In the fifth of our series of exclusive MetalTalk interviews with bands from the Russian Federation, we were delighted to talk to Alexei Belov from one of the country's most famous rock bands - Gorky Park.
I spoke to Alexei about being in a band during Glasnost and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, what happened to them in the 1990s and what their plans for the future are.
Gorky Park formed in 1987 and rose to prominence in the West in 1989. It was, as Belov explained to me, that for as long as he remembers he has been making music. "From a very early age, I learned to play the violin, the Bayan (a Russian instrument very similar to an accordion) and then I learned to play the guitar by myself and then finally started to work as a musician".
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Early on, he preferred listening to Jazz-Rock like Chic Corea and Jean-Luc Ponty before moving onto British rock legends like Deep Purple, Queen and Led Zeppelin. Listening to rock bands was a turning point in his life and after hearing tracks from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Belov decided that his passion for music outweighed anything else and he vowed to make a career playing music.
Russian in the late 1980s was, of course, a time of huge cultural upheaval and I asked Belov what it was like living there before Glasnost (a policy of increased openness and transparency throughout the Soviet Union which was introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev) to which he explains "it was very, very hard. We all continued to play in bands and listen to music despite the fact that we and the other bands were forbidden to do so, and some bands were even arrested - just for playing the music they loved!"
With the new openness in the country, a rock concert called the Moscow Peace Festival was organised by Bon Jovi's then-manager, Doc McGhee and featured a number of established acts such as Ozzy Osbourne, Skid Row, Motley Crue, The Scorpions, Cinderella and, of course, Bon Jovi themselves. As Jon Bon Jovi and Ritchie Sambora had helped Gorky Park get a record deal in the US, it seemed sensible to ask them to perform at the festival alongside other local bands like Nuance and Brigada-S.
I asked Belov about his recollections of the day itself of which he remembers it being "a really friendly day - terrific, in fact! Everything was on the rise and everyone was inspired. I remember that interviews were given in couples taking different members from each band and mixing them up. I was lucky enough to be chosen to be the interview partner of Ozzy, for hours!
"Sometimes he thought the questions addressed to me were actually for him and he answered them, which was very funny. Yeah, there were some great times that day."
The band went through a number of changes since then, and the original line up of the band (minus vocalist Nikolay Noskov) has recently reformed to play a number of gigs together, and I asked Belov how this reformation came about: "It was our 25th Anniversary and everything just came together very naturally" he explains.
"One of the most famous concert promoters (in the Russian Federation) contacted us and offered to organise a gig for us in the Crocus City Hall situated in Moscow, and we called each other up and made every effort to make sure that it all happened - and it did happen! To make it extra special, just this once, Nikolay even agreed to join the band on stage for the first time in more than 20 years to sing the song 'Bang'."
Asked why Nikolay only appeared as a special guest capacity at the gig and not as a full-time member, I press Belov to explain why he's not participating in the band in a bigger capacity, and as Belov explains, "Nikolay left the band early in 1990, and he has his own attitude towards all this. At the beginning of 2000, we started talking about a reunion with him, but he said that everything big that happened to the band happened after the 'Moscow Calling' album (released in 1992), and as he wasn't part of the band anymore at that time, he doesn't feel that connected with the material. I suggested that he come on stage with us at the jubilee gig in the Crocus City Hall, and it was his decision to do so - not a band decision."
I ask Belov to give me an insight into the songwriting process and where the song ideas come from. "Who ever writes the lyrics and composes the music is in a creative flight" he muses "and you never know where the music will come from - inspiration can come from anywhere!
"It used to visit me when I was on the Metro, in a bus or a car or in a bar - anywhere, really. Sometimes you're working on something else and God gives you a bit of creative inspiration and sometimes you actually can hear it (the song) in your head. When you're working on a song in the studio, some arrangement ideas appear or during a rehearsal you suddenly hear bits of an arrangement too. It's just translating these ideas into songs or arrangements that can be difficult."
Moving onto what the band have planned for the future, I ask Belov if the band have any upcoming releases planned: "well," he says, "we have a DVD from the jubilee gig at Crocus City Hall ready pretty soon. The hardest part of this is the editing of the footage but we have a work-in-progress version almost ready. I haven't seen it myself yet, but I am going to go and see it soon. As for new material, we were working on a new song and had even recorded it, however, we had another idea for it which turned into something a bit more complicated than we first thought. I think that once we get the DVD released, though, that will trigger the next step of the bands evolution."
I venture to ask Belov on his opinion of the record business which has changed so much since the bands first album: "I think, some kind of formula will be found" he explains "because it just cannot be that intellectual property like music remains such an orphan like it now seems to have become. There must be a perfect mechanism (for the distribution of music) and these are very important words I'm saying to you now - if a perfect mechanism can't be found, not only record companies will disappear, but also the recording studios! These studios are full of very expensive up-to-date equipment because you need good microphones, good amps and good mixing consoles. If there is no money to keep these studios in business, where will musicians record? At home, in the kitchen?
"Right now, everybody downloads music and movies for free - if an album comes out yesterday, by today it's available for free on various torrent site ready for downloading, and it's just killing music, but I sincerely hope that the music industry, as big as it is, will find a solution."
Asked if the band has any upcoming concerts planned, Belov tells me that they have quite a few "big offers" for gigs in the Autumn of 2013 including arena shows in Kiev and Moscow, but as they are still in discussions with promoters, nothing has been confirmed yet.
"Ideally", he continues, "we'd like to do a real tour and not just play in one city from time to time. It's not very interesting to play isolated gigs because every band performs better on a tour where they are playing regular gigs, so if we could get a tour of maybe, 15-20 gigs then that would suits us better."
Bearing in mind that the band have just celebrated 25 years together, I ask him about the band's career expectations from this point on, to which he tells me that "this is a very complicated era for the band. Everybody was so inspired by the jubilee gig (both the audience and the band) and after that, everything returned to the normal routine. People returned to their normal lives, solo tours and so on."
"I would", he continues, "like to record a new album that would be musically good if not better than our previous albums like 'Stare' and 'Moscow Calling' - especially 'Stare', because it was so experimental for us. Musically, we just let ourselves go, creatively, and I would like to do something like that again."
"I don't know what was happening at the time, but we had to create that material as if our lives depended on it, but our life now doesn't really depend on it anymore. It must happen again but I don't know how."
"We don't just want to press some new singles to show the industry we're still there" he continues, "I would like something bigger. I feel this music alive in me and everything is possible, and if I was a solo artist, it would be easier because I could just lock myself in the studio and work until everything is perfect, as happened recently with my wife, Olga Kormuhina, when we were working on one of her albums. We were obsessed with producing the best work possible and we worked very hard, but to force everybody to work this hard is an almost impossible task, so I hope that all who truly love Gorky Park and our songs, pray for it to be a real, without anything false about it."
Finally, I ask Belov to describe the band in one word: "Plasma", is his answer, which he follows up by saying: "The band is like an active volcano because you can wait for a long time with nothing happening and then there's a big eruption of activity."
You can watch the official video for 'Bang' here:
Gorky Park are:
Alexei Belov – Guitar/Vocals/Keyboards/Balalaika
Jan Janenkov – Guitar/Backing Vocals
Alexander "Big Sasha" Minkov-Marshal – Lead Vocals/Bass
Alexander "Sasha" Lvov – Drums/Percussion
Thanks to Alexei Belov for taking time out to participate in this interview and to Mike Breeze for Translation and co-ordination, Jenya McSinger Zaycev for interviewing Alexei and also Maria Jirnova for her help with the transcription.