Interview with Masha Scream Arkhipova (M) and Sergei Lazar (S) – Pagan Rebellion Tour – September 13, 2019
Let’s start off with a huge thanks for sitting down with me for the folks of Folk-Metal.nl.
If I recall correctly, this is your 8th or 9th tour here?
S: “Yes, this is the 9th tour in NA, but the 8th in the States and we’ve also been to Miami for 70,000 thousand tons of metal thrice.”
Speaking of, how do you like that experience?
S: “Well, it’s really excellent! Huge boat on the Caribbean, thousands of metal fans, the best bands so really tons of fun.”
M: “The accommodations were also great, comfortable. Most of the time we’re not performing, so there were many opportunities to relax. It’s a cruise! A dream cruise, where there’s metal and lots of great bands to hear but you’re simultaneously on vacation. Another huge plus is it’s held during the winter, you know, while it’s winter back home.”
Right it’s quite cold at that time in Russia.
S: “And Miami on the other hand is nice.
So how is the tour this time around? Has anything changed significantly or mostly things are similar?
M: “To be honest, it’s very hot and I don’t recall it ever being this warm but Sergei says it has and even been warmer. It’s especially rough for me. Like for instance, we had an open air concert in Dallas while it was 40+C out, the venue were very kind and provided huge fans but even at night it would only get down to 35C and it’s still a little difficult to play.”
S: “Also because our tours are typically either in the late fall/December or early spring March/April. We played in Arizona in May once and it must’ve been 50C! That was probably maximally hot.”
Well, Arizona is just too hot in general.
M: “I can’t imagine living there.”
S: “So much power is spent on air conditioning.”
And irrigation. Like Vegas, I believe you’ve played there?
S: “Yes, 3 times.”
I know this is a common question but what kind of music does the band listen to, for instance on tour or while traveling?
M: “On tour? All kinds, because we’re usually with lots of folks and everyone has their favorites. Completely varied, everything from pop to black metal.”
Wow! Even pop? What pop? Can you give an example?
S: “For instance, today I was listening to a song from the group Carmen.”
M: “The thing is, on tour, we listen to music that sets an atmosphere, an air of fun. Especially right after the show and we just want to celebrate; individually each person has a song or two that is dear to them today, to share in the moment. As a result the playlists are quite diverse.”
S: “When we were on tour with Korpiklaani, we’d listen to humpa all day, for four hours at a time.”
M: “Oh, yes! This was a little hellish, haha.”
S: “They just never turn it off.”
S: “It’s on all the time, everywhere, backstage, in the club, in the tour bus.”
Well that’s a little much, no? LOL
M: “Entirely to much. In fact, if it was on, we’d be out of sight. How many are there of us? 7? Well we’d be all tightly tucked away somewhere just to escape it hehe”
S: | I’m certain we’ve heard all the humpa there is while on tour with Korpiklaani.”
LOLOL We call that “too much fun”
Actually, curious to know, over all the North American tours, is there a band you enjoyed traveling with the most?
M: “Which group? Well, actually everyone has been great. There aren’t any that were outstanding or terrible. Partially too, all of us, the bands, we’re all similar in mindset and on the same wavelength. Everyone are friends, no one is rude or unbearable to one another. But yes, Korpiklaani although amazing folks are hooligans and hooligans can be tiring.”
Oh yes, I recall meeting them here in SF ten years ago. They haven’t changed seems like.
S: “I would like to mention though that over 10 years of playing in the US, we’ve been very fortunate without any kinds of incidents.”
M: “Yes, everyone has been beyond friendly and kind.”
S: “A unique friendly, mafia, breed of our own.”
I would completely agree! It’s a community.
M: “Agreed, everyone really is on the same wavelength which is incredibly helpful surviving touring. If that commonality wasn’t there, tours would become difficult, physiologically.”
Ultimately, commonality is there for the art?
M: “Of course. And if the people are excellent, it’s just a blast to travel!”
On Khram and Composing
To switch gears here, how was Khram received?
M: “Oh, uh, ambiguously.”
Why is that?
M: “Well, I’m judging based on the concerts, right now. The reaction is very.. maybe Sergei can elaborate.”
S: “I think, there are fans that are very familiar with the band’s work, that received Khram well because they are fans of Masha’s masterpieces. They believe in the quality of work. But globally speaking, there is a segment of our fans, the folk metal public, that see the album as simply black metal. It seems to be 50/50, some really love it, others no so much and opinions are vastly polar but we are still playing Khram live, in fact half of the set is from the new album.”
