Almost 60 years after the low orbit ‘Sputnik’ satellite was launched, the Sounds Of Sputnik have come to refresh our idea of shoegaze in Russia. The Moscow based band released its debut album earlier this year and the future seems prosper and long with Roman Kalitkin moving the strings.
About the shoegaze and alt-rock scene in Russia, can you characterize this scene in such a vast country, and do you see yourself as a representative from your country to the world?
I am aware of several shoegaze projects in Russia and their music is worthy of attention. However, most of the musical arena in our country is monopolized by the so-called «business people» who represent a very particular brand of dominant music industry and the tastes that are attached to it. We can hardly compete with the industry players of such kind. Thus, it was a big surprise for me to find out that, as a result of internet voting, we won the ‘‘Jagermeister Indie Awards’’ in Russia in the ‘‘Young Blood’’ category with our track ‘Overdrive’. I had a chance to check out the music of many of the Russian bands that were participating alongside with Sounds Οf Sputnik in that competition. I can say that the majority of them can be classified as “alternative” if we use the standards of the world music industry. Having said this, as a representative of the Russian music scene in the world, Sounds Οf Sputnik certainly dispel the old-fashioned stereotype of bears on the streets.
Roman Kalitkin, you seem to be a veteran musician, but your sound is fresh and modern with stable synthesis but also with new ideas in your compositions. Tell us about the musical history behind your band and its roots.
In the early 90s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sputnik Vostok were formed in the Southern Russian town called Rostov-on-Don. I was part of that band. We played shoegaze. Surprisingly enough, we had a lot of fans at that time. Most of them were students from the local universities and colleges. We even had our own night club called ‘100% where all of us pushed the party to the massive extremes – it was great. Some former members of Sputnik Vostok still play shoegaze in Rostov – they formed bands like Aerofall and XBrothers. After moving to Moscow in 2000, Sputnik Vostok existed for some time and after a while dissolved into several new projects. At present, I am trying to distill the essence from my 30 years of music experience and put it into new tracks that I am composing for Sounds Of Sputnik (some in collaboration with Shauna McLarnon from the Canadian/Ukrainian Ummagma). I guess so due to the fact, that my music tastes and my own creative personality were formed in a rather different environment in a town like Rostov-on-Don and not in Moscow or London, the material I come up with sounds refreshing and new.
It took you almost 6 years to record your debut album ‘New Born’. Now, that is out in the world, how do you feel about the days of recording, the collaborations you made with Ummagma for this and also about the way this album was promoted to the public and press?
It is true that it took a significant amount of time to record the debut album. The thing is that at first, before the creation of the Sounds Of Sputnik as a live band and in the way that exists now, I actually recorded all of the instruments for all of the tracks myself in my home. After that, I sent the recorded material to Shauna and Alex Kretov (from Ummagma), so they could in turn record their vocals. Obviously, it was a long process. At the moment, we have written enough material for at least two albums and we have already started recording. It goes without saying that I am grateful to Shauna. Thanks to her, Sounds Of Sputnik not only received the media and radio coverage around the world, but also enjoyed the benefit of her fantastic voice and the amazing poetry of her lyrics. This is quite unique since she has an amazing music project of her own. I am truly appreciative of the fact that I met this wonderful person in Moscow in the mid-2000s. I would like to hope that together we made a big hole in the iron curtain.
Your biggest fans, as I understand, are Ummagma, the established dream-pop duo from Canada. How did you meet and how did you both manage to become so close with one another to collaborate?
I want to clarify that Shauna is not just a fan of Sounds Of Sputnik – she actually stood at the origin of the band’s creation. Before creating Sounds Of Sputnik, I played in several bands in Moscow but soon realized that I was not actually getting anywhere as most of that music was not what I actually enjoyed. This is when I met Shauna McLarnon in 2002 and we started our creative collaboration that continues to this day. As far as I know, the tracks that we recorded together back in that time were not released, but I guess they represented the beginning of her Ummagma project. Finally, in 2012 I decided to become a solo traveller as far as music was concerned. I was on a new creative journey and tried to write the kind of music I would actually love to perform or listen to myself. I recorded a couple of tracks and uploaded them on the internet. This led me in reconnecting with Shauna McLarnon and Alex Kretov (who had established Ummagma). They were living in Ukraine at the time and later moved to Canada. We were able to exchange numerous tracks back and forth via the internet.
