Interviews : Tvangeste
Named after an ancient settlement destroyed in 1255 by Teutonic knights, Tvangeste is one of only a few bands proudly carrying the banner of post-Soviet metal. On the band's latest, Firestorm, the music trascends genres: from black to death metal to gothic to classical music, Tvangeste has it all. A nickname "the Russian Cradle of Filth" does not do the band justice yet only serves as the flattery to the Brits.
Miron, the main man behind Tvangeste, was kind enough to answer some of my questions. This proved to be one interesting interview that showcases a unique perspective of a musician from a post-Soviet country who creates the music he loves but also tries to survive amidst the political, social, and economic instability of "Mother Russia." Enjoy!
Miron, Tvangeste pretty much disappeared after release of Firestorm. Can you give us an update on the band's recent developments?
Well, we were promoting our [latest] CD. There were lots of news. After [Firestorm] was out we got insanely great responses, lots of interviews (I have written about 300 interviews so far, it is almost like work), we are in all major metal catalogues, great sales worldwide, we were awarded "the best black metal album of 2003" in Norwegian, USA, Russian, German magazines. This spring Canadian movie "Sinners and Saints" will be released on DVD. Our music was used there as an official soundtrack.
The progression between Damnation of Regiomontum and Firestorm is simply immense. Firestorm is an album that can be listened from start to finish; it does not have a weak song and completely eclipses any previous material by the band. What do you feel has been the formula to success on Firestorm? Do you think it will be possible to write a better follow-up?
Thanks for your kind words. I agree - there's a big difference between "Damnation of Regiomontum" and "Firestorm." Mainly because of the year of production and studio where album was recorded. "Damnation of Regiomontum" consists of old songs (1996-1999). It was kinda our promotional CD, to show our skills, band's potential etc. So we were very surprised when Norwegian label Valgalder Records offered us a record deal. We were shocked by the responses. Metal mass media have accepted our debut stuff more than we could have ever imagined. But "Damnation..." gave us a possibility to record new stuff, to use good studio, to collaborate with the real orchestra, to invite a session drummer etc. It's sad but true, money still rules this world. So if you have 100,000 you'll make a really good album with the "little" help of great studios like Fredman Studio in Sweden or FinVox in Finland. We got a chance to show that we are able to make good music with more than poor budget (FireStorm was recorded for $4000 in total) of course there are many reasons why "Firestorm" is better: our personal skills, new members (Naturelle joined the band in 2001 specially for the new album's creation and in my opinion she brought a lot of new fresh elements to our style).
Will it be possible to exceed "Firestorm?" Easily! Atually this album's too far from "perfection." But we got an incredible experience in collaboration with the classical musicians, work in studio etc. So now we have much more in our minds so prepare for better stuff from Tvangeste camp in future!
On a similar note, is the band currently working on a new album and what can your fans expect?
We are working on new album's creation together with Naturelle now. New album will be much more powerful. You'll be able to hear more guitar riffs, more dark and evil moments. Main goal is to continue our general style - complicated structure of the music, lots of different emotions, feelings. We have lots of fresh blood to make really good and strong album. We'll continue our collaboration with the Baltic Symphony Orchestra and Choir. The classical parts will become more interesting; we are planning to add more choirs and make all choir parts much more professional and not similar to common crowds like Therion for instance.
If I am not mistaken, all the classical arrangements on Firestorm are courtesy of Baltic symphony orchestra. Who is that group of musicians and how did you get in touch with them? Do you plan on collaborating with them in the future?
Actually we are all self-sufficient [musicians]. We are able to make all our music by ourselves. So all orchestra and choir parts were made by Naturelle and Katya (violin). Over 300 music sheets (notes) were prepared for the "Firestorm" recording. It was really hard work so we are proud of the result!
Naturelle, Victoria, Katya and Vano have musical education.
As far as the Baltic Symphony Orchestra, it's our local orchestra. Many of them are our good friends. They tour often (Europe mainly) so it was hard to catch them between their concert activities. [As far as collaborating with them in the future] for sure we will collaborate with them in future. But we are discussing with Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (Rhapsody and Dimmu Borgir used them) now, so maybe we'll try to collect more money to work with them.
