I met Eugene during Nummirock some time after his gig. It was the first time I had seen Jinjer and it was no less than awesome. Power, passion and their pleasure in performance. Tatjana Shmailyuk’s performance is as incredible as her vocal capacities. And the male band members (Eugene Abdukhanov/bass, Roman Ibramkhalilov/guitars and Vladislav Ulasevish/drums) deliver a no less passionate show.
Their unique style is to me impossibly described by a genre and that was one thing I discussed with Eugene. We met in the cosy media container that had become the meeting place for many of the media folks by then.
Meeting Eugene asked me from which part of Germany I come. Surprisingly he knew Marburg pointing out that as a touring musician he felt like he had been quite literally everywhere in Europe already. We had quite a long conversation on touring and tour life before getting started.
“Reading some other interviews” I begin, “I have come to the impression that the term ‘diversity’ plays a crucial role in your music.” – “Exactly”, replies Eugene immediately. “Can you give me a little more on background on this?” He sighs considering. “Well, I think that it comes from boredom. I mean, we get bored or got bored playing the pure metal a long time ago. And we started making and importing a lot of other extra elements from other genres and at some point it became a very crucial aspect of our music. Diversity. Because, getting stuck in one place, it’s not our point, definitely. I have to confess it didn’t happen from the very beginning. It was a long road to it. And in this album ‘King of everything’, we finally reached this very balance of making it diverse, the way we want it to be. This is it. Yeah. Just I cannot imagine myself playing something purely metal now. Maybe 10 years ago when I started making music there were some points when I wanted it to be pure, but it’s over now.”
“… but still it can be evil!”
“How important is it to you that your music is categorized into genres?” – “Its not important at all. I am sick and tired of this thing.” – “I can imagine.” – “It is not important at all. Nowadays, come on, we live in 2017 and people are still thinking of Hardcore and Old School Metal, and they still put labels on music. And ‘Hei, this is not old school enough.’ ‘This is not metal enough.’ And if it sounds, if it makes an impact on people, makes people think about something, feel something, this is the most important thing.” – “Absolutely.” Couldn’t agree more. “There may be no growls, maybe no distorted guitars, but still it can be evil, for example. My most favourite band of all times is Opeth. And I remember at 2004.” – “Not evil at all”, slips my mouth before I can stop it. “Maybe sometimes not heavy at all, but evil?! That’s the thing! And I remember 2004 the first DVD they made it was ‘Lamentations’ yeah from London and first they played Damnation Part which was completely in a not metal and Mikael Åkerfeldt said something like ‘Not all sounds should be heavy. But they should be evil like this one.’ And they performed ‘Death Whispered a Lullaby’ and it was what he meant. The song had an impact it is not like a pop song definitely. It has a very deep meaning; it has a very serious meaning. But it’s not heavy. But it is not metal. And he meant it. It was not metal. And that is what we think the same. You should not growl all the time. You should not play distorted guitar all the time or should not play blast beats all the time. You just need to impress people, express yourself and it depends on what you have inside. If inside you’re not a pop artist it will be still cool. It will be still underground and alternative. And that’s the most important thing.”
“So apparently we’re coming to another topic that seems to be very important to you”, I say, “that is crossing borders.” – “Ahm to some extend” – “I mean crossing the borders of countries. We haven’t heard much music from the Ukraine over here because there really seems to be a border meaning other then a physical border.“ – “And there is!” he points out passionately. “I mean a border you cannot see, and hardly catch. But still it is there, different media areas. Ukraine still is partially a post-Soviet country”, Eugene explains. “And it’s a different media area. This is why you don’t hear much from us. This border which still exists, even though Ukrainians finally have non visa entrance to the European Union, this border still exists. And some people/politicians, they keep on building it, feeding it. Yeah. So not much comes out of Ukraine to the west. It is getting changed little by little. Gradually. Yeah. And at the very beginning when we first started touring it was a big problem for us to cross the border, European Union border. We spent so much time, so many efforts to a visa and several times we had a refusal. They put a stamp in our passports ‘declined’. That made a lot of problems, too. We had to cancel some shows, post pone, reschedule shows but we kept on going. Anyway it didn’t stop us.”
