Having already made their name in Russia including being recognized as 2009 “Best New Artist of the Year” (RAMP), 2011 “Rock Song of the Year” (Nashe) and 2012 “Female Vocalist of the Year,” LOUNA now have the United States squarely in their cross-hairs with the April 30 release of “Behind A Mask” via Red Decade Records and MEG/RED.
Selecting 10 of the band’s best songs from their first two albums, LOUNA worked with engineer Dan Korneff and producer/lyricist Travis Leake to adapt the material for release abroad. The result … a more-than-solid metal effort that lives up to the band’s success to date and is sure to grab the attention of new fans here in the U.S.
Lousine Gevorkian (vocals), Vitaly Demidenko (bass) and Rouben Kazariyan (guitar) were kind enough to take the time to answer some questions for us here at Digital Diversion. Check it and out … and don’t forget to mark your calendars for April 30!
“Behind a Mask” is squarely targeted at the U.S. market. After your success in Russia, how did you decide that now was the right time to expand beyond your borders?
Rouben: First of all, I am totally against all kinds of borders and therefore it is simply natural that after establishing ourselves here in Russia we wanted to reach out for broader audience. Communicating with the rest of the world should not be a one-way tide. We are listening to many bands from abroad – that is not fair, we have a lot of different stuff that we can show to the world. Second, I really think that the walls between the world and us are back. After the collapse of the USSR the doors were opened, but now 20 years after it seems that someone is trying to built those doors back and close them! These people are not common people, those are people with special interests. Political interests. I believe that real people across the whole world are the the same and wish to live in peace, brotherhood and prosperity. I believe that real people around the world do not want any borders. That is why we are trying to reach out!
Lousine: I think that time always helps make decisions. We have a lot of friends and people around us who have helped us move forward. We’re ready for this change, but the main thing is if people are ready for us.
Vitaly: In my second band we also tried to release songs in English for a wider audience. Just like many other bands in Russia have tried. Unfortunately, in this country, no effort to break through the borders of Russia have born fruit. The only successful projects in history were the glam rockers Gorky Park in the late 1980’s and the teenage pop singers t.A.T.u. We’re the first group in the history of Russian rock music to have a real chance to reach beyond the boundaries of our own nation. When Travis Leake, our friend and producer, suggested that we should try to release a CD in America we agreed without even a thought.
The record includes songs from two previous records. How did you go about selecting which songs to include?
Rouben: Picking the right songs was hard. We love all of our songs but we didn’t want to throw out all we had to the listeners abroad at once. We wanted only the best. We had to use the assistance of our friend and producer Travis to choose songs that would speak the same musical language that is familiar to people in the West. Of course, we there is a lot more about our music to discover, but for now, we decided to listen to someone who sees our music from both sides. Travis has lived for many years in Russia and knows both worlds. With just a few exceptions I would have chosen the same songs he did.
Lousine: The album turned out to be conceptual. The songs are in the same sequence on the album like we play them in a concert, or like they’re telling a story, or like you might read in a book. Why we chose those particular songs is hard to say, it just turned out that way.
Vitaly: We fully trusted Travis with selecting songs that would correlate with subjects that would resonate with western audiences. He adapted the songs himself into English, and in this regard he is much more competant than we are. We know absolutely everything about Russia, and he about America where he was born and lived most of his life.
What was it like translating all of the songs from Russian to English?
Rouben: I never thought it was possible at all. This was one titanic job that in the end proved that it is possible to deliver even the utmost nuances of a lyric into a different mentality. We could not have done that ourselves and we had to seek Travis’s assistance in this project from the first moment.
Lousine: Our good friend Travis helped us with these like a poet. There can’t be any problems with songs that have deep meaning and poetry comes alive in any language if it has purpose and an idea behind it.
Vitaly: It’s not just a translation, but an artistic interpretation of our lyrics. In reality Travis almost created the lyrics from scratch in a poetic sense, close to his own language using the ideas that came from our Russian lyrics. It was a serious and difficult job that took quite a long time, but the final result is something that all of us are proud of.
Do you feel that some meaning may have been lost in translation or is music a universal language?
Rouben: Maybe. But even in our Russian songs, the lyrics are wide open to be interpreted by anyone who listens to them–even our Russian speaking fans. I have heard some really weird opinions about the meanings of our songs from lots of different people here where we live. And it’s awesome. It’s exactly what we wanted. Besides, translating our songs into English takes them ever further down the road of developing our original ideas. For example, I love our song “Business” in English more than the original Russian.
Lousine: No, our songs still have their sense and they are interesting in their poetic sense. Everything is where it should be. Maybe in some aspects the English songs are deeper and more interesting to examine from certain points of view.
Vitaly: Music is without doubt a universal language that is understood by people in any country. However, the language barrier has always been a problem in understanding lyrics. Luckily, after we met Travis, this problem ceased to exist for us. We’re glad that the ideas of our songs can now be understood by western listeners.
