‘Now is the Most Important Thing is to Support at Least One Individual Person’
Interview with Yevgeny Fedorov
January 16, 2024
  • Yevgeny Fedorov
    Leader of the rock band Tequilajazzz
  • Aleksei Medved
Tequilajazzz is a rock band from St Petersburg founded in 1993 by people from the Leningrad Rock Club. The group has become a symbol of Russian alternative music. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it halted its activities in Russia, and its leader Yevgeny Fedorov openly condemned the aggression.
The original lineup of Tequilajazzz at Tam-Tam Club, 1995.
Source: VK
AM: Tequilajazzz made its debut in the early 90s on the newly born club scene of Leningrad-St Petersburg. What can you tell us about this period in the life of the band and about the club culture itself at that time?

YF: Before that there was a Soviet history. Palaces of culture and a [government] body that would allow or not allow you to play as a rock club. [There was] the cultural department of the city council and so on. But then clubs appeared where it was possible to play at small venues, completely uncontrolled by the state. Just like it happens all over the world. We immediately felt like we were part of the world. It was cool. This happened simultaneously with the opening of the country’s borders and all the joys that perestroika brought. We just started living a normal life without Komsomol members telling us what to play and what not to play.

I am grateful for the memories of this time, but do not think of it as something unique – the country just started living more or less normally. And at that time, it became clear that the wild stadium popularity of Russian rock was a temporary phenomenon, that it would end very quickly. It really was over. Three or four groups that had really enjoyed enormous popularity, such as Aquarium, Alisa and DDT, still packed stadiums. The rest went to small venues. That was the norm for us.

AM: In the second half of the 90s, Tequilajazzz released its two most famous discs, Virus (1997) and Celluloid (1998). Before that, the group was popular only in small circles. But from then on, you started being talked about at mainstream venues...

YF: By the time Virus appeared, we had already gone on European tour two or three times. In fact, we never even thought that we could go around Russia with this music – [though] not because there is no one to listen. Simply because of logistics, distance and the dubious commercial success of the music, we thought that there was no point in even trying, because the trip to Vladivostok and back would not pay for itself, only 100 people would come out.
So it was much easier to look to the West, get into a car and drive across Europe.
We went to Madrid by bus. And [only] after two or three small European tours, we gave a concert in Moscow for the first time. That is, Moscow was a much more distant city for us than, say, Helsinki or Berlin.

And just with the release of Virus, and even more so Celluloid, we turned to the Russian audience. We began to go around Russia more and more often, deeper and more comprehensively, and, unfortunately, we began to pay less attention to our European tours and did not gain a bigger foothold on the borders. At that time, we got carried away with popularity, and it led us astray from what we, essentially, were doing from the very beginning. Because our goal was to penetrate the worldwide club scene. Of course, one does not exclude the other. But we simply did not have enough time or energy.

AM: In 2012, you left Russia for the first time. You left for Georgia and decided that you would not return anytime soon.

YF: I loudly and passionately vowed before all my friends that if Putin comes to power one more time after Medvedev, then I will leave Russia. It’s like I looked into a crystal ball, looking at it now. It became clear that the elections had been rigged. Georgia turned out to be the first country in our “sphere of interests.” Tbilisi was not yet as overloaded with emigrants as it is now.

We lived in Tbilisi for some time, but it became a little hard on me to go back and forth on tour. Each time the flights were hellish, as in those years there were no direct flights between Georgia and Russia. At best, we would fly through Minsk or Kyiv. Sometimes through Munich, or through Vienna or Frankfurt. Now, with Europe closed to Russia, those routes seem like nothing.

Overall, all this was a big burden on our budget. Back then, things still seemed “vegan” in Russia. [I felt] a responsibility to the group because the first album Zorge was released. I returned to Russia to record the second album. Tequilajazzz was making a comeback.

AM: More than a year and a half has passed since the start of the war. In March 2022, after receiving threats for your anti-war stance, you and your family left Russia. Have you been able to adapt to the new reality so far?

YF: Compared to how it was a year ago – yes, of course, but probably not completely yet. The sense of living out of suitcases all the time never goes away.
The band in 2023. Source: VK
AM: What about your bandmates?

