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ARIA: Finally aiming West

Some good things take a while... not only until Aria, one of the most known and respected Russian Heavy Metal bands, finally played in Finland for the first time ever (we reported ). The band – which fills arenas in their home country - has been around since the mid 80′s and released a lot of outstanding albums during these years. Unfortunately conducting interviews with the help of a translator took too much time for the band´s tight schedule, but thanks to the colleague from Metal-rules.com we can share with you what those Russian Metal veterans got to say...

Welcome to Finland! As the whole of Aria is here, would please introduce yourselves?
I am Vitaly Dubinin, bass player,
Sergey Popov, guitar player.
Mikhail Zhitnyakov, vocals.
Vladimir Holstinin, guitar player.
Maxim Udalov, drums.

This is your first time being here?

As far as I remember, you were supposed to play here in Finland a couple of years ago at the Sonisphere Festival with Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Slayer etc. But unfortunately it got canceled. Do you have any idea why it got canceled?
Yes. There was a misunderstanding between organizations and the band under which conditions we would come, so that’s why it got canceled.

Otherwise have you played elsewhere besides Finland like in Germany?
Yes. We went to play in German also in Bulgaria, Israel and nothing else, just it. And Russian Former soviet republics.

What kind of response have you received from Germany – As Aria has more like a cult following amongst the die hard old school metal fans?
In Germany, there were exclusively Russians and very few locals basically many times in Germany. The last one was with the Russian people mostly, because organization was from Russians. And in 2005 we played in a night club in Berlin. It was a full of Germans and other friends from Sweden, Finland maybe. It was really great.

Have you noticed that Aria has a really huge cult following as I have noticed when reading different metal form – People are talking like “where am I supposed to get Aria albums”, have you noticed these increasing cult status in even North America?
We are pleasantly surprised. We knew about fans in various countries, but we are not aware of any cult status abroad.

For example, the Aria albums, it’s really difficult to get them. Of course nowadays it’s easier when you can download Mp3 files. Are you able to keep control with this piracy or is it okay for you that people put on Internet and get your name and stuff spread out ?
You can’t control it. And secondly, if people want to have these and could not buy these, let them to download that.

You have really big following in Russia as playing big areas but when have you got this line up changes, – new vocalist, new members. Has this affected the success of Aria in your home country?
It certainly felt that difference in fan amounts, but maybe it is also due to change of popularity of entire band at different times. Moreover, not just Aria itself, but the metal style itself.

When Metal got its low points in the ’90s and now it’s gone up, and has been a really big thing around the world. But when metal thing went down in the ’90s, did you have a low point in the ’90s in terms of the success when you played in Russia?
Yes, we did. But it coincided with a change of political order in Russia. In the beginning of the 90′s we practically had no gigs at all. In 1992-3 we basically sat at home, maybe playing five gigs a year. Then the situation changed.

As I mentioned, you’ve had some lineup changes. The old singer Kipelov left about 10 years ago. Why did he leave the band – did you have some kind of disagreements about some things or did he feel that it was time to move on?
We’re laughing since we hear that question during these 10 years. We don’t know much (about the reasons), because Kipelov said to us that he will be doing solo project, this decision he made by himself and did not discussed it with us, and we just separated. We keep in touch, so it is not like we are enemies. As one famous man said, in a band a large compromise always awaits (between the members). Maybe he just got tired of that role.

You got the former singer of the Autograph (Arthur Berkut). Did you know that he would be good fit to Aria or was it a logical thing to ask him to join Aria?
We knew him for a while, since the beginning of the 80’s. When he was in Autograph, we toured together. So in the 90′s we knew him quite well, then he went to US and came back by the end of the 90′s, and started to try to do something. But when Kipelov left, we just called him, and he showed no second thoughts, we knew well his vocal abilities, and it turns out that we may continue with him.

