Sunday 13 December 2015

An Interview with Igor from Stoned Jesus

Today's guest is not just the vocalist and guitarist of Stoned Jesus but he also plays Hammond organ, occasional keyboards and percussion on their stunning new album - The Harvest. You can read my review of the album here.

Stoned Jesus have risen through the Doom/Stoner Metal ranks over the last few years by releasing acclaimed albums such as Seven Thunders Roar and The Harvest. Their style of experimental and progressive Doom/Stoner Metal sounds makes them one of the most creative bands around within the genre. They have the vision to try something different with each record they release.

I was given the chance to speak to Igor (Guitars/Vocals/And Other Stuff) from Stoned Jesus to find out a little bit more about this great band. Here's what went down....

Hi Igor. Thanks for doing this interview. How are things with you today.

Hello there! Super-sorry for taking this long to respond, last weeks were a bit rough. Everything is OK now, though… or at least it seems to be.

For people not in the know, can you give a brief explanation on how Stoned Jesus started and where it is today. As it was originally started out just yourself as Stoned Jesus.

Exactly. Back in late 2008 I was going through some hard times (hah, as well), so I decided I need a new music project to express myself (adding to post-rocky Krobak, proggy Arlekin and experimental Voida that had already been active back then). It was a bit too traditional at first, but then everything started to progress steadily, from musicianship to music itself; so was the feedback, humble at first and pretty positive these days.

How hard was it for you back in the day creating music with yourself just as a sole member.

I wasn’t completely sure back then if Stoned Jesus would ever become a REAL band, so yeah it was a bit on a desperate side. On the other hand, I could do anything I‘d come up with, not trying to squeeze it all into the comfort zone of compromise. But I always wanted to play live, so staying in this one-man-band situation forever wasn’t an option.

After all these years, has it surprised you that your “one-man” project is now a fully fledged and well-respected Stoner Rock Band.

I would love to believe that Stoned Jesus is MORE than just a Stoner Rock band, hah! Speaking of respect and stuff – yeah you can hardly earn this much praise and attention we’re getting these days just from your bedroom, releasing one DIY EP after another.

You released your new album – The Harvest – earlier this year. For people who haven’t listened to it, can you tell them what the album is about.

Speaking of its concept, “The Harvest” is a Man-vs-Machine kinda record, while “Seven Thunders Roar” was more about the nature and the inner worlds. Those are not concept albums anyway, I believe I’m about to write one someday anyway! Music-wise “The Harvest” moves further away from Stoner Rock and Stoner Doom (well, there’s ONE doomy track there, “Rituals of the Sun”) into new territories – Alternative Rock (“Here Come the Robots”, “Wound”, “YFS”) and Progressive Rock (“Silkworm Confessions”, “Black Church”) mainly. But what’s more important, this is the same Stoned Jesus melodically and harmonically (simply because I’m not a million-faced chameleon who writes in different styles and scales every week), so for conservative fans there’s nothing to worry about, hah.

It’s a very different album to your previous albums. It’s darker, complex and more experimental. Was that the intention to release something different for your new album.

Yes and no. I mean the guys weren’t like “Igor, bring those different riffs and songs’ ideas, we don’t need those Psychedelic Rock ones!”, but on the other hand we didn’t want to repeat ourselves, too. It works brilliant for the likes of Motorhead or AC/DC, but we’re not that legendary yet, so let’s experiment, shall we? Let’s play with the genres, the sound, the song structures, the melodies, the timings (yes, my favourite trick). I mean “Wound” may be a simple verse-chorus-verse-chorus Grunge song, but did you know it has 15/16 somewhere in it eventually? And of course the whole thing is pretty dark – back in 2012-2014 when the material was written there was nothing to be super-excited about, around us. It’s still tough, but we’re looking on the bright side of life, trying to anyway.

Was it a hard or easy album to write and record for compared to Seven Thunders Roar.

Waaay harder! While “Seven Thunders…” was recorded in two days and one night at Moscow’s “Destroy The Humanity” studio (and then mixed in couplaweeks), “The Harvest” took us 15 months to record and mix, mainly because we were off to tours and other commitments, so we did 2-3 songs at a time. Writing was challenging as well, since initially I wanted “The Harvest” to be our Prog Rock album: you know, all those mellotrons, synths, acoustic interludes, long solos and stuff. But then…life happened, as they say. You can’t ignore what’s happening around you and still be writing fat riffs about witches and bongs. So the songs got shorter, punchier, angrier, all of that. Don’t worry about those interludes and mellotrons though, I’ll save ‘em for this concept album I was talking about earlier, hah!

Have you been pleased with the reviews that the album has received so far. (Though it did take me 10 months to actually review it. Apologies for that).

Well, it took me coupla weeks to get through this interview, so we’re even I guess? We’re blown away by the response, to be honest! Of course many people still expect us to play sequels to “I’m the Mountain” and “Black Woods”, but you have to understand they don’t know what’s you’re going through as an author, what’s your experience, what you’re striving for, etc. We’ve noticed the highest praise “The Harvest” gets from the least genre-rooted folks, who don’t care how often you drop weed references in your lyrics and how many Sabbath riffs you’ve exactly ripped off. This makes me really proud of the way open-minded critics and listeners alike operate. Sorry for maybe sounding too snobby in this whole paragraph, hah.