“Was that already with Napalm”, I wonder. “Or with a former label?” – “Yes. Definitely.” – “With a national label?” – “We have never been contracted and signed with a Ukrainian labels or promoters, never”, Eugene tells me. “And at the same time I cannot say we were from the very beginning oriented to the west. No. Till some point we didn’t even think about this. Yeah. Those times we were with a Greek label. They tried to help us but they just couldn’t make any change. They couldn’t have any influence on the situation.”
“Dozens of visas in our passports”
I am surprised it western European label failed to help in this. “Well when we signed with Napalm, just last year, we announced the signing in January 2016, one and a half year ago. And by that time we were well experienced. We were big as a band and had dozens of visas in our passports. And it was quite easy for us. Later on political things started to change. Finally, we have no visa entrance and for Europe it is no problem for us to cross borders. But we still have overseas. We still have the UK. And we will struggle to get the British visa and play a tour there.”
I know about these difficulties that seem so outdated. The issue is the very same for the researchers who depend on international cooperation as much as musicians. Eugene and I agree on this being simply a horror.
I sum up that Jinjer are crossing borders in music as much as in a spatial sense. Before I can come up with my next question, Eugene says: “There is a good point I got on crossing borders. I noticed not long ago that somehow, and I don’t know how it happened, we being from Eastern Europe and we play and express ourselves and the genre and the band itself, we’re closer to American bands than to European.” I haven’t thought about this so I ask for details. “In many ways, outlook and music we play. Somehow it happened. Being on tour around Europe I noticed that we’re closer to American stages than to European. I don’t know why it happened. Maybe, because we listened in our youth more to American bands than to European. But again I listen a lot to European bands. But somehow it happened. I don’t know why. And now when we meet new partners like label or something they also notice that ‘Oh you are more of American than European style. Yet I don’t know why.”
“Will you go to America to tour?” – “We have plans but again it is a big problem for the band. We have offers, we have people who are interested in bringing us. But the biggest problem is that bureaucracy obstacle. American P-type/artist visa which is almost like a job visa and it is a problem. It will take a lot of time and a lot of money and lots of investments on that side. Finally, we have a management from the United States and they will work on this and they will try to make it possible to bring us there as fast as we can.
“We were completely a DIY band”
“Has support also in financial matters ever been a problem? Do you feel you have always been well supported by the management – who ever it did at the time?” – “ We only started to have it. I mean, I used to be the band’s manager till the spring of the 2017. And then we only got management here in Europe and there in the Northamerica. And last year we had Napalm and finally we started having support from the label, give us money to record and stuff like that. Before that we had none. We were completely a DIY band.” – “Wow” I utter impressed: “And then making it that far that’s really a tough job.” – “Yeah, it is.”
“Congratulations, absolutely! I will stick to the crossing borders idea. Could you think of a project of some kind you have never done before? I mean doing something with an orchestra has become kind of common already but of such kind or something totally different?” – “Totally different? yes! I cannot think of anything like Jinjer making this orchestra stuff but so far at least we haven’t been in orchestra music.” – “It’s only the most common example.” – “Yah, yah, the most common example and I understand that you asked because of that. That’s why I mention that. But once, if we have a Rap song don’t be confused. And don’t be too much impressed with it because it is like possible for us to do like Hip Hop song. Most of the band members other than me are quite deep into Hip Hop music.” – “Oh, that would be veeery interesting” slips my mouth impolitely enough as Eugene is still speaking. “Because I think in Nu Metal there was like ten to 15 years ago some really, really great stuff but it got smoother and softer …” – “and disappeared” continues Eugene my idea. “Gone”, I say. “The bands perhaps still exist but spirit and potential” – “I know what you are talking about! It disappeared. Gone, just somehow”, Eugene says passionately, “And I don’t know why.” – “But having more of this would be so inspiring.” – “Yeah. And I have been thinking of this several times and probably we’ll do that. I cannot say completely yes, but definitely maybe”, he smiles happily.
