Russia has a rich history of rock and metal, and this has only progressed as the years have gone by. Carrying the flag forward with their unique blend of post-hardcore and modern metal, Planara have been stirring up considerable interest with their recently-released “Hostiles” EP. ThisIsNotAScene sat down with three members of the band to grill them on their origins and influences, the contents of the EP, and the current scene in Russia’s music and politics. Their answers may well surprise you…
Hi guys! Could you please introduce yourselves, which instrument you play and one influential album.
Eugene: I’m Eugene – guitarist and one of the three founders of Planara, the other two being Ivan and Tony. The most influential album for me is “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. On that day when I heard it I realized that I want to create… not only consume.
Tony: Hey there! Name’s Anthony, I usually play guitars for Planara. As for the influence upon me, I’d say it’s mostly Thrice and their album “Alchemy Index”. Its concept, strength, punch and honesty inspires me; even when I play some songs in my mind, it forces me to sing even though I can’t sing.
Ivan: Hi, I’m Ivan, vocalist and lyricist at Planara. It may sound funny now but if we speak about albums, the one that influenced me most in my youth was “Hybrid Theory” by Linkin Park. I heard Chester’s voice and probably then realised that I wanted to perform alternative music. You know, I’d never heard anything like that around back in 2000.
I read about your origins in another band, Asthenic, and how the band evolved into Planara. Do you think that the musical chemistry you guys have now would have been as strong if you hadn’t already played in Asthenic?
Eugene: The most important thing is that Asthenic was a necessary experience. We can say that Planara is the result of mistakes and an attempt to create an organic project. Before Planara, we did not know what we wanted to create – now we know for sure.
Tony: Eugene and I have been playing together for six years now. He started as a bass player and I pretended to be a drummer. And most of the time we did not agree with each others way of seeing and doing things, we played in a completely different way, but I think that’s all the driving force we needed to make things progress.
Ivan: Having experience of playing together for so long is quite a trial for your temper and nerves. You know when each of you is a strong and energetic person, with his own vision and creative ideas, it all can go to hell if you cannot control your passion and listen to others opinions. Probably the main lesson of the “Asthenic era” was about reaching a mutual understanding and clarification of the goal we want to reach together.
You guys have been a band for less than a year, yet you’ve already got an EP, a single and a video. Was this because of a calculated plan or was it a driven passion to get things going quickly? Did things just fall into place?
Tony: Ummm… Yup.
Eugene: As I said earlier, we know what we want. So of course, we try to calculate as far as we can. But the music industry is so unpredictable nowadays so you have to improvise.
Ivan: A year ago I was obsessed with the idea of changing things and making a mature project that used Asthenic as a foundation. Some things were planned in advance and successfully realized. Some things failed and we had to improvise quickly, as Eugene said. You know, it is really insufficient just to be a good musician today. You must be perfect, because there are lots of others around – veterans that have the biggest slice of the pie, young ones lucky enough to appear in the right place at the right time and an enormous number of those who don’t give a fuck about what they do and hope to get lucky once. And ones like us who must fight their own way to survive. Today, nobody is ever gonna hear your music if you don’t have a bit of strategical thinking.
You’ve probably been asked this so many times by now, both in Russian and English, but do you have a succinct way of describing your musical style to someone who hasn’t heard it?
Eugene: For my Mom we play “dgg-dgg-dgg” with “la-la-la”. For my girlfriend we play “pop-metal”. For guys who are on the same wavelength as us, we plays some mixture of post-hardcore, progressive and modern metal. In fact I have no idea what sort of metal I create when I create my tunes. It’s more about mood and emotions than styles.
Tony: I do not like describing music to any human being. I’d prefer to give him or her a record. It’s like describing the taste of a sophisticated wine. Everyone finds it different. It’s up to the listener to describe a style, not the musician.
Ivan: I like the “modern metal” tag – it seems fair to me, but it appears that most of the listeners describe us as a post-hardcore/alternative rock mix.
Ivan mentioned in another interview that he wanted to work with electronic artists such as Skrillex or Noisia. Do you all see this electronic influence in your music developing further with more material?