You’re from the Ukraine and who’ve been having a rough time politically speaking with Russia. How has that affected yourself, involvement with the band and the other band members.
Well, as I’ve already kinda subtly mentioned earlier it was – and still IS – pretty difficult for us, on many levels. But there’s always hope, and playing music is our way of fighting the whole shit we’re faced with.

How has the political scene in the Ukraine affected the local music scene. Do you still get to perform gigs on a regular basis.

Nothing changed much (except for those two fucked-up regions), maybe economically it’s tougher now: you need to sell more tickets just to cover the transport costs, etc. But on the other hand there are more people who want to hear us these days, and the whole “scene” in Ukraine is flourishing. Maybe youngsters finally realized that dying for someone else’s interests is much less fun than playing in a band.

Stoned Jesus profile has risen considerably over the last few years. More gigs and tours in different countries. Do you enjoy doing that or does it take it’s toll on your emotionally and financially.

It’s a double-edged sword actually. It’s not just about meeting new people, having fresh exciting experience on a daily basis, visiting places you thought you’d never chance to visit, chilling out with chicks after shows (this one is rare as hell), bringing your art to those who’d appreciate it and having fun in general – it’s a routine in many aspects. Spending 6-10 hours per day on the road with the same three assholes, crushing at someone’s place to have a quick sleep, and those ambiguous showers…It can be tough. I got my laptop stolen, with all the money I’ve earned on the last tour; 

Viktor the drummer got cell and passports stolen (he’s still trying to reactivate them, but Ukrainian bureaucracy is the worst); we usually waste a shitload of money on road tolls, gas, food and other stuff…But hell, it’s still better than a 9-to-5 routine, besides we’re doing MUCH better than most bands from our league (no disrespect here, just saying). If we continue being this awesome (hah!), we’ll be having better conditions with every tour, I’m 100% sure about this, I know this! So instead of bitching I would rather jump in the van to start touring RIGHT NOW!

I’ve read that being a musician is now your full time job. How hard is it for you to make an actual living being a full time musician.

It’s easier here in Ukraine, ‘coz Ukraine is pretty much fucked economically right now, so you can have a decent living with only $500 in your pocket per month. We’re young, we don’t have families yet, we don’t need that much, so we’re not starving – though I’m writing this right now selling two guitars from my collection to make ends meet, hah. But that’s just because I got my laptop+money stolen, remember? Anyway, I’m super-happy I can have at least a hand-to-mouth income doing what I love instead of trying to squeeze rehearsals and touring in into my 9-to-5 working schedule: been there, done that, do not want anymore.

The band has had a few line-up changes over the years. Did you ever think about calling it quits and focusing on something else.

I had this very special moment of giving up during our month-long tour this Spring – the longest we’ve had so far. It was the pre-pre-pre-pre-last date or so and we were running out of money, merch, team spirit and physical strength altogether. I was lying in the van trying to get my shit together while my guys were getting ready for the soundcheck, and I was like “Is that it? What I’m gonna do? I’m not old yet. I could go back in the office anytime”. And then I just stand up, went there and played the best fucking show of the whole tour. So what was your question?..

What’s the song-writing dynamic with the band. Is it down to yourself or do you all work on the songs together.

Yep, it’s me 90% usually, with the guys shaping the arrangements or the structure. Maybe we’ll try different approaches later on, but now it works really fine with all of us.

What inspired you to become a musician. Any particular band, musician or albums that made you think – Yeah, That’s what I want to do.

My dad was a guitarist in a local band (a band was called “VIA” back in the day in Soviet Union), VIA “Samocvety” – they even toured half of the European part of Russia and Ukraine! – so go figure. I was huge Nirvana fan when I was a kid, but there was one particular record that made think exactly what you’ve described – “yeah, that’s what I want to do”. It was August 2003, I was 16 and the record was Marillion’s “Script for a Jester’s Tear”. Changed my life forever!

With 2015 drawing to a close, what have been your fave records you’ve listened to this year.

It was a very strong year for metal, and I found myself enjoying new stuff from the bands that I thought would never surprise me again: Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, even Iron Maiden! “Fresh” guys were very good too, namely Deafheaven, Tribulation and Ghost; yep, they’re everywhere now, and I really like them. I’m not much into Stoner Rock for obvious reasons (hey, we play with those bands like every 5th day of the year!), but only fool could’ve missed terrific releases from Elder and Golden Void in 2015. Other worthy stuff includes FKА twigs, Pobeda, Shores, Citizen, A Forest of Stars, My Morning Jacket, Jamie Woon, Torres, Joanna Newsom, Esmerine, Mutoid Man, even Dr.Dre (whose “Compton” I enjoyed more than Kendrick Lamar’s ultimate masterpiece). From Ukrainian bands I must mention 5R6’s “Islands” (fantastic Alice-In-Chains-meets-Tool record), Shiva the Destructor’s “Supreme Light” EP (Om-meets-Graveyard) and Hurtovyna’s self-titled EP (Godspeed You Nice Instrumentals).

Igor, thanks for doing this interview. Do you have any words of wisdom for the Stoned Jesus fans out there.

The pleasure is all mine! You guys stay cool and expect us playing a gig somewhere near you…sometime…eventually…See ya! Love and peace, Igor.

Words by Steve Howe and Igor Sydorenko

Thanks to Igor for taking the time out into talking to me. Thanks to Claire at Purple Sage PR for arranging this interview.


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