Besides translating the lyrics, what else went into adapting the songs for the U.S. market?
Rouben: First of all the sound. I knew from many different sound engineers here in Russia that in the US there are different standards and requirements for an audio CD. Actually, I can hear that with my own ears when I listen to American or European music. We had to speak the same language and establish communication before trying to deliver any message to a different culture. So, we decided to mix and master our CD in the US. Dan Korneff and Ted Jensen did a fantastic job! Many thanks to them!
Some arrangements were also made slightly differently for Behind a Mask. We relied on the professionalism of our team and our producer in that. We also worked with our singer a lot to achieve the appropriate vocal drive and energy. This CD took a lot of work and energy and it already paid back – check it out, but you have to bear in mind that this is a band from Russia. We went to a lot of effort to send a message to the west that they could easily understand both musically and lyrically. We did our part. We expect that international audiences will appreciate that.
Lousine: changing the arranagements and the overall sound was a big job.
Vitaly: Besides the work on the lyrics, there was a lot of effort put into the music. Especially for the American release the mixing and mastering was done by famous American professionals. The tracks sound more American now. The songs acquired a very different feel, or just maybe something hard to define, than that exist on the albums we released in Russia. It’s an unusual and interesting experience for us.
As a female-fronted rock band, where do you draw you musical inspirations?
Rouben: I do not particularly draw comparisons to female-fronted bands. When we make our music there is nothing specific about the sex of our vocalist. We make music and it does not make any difference if the singer is male or female. We may start with a typical Slayer riff and we know that in the end it will sound not like Slayer but like Louna. And that will not be “Slayer with female vocals” – it will be Louna! In this band we do not limit ourselves to any sort of style. I can bring in a Darkthrone riff or we may start with a Massive Attack groove and no one knows what we will end up doing! This is Louna!
Lousine: I never look for inspiration in people and musicians. I only look to life and emotion, things in my own mind.
Vitaly: This might sound strange, but not one famous rock band with female vocals has any influence on our music. We draw our inspiration (musically anyway) from different groups, but they all have male vocalists. For me these are Nirvana, Sex Pistols, Bad Religion, Scars on Broadway, System of a Down, Billy Talent, Hatebreed, etc. I think that really in the world there aren’t any really truly interesting rock groups with female vocals in the world. Maybe this is the niche that we’ll occupy. Who knows.
The record is set to be released in the U.S. April 30. Do you plan to follow it up with any touring?
Rouben We’d love to. You hear one Louna on the CD but you definitely have to check Louna live – that will make a huge difference. There are many videos on the Internet but no HD video on youtube can deliver the real energy of a rock show.
Lousine: That’d be super! For now it’s difficult to plan ahead. People have to listen first to the songs and react to them.
Vitaly: We hope that our songs are received well by American listeners and will interest local promoters. It’s difficult to say anything about touring for now. We would love to put on concerts in the west.
How did Louna get involved in the MTV documentary, “Rebel Music?” Did the band’s involvement impact your decision to release “Behind A Mask” here?
Lousine: No, the MTV documentary had nothing to do with our decision to make Behind a Mask. In fact, when MTV came to Russia and said they wanted to film us, we had just gotten the masters back from New York on the completed CD. Some friends of ours called us and told us that he gave our contact information to the MTV producers who were looking for musicians to do a documentary about in Russia because of the protect movement.
Vitaly: We took part in creating a compilation CD of Russian rebel songs called the “White Album” in support of Pussy Riot and other inmates of Putin’s regime. Later on, it’s creators informed us that the film crew for MTV USA came to Moscow to film Russian rebellious bands for their project called “Rebel Music”. We accepted their invitation and they filmed us at our rehearsal studio and at our concert in Moscow. But this has nothing to do with the album Behind a Mask.
What are your expectations for your foray abroad?
Rouben: We are not conquerors. We are not aggressors of any sort. We have not come to rule the whole world or overthrow anybody. We want our music and message to be heard and understood. We see that there is lack of international presence of modern Russian culture and we want to change that. We have a lot to show and share. But expectations usually lead to disappointments, so I have tried to learn to live expecting nothing in particular. I believe in what I do, and I believe in what we do in this band. Everyone is special in his own way and we are special too. We have done some hard work trying to break through to international fans. We have got something that is different, something that is fresh and new, and we are eager to show it to the world. I expect that the world desperately needs good music and we have got it!
Lousine: I think our songs and their meanings are universal. Everyone can understand truth and honesty. If a song has these things they will always find ears to hear them.
Vitaly: This will be the first time that a young Russian rock band has had a real chance to be heard by westerners. We hope that when people hear our music that they’ll experience something of our culture and also of the Russian rock scene. It’s too early to say. As we say in Russia, “let’s live and see.”
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