The warriors of Volga
Congratulations with the new mini-album, it’s a very nice one. The first thing I noticed is it is called a mini-album and not EP, is there a special reason for that?
In fact, as for me, I do not see any difference. We do not repeat ourselves and if we give a new life to already recorded songs in a next album, in any way they sound in a different way. As for a format of the mini-album, it is called in this way, because it is an integral and self-sufficient work. The cover-song’s mood fitted into it naturally, since it is also about the Freedom, about a wide-open spaciousness of a free person’s soul.
By the way, thank you for congratulations! Vinyl, as a record carrier, is a new phenomenon for us, and we tried to correspond to qualitative sound standards. Moreover, Oprich has never had such verified and dense sound before, as on this mini-album. I cannot but note Mikhail Romanov’s really filigree (who not just recorded all parts of folk instruments, but also carried out mixing of songs) and Yuriy Kuz’kin, who is responsible for mastering. The Russian and the Ukrainian together did their best – and this way of things must be forever!
It’s the first piece of a story. What can we expect more? Are there going to be a number of mini-albums forming a complete story together?
Yes, and it will be, and now we work on it. Although the continuation of this work will be not a mini-album, but a real full-length album, and it is possible that not only one album. In these songs we sing about something close to us – something we feel and understand. Moreover, the Russian North, the Volga and events, which took place there, are close to us. The third full-length album following for “Winds’ Heady Mead” has been recorded piece by piece, in process of the songs composing. Probably, such approach looks a little strange, which is different from the habitual scheme “completely composed – completely recorded”, however, for us, such forward creation of a big sound canvas seems natural. I cannot introduce the work completion dates. There is no need to hurry and, at the same time, we are busy with other songs and projects, so let it have its swing.
It seems to me, this way of working has a lot of difficulties. What are the limitations and the benefits of working on a story like this?
It’s impossible to plan our creative process, it does not ask and does not consult with us. It comes, visits, shows, slightly opens a door – so, then you are already involved in a surprisingly interesting and entertaining process. It is unclear: what is a source of the appeared and revealed idea, which has opened as a flower in the most unexpected moment, and then you understand with pleasure how it is fruitful and adapted for the further development. Then the words and images already appear by themselves on a well-trodden road. It is necessary only to bring them together and place in a harmonious, and already not intuitive, but an intelligent concept. Then the songs’ skeletons sprout, and it is necessary to put the boards of words and turns of speech on their naked edges, tar it with rhymes, join with the rivets of the poetic metres, pull elastic tackles of the main melodies. As a rule, at first I write lyrics, and then the whole group creates music, therefore, as for me, the album is ready in the way of its “being composed” and tangibility namely when all lyrics, or at least the most part of texts, are written. In such a way, I already “see” it. Music just decorates a tree of lyrics with carving, binding and bright paintings of the melodies. Therefore, now our flotilla already rocks on the waves – it is ready to go to a trip. As you see, with such approach (and we do not have another) this is not about convenience, benefits or restrictions!
Can you tell us some more about the people this story is about?
In historical sources the Ushkuiniks are often compared with the Vikings of the Northern Europe, and this comparison is reasonable. An Ushkuinik is a personally free young man, who chooses not agricultural activities or urban crafts, but military affairs connected with campaigns to the strange lands. It could concern a rather wide range of activities typical for all armed breadwinners of the North – trade, discovery and conquest of the new lands and their aboriginals, military expeditions and ordinary organized robbery in a range of medieval armies. The word “ushkuinik” takes its roots in a name of a rowing and sailing vessel – the ushkui, which could sail both on the rivers, and by the seas. The ushkuis are not unlike Viking ships, and this similarity is not casual – after all, they had an identical area and conditions of activity.
The city Novgorod the Great became a cradle of ushkuiniks’ activity in the 13th century. More precisely, it was not just a city, but also the extensive state, which is accepted to call in scientific literature as Novgorod Republic. Teams of ushkuiniks are not the state groups, but crowds of free seekers of loot and glory. However, the ones, who fitted them out and used for own purposes, were boyars and merchants, which quite often set off to the armed expeditions as voivodes. There was the time of such kind: a merchant was a soldier, and a soldier was a merchant.
