It’s almost a week since Ukrainian experimental rock outfit 5R6 released their full-length debut “Islands,” a release that can be described as a text book of eclectic. Guitarist and singer Igor Zubko talks with Moshville about the album, influences, playing live and more.
I find interviews are usually best to start off with some brief talk about names and titles. In the case of 5R6 especially, I’d be interested to see how you came up with such a name. Does the name of your upcoming debut “Islands” ring any personal significance to you?
It certainly does. The main concept is drawn from Aldous Huxley’s essay “The Doors of Perception”. There is a piece where he talks about how we experience everything on our own in our own way, and how it is impossible to share this experience and feelings even if we are going through something together with other person or persons. It is still a deeply personal and non-sharable experience for each of them. We can only communicate about it but not communicate it to others. “From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.” I started to think about things like that pretty early in my life. And when I was reading this essay, this particular piece stroke me, it was all just perfectly described there, these were the words that I was looking for to describe this feeling and the thoughts I had. The concept there is broader than this though.
When I was thinking of this as the album title I also had Red House Painters’ take on Simon & Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock” playing in my head. “I am a rock, I am an island”. This is, in my opinion, a perfect song for frustration, disappointment, and resulting deliberate detachment from others and wish to go “comfortably numb” (oops, Pink Floyd reference), which one may experience in his late teens early twenties. I guess for me it all got mixed up, “Island Universes” of Huxley and a range of emotions in this song. However I think that our album is slightly more optimistic in general.
The band cites Alice in Chains, Opeth, Tool, Soundgarden as some of influences. I’ve got a lot of respect going in for all those bands, so it got me excited to hear what you guys were all about. How would you describe 5R6 to someone who had never listened to your music before?
It’s always a hard question for me which I have to answer almost on a regular basis. It is better to spend 43 and half minutes of your time and listen to the album. I would say that we play heavy progressive rock with some metal, grunge, stoner/psychedelic, alternative rock and so called post-hardcore (Fugazi, Unwound, etc.) scenes’ influences. I mean, listen to bands like Motorpsycho (especially, 90’s period), Tool, Yob or more new names like Inter Arma, or Helms Alee. It is pretty hard to define their exact genres.
If 5R6 are considered a progressive rock band, you’re far more focused and song-based than most of your ilk, I would say. On the other hand, you’ve got a lot more basis in texture-based performance than a mere rock band. I know a lot of artists reject the notion of labelling their own art, but where would you say you fall on that spectrum?
Well, I always loved Pink Floyd. Listen to their “Echoes”, for example, it’s more than half of our album in length. It has very rich textures, a complex structure, but it also has a lot of hooky melodies and groovy rhythms. You’ll definitely be able to at least whistle some parts of it. If you can whistle. And if you’re not deaf. I guess that’s the kind of balance I always wanted to be able to keep.
Arguably my favourite thing about the new album is the way it sounds. It has a near-perfect mix for the style, and the performances are all tightly matched to your general aim. What’s involved behind capturing such a tight performance on the record?
Lots of practice and sometimes lots of takes. We played some of these songs for a couple of years before the recording took place. And we had time to rework them to make the best we could out of their arrangements and structures.
We had enough time and gear in the studio to find the “right sound” for each instrument and song. And the mixing was done by our drummer, Dmitry, with us involved as kind of reviewers/assistants. This allowed us to make the album sound exactly as we intended.
I guess another factor here is that we tried to record each instrument or vocal track in as long chunks as possible to keep kind of “live” feeling on the record. This required much practicing. Of course, it was not always possible, because we needed to change guitar’s sound here and there.
What’s the live experience with 5R6 like? Any plans for a tour? Do you have plans for the CD release show?
It feels weird to praise my own band, but I think you can expect pretty tight and lively performance with some improvisations here and there, which, I like to think, won’t leave you indifferent. I heard that we sound heavier live.
We will have some shows in Ukraine this autumn. Than we plan a European tour in spring. But the plans are very uncertain yet. As I say whenever this question comes up, bookers and promoters are welcome.
Actually, the reason behind the delay of this interview is that we were having the release gig in Kiev this Friday (September 25). That was a busy week.
What other projects have you guys played in? How were previous engagements different from what you’re doing now in 5R6?
Dmitry, our drummer, used to play and still plays in some Ukrainian indie/alternative rock bands and at least two of them (“Orkestr Che” and “Sophie Villy”) are much more popular in Ukraine than we are. He is the only one of us who makes his living from music. His vision and experience are a good influence to our band.
Kirill, the guitar player, has a hardcore band (KAT) and a blackened-death metal band (X-Box Murder). This might seem surprising if you hear what music he listens to mostly for a last few years.
Eugene used to play in some heavy metal band a very long time ago.
I used to play in local thrash and death metal bands, and was involved in couple of short living projects. At certain period in my life I was just recording songs at home, looking for “my thing”.
How is it different? For me, 5R6 is really something original and I have the artistic freedom I need with it. It is a perfect circle of very different people which also happen to be my friends.
What is the current situation in Ukraine like? Are bands coming and playing there often?
They are. Unfortunately, not very often and not that many, but they are. For example, we had Swans, The Fall of Troy, and Psychic TV in Kiev this year. There are also a few regular festivals in Ukraine where bands from other parts of the world play. The good part of the gigs by the world-renowned artists being rare is that we have to develop our own scene. And it is something, believe me. Of course, we have many copy-cat bands, but there are also some bands with their own sound and very interesting music.
What have you guys been listening to lately? Anything you might recommend to others with similar tastes?
I can’t tell for sure what the others have been listening to lately. But on the way back from our last gig we were listening mostly to the music that I copied to the flash drive, so… I’ve been listening to Swans, different kraut-rock (Neu!, Cluster, Popol Vuh, etc.), Aphex Twin, and The Smiths a lot this year, plus a bunch of new releases. From more recent prog rock related releases I would recommend the new Anekdoten’s album “Until All The Ghosts Are Gone”, last year’s full-length debut by Seven Impale “City of the Sun” (one of the best prog albums I’ve listened to recently), and a new album by Icelandic prog-metal band Momentum – “Freak is Alive” – it doesn’t sound like anything I heard before.
About not so proggy recent releases, Viet Cong self-titled debut is in my top list of this year definitely. mewithoutYou’s new album “Pale Horses” is very good. Blind Idiot God released the first album in 20-something years, and it’s pretty good. I liked Publicist UK debut pretty much, there are some dark and groovy hit-songs, it is kind of in between Bauhaus and Type O Negative. This reply is getting pretty long. So, let’s just all praise Napalm Death, yeah!
Also I must mention this year’s release from Ukraine’s very own Stoned Jesus. Their third full-length album “The Harvest” is full of very good and powerful songs, and balancing between stoner/psychedelic, almost hardcore punk energy, progressive rock, and Pearl Jam-like songwriting and sensuality. I guess we share some similar overtones in our music, because of the common prog and grunge influences, and even more because of being good friends and playing together numerous times.
Do you have any words of wisdom or inspiration for other artists trying to make their mark?
Be ready to invest a lot of time, passion and effort into what you are doing. Don’t dwell on success; rather concentrate on doing what you love, and doing it good. This may sound a bit naive, but that’s what I believe in. If music is a best way you can express yourself than this is what you should be doing.
All images courtesy of Abrisad Photographer.