Anton Slepakov speaks about the band's shell, fast food restaurants filled to capacity and government subsidies on beer and strings
The band …i Drug Moy Gruzovik (…and My Friend Truck) has been producing world-level music for 14 years now. The band mixes their numerous tours in Europe and post-Soviet countries with playing parts in movies and music videos while enjoying a relatively quiet life in Dnipropetrovsk which lets them stay away from the whirlpool of Ukrainian show and media business and do the thing they love. Band frontman Anton Slepakov told The Ukrainian Week about the band's refusal to release discs, the life of underground rock in southeastern Ukraine and the importance of having an understanding with the public.
Any article about us begins with the words: “This is a band which had only a bass guitar and drums.
” We have always been completely immersed in music – we have been crazy about rehearsals and have at times played for 7-8 hours. We badly wanted to perform, find some expression and show ourselves. We didn’t care anything about the rest. Initially, we set the bar of productivity very high. We made a program in one month and took it to our first local festival. We thought it would be a one-shot deal for us – each one of us had his own ambitions, bands and projects. But after we performed on stage, it was clear that this was our main music impulse. Never before had we felt such a strong wave of union with the public, feedback and exchange of energy. We were on fire with excitement. This is how it has been ever since, for 14 years now, with ups and downs, small successes and some setbacks.
From its inception …i Drug Moy Gruzovik has had its own shell, like a snail, into which we withdraw from time to time and then re-emerge. We withdraw to create new topics, new programs and new albums. We come out to show these things. The shell both helps and hampers us in showing who we are. We have hardly scored any great successes while playing as a group: we perform on small stages for small audiences compared to some of the more recognized bands. But we are content with everything: we have our platform and the opportunity to perform, do what we want to and express ourselves.
Six years ago, there was not one platform in Dnipropetrovsk where our concert could be held, so we didn’t perform here. We played in other cities but not here. Now there are seven or so places that host our concerts. Galleries have opened, and collections of poems have been launched. These are indicators of a developed European city which hosts dozens of events per day — you only need to choose what to see.
Sometimes people send signals to the government saying it is doing very little to support culture. I don’t know what it would be like if the government took part in underground music and gave subsidies to musicians on beer or strings. I have yet to see direct cooperation with the government in Ukraine that is not like a dole or a purchase. When the state injects money into something, it does so for a purpose. And after a while that card has to be played one way or another.
It’s hard for me to identify myself as either a poet or a musician. I could forever be calling myself a poet, but I always feel that my texts are rather dead than alive without music. We hear a lot of criticism, especially from our young fans and those who listened to us in the early period, that the texts have become somehow depressing. I don’t share this opinion and can’t agree. I don’t see any depression in it – I just see the real state of affairs.
In general, the problems of our society are very like the problems of many post-Soviet countries. Of course, this is very sad. We have walked along an independent path of development for so long now but are still using old Soviet bureaucratic methods. If I knew any specific solutions, I would probably be speaking about them and trying to convey them to others. As a society, we seem to be really confused in many respects. I don’t even know what prospects we have with our vector of development. The state is perhaps an exact copy of society. We must have somehow deserved to be treated the way we are.
It is unreal to force the public to buy discs now that no-one but collectors is interested in having them. We rejected the practice of printing discs at our own expense, because we tend to give them out to friends and others rather than earning any money on them. We gave ourselves complete freedom with sound recording. We used to think along traditional lines – a program, an album, etc. But now that we have broadband internet and iTunes everyone has started downloading songs and making collections on their own. This is their right. It is very much a matter of convention. Why did albums emerge? First they invented 45rpm vinyl records with one song on each side. Then they learned how to record two songs on each side. Later, a record could store 20 minutes of recorded music, and everyone began to think in terms of 40-minute long collections. When disks had enough capacity to store 80 minutes, they began to record them that long. Now there is complete freedom. You can record one song or an entire album at a time. We recently released six songs and they have appeared everywhere.
Personally, I find it very awkward to sell our discs. It feels sort of humiliating. I did so only a couple times. When I am approached with the question: “Can I buy your disc?”, I name the price. A few times the reply was: “Wow, that much? I’d rather drink some beer in a bar.” So let someone else do it, just not me. Our last album that sold well at concerts was released in 2007. The album we produced last year didn't do very well.
I have seen fast food restaurants filled to capacity. People sipping beer from their mugs, talking and arguing, trying to prove things to each other. They are having a good time, and they don’t need live music. Art directors in several such restaurants told me about complaints like: “Everything is good here, but not the live music. It interferes with talking. We can't hear each other when the drums are that loud.” At the same time, if you are interesting and people come to listen to you, you don’t feel anything of the kind. You simply have to make relevant music or blame yourself, not someone else.
The Ya i Drug Moy Gruzovik band (…i Drug Moy Gruzovik since 2003) got together in Dnipropetrovsk in 1997 to participate in the Karier rock festival. It now includes Anton Slepakov (vocals), Rostyslav Chaban (bass guitar) and Denys Shvets (drums). In various periods its drummers were also Volodymyr Busel, Volodymyr Nestryzhenko and Yuriy Zhyharev.