Are you still under contract with World Chaos Productions? How do you feel about your partnership?
After "Firestorm" we are free. We got an offer to continue our relationship with World Chaos. We are still thinking. They are really great! They helped us a lot! Their promo campaign made Tvangeste name much more known in the metal world so I'm absolutely satisfied by the way their do their business!
It puzzles me how a band like Tvangeste has not been able to land a bigger label deal. Do you think any of it can be attributed to the fact that the current symphonic black metal scene is oversaturated with Cradle of Filth clones and even quality bands like yours unjustly get lumped into that group?
Well, I can answer all of that for you - if Tvangeste was a western band - we would be signed to Century Media or Nuclear Blast without any doubts. I'm not boasting. I believe that Tvangeste's music deserves to attract biggest label's attention but there are a lot of bad things and problems that make our lives close to hell. For example: we need to have visas to visit almost all countries in this world, and be sure -it's very hard to get visa for all members at once. So if we're planning a tour in the States - we have to:
1. Apply for visa 2. Wait for 1-2 months 3. Pay money for it 4. Go to Moscow for an interview in USA embassy 5. We have to prove there that we "won't stay, that we have enough money, car, house, family not to leave Russia...."So we'll have to prove that we're [in] good [standing] as only immigration officer's final decision allows us to go to the USA. So let's make it clear - about a half of the band don''t have anything and note, it's "only" USA. The same things about all major countries like UK, Germany, etc...
Look, metal industry is the same business as...hmm...trading. So money rules everything. All musicians in this world are GOODS for sale. Just imagine - our label says "guys, prepare for a big tour together with Opeth." We are going to get visas and get... a big "fuck off" from the embassy. So there are many attractive goods in the western world that don't need any visas, and note - that's only one bad thing I explained. We have many more bugs so we are kinda happy we are able to show our music to world's metalheads through the World Chaos Productions' help!
On a similar note, how do you feel when people categorize Tvangeste as symphonic black metal?
Actually it's a part of a human nature "to compare, to categorize." I prefer to call our music just "music" or "metal music." But if somebody wants to categorize us - not a problem! I don't care. In my opinion we have many different styles in our music: doom, black, death, classic music, even power and heavy metal! So let people call us as they wish. As long as they are interested in our stuff it's ok!
Undoubtedly, Tvangeste is one of the better known bands out of the former Soviet Union. How big of a demand is there for your music in the former countries of the USSR? Is it enough to make the band some money to live from or does it all go to cover the studio costs?
We lost $3000 of our own money on "Firestorm" recording (tickets to Poland-Russia-Poland, food, accommodations, etc...) and we never get anything back! We can't live from music in Russia, no metal band can! It's always funny when Western musicians complain that "everything's bad." Just imagine that usual price of the studio per hour is about $10. The average salary in Russia is about $200/month. So almost all of Russian bands (even well known) can only dream about true American Jackson for $1500. I play on cheap guitar made in Poland (fake Jackson DR 3). Naturelle has composed all keyboard parts on 4 (four!) octaves midi keyboards for 80 bucks! Our previous bassist borrowed more or less bass guitar for live shows!
Staying with the CIS theme, one of the latest developments in that region is the rise of a strong national socialist movement in the music. What do you attribute that to? Do you think people in that region are losing faith in the government and all the unsuccessful economic, social, and political reforms, and thus choosing alternative ways such as national socialist/Nazi ideals and even voting for a Communist party?
Actually I don't know what to say man but it's true - there are a great deal of Nazi bands and this tendency is growing. I don't understand it and I can't accept it at all. Actually nobody has faith in government in Russia now (btw - do Americans believe Bush after those tricks with Iraq? [good question Miron. I think it shall be answered during the upcoming Presidential elections - Mike]). I believe that it's kinda stupid herd feelings: one band started it, others like sheep [follow it] Theress no future for such way but lots of people got into this trap. To Respect Your Land and To Blame Jews for Everything is not the same!