YF: Kostya (Chalykh), our guitarist, lives in Israel now, and he is perhaps more fortunate than us, because he has a very rich music environment there. A bunch of acquaintances and friends also left Russia. Some from St Petersburg, some from Moscow, some from other cities moved to Israel and now live there.

Now, the [political] situation there is difficult, but one way or another, their music life is in full swing. Our drummer (Benjamin Baert) is now back home in Belgium. He will come to rehearse with me soon. That’s what we will perform on tour. Dima Zilbert (guitarist) lives in Berlin. He has a good job in the IT business and feels quite comfortable. From time to time, we get together and play concerts.

AM: What do you think Russian-language art “in exile” should be transmitting now?

YF: It should at least survive. And in general it does not have to transmit anything. To whom? A musician owes nothing to anyone...

Musicians could support each other, and many do. They could somehow reflect on everything that is going on and harmonize the airwaves through their music. To show an audience that often feels betrayed by those who have taken one side or the other. By the way, I am not an exception either, as I know that part of my audience believes that I betrayed them, because they are entirely for batka Putin. And I went against the Motherland like that. Let them [believe].

We need people who appreciate real music and art to not feel betrayed. It is necessary, of course, to show that you remain faithful to at least these – stupid and funny – precepts of rock and roll. Rock music is the music of freedom, joy and always in some opposition to the state war machine.
“It seems to me that musicians, though they do not have to, can show that they are on the side of some more fun things than this terrible rubbish.”
Tequilajazzz 2023 European tour poster. Source: Facebook
AM: In the first year [of the war], many musicians wrote songs with their position. Immediately after the Russian army invaded Ukraine, together with musicians from Kino you recorded the Obyekt Nasmeshek song “Love for Arms,” which is clearly anti-war in nature.

YF: It was part of a tribute to Ricochet (Alexander Aksenov) and Obyekt Nasmeshek. I was also invited to participate, which is quite funny – recording a cover of a band that I was actually in. Nevertheless, I picked out the song for myself. But I did not manage to start recording, because the war had begun, I had left the country and already thought that I would never record it. And then it turned out that Kino also decided to take part. I am glad that the song is taken care and that it is more relevant than ever. It will sound, and that will be cool.

AM: The song helped many people mentally. Including me.

YF: I am really glad something helps. For a long time, I was unable to come up with my own statement, anything at all. But it started to come together when I stopped demanding it from myself.

AM: What trends in the work of musicians who left Russia are you currently following?

YF: There are more and more reflection and worries about that, because the war has not left anyone unaffected.

On the one hand, these idiots rallied all around the leader. There is probably mass euphoria for one segment. Another segment pretends that nothing is going on, they smile happily and believe that “we bring laughter and joy to people.” Obviously, it is not because they have it so good – they are masking some deep trauma. It’s very hard for them and very dangerous. Those who are travelling [back to Russia] or planning on it have not yet realized that it will not work.

Meanwhile, those who left and do not console themselves with the hope of going back soon – they openly speak and sing [about it]. It is in their songs that the mood and some kind of internal tension, melancholy and emptiness are conveyed. This is good, because music that is not intended for the masses involves an intimate person-to-person dialogue. It seems to me that at this time the most important thing is to support at least one individual person.
Yevgeny Fedorov and Alexander Voronov, drummer and one of the founders of Tequilajazzz, in 1998. Source: VK
AM: Amid the outbreak of war, information appeared that one of the founders of Tequilajazzz, drummer Alexander “Duser” Voronov, refused to be involved in the group’s activities for ideological reasons. Was this ideological split always present or did it arise suddenly?

YF: It was definitely always there; these disputes existed 30 years ago. The war radicalized everything. We had hellish arguments: was Grandpa Stalin good or bad? Was the Gulag right or wrong? But I could live with that. Whatever, our views do not match, but let’s forget and play some rock. But there came a turning point. And I took the step forward. I say: “Sanya, we have concerts in Europe, so come on...” But he refused to play “in enemy territory.” And they still accuse me of throwing him out.

I asked him to write a message to our listeners: “say that it was you who left, otherwise no one will believe me.” Still, no one believes me, and I get roasted on VKontakte [for it]. I did not kick out “Ducer,” and he could still play with us if he decided to play in “enemy territory.”
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