If I may, I believe every musician and artist, their work is reflected on the current circumstances, surrounding and personal.
M: “Surely. Every composer, every person who writes certainly puts a little part of them, and puts all their atmosphere, into that music. And because it’s so personal, maybe it’s not readily perceived. I don’t know. Some feel this way, others differently.”
Not all fans are musicians, let’s just put it that way.
I read somewhere that Khram was written on the road?
M: “Yes, in Canada. Not really though, maybe three songs.”
S: “The ideas came then but the majority of the songs were still written at home.”
M: “There isn’t really anything to compose on. This time on tour for instance, I just grab my phone. If an idea comes to mind, I will quickly transcribe it to the voice recorder. Once we’re home in the peace and quite, I will transfer and expand on the PC.”
Kind of like a sketch?
M: “Yes, you could call it a fish.”
LOL Really? How come?
M: “It’s unclear, just came about, Russian for the fundamentals, the start or backbone of a drawing or music or anything else.”
S: “Yes, a draft.”
Draft, yes, Thank you! I need help with my native language sometimes.
How does that composition process work for you? Does it start with the music or the words?
M: “Primarily, the music comes first and once the idea is there, the arrangement and everything else, I already see the lyrical painting; the theme.”
So you envision the whole song completely? Or piece wise?
M: “You see, once the concept is there, I immediately record it to the phone. And if the idea has arrived, it has arrived whole. But again, what’s recorded is only the backbone and the entire arrangement is impossible to document so sometimes details can be consequently forgotten. But, once I hear the song again back home, the arrangements resurface. Due to the completeness of the painted composition, the lyrics compose naturally as well, as a second layer to the overall picture.”
S: “There was that one time, of of the kids erased a whole song.”
M: “Oh yes, Serbia.”
Really? Which son?
M: “The younger one, Bogdanchik (Russian slang for cute Bogdan J )”
How? What happened?
M: “He must’ve been one or two, a toddler. Which year?”
S: “2011, 2 years.”
M: “Right, so he was 2 and he really likes the technology. One faithful time, I come into the room, he’s sitting indicating that it’s not working where I’ve already recorded a whole song to. Naturally, we’re devastated because how are we going to remember and rewrite everything? It was okay in the end though, piece by piece, step by step, I rewrote everything again and it wasn’t that bad. It can all be remembered and we recorder everything anew. “
Outstanding! Personally, I can’t wrap my mind around that level of imagination and memory. I mean, I can paint a painting, a melody and lyrics but the complete music seems vastly more complex. The drums, bass, etc..
S: “Complete arrangement, yes.”
M: “It’s a composer’s requirement to understand how each instrument is played and applied. I’ve had this problem before, maybe not so much now, where in practice and preparation, someone will claim that a part is unplayable or incorrect. In that situation, they might suggest an unfavorable alteration. Suggestions I just honestly don’t like, it can be an issue.”
“hard to fathom as it’s all so abstract. Where one understanding is related to another; life and death; two sisters around a fire; black dress, white dress.”
It seems as though that is a rule of the group.
M: “Yes, you could say that. The reality becomes, if it’s not playable and I don’t like the advice, Where’s the compromise?”
S: “Well, everything that has been written, has been played.”
M: “That was the issue with Vlad, the drummer prior to Andrei. Before he left, he had a problem with the song Chado Indigo (Indigo Child) from the album Yav. He said he wouldn’t play it like that because it couldn’t be played in a particularly precarious part. Then Andrei came in with a fresh perspective, played and recorded the whole thing freely.”
Well, he plays everywhere and everything. He’s basically played for everyone.
M: “I just mean, nothing is unrealistic. For instance, Sergei and I never had any problems, in the way of playing. Sure, maybe at concerts, certain parts might be altered better for live play but not on recordings. How I write it, he will play.”
On Relations, Family and Origins
Speaking of, did you guys originally play music together, or were you dating first?
S: “There was a young band, that came in to record a demo, must’ve already been Arkona were already in existence…”
M: “No, it was still Hyperborea? Actually I’m not certain.”
M: “And you even said Hyperborea was a shitty name.”
S: “Regardless. I had another project, “N…tront” which needed vocal tracks and I asked Masha to sample so during that project, a relationship developed and subsequently that relationship transferred into Arkona sort of and when she was in search musicians, I was one of the available musicians…”
So you were already a vocalist at that time, which brings me to the next topic. How did you “find your voice” so to say?
