our music, we put it up on the internet for free download regularly.
Nameless, UA’s full catalog is available free to download from Jamendo. Listen to more music and participate in the “Let’s Unite With Us” project on Soundcloud. Check out Nameless collaborations and more on bandcamp. Follow the band on Facebook.