Groups of povolniks (the second name of ushkuiniks, which concerns the voluntary nature of their activity) carried out campaigns using their boats of ushkui type as soon as ice on the rivers descended. The Volga and the Volga’s inflows – the Kama and other large rivers were the main direction of their attacks. In those years when Russian lands were in a subordinate situation on the Golden Horde, ushkuiniks carried on ruinous and predatory campaigns against the Tatar cities across the Central and the Lower Volga, combining capture of loot with revenge upon the hateful aggressors. However, ushkuiniks carried on campaigns as well to the North, went to Western Siberia, conquering the original population and laid them under tribute.
Some powerful campaigns of the Novgorod flotillas to Scandinavian coasts are known as well. In this case the free brave men acted in the state interests, answering blow on blow, because Swedish Kingdom was in the state of war against Novgorod. Lands in the modern Finland, Sweden and Norway – Abo, Finnmark, Hålogaland, Sigtuna – were ravaged. Viking descendants preferred to make the peace and not to irritate this Eastern neighbor any more.
What does attract us in the image of an ushkuinik and why did we choose it as a topic? First, their campaigns across the Volga began in our native place. Going down on the Northern rivers and dragging to the South, the Novgorodian flotillas came up down the Sheksna to the Volga, and the Sheksna falls into this great river namely where the modern city Rybinsk is located. Namely, here the beginning of their long way to the South took place. Secondly, the spirit of daring, courage and freedom is close to us, and we express this spirit in the songs as we feel it. Thirdly, the Volga talks to us by a rustle of the waves about the past and this voice can be heard. In addition, the topic is so wide and extensive that it will last for a long time. After all there are so much groups in Scandinavia and worldwide, they glorify the Vikings (for example, Amon Amarth will just suffice to mention) – so why don’t we open our page of history of the North?
It’s obvious nature inspires Oprich. On the previous album, there was a song about a river as well. Is there a special fascination for rivers?
Your resource is not the first one, who pays attention to this feature of ours. Indeed, for the people who were born and grew up on the banks of the Volga, this great Russian river is of the great importance. Moreover, the history of our city Rybinsk is intimately connected with the Volga. The ancient Slavic settlement, the fortress Ust’-Sheksna, which was built at the Sheksna-River confluence into the Volga in the 11th century, was one of the beginnings of Rybinsk, and Rybnaya Sloboda (the Fish Settlement) was the second place, where Rybinsk began. Its name specifies that fishing was the main occupation of inhabitants. Since the 16th century the Volga sturgeons and sterlets caught by inhabitants of Rybnaya Sloboda had been delivered to the royal household. Having united, these two settlements became a city named as Rybinsk. The city had been growing, and in the 19th century, during the rapid industrial development of Russia, it had become an important river port and a traffic center of the great value. When the Volga is a little bit shallow, because of the summer heat, we can see on the river’s sandy coast some remains of piles from a large number of the piers stretching out for many miles and outwards the city boundaries the century before last.
Moreover, there is no need to speak about the great importance of the Volga for the modern residents of Rybinsk. Waking up in the morning, you, first of all, will hear screeching river seagulls; the wind will bring you the smell of water and roaring sounds of engines from the floating barges and tourist motor ships.
