Five years after his last full-length album “Shards”, the talented Ukranian composer Alexandr Vatagin – member of Tupolev and Port-Royal, founder of Quarz project and former collaborator of renowned musicians such as Stefan nemeth (Lokai), B.Fleischmann, Philippe Petit (Strings Of Consciousness), Steven Hess (Pan American), Kutin (Dirac) and many others – turns up for an important appointment, the 5th anniversary of Valeot Records, the label he co-founded by means of a brand new album “Serza”, which combines the subtle digital electronics of the above-mentioned “Shards” and the analog softer tones of his debut album “Valeot” and marks a further convincing step towards full musical maturity and a new addiction to the post-modern music scene. Such a long-awaited release is an opportunity to know him better.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Alexandr. What was up there before answering these questions? Are you ok?
Alexandr Vatagin: I am really fine, thanks; enjoying the long awaited summer, which actually brought some nice changes in my life.
Chain D.L.K.:Before speaking about your brand new album “Serza”, let’s go back in time…you were very young when you moved to Austria from Ukraine, weren’t you? Excessively backwards?
Alexandr Vatagin: Yes, I was quite young, 8 years old to be precise. actually I don’t remember a lot from that time, there are more like fragments of memories rather than clear pictures, but life was quite different in former Soviet Union. So I guess that was a very important time for me, even though my memory of it is vague.
Chain D.L.K.: When did you discover a passion for music? Have you inherited by some members of your family?
Alexandr Vatagin: I started very late with listening to and doing music – I was not really interested in music until I was 18, which was when I bought my first own record. Then everything went really fast, 2 years later I bought my first instrument (a bass guitar) and another two years later I started playing cello and doing electronic music. That was around the time when I started to work on my first album “valeot”. None of my family other than me has or had any musical talent or interest, so it was really a big surprise for all when I decided to do music.
Chain D.L.K.: What does “Serza” mean?
Alexandr Vatagin: “serza” is actually the Russian word for heart, but slightly misspelt – correct would be “serzo”, but with an “a” instead of “o” it sounds and looks better. During the long time I worked on “serza” many things changed – like relationships, habits or even my musical preference… and like the human organ, “serza” keeps all these different things together and at the same time it is the synonym for warmth and intimacy, so this was perfect for me. Maybe the cover suggests something different, but I don’t care, I just liked the picture a lot.
Chain D.L.K.: Even if you involved many different collaborators, “Serza” sounds quite homogenous…how did you “train” each musician? Any “transgressor”?
Alexandr Vatagin: It was quite a natural thing, whenever I got stuck with a song i had somebody in mind who could add something and thus “help me out”; and as the album was created within such a long time (almost 5 years) I needed a helping hand quite a couple of times. No, there were almost never “problems” with any external material.
Chain D.L.K.: Many reviewers highlighted the fact “serza” could lie in the interzone between your previous releases…do you feel the same?
Alexandr Vatagin: I think yes, it’s definitely my most mature and personal work up to date. What I really like is to mix electronic music with real instruments, but other than is standard for the “genre” I am almost completely avoiding processing of real instruments, I like them to sound as they are. and I think on “serza” I brought this mix quite to perfection, so I think this is one of the main points why “serza” became a very warm and playful album.
Chain D.L.K.: On “Elisa” some listener could imagine you opened a music-box with a dancer inside…was it inspired by some real person?
Alexandr Vatagin: Indeed there once was a very important girl in my life carrying that name, in the end it is a song for her or maybe about the time we spent together. I grew up with pop music (in a wider sense), so having personal songtitles is important to me – to call a song “error 011” or “pluh” does not seem very interesting to me. I like warmth and heart in my music in general but especially in my solo stuff.
Chain D.L.K.: There’s something vaguely childish and innocent in the sound of “Serza”…is it so? Have you ever made reverie about the sensibility of a child while composing your music?
Alexandr Vatagin: I think I know what you mean, and I am taking it as a real big compliment. for me “serza” is quite playful in comparison to the “genre standards”, one of the most important things for me is that my music should be alive, playful, honest, charming & touching, things that are also very important in real life. Music should always include a reflection of yourself.