Still excited about this idea I ask “Have you been to Finland before?” – “Yeah, last year!” – “Touring?” — “We played at QStock Festival in Oulu.” – “You might have heard that here is a lot of metal music, perhaps in a ration even more than in any other country.” – “I have to say it is common for all Scandinavian countries”, Eugene says, “Finland, Sweden, Norway, a lot of metal bands.” – “Is it different”, I want to know, “or lets say more interesting to you to play here or on spot at which you have to plough a little harder? “ – “I understand what you mean. It is hard for me to say because we or I don’t have much data. I played only twice here. Last year and this show tonight here. That’s all. But both were cool: A lot of support from the audience, and a lot of attention after the concert. So both were cool and I cannot let myself make any decisions you know. Any conclusions. It’s great. But easier or a lot easier than other parts of Europe, no I cannot say.”
“Is there any place at which you’ve a particularly great experience?” – “Everywhere. Everywhere” – “That’s really cool because the last band I interviewed they immediately came up with one place being a disastrous memory.” – “Germany was cool. France. I mean Spain, everywhere. Even Italy which is not a metal country, there were some cool shows, too. Czech Republic, Poland, Eastern Europe. Everywhere. Everywhere. I cannot go on because every country is different and peculiar in its own way.”
“Sometimes I have the impression that the reception within countries in that similar language is spoken than in the home country is a bit more supportive than in other countries?” – “No, I cannot say that it works that way”, Eugene says very determined. “Definitely no. The best example is, Romania. Romanian language and culture is really far away from Ukrainian and Russian. And our first ever tour was there. And our first ever fan base was there. And it was cool for us and it is still cool for us to come there and play.” – “Yeah, but then I think Romania has become a good metal place.” – “Yes, it is. And in Germany. I do belief that we have more support in Germany than in Poland.” – “Ok, that’s interesting.” – “But on the other hand we have Czech Republic which is absolutely cool to play. And yeah, it’s somehow close to Slavonic country, Slavonic language and Slavonic culture. But I don’t see much connection. Like a really huge connection between origins and acceptance.”
My odd question is to come. “Do you like comics?” – “I cannot say I like it”, Eugene replies after a couple of seconds. “Because I haven’t had much. I was born still in the Soviet Union and grew up in the 90s in Ukraine. And we didn’t have much. But I have to say that I like the culture. Atmosphere and in the 2000s we had so many movies made of comics. And it’s still on. I like watching those movies.” – “Is there a superhero you kind of identify yourself with?” – “It’s hard to me to identify with one. I kind of love a bunch of them from different universes. DC. I love that movie, it’s called in English, if I am not mistaken “Watchers”. It’s about a parallel universe with utopic America. It was out ten years ago. There were really cool characters there. Like owl from DC. And Marvel characters like Hulk. Well, I think I look like Hulk quite actually. I am not really tall but quite square shouldered, yeah. So yeah, there’s a lot of characters I can be identified according to myself. Not one.” – “Really cool final statement”, I say adding my gratitude. Also Eugene thanks for the interview before he says good-bye and leaves the container for his most deserved time off – after four or five longer interviews in a row.
Speaking to Eugene was extremely interesting to me. I have thought often about two points. Although I do not intend to drift into politics I think it important to highlight once more the value of open borders (do not mistake this for utterly unprotected!) for the diversity of our culture in general and the metal community in particular. There was a transfer of culture along the Silk Road dating back so far into history that today’s (immaterial) borders seem just ridiculous.
I am also very fond of the idea that Jinjer and Eugene in particular do refuse to think and act in boxes. The discussion of genres and the “true” whatever in metal has become so outdated, as he points out – and I am not only thinking of the attitude I have found often uttered speaking of Nu Metal. I wish the openness with that I was welcomed this summer was working also to cross the borders in music. Then, metal is so much more than just music!