So sometimes, when one of our tracks is being remixed, only the vocals are used while the music itself is interpreted by the individual remixers. Sounds Of Sputnik and Shauna are in a state of constant creative exchange despite of the fact that we are separated by an ocean now. I fully trust her experience in the industry and her musical taste. I can say the same of Alex too – he is a talented producer.
Your new EP ‘New Born Remixes’ feels like a natural thing for you to do since your music seems to be extroverted. Tell us more about this release via Emerald & Doreen Recordings, which is one of my favorite underground labels.
At some point I also tried to make remixes of Sounds Of Sputnik and even Ummagma tracks, but those were more like experiments to me since I understood that the process of remixing presupposes extensive experience in this area of music production. What was done by Emerald & Doreen Recordings exceeded all of my expectations. It was as if I heard the familiar music of Sounds Of Sputnik, but it was performed by some alien inhabitants from a different galaxy that possesses a superior knowledge of sound. All of these remixes are so good that I find it difficult to choose a favourite one. I must say that I am greatly excited by the prospects of making a music video for one of them. The main idea for the video is to create an interesting contrast between the hot electronic beat of the music and the visuals of totally frozen, snow-covered Moscow winter. Maybe I will be able to accomplish this. Let’s see. It is -27 Celsius here now, by the way.
You have received praise and even awards for your music videos. I sense that you have chosen psych-abstract perceptions of images to match your sounds. What was the idea behind the ‘New Born’ video, filmed in the streets of Moscow? And who compiled the video for ‘Shades Of The Cosmos’, which I found on your YouTube channel? I found it breathtaking.
Sometime in the past I used to paint and was into using acrylic paint in bright colours. I was also hanging out with a group of avant-gardist painters in Rostov, my home town. I guess this experience has an influence on how I create my music videos. I try to do everything myself. I both film and edit the material. I suppose, from one side it can look somewhat primitive, but I like primitivism for I see it as containing authentic emotions. When I was filming ‘New Born’, I am sure that from the point of view of some observers on the street I looked pretty strange alone with my camera filming everything that came along my path. I was even stopped on the Red Square and asked to show my documents. When it comes to the video ‘Shades Of The Cosmos’, it was based on the documentary films about space that were made during the early time of the Soviet Union. I just decided to color them in a little brighter, to make them more lively and dynamic. I’m glad you liked it.
Your first two singles ‘Shades Of The Cosmos’ and ‘Visualization’ were contributed to the ‘‘Fund For Danny Lackey’’. There is a sad story behind this, but please tell us more about the things that brought you together with people behind the fund.
I did not know Danny Lackey personally, but his tragic demise touched me deeply. So, I am very happy if those two tracks helped his relatives at least a bit. In the middle of the 90s the bass guitarist Victor Sorokin (Sputnik Vostok) died of cancer. His untimely death impacted me greatly. In my opinion, Victor was a brilliant composer and he could have contributed much more to the music scene in Russia. I believe that musicians must support each other.
Your soundscapes feel kind of melancholic but since music absorption can be something very personal, what emotion do you think best describes your music?
When I write music, first of all I am guided by the beauty of the harmonic sequence and novelty of its sound – at least that rings true for me. If in the end it turns out to be a melancholic piece (rather I would call it sad), it is quite possible there was an emotional generalization of my feelings and attitudes that depend on the external environment and the internal state of my soul. In any case, when writing music, I am not generally in a mood where I want to jump for joy.
We know little about your live performances. Will you widen your scope in future by traveling more? What are your touring plans?
Now Sounds Of Sputnik perform mainly in Moscow clubs, as far as concerns touring in Europe has been limited due to high costs. It is virtually impossible for this to happen during this economic crisis and in Moscow we end up paying more than we earn. This is unfortunately the kind of show business we have here. The band exists thanks to the pure enthusiasm of our musicians and we do this in between our main jobs.
They say that radio is the music theater that gets to everyone’s house. I have the feeling that you also love radio as a means of expression. What are your thoughts about web broadcasting and is this the future of the radio?
I think that if it was not for internet radio, very few people would have learned about us initially and nowadays many little-known groups also get their moment of glory only thanks to such a phenomenon. You are correct in saying that radio is like a theater without visual contact, which in our minds gives birth to something more personal and profound. Well, it gives certainly a more independent feeling than that offered by TV’s idiot box.
Photo credits: Tatiana Kalitkina