The slow current of the wide, mighty Volga imposes the influence on us – living on its coast. Staying above a spaciousness of the river bed, it is easy to imagine how fast boats rip up the cold water smooth surface by their noses, how the lines of oars harmoniously wave, how the vessels with beast heads approach the coast and light-haired warriors in clinking hauberks – approximately such as the LP cover represents – jump out of the vessels on wet sand. Our land is very ancient, and this antiquity begins directly behind the threshold. Windows of my apartment in Rybinsk open on to the mouth of the Sheksna, where Ust-Sheksna churchyard, which was reconstructed a few years ago on the steep coast, watches into the skies with spear points of the edged logs. At this place, as the chronicle testifies, in the second half of the 11th century the Pagan magicians, who lifted popular revolt against the princely power, were executed. In the cloudy autumn days the flocks of ravens make circles over the fortress’ walls and tower, over naked branches of high trees, and with the singular distinctness you imagine these uncompromising old men with gray-haired beards and a line of archers headed by a voivode. The Volga is an ancient trade path, so from time to time its waves wash away from clay coast a jug full of Arab silver dirhems dug by a Varangian merchant, bones of those who perished in a skirmish with robbers, a rusty sword of a princely combatant buried in a coastal barrow. I will explain on an example: when you look at the Egyptian pyramids, first, you start thinking about Pharaohs and if your background is rather wide, you can imagine many events on the Nile’s riversides occurring there several thousand years before nowadays. Here is the same case: looking at the Volga, without efforts, you imagine what I wrote above. Is it necessary to say that at such situation the Volga constantly inspires our creativity, and this source of inspiration is really inexhaustible.
The previous project “Triunity” was also something unique. Can you tell how you came to do a project like that?
To be fair I have to tell you that we did not create this idea. Many years ago, similar musical compilation was intended for releasing by three right-wing bands from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine – Kolovrat, Molot and Sokyra Peruna. However, due to various reasons they did not bring the idea into life, and the project was put on ice. As the Triunity of the East Slavonic nations cannot be someone’s monopoly and as a phenomenon it deserves any kind of promotion in our times of trouble, so we decided to take this work upon ourselves. We invited for participation Chur (Ukraine) and Piarevaracien (Belarus), and obtained the agreement, so the work began. Now, looking back, I understand how easily and joyfully to us we worked, and how we were inspired. Moreover, I am proud that we were involved in a noble cause, and that music of Oprich became not just a product of youth subculture, but as well as a manifesto of Brotherhood of our nations.
How did you work together on this project, because you live miles apart?
We communicated by means of social networks and icq, and in order to solve some general problems we created a forum. The whole process was led by Dmitriy (Casus Belli Musica), the publisher of “The Triunity”: he raised the questions, coordinated their discussion, allocated the main ideas and required such decisions from participants of the project, which would be equally acceptable for all of us. I must tell that he managed to do everything in the best way, and no one left dissatisfied.
Does the conflict in the Ukraine affect the relationship between these bands or can you keep it a side-issue?
This skillfully created discord made its dirty deed. We watch how the monopolists of the New World Order surprisingly easy manage to wreak the havoc worldwide – Yugoslavia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and now the Ukraine. There are always problems and contradictions in any country – all that remains is to be surprised with the skills of those who are able to inflate the fratricide fire from a weak sparkle. Unfortunately, participants of the project did not manage to distinguish at once the main enemies – those who provoke hostility and gain a profit from it. However, I would not tell you that disagreements among participants were irreconcilable, and I hope that the common blood will bond us together. In spite of the fact that we again and again are tried to be quarreled, we are the one family, and family members are not at enmity forever.
Mikhail plays such nice instruments, over here in Europe there are not many people who can play these kind of instruments, is this different in Russia?
Unfortunately, not many. The national musical culture, once mass, in the modern post-industrial society is a property of only a small number of enthusiasts. However, some participants of Oprich play a flute and a zhaleyka a little. I was eager to buy a balalaika a while ago, however the prices for these instruments are comparable to the prices of quite good electric guitars, therefore I was compelled to hold back from this purchase. So, I failed to support a stereotype about a Russian man with a balalaika on my own example
Mikhail constantly increases his ability, not only buying new instruments, but also increasing the skills of playing them. I think, he would not disgrace the skills of playing of such folk multi-instrumentalists, as John Ryan from Cruachan or Kaspars Bārbals from Skyforger.
What are the difficulties of using these instruments in metal?