Chain D.L.K.: The track “Mantova”, named after a beautiful city in North Italy, together with Martin Siewert and David Schweighart, the lovely “Elbe” (performed with Martin Siewert and James Yates) and many other moments of the album guzzle post-rock drams…what’s your vision about post-rock in general? What was the source of inspiration of both tracks?
Alexandr Vatagin: I used to be into post-rock a lot, but for many years now i became very bored by the genre. “mantova” is one of the oldest tracks on the album and maybe the most conservative one for me, “elbe” is much more a direction that I like if we are already talking about “post-rock”. I guess a little bit of post-rock influence will always be inside my music, I grew up with it, it was my punk music when I was young. 🙂
Unfortunately I’ve never been to the city of Mantova, but I passed by it on the highway or in the train many times, so I thought it would be a wonderful name for a song.
Chain D.L.K.: The lovely final track “Different” sounds more “radiant”…is it somehow the final stage of process?
Alexandr Vatagin: It’s a mix, the draft of that song is one of the oldest ones, but I added a lot of new stuff towards the end of the production. The newest song on the album is “la douce”, but in the end both are not directions for future work, I already have something in mind for my next solo album, and it will be something special, I am still not sure if it’s possible to do it like I would like to, so I won’t say any more about it now – let yourself be surprised! 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: What about the cover artwork?
Alexandr Vatagin: Actually I still don’t know what is depicted on there, I just liked it a lot when I saw it and in the end I like this kind of small mystery. A nice but slightly crazy 17 year old girl from lughansk (the eastmost city of Ukraine – nearby Russian borders, where we played a concert with my band port-royal a year ago) sent it to me and also did most of the artwork.
Chain D.L.K.: Many listeners could say your music is just beautiful without being able to define its beauty..what’s your own definition of beauty?
Alexandr Vatagin: I guess I would say the closest things to beauty for me are melancholy and love – melancholy because it can make you sad and happy at the same time, and there are not many things with this almost paradox “power”, and love because it’s love! 🙂
Chain D.L.K.:Any work in progress?
Alexandr Vatagin: Too much actually, a new port-royal album is in the works, I played cello on some really nice upcoming releases from people like Gurun Gurun (home normal), Dalot (n5md), Nicolas Bernier and Attilio Novellino (valeot). There are also some long time unfinished albums like a kind of jazz /post-rock quartet, an album with Werner Kitzmüller and an album with Fabian Pollack.
Additionally I’m already making plans for a third Quarz album and one guest is already fixed – the legendary Berlin techno producer (as Ilsa Gold) and experimental artist Pure (mego, cronica), and the second Quarz album with Philippe Petit and Steven Hess will be finished this year.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to bring “Serza” on live stages or are there ay “technical” difficulties?
Alexandr Vatagin: I did it already, in April I presented “serza” in Vienna, for this occasion I played live with Martin Siewert (Radian/Trapist) on guitar and David Schweighart (Tupolev) on drums. It was a blast, a very intense and enthusiastic show with really great feedback afterwards. The basic idea was having an almost classical rock trio playing ambient songs, and as it worked out that well we will probably do some more concerts in this combination, maybe during some festivals later this year. and there will definitely be some real solo performances as well, just me with cello & laptop. A tour through europe should take place in winter this year.
Chain D.L.K.: You’re involved in many different bands…how can you balance yourself in each of them?
Alexandr Vatagin: Oh it’s quite easy for me (musically I mean, time is another topic). I always compare it to my personal taste in music: at home I am listening to stuff ranging from Miles Davis to Arcade Fire, from Colin Stetson to Oval, from Bach to Leonard Cohen, so why should I limit myself when I am doing music. maybe I will never be as good as other people that stay within only one genre but then I would lose too much fun! 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the sound you had in your mind when you woke up this morning?
Alexandr Vatagin: I am always very sleepy in the morning, so there are no big thoughts, but I think I was happy about the sunny day and my amazing girlfriend who lay close to me.
Chain D.L.K.: Anything to add before the end?
Alexandr Vatagin: Thanks a lot for the really nice questions, and sorry that it took me that long to answer them, but at least it didn’t take me 5 years 😉
visit Alexandr Vatagin on the web at: vatagin.klingt.org