By Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Markaria Rho
When BTR first reached out to Russia-based psychedelic rock duo Markaria Rho a while back, we received this reply:
“we are thankful for such an opportunity, thus we are ready to give you an interview, however, the physical nature of our planet makes it rather difficult to settle time, since we live thousands of miles apart.”
As playful as their words suggest, Andrew Lai’kin and Andrew Gasparyan’s music offers an exercise in aural exploration. Often ambitious, always intriguing, they conjure cascades of sound that push past the threshold of complexity before falling back into gentle phasing and reverb. On their latest album, Fun, released in July 2014, the two “capture liquid light” with tracks that range from three minutes to 17 — resulting in a pace as eclectic as their effects.
If you’re in the mood for a trip, put this album on.
BTR caught up with Markaria Rho to ask about the music scene in Russia and spaghetti westerns.
What’s your background as musicians and what brought you guys together?
Andrew Lai’kin: This is a regular story for a typical Russian musician. Two years after I graduated from Junior Musical School, I began to realize that I fell in love with music. It did not take me too long to pick up a regular acoustic guitar, since I used to play piano for so long. Then I tried to learn about mastering and music recording in general, but I did not show anything to anybody yet. At the age of 18, I finally decided to upload my first abstract hip-hop project’s EP –-Shipovnik – Shkae Tul Kae. My first “musical encounter” with Andrew G. happened at our mutual friend’s place (Rim Mustafin, aka “The Translator Guy”), where Rim and Andrey were recording some doom drone stuff. During the breaks, Andrey G. played some of his stuff just for fun, it literally BLEW MY MIND, and so I told him: “Hey dude, we GOTTA record some of that”. Slight digression here: Before that, I was into Radiohead-ish music and such. But at that time, he made a turning point in my musical life, by sharing a track “At Giza” by Om with me.
When I was recording the first Markaria Rho’s EP, I moved to a new apartment and invited some of my musician friends to live with me–for the next six months, we were jamming and smoking pot, experimenting with AM wave radio and used ethnic Indian string instruments as percussion.
In the nearest future, we are going to record a new album, using analog hardware–to go into details–we found old Soviet-made synthesizers. We really want to dive into African theme, in its atmospheric percussion world. Nevertheless, our “Innermost Dream” is to write music/scores to films. Music creates images, but the most astounding thing is to write music to someone else’s vision.
Andrew Gasparyan: I picked up a guitar when I was fifteen years old, the very same regular acoustic guitar. Then I began to cover some popular metal hits at that time. Never studied music in school, instead I tried to pick up songs by ear. After a while, a friend of mine sold me his cheap “stick with strings” and a crappy guitar processor – all this turning in a metal band I started with “mah retarded pals.” It lasted until I met Rim and our other friends, and that point we formed a band, whose sound was defined as post-rock/metal music, mostly influenced by what we were listening to. It did not lead to anything significant, but it was a good learning/experimenting period. I played alone for some time, and then I met Andrey L–you know what happened next…
What are some of your major influences?
AL: I do not limit myself–I listen to everything from dub to black metal, to hip-hop to drone. A whole plethora of various genres and bands, that I discover every day, can influence my art. In every song, there is a something, “a small piece”, that can influence me. Here is a small list: Swans, Electric Wizard, Radiohead, The first album of Pink Floyd (feat. Sid Barret and his solo albums), Landing, one of the most important places take “Godspeed You! Black Emperor”, Sun Araw, Electric Moon, Expo’70, Japanese psychedelic bands as “Mainliner”, High Rise, Acid Mothers Temple, Tim Hecker, Dungen, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, Art Blakey, the first album of Kraftwerk, second album by This will destroy album, and etc., etc., etc…
AG: There are tons of popular bands I found interesting during my music “getting to know.” A list: First place– This Will Destroy You (massive guitar ambient sound), Electric Wizard (their fuzzy sound wall), Swans, Sonic youth, ISIS, AmenRa, Cult of Luna, SunnO))), Liturgy, Om, Sleep, and such “legends” as Jimmy Hendrix [sic-ed.], Link Wray, Earth, Wardruna, and A LOT of old blues music…
What is the musical scene like where you are?
