The debut single by the Ukrainian band Champagne Morning has climbed to the top of foreign music charts
Champagne Morning was one of the most interesting discoveries on Ukraine’s music stage in 2011. The band's song, Miracle, immediately made it to British and American music charts where it stayed close to the top for several months. It seems that the very short list of Ukrainian performers who are known abroad now includes one more name. The Ukrainian Week talked to the talented debutants in their comfortable studio in Kyiv.
U.W.: Do you consider yourselves a project or a band?
Vitaliy Liak (guitar): It all started as a project, but we did become a band a year ago, even though it took us seven years. The tendency in Ukraine is to buy songs and musicians to fit an artist, and then everything operates in this format. We are different, because we compose, arrange and produce our own music. This is the main difference between a project and a band.
U.W.: Why do you only sing in English?
Dima Snizhko aka Dima Kelly (vocals): We are geared towards the foreign market. However, we hear almost every day: “Guys, you'd better sing in Russian” – because English is supposedly understood only in Kyiv, Kharkiv and a handful of other cities. But English to us is a state of the soul. English sounds significantly different from Slavic languages and requires totally different chords. If we tried to translate our songs into Ukrainian or Russian, I don't think we would succeed.
The main thing is that our audience's reaction shows there is a need for this kind of music here. But it is hard for us, because music labels fill airtime with mediocre products that rise to the top of charts through endless repetition. At the same time, there is a positive side – there are virtually no high-quality products. At first no-one believes that we are a Ukrainian band. And then when they see that it's true, they are thrilled: Wow, good job! You’ve made such a good band here in Ukraine.
U.W.: If things continue to work out for you so well in the West, will you move there?
Snizhko: We want to live in our country and travel from here. Moreover, a good artist must always be on tour or between tours. If these are big tours, he can be away for up to six months. So we will go wherever they want to see and hear us, but Ukraine remains our Fatherland.
U.W.: Unlike most Ukrainian performers, you have not been influenced by the current world fashion for ethnic influence in music. Why don't you use ethnic elements in your songs?
Snizhko: We just play what is close to our hearts. By the way, it's only in Ukraine that people talk about the British character of our music. The British don't see it and the Americans, for example, say that we are close to Maroon 5. The album that we will later release will be experimental primarily due to having a maximum number of styles and sounds that we want to work with: rock, Euro pop, hip hop, etc.
U.W.: Is there a difference between Western and Ukrainian audiences?
Maksym Sabodash (keyboard): There is no difference in concert.
Sasha Chunin (bass guitar): The only thing that is different is that the Western audience is more experienced. They listen to more music than Ukrainians do. And they really applaud a nice improvisation.
Snizhko: I absolutely agree. Unfortunately, our listeners are less attentive. The most important thing to them is to dance. Preferably drunk. Another very important nuance is that Ukrainians often think that lyrics don’t matter in the West and that everyone there just listens to the music. Far from it: lyrics are incredibly important and determine the attitude of, say, the Brits to a song. The recipe for a making a hit, taken from the best known songs, is very simple: they are all about life around us, so every person feels involved.
U.W.: Is it important to have a musical education to be a music artist?
Liak: We all have a musical education, except Vitaliy who has learned everything through private lessons.
Sabodash: Of course, there are very many examples when the lack of musical education is no obstacle to success. But this is the main factor to us, because it determines our thinking in music.
U.W.: What would you advise your younger colleagues?
Snizhko: We began from scratch, so I am very happy that we were able to get together and to have accomplished at least something by now. Every musician must develop intuition. He should be hungry and not completely happy. I remember I had a period when I was happy and couldn't do anything. Two years went like that, and then I grasped that I had to wake up and create. The main thing is to believe in yourself and never stop. Because if you work on something for 10 years and eventually drop it, that means you have wasted all that time.
Chunin: You shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes. At some point, you'll understand how much you could have done if you hadn't told yourself every time: “No, I don’t want to make a laughingstock of myself. I'd rather keep silent.”
Liak: You should get constant updates and try to obtain new information.
Sabodash: A musician is a creative unit and is fruitful for a relatively limited period of time. So in order not to stop, you need to constantly develop and invest time and money in your development. If you stop, you become uninteresting.
U.W.: What is your target audience, and how old are your fans?
Snizhko: Aged 16-35. I'm not pulling this figure out of thin air – this is the data we saw after we analyzed the audience of our website, other Internet resources and radio stations. What surprised us was that many people recently took interest in us even though they come from smaller towns rather than big cities. People who want to hear nice music are everywhere.
Liak: I grew up in a town of 1,000 people near Melitopol. I'm saying this to show that yes, musical tastes need refinement, but if there is an inner craving for the beautiful, nothing can kill it.
U.W.: Is it worthwhile to invest in good sound in our country if the audience is so easily pleased?
Liak: High-quality sound means more than good speakers at a concert; above all, it means the quality of performance and thinking. Unfortunately, most of what is called music here is a far cry from quality sound. I think that we need to approach this issue from a wider perspective. We need to change the thinking of people who simply cannot create anything true and good at this level.
U.W.: In other words, there is a certain tactic to “go cheap” among most Ukrainian performers? Or do you think that they are simply not capable of anything better?
Liak: I personally saw many times how revered, honourable artists who had enough money to easily afford quality sound said: “What for? Why do I need your live drums and rehearsals? I’d rather lip-sync and pay you (musicians) a little less.” You know, if you take, for example, Ozzy Osbourne’s album released in 2010, the sound produced by this almost-old man is mind-boggling. And then you take one of our performers who has been playing the same thing for 30 years. The thing is that every person in the West indeed tries to be the first and the best in his field, while here everything is done based on the principle “We’ll get by somehow.” So we need to start from ourselves and raise our own bar. And then others may look at us and develop a desire to improve themselves.
U.W.: What can Ukraine give to the world in terms of music?
Liak: People. We have countless talented people, especially among the youth aged around 20. They have not been scarred by the Soviet system.
Snizhko: Young musicians sometimes show up at our studio for auditions, and I want to cry for joy when I hear their level of English, their voices and the parts they sing. Ukraine is the centre of Europe, damn it. Why can’t we produce the same amount of quality music as, for example, England? I hope that these young people – and us – will generate a Ukrainian New Wave.