Ivan: I like experimenting and hate to think that we live in the “post-genre” era – post-rock, post-metal, post-hardcore, post-grunge – the list is endless. I think that a genre or type of sound is just a category that exists only in the listener’s mind to define the familiar and the unknown. Musicians should be like a scientist – ther job is to create a new essence, to research, to find the proper mixture and sometimes to obtain a completely new element. If the listener’s mind likes the result, he will find the proper tag.
Tony: I don’t always agree with Ivan’s way of seeing things. Hahaha!.. I like the instrumental way of things a lot more, but sometimes I adore a bit of electronic sound – just like in our song ‘Enslaved’.
Eugene: Of course, we may see it develop. Why should we limit ourselves when there are so many opportunities around? I’m not a fan of electronic music and more likely I’m going to create music with one guitar, one cable and one amp. But when I saw what I can do with all this electronic stuff, I went mad! It’s just another tool and it should be used the right way. You can’t screw up music with guitar (unless you’re Lil’ Wayne) but definitely you can do it with electronics.
Ivan also mentioned in another interview that he learned how to scream. Do you refer to the harsh style of singing he does in the EP, or will we be seeing even harsher vocals on future releases?
Eugene: I think that hardcore-style vocals are not in our interest right now. But we won’t rule out episodic use of harsh vocals, of course.
Tony: I don’t know ‘cuz I don’t even know what the music will be… so… welcome to entropy!
Ivan: As I said before – I’m all about experimenting. Most likely you’ll never ever hear demonic growls from me, but sometimes screaming is essential when you want to express your emotions in a loud and destructive way. With years of learning I’ve understood that expressing your heaviest thoughts and most painful emotions without screaming the hell out of your throat is a pretty hard challenge.
The lyrics touch on topics related to corruption, human rights abuse and other crimes. Is there a particular song where you are proud of the message you convey in it, or of a particular section of lyrics that worked out well? Could you explain them?
Eugene: I like Eskimos: they sing about what they see and feel. So of course ‘Enslaved’ is about what we see around us and feel about it. I do not think that I need something else to explain. Better to ask Ivan.
Tony: I guess Ivan saw a roaring Mustang on the street and wrote ‘On The Run’, because WHY NOT?
Ivan: Most of the songs by Planara, as you’ve probably heard, are based on my own experience. Some of them depict a particular situation or state of mind I’ve been through – such as ‘What I Will Never Say’ or ‘All The Right Wrongs’. Some are the embodiment of feelings and thoughts I’ve experienced due to external factors and describing my reaction to them – these are ‘Enslaved’ and ‘Hostiles’. Speaking of ‘Enslaved’ – the proper lyrics came out fast and naturally and moreover succeeded to tell the story very precisely (if I may say so). Unfortunately, I think the story of the song may be familiar for many people all around the world, more or less. I wish I could do anything far more significant for the ones who suffer from injustice today.
The concept of the EP – discussing hostility in a political context – ties in almost too perfectly with the current situation in Crimea and Ukraine. At the risk of unleashing a political debate, has recent politics informed your outlook as a band? Is your desire to draw attention to that which the Russian media will not cover?
Tony: Actually the album was written almost four months before the shitstorm in Ukraine. And I guess it all was in the air, like a coin tossed and we were watching it flip while it’s been falling down. And all of a sudden, it fell, showed its heads or tails, album released, Ukraine divided. We did not plan to release it in such a hard time for our fellow lads in Ukraine.
Ivan: As Tony said – it’s a pretty much coincidence, however things didn’t come from nowhere. Problems I’ve wanted people to hear about appear to have gotten uglier.
Speaking of media, I’d like to hear your opinion on the Russian music industry. I’ve heard some negative opinions about it from fellow Russian metal bands (Break Me Completely for instance)…
Eugene: I don’t think that our opinion is too different from Break Me Completely‘s. The situation is dramatic. There are a lot of young talented artists but they have absolutely no confidence in tomorrow because the Russian music industry is not about music or artists. It’s all about money and benefits, in the most extreme ways. That’s why more and more Russian musicians are seeking partnerships with western artists and labels. And probably we are not an exception.
Tony: I do not listen to modern Russian music at all. Not without a reason. First of all, Russia used to carry on its broad shoulders great composers, singers who have put their mark not even on current music development in the world, but on its entire history. Look at the situation now – it’s all about consuming as much as one can get. Nowadays celebs’ names will be forgotten in a couple of years. No one will remember today’s Top 10 of the world’s musical output because they do nothing significant, it is all up to the people behind them. I can carry on longer but composers like Rachmaninov and singers like Feodor Chaliapin never searched for fame, they did one thing they truly loved. One thing they loved relentlessly, with passion no one ever had.