Then he left the band after a couple of albums. Why?
When he just came to us, he was not exactly matching our expectations, our style of playing music. We thought that from album to album we make our ways more parallel, we would move in joint direction. But the more we work together, the further we were moving apart. He wanted something different. Finally, when we decided to record the last album, we tried to do so, and understood that absolutely nothing is working out. So we separated.

Then you (addresses to current singer, Michail) came in? How did you, Michail, end up having Aria job?
We had common friends and Margarita Pushkina introduced me to Vitaly Dubinin. She is the main songwriter for Aria. I participated in her solo project called “Dynasty of Consecrated” and that’s how we started to know each other.

Did you Michail feel any kind of pressure when joining Aria that you know Aria is definitely so damn huge in your home country, that you have to sing to hundreds or thousands of people. Did you feel any kind of pressure being new member and the new singer of Aria?
Yes there was. There was stress, there was uneasiness. Despite that it was not my first time onstage, but to do that as a vocalist of a legendary band is a totally different thing.

When you get a new singer, a new guy in the band – do they bring something new input in the rules, songwriting process or playing style or do you demand to stay loyal to the old school metal rules what Aria stands for?
Firstly he came at the moment when we were already recording an album, everything was set and there was no time for him to bring in something new. But now we’re working on the new album where Michail, naturally, bring s in some his own thoughts, ideas – but it turns to be the same music anyway (all laugh). Because I grow up on Aria music, and formed as a musician (on Aria music).

Regarding the “Life in Studio” album, what was the purpose of releasing that kind of album because it has a lot of new record version of the old Aria songs?
Because we simply live in studio! Because new vocalist came and we were often asked to record with him the old albums. And we were o curious, when we were rehearsing for concerts, we were recording these for ourselves, and it turns out to be an album, we decided to publish it.

The latest album came out 2010, 2011 – called Phoenix. And before that the other album that was done titled Armageddon, it was 2005 0r 2006 or something. Is it mandatory to have 3-4 year break between albums for you to make new music?
We’re extremely lazy. We’re preparing ourselves for long. In fact we had the conflict with previous vocalist, and album would come out earlier if we didn’t had change of vocalist. We tried to record during 2-3 years. We would make a session, listened to it and lay it aside. This continued for some years. Not so much about instrumental parts, a lot was already played, but about singing.

You and you have been in the band the longest, since the ’80s. You are the core of the band, do you usually bring up the ideas how the new riff will sound, how the song will sound or how do you start writing a new song for the new Aria album in general?
I don’t think so. In reasonable amounts, they are “keepers of the style”, but it does not mean nobody else can not have a right to speak, a way to input some ideas.

What’s the most interesting topics to write about the lyrics? What fascinates you the most, lifestyle or “current way of life” or imagination?
Different for everyone. Basically we do not have too many topics. Always used to writ esongs about historical times, always tried to view that under some new angle, episodically we wrote many songs after movies or books. There are also, so to say, political songs. In any case, style dictates that the topics must be strong ones, captivating, impossible to write some vanilla song, there are no “casual life” songs.

Have your lyrics changed compared to the ’80s when you started; do you pay more attention to the lyrical side nowadays than back in the day when you were much younger?
Of course, since we lived the whole life in this band! When we were starting, we were interested in chicks, alcohol, and now we’re talking politics, and naturally we changed and texts are changed. (Other member) But texts are not really changed that much. With time, our internal census has changed, we became more demanding to music and texts, earlier we’re were taking that lighter, easier.

Back in the day, in the ’80s, when you were still recording the albums, I guess the studio technology was completely different?

Now that studio things are completely different, do you think that producers are more familiar with metal bands like you what you want than in back in the days?
Situation is, we never had any producers. We were sound producers ourselves. But on the latest two albums, Phoenix and Live in Studio, we started a collaboration with a Danish producer, Tommy Hanson. It is our first experience, so it is difficult for us to say how much he feels us, but we liked what he did. In any case, it was fast, quality, and… good and expensive.