Oh, there are many difficulties, really, you can believe! They fall under two headings concerning stage and studio. Just imagine, a group comes to a club, and it is necessary to adjust the sound equipment before a future performance. In a still empty hall, you will sound in other manner than in a hall filled with people, and one need the great sound engineer’s experience to consider this important point. As a rule, club sound engineers seldom face such a problem as sound adjustment of whimsical and exacting wind instruments, when each of them sounds absolutely differently. Alas, it happens so that a melodious pipe is not audible with roaring guitars and thundering drums, but a loud and sharp zhaleyka punches a group sound through, piercing into the ears of listeners with all its demotic frankness Having been tired to deal with all these eternal problems, we gave up using the traditional instruments on the stage. After all, what is a live concert? First, it is a splash of emotions, violent and powerful action. Now we do not play our ballads alive, filling a set list only with fast and ardent songs. No more any half tones – only bright colours, fire and speed. It is Metal, after all – it must be namely of such kind!
As for the studio, it is a case of absolutely other kind! There we use the full range of traditional instruments.
It would seem, there is a certain duality, after all, our songs in live and studio variants sound in absolutely different manner. However, there is also a certain charm of creativity in this aspect – a twice-bigger range for composing, arrangement, addition of emotional accents and so forth. Therefore, the same song has opportunity to sound in the widest emotional range. However, let’s return to some difficulties. In the studio work they are mainly reduced to skillful placement of instruments in the mix – yes, not in a primitive manner, but in a manner when each instrument could reveal all its beauty. Low sounding flutes may “fail” into guitars and compete with a voice, a jaw’s harp may “argue” with a solo guitar and pipes, etc. It is necessary to make certain efforts in order to reveal all these folk “musical decorations”, and not the other way around.
Are the songs written especially for the use of these instrument or are they fitted in later?
This way and that. It depends on the case what “will begin to sound” in the head first in the course of the composing the music, and often as well as in the course of the lyrics’ birth. It can be a melody that will be obviously intended for a flute – and there can be also a heavy guitar riff. The main thing in creation of music is its naturalness. For example, now, during the breaks between considerations of answers for this interview’s questions, from time to time I come back to the lyrics for a new song. Words don’t “come” quickly, but they come smoothly, without strained efforts and though the text is not completely written yet, approximately I already imagine a vocal melody, and also parts of some instruments, both – of heavy, and folk ones. Having experience of creation of concert arrangements, i.e. purely guitar arrangements, I already can assume now as the song will begin to sound from a stage. And now, coming back to the lyrics again and again, trying on myself the text’s mood, I will gradually finish it – and together with words the music will also come. It will be still implicit, shapeless in some parts, but it will be something in any way. Further Pustosvyat, our former bass player, and, nowadays, our main composer, who does not appear with us on the stage anymore, will be involved in this work. This person will transform foggy images and vague representations into ringing notes and expressive melodies, and further the whole band will create the parts of their instruments on the basis of his recommendations. So, the song will be ready. I agree, it is a difficult way, but it is developed in the natural way, and natural things are the most correct.
What are the future plans of Oprich?
As I’ve already said, the creation of the third full-length album will be the first point of our “big job”. In itself, this process will take a lot of time and demand considerable creative efforts. I.e. it will be such a mountain which, one would think, will cover the horizon. However, there are also other ideas. Verses of our vocalist Pan are waiting in the wings – using these lyrics we want to create the following full-length album, the anthem of triumphant Paganism. Also we think about recording of some unreleased songs to fill the gaps of early years. As you probably understood, the creative recipe of OPRICH is the naturalness, and on this way a lot of surprising flashes of inspiration capable totally change the drawn-up plans. Therefore, one should not give binding promises.
Is there anything else you like to say to the readers of www.folk-metal.nl?
In this place musicians often say bombastic platitude spoiling an impression of an interview at the very end. I will try not to follow this way and say simply. Hey, folks, we are unknown to each other – so meet us! I have just told you about the group Oprich and about Russia, so now it is your turn. Write us, tell us about yourself, ask questions, and let’s begin to communicate. We will be glad to find new friends among the European listeners. Probably, sooner or later, we will meet each other at the concerts. Let it be!