Ivan: First of all, let’s define some things. There is the Russian music industry and there is Russian music. These are completely different things. The “music industry” is about business and making money. More or less every national music industry is about the same. Yes, there are differences between markets depending on cultural and economical features but the rule is simple: “create what can be sold”. We can dispute things like “demand causes supply” – Russia is a very large country and it includes almost wild settlements where TV is the greatest treasure of the family. So imagine what is the average cultural level between a former imperial capital like St. Petersburg and a small forgotten village hidden in Siberian forests? As a marketing specialist, I can understand the way big media bosses choose their musical politics for their programs – their goal is to make it understandable for the lowest levels of comprehension. Guys like us learn to avoid main channels programs and grow up with the knowledge that Russian contemporary music is crap. Most of us are not even trying to disprove it (regretfully).
On the other hand – I must say I see signs of an upcoming musical renaissance here in Russia. These far-flung villages and small towns all over the country somehow produce real masterpieces that are beyond styles and genres. I know Americans who surprisingly enjoy Russian modern arts and music (a surprise for Russians, anyway!) – the most notable one is David MacFayen, professor at UCLA. He discovers unique Russian musicians that are ignored by the locals, snobs and mass media and gives them coverage with his own project called “Far From Moscow”. It’s a very ironic and strange situation, when a foreigner helps to raise the heritage of another country. I’m very thankful to David and I appreciate his work. Probably when being praised by an external point of view, true modern Russian culture will start to accept and understand itself.
Russian metal has quite the history, from bands back in the 80s like Ariya through to modern stuff ranging from Katalepsy through to Slot, Epidemiya and everything in between, and obviously I’ve missed lots out. Would you say that you are proud of your country’s metal heritage?
Eugene: Our rock bands (especially of the previous century) were always good poets but bad musicians. It seems that the situation is changing in a good way in past 10 years. But honestly I was never interested in Russian rock scene.
Ivan: It just so happens that almost none of us are fans of Russian metal. Probably if some of us (or even any) were fans, we wouldn’t be talking right now. I’ll try to explain. Russian rock and metal is quite a big and original part of national musical culture. The identity of Russian rock goes back to the 80s, when the youth of that time started to ask tough questions and express their own thoughts on what was happening around them (just like us today). I’m very proud of the strong social and political involvement of these people. They’ve done a great job liberating our country from the rusty bindings of communism.
However, Russians are pretty conservative people who get strongly attached to things they once fell in love with. Music is the same story. The 80s are long gone but lots of people who were raised on that music still cling to the style that was popular in those days. The story repeats itself with 90s and 00s music. On one hand I see Russian metal bands of these years who don’t want to accept the modern music reality – and that’s why some of us (I mean Tony and other folks) neglect such music. On the other – as Eugene said – Russians are poets by their nature, and the lyrics of most of the bands listed above are very beautiful and deeply meaningful.
Do you think that, like in many countries, metal is used in Russia as a form of expression of the frustration towards your government? Because it is safer than directly protesting?
Eugene: Who said it’s safer?
Tony: Music is a form of catharsis for everyone who’s involved in the process of writing and listening. I guess music is a great way to deal with frustrations. When you put all your energy in instruments, there will be nothing left for rebellion but such passionate music can force masses to rebel.
Ivan: Rock music (metal is just a sound form) is a particular form of protest communication which obtains its full power when other channels of communication become locked or corrupted. Just like it happened in our country years before.
So, coming to the future of Planara. You guys mentioned being fans of a band called 10 Years. What do you want to have achieved in 10 years time?
Eugene: To have more of those beautiful people who care about my music than 10 Years have right now *smiles*.
Tony: I can’t call myself a fan of 10 Years, I just like ’em. But I’m young and I guess I got my own way of seeing/doing things, and I’m not aiming to be in the world’s Top 10… I want to conquer hearts, not charts.
Ivan: To release ten more albums!
Thanks for your time guys, all the best, and I hope to catch you live sometime!
All: Thanks for the questions!