While Tvangeste advertises a strong, admirable bond to its homeland through the lyrics, the message sent is nowhere as strong/idiotic as bands like Temnozor, Nokturnal Mortum, or Dub Buk, for example. What do you think of the craft of such bands?
Well, I respect all musicians just because they make music. Good it or bad (since it could be good for somebody even if I don't like it at all, right?
Miron, the band obviously is proud to be [P]russian yet you sing in English. Have you thought about singing in your native tongue
Actually our albums were released in Norway and Japan for world wide. And it's much easier to understand English than Russian for everybody on this Earth. Plus to be honest, Russian isn't so good for metal vocals. We are planning to add some clean male and female vocals singing in Russian on our new album but we want to be understandable [because] our lyrics are very important to us!
Most of the lyrics on Firestorm are written by Alexander Marchenko who is not a member of the band. What is your affiliation with him and how well do you think he is able to transcend the band's message?
Actually the lyric's conception, the main idea and all the themes were created by me. But Alexander is my good friend so I believe in his talent! I made whole conception in prose so Alexander made it in poetry. I'm absolutely satisfied by his work. And please note - three are two of my own songs [on Firestorm], one Naturelle's and one song was created by Vladimir Zgursky (another good friend of ours).
Tvangeste's music contains a perfect balance of melody, emotion and power. Which of these three is the closest to you when composing music?
I believe emotion [but if I could name another one] I'd say variety. [Our music is] like a forest path, you never know when and where it will it lead you. I like to make music as different and complicated as possible, not just complex chords and rhythms but complex structure of the songs, so you can't just say that "Tvangeste play evil or dark music" because each of our songs contains many different emotions: love, hatred, sorrow.
The superb musicianship showcased on Firestorm makes me ask: are any of the members classically trained?
Yes, as I said above, Naturelle is a classical pianist/singer, and Victoria is a classical flutist/orchestra conductor. Also Vano is a classical guitarist. What a pity I don't have anything in my head. I even can't read notes but maybe it's for the best?
While each song contains an amazing classical piece, particularly touching is the interplay between the violin and the drums in the middle of Perkuno's Flame. Who composed such an amazing part? Does it represent a particular story?
This theme was made by me using guitar, and it should have been guitar/keys on the album but we decided to try Katya's violin and were very impressed [as] the sound was absolutely stunning! So we recorded this stuff with a strings section of the orchestra. Cezar (drummer) did a really great job there as well! Actually each part of the song is supposed to represent a particular part of the album. We even had a plan where each song was broken into different parts and each part had some specific theme. Like the guitars/drums in the Intro and in the beginning of Raven symbolize raven's flight and seeing the battle under his wings.
You made it no secret that you prefer studio work to playing live. How do the other members of Tvangeste feel about live gigs? Do you feel it is the next logical step, along with selling t-shirts, to carry the band to the next level?
Actually we have lots of ideas about Tvangeste's next step. One of the biggest ones will be live shows. We decided to play some shows in Europe, Russia and maybe Asian countries like Korea and Japan, and we'll do our best to make it real. Also, as you said, we will release T-shirts and silver symbols. All this merchandise will be made only for band's inner need, not for living! I hate to sell ourselves but this way we'll be able to upgrade our instruments!
It's true I don't like live shows but band must play live to promote itself. This is the best way of promotion for a metal band.
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working in a band with your significant other?
No disadvantages! We compose music and we like it!
I recently read that you and your wife have been working on a project away from Tvangeste. What can the listeners expect?
Well, we are trying to work in two projects. One of them is Norwegian-Finnish-Russian project Echoes of Sanity. It will be a great mix of Tvangeste, Soilwork and some horror stuff. We'll enter studio this summer to record a demo. Another project is a secret now. I can't tell you but be sure - your magazine will be one of the first who will get info about it! [Thanks Miron!]
Miron, this is all I have. Thank you very much for answering these questions and writing such impressive music. Any parting comments?
Thanks a lot for the chance to introduce Tvangeste to your magazine's readers. Thanks for such interesting interview. If somebody wants to get more info about the band, please visit us at: http://www.tvangeste.com You'll be able to download three free songs, videos, texts and other fan stuff. Raven.mp3 Storm.mp3 Tears.mp3
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