I can’t help but ask, what makes you still push Aria forward? Do you still have a passion for metal or is it a way of life that you have?
Yes, way of life, absolutely. Because we made it through a revolution in the country, ups and downs of the style (popularity). (Another member: and End of the World, too) and still we are continue to do what we do. Therefore, we never really raised that question, even when it was hard, – to stop it or not.

In late ’80s I used to get in some copies of the British metal magazine, Metal Hammer. There was an article of Russian bands Gorky Park, Black Coffee, Autograph, Master, and of course – Aria. And some bands like Autograph and Gorky Park managed to get some attention in North America and Europe. Were you somehow jealous of those bands because they got the chance to play elsewhere?
Not quite. We wanted to perform in first place for “our” audience, Russian-speaking. We did not had a Western producer, and we realized that we may achieve nothing in the Western countries and in the same time lose everything in Russia. So we not really wanted to aim for West. If there would be some offer, serious one… in the end, there were none.

What kind of circumstances did you have in Russia, in the heyday of the ’80s or ’90s when you had to just tight control, and did the secret police observe you? Did you have to hide, since heavy metal stuff was sort of a little bit forbidden?
Yes, sure. We had to invent something. Our producer was making up some tricks. He would write to authors of songs written by Soviet Union’s famous composers, poets, in hope that our playlist would be then respected by authorities [have to check WITH BAND - if they would “pretend” their matherial is written by famous ppl, or try to get matherial from these]. He was consciously lying…

How did you discover and get a hold of these metal albums in Russia ?
Well, some people travelled to the West, diplomats, pilots, sportsman, sailors… There was a whole black market. There were quite expensive records.

Which bands influenced you in the first place – Iron Maiden, Deep Purple??
Yes. Judas Priest. We started in 70ties. It was Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Grand Funk Railroad, what else… Pink Floyd, something like this, but later in 80ties, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne – new wave of The British heavy metal.

A couple of guys left Aria and formed this Master band, which were more of a thrash thing. I guess you were not in the thrash thing at all,that much?
Right absolutely.

You have played and collaborated with Udo Dirkschneider. Right? Tell me more about it?
Yeah. Udo Dirkschneider was doing a tour in Russia and a Russian promoter decided to invite us not exactly like a support, but make a joint tour. The idea was, before going to the tour, to make a song together. Naurally since Russian-speaking listenters are interested in Russian song, we sang our song.

What about this Rammstein thing?
With Rammstein, hehe, there was that story… Our good friend, the promoter who brought UDO, Ed Ratnikov, he also brought Rammstein, we used to know him very well, and via him we met Rammstein. Some bandmembers, guitarist Richard Kruspe and Till Lindemann, started to visit Russia often, just to hang out with our good friend, just for holiday. And that guy, he was in Harley Davidson business, Russian part. He would open the season with Harley Davidson party. He asked Till and Richard to perform that [our] song, Still, that we already sang with Udo Dirkschneider. So they make something like this, themselves, make a cover on our song. So they did it. He was really strongly nicely asking.
And now I remember, he asked them to sing another song, Geroy Asphalta (The Hero of Asphalt), but when Till listened to it, he said – there are so many Russian words, can’t sing that many, also too fast. And still – much less words, and slower, so I like it much more.

So, it came more pushed to Aria? When are we going to expect to see the new Aria album out?
(Laughs) We just started to work on it, and the plan is that in coming year we record it. These are the plans, will see how life will correct them.

How can people get it?
We do not think of it. We understand that situation with media is changing dramatically, and what will be in demand in next year and later… Most likely we’ll put that in Itunes and the like, since physical media is dead already.

Thanks for this interview, and I wish you a really good gig tonight and welcome to Finland once again. Thank you!
Thank you. I want to say. Thanks for such a well thought and clever questions. We do a lot of interviews and ever so often interviewers come who do not know 10% of amount you told us today. And we are really pleased.

The official ARIA sites :

Author: Interview by Arto Lehtinen - metal-rules.com, pictures K. Weber
Date: 2013-10-07

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