M: “In all honesty, since a very young age I’ve been involved with music.”
Yes, but how about the harsh vocals?
M: “Probably during the first project called Bloody Marry, a historical band actually even though there were many other ensembles and “VE” – vocal instrumental ensembles while in school but my actual first band was Кровавая Мери with musicians some of which became the first structure of Arkona. And for one or another reason, even though I don’t remember why, I tried screaming and just loved how it sounded!”
You were how old?
M: “Must’ve been 18 or 19.”
S: “It was 2000, so 17/18.”
The first time I think I heard Arkona was 2005 but didn’t get hooked until hearing Goj in 2009.
M: “Creativity fluctuates quite a bit like that, when I was much younger and in a different headspace, the atmosphere was certainly different which changed and as I matured, the outlook and mindset also changed. Nonetheless, the idea has remained consistent. Some have been saying though, ‘you’ve altered the pedigree, now you’re playing some black metal, you’re no longer pagan. You were and now no longer are.’”
Back home or here they’re saying this?
M: “Home, primarily.”
S: “We try not to read international reviews which are mostly always positive; native listeners are more critical.”
There is value in honesty… here for instance, many lie for the sake of politeness.
Was Paganism always the original theme, to bridge tradition into the contemporary realm?
M: “In principle, yes, it all started with Arkona’s formation. We have always referred to it as ancestry, a contemporary theology to uphold paganism for current culture. At that time, it was very fashionable, actually and it pulled me in completely, so much so, I may never get out.”
I don’t believe that, things change. Composers change.
M: “I know, but that’s what I mean. The people that stood with me at the time, changed, they weren’t taking it seriously.”
So the Pagan theme, will continue?
M: “Indubitably, as I live and breathe.”
Are you religious?
M: “It just a global philosophy.”
But is it nationalist?
S: “That’s irrelevantly untied. Russian nationalist were exploring Paganism in the early 2000s now they’re all Christians.”
M: “Right but it was mostly a phase. Paganism is a phase to many with just a few dedicated musicians remaining.”
And for Arkona it was never a phase, rather a lifestyle, a philosophy of sorts.
M: “And that philosophy is what I’ve tried to carry into Khram; a relation to time and space, an existentialism.”
M: “Sergei is better at articulating these things, they’re indescribable/inexplicable. It’s a feeling. But really that’s what Khram is all about, it’s endless in the complex lyrics but hard to fathom as it’s all so abstract. Where one understanding is related to another; life and death; two sisters around a fire; black dress, white dress.”
Right, a cycle; there isn’t one without the other.
M: “Indeed, and that’s practically the whole album.”
Alright, well, to lighten the mood with the last couple of questions. You mentioned your children earlier, so how do you juggle the rockstar lifestyle with family life?
M: “As it happens really, my mom helps out when we’re out, also when we’re home but occupied recording or otherwise, she’s with them. It’s a bit difficult at the moment, because this current tour is at the same time as they start school. So I didn’t get a chance to prep them, nor setup music lessons, nor arrange any documents so these are just some of the problems. We also have a huge concert in Moscow coming up for Goi’s 10 year anniversary, encompassing a very busy year plus the new live material and much preparation so it can be very difficult properly allocating oneself.”
Any festivals coming up in the summer?
S: “Of course, those are the best! The mature European festival market will bring us 80 in total, but those are starting to grow in the US as well. I can think of one coming up in Las Vegas.”
M: “Oh yeah, there are some awesome bands that we would love to show with.”
S: “It’s just so simple in Europe.”
M: “Right, here (US) there’s practicing, visas and the associated huge costs of visiting.”
Even your tour mates, Windrose weren’t able to make it over.
S: “That’s because there are some new regulations requiring musicians to a certain type of visa if they’re visiting for the first time and most of the budget could go to that so it’s much more difficult as a result.”
M: “You could say, we’re lucky.”
Okay so, last question: what is next? What do you envision in Arkona’s future?
M: “Let’s say that any song requires its certain a state of mind, which I’ll admit now comes seldom but we have a couple songs written or planned at the moment along with additional ideas that we’ll have time for likely next year. At the very least, we will start on a new album next year.”
S: “I think, releasing likely early 2021.”
M: “We’ll see depending on my compositional wealth and crazy because the process isn’t to be controlled. Gardening can be more enticing now a days.”
Same… Well, thank you so very much for your time and honesty!