AL & AG: In Mother Russia, the most famous music artist is the one who steals the most. (Andrey G: “Enough said.”) Original music is not warmly met among masses here, and it is difficult to reach someone abroad. These people, the ones that usually create, form small social circles, who share music within. Very few people in Russia are into music. There is little to say about Perm(a large city in the middle of Russia, where we reside), I can name a few bands: “The Powlers” (garage p-p-punk), “Cockamamie” (‘magnificent weird shit’), “Gnoomes” (shogaze), says Andrew L.
What vibe are you going for with Fun?
AL & AG: Every song has its own vibe. Every song is played around differently, with the psychedelic bond that glues them together. Every song is written spontaneously, with its evolving mood during the recording process. Our intention was to create an album, which is a soundtrack to a film that never existed.
The song “Quasar” seems to stand out from the others, can you tell me about it?
AL: I wrote the whole track in a one day. I was standing in the kitchen, making a by playing with a drumstick on my glass kitchenware. I recorded a track with Mbira along. Then I took Duduk–it is very difficult to play it, it requires huge lungs to make a sound–to record a random piece with it that determined the pulse of the track. I liked what I made. I thought it was a good idea to put some flute, sound of working coffee grinder into a mix, turning it into a great sound wall. Also, there is an ethnic Russian instrument–gusli. A composer Gutavo Santaolalla, long time ago, awakened the love towards string instruments in me. Whole song is a successful experiment. During the process, I was influenced by Western movies, “spaghetti western.”
Album artwork for Fun.
Where do you guys draw your inspiration from? Any especially inspired moments on Fun that you can recall?
AL: To be honest, every song required a special way to be recorded. The bass line for the “I am ancient”, was an insight – I heard it from within myself, when I was looking for yoghurt in a local groceries store. This is an existential song, really. It is a song about a man, who finds no interest in things surrounding him, as he had experienced everything before, thus he is ancient.
AG: When I am to record a guitar, I forget riffs that I was playing in my head, this results in a totally opposite of what I thought I would include into a song. Sometimes, I listen to what I have written down, and the riffs I previously found “unthoughtful and random” are in reality worthy of being recorded. That’s the way we create our guitar sound for the album. The tracks “Alcohol” and “Main theme” are special to me. During the recording process, I drew inspiration from Flamenco-ish guitar style, which is so expressive and hysterical, at the same time, it lacks a definite tempo. Datz it.
What’s the writing process like for your music? Is there a primary songwriter, or does everyone collaborate?
AL & AG: Usually, we don’t rehearse in order to record. The reason behind this is that we don’t have enough musicians and recording hardware to do it. We recorded this album separately. We do not aim to create a uniformity, instead something that is born during the recording session, but with one exception, a song–“Fruit”. Music has created and developed itself. Every random sound in our album is really significant, says Andrey L. I understood that while being on a “trip” and listening to “Animal Collective”. Every single layer in a track must sound unique.
Who recorded and produced Fun and what was that process like?
AL & AG: That’s very simple! We use a regular “Zoom” Dictaphone to pick up sound, nothing expensive. We used “Logic” to master our album. Some of the tracks were reordered only be Andrew L. (“Red Lodge”, “Quasar”, “Whales Factory”), only by Andrew G. (“Alcohol”, “Main Theme”, “Taman Shud”), collaboratively with L’s gf (“Im Ancient”) and with an outstanding jazz drummer (“Fruit”). Good friend of ours, the only self-publishing musicians in da city, who has his own cassette-publishing studio, helped us producing “FUN” on cassettes. In addition, you can find our music in various social networks included, but not limited it to: vk.com, Bandcamp, Soundcloud…
Anything to say to fans on an ending note?
AL & AG: LISTEN TO A LOT OF MUSIC. Any band, any sound could become something BIG in your life. Always look for a new sound. You should not be playing any genres, just play music.