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“We will never die!” Interview with Albert Kuvezin (Yat-Kha)

Mar 11, 2021

The leader of Tuvan band Yat-Kha Albert Kuvezin became extremely popular in the 90's, when he was giving concerts all around the world. Yat-Kha was always in high regard among the music fans. The band’s music was dubbed as “a mix of meditation and drive”, and now for the first time in eleven years Yat-Kha is going to release another full length album. The LP will be released on CD and vinyl by the German record label The Lollipop Shop. A large russian tour is starting right now to support this long awaited album. The upcoming LP is called “We Will Never Die!”, and this is something really special and worth noticing. Albert told us about the past, present and future, about secrets and plans, things constant and changing. His sincerity, frankness and simplicity are the best fit for the Yat-Kha music. Maxim Yaremenko (Sketis Music), a wonderful person and a splendid publisher, helped me with the interview. You will surely appreciate his encyclopedic knowledge and artful questions. 

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Alexey: Hi, Albert! How are you today? In what mood are you going to meet your new spring? Will this spring be special and unique for you? 

Hello! My spirits and mood are already better. Spring always brings renewal and freshness, we hope for this in our life too.


Maxim: Hello, Albert! How did the self-isolation go for you psychologically, creatively and financially? What were you doing? What new things did you learn last year?


All went well, more or less. I could not act upon all of my upcoming projects, but I wrote new songs, worked on the album and my musical and video archive. I even managed to record my voice for two other bands and a video for a Chinese online festival. It was hard for me psychologically, but not for long. Books, movies, classical guitar practice and gardening helped a lot. Friends and relatives helped financially. I began to explore the Internet, social media and digital music platforms.


Alexey: As far as I understand, Yat-Kha is going on a big tour in the very near future. What cities do you plan to visit?


It's not going to be that big, but we are happy to have what we got. We’ll start in Abakan, then Barnaul, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Moscow, Voronezh and St. Petersburg.


Could the touring schedule change, and if so, which cities are most likely to be added? Which cities would you like to visit the most and why?


Yes, there is a possibility. We had offers from Dubna and Tomsk. My favorite cities are Kyzyl and Abakan, but we will be happy to play anywhere.


Alexey: How are you preparing for the tour? Do you use any special rituals? Are your rehearsals more rigorous?


There are no special preparations. We began to rehearse new songs, of course, but nothing too rigorous. And I don’t do esoterics any more.


Alexey: How does it feel to be the leader of the band with such a whirlwind life? Do you want the band to gain attention once again, or are you happy with the slow rhythm of here and now?


Yes, there were some nice times! Sometimes I want for the band to take off again, but then there will be no time for a simple life with my family. My daughter grew up seeing me rarely, and now I want to spend more time with my grandchildren.


Alexey: How does it feel to start touring once more? Was it easy to get through the lockdown and the cancelled gigs? Do you think there will be new covid restrictions in Russia anytime soon?


It feels heartwarming. It wasn't easy to get through, but we all have Faith, Hope and Love. I don’t expect new restrictions in Russia.


Alexey: Did you have superstitious thoughts last spring when it all started? As if some powerful metaphysical force wanted to ruin your plans and tours in every possible way. Are you superstitious in your daily life? Do you believe in signs and symbols? Do you think coincidences are not accidental?


There were no superstitious thoughts, and if there was interference, it wasn’t from metaphysical, but from powerful physical forces. I am no longer superstitious, but I believe in causal relationships and I think there are no accidents.

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Maxim: Let’s talk about the new album. What will it be called? How many tracks are there? Where did you record and mix it? Did you manage to express in it what was on your mind in the first place, or the concept changed in process?


The album title is “We Will Never Die”. One of the songs has the same name. There will be 9 tracks. Some of the songs were recorded at the end of the 2019 tour in Germany, and some I recorded at home in spring by overdubbing. I sent tracks for mixing to the same sound engineer who recorded us in Germany. The mastering for the CD was done in the US. I sang in the band of this sound producer as a payment. The mastering for the vinyl is being done in Germany now, but in a different studio. The album was supposed to be an unplugged one, and it worked out. But the pandemic messed the things up as well. For example, I wanted to use more acoustic instruments, but in the end there's just a single guitar for a fair part of the album.


Maxim: As for the songs themselves, your most popular tracks are rock adaptations of folk songs. Is it the same on the new album, or we can expect something new?


Not really. The new album, as the previous one, is mostly my songs featuring other poets' lyrics. There is also a folk song adaptation, a cover and an instrumental piece. It doesn't sound much like the older Yat-Kha tracks.


Maxim: Was it a big challenge? After all, it's been 10 years since your last studio album “Poets and Lighthouses”. Is it more comfortable to work in Germany or in Russia?


The main challenge was that we couldn't gather the musicians in the studio. And for the touring band it's still more comfortable to work in Germany.


Alexey: The album will be released by German label The Lollipop Shop. Tell us about this label and about its producer Henning Küpper. As I understand, he is an old friend of yours. Are you familiar with the work of the other bands released on this label, and if so, tell us a bit about them.


Yes, we have been friends since 1995, when he arranged our first gigs in Germany in squats and underground clubs. He created this label in the early 90’s and released mostly bands from Eastern Europe, including some Russian ones like Ole Lukkoye and Volga. The music is diverse: electronic with ethnic elements, psychedelic and rock. Personally I liked a Hungarian band Korai Öröm. Lately Henning Küpper has started to release records by old, little known bands like Ocean.


Alexey: When can we expect this release to appear on sale?


We expect CDs anytime soon, vinyl - closer to summer, and in short time the album will be released on digital platforms.


Alexey: Do you have any plans for reissues or new releases with the Russian label Sketis Music that published Yat-Kha records some time ago? Did the pandemic mess them up?


A project with the Chinese record label was postponed for an indefinite period due to the pandemic. I would also like to release a new album in Russia and I hope The Lollipop Shop and Sketis Music will be able to make an agreement.


Maxim: Which of the early Yat-Kha records are on sale on physical media now? Is there a place where you can buy all of them?


You can order “Yenisei-Punk” from the Global Music Centre in Finland. I’ve seen almost all the albums on Amazon and Discogs. But the artists themselves don’t get anything from it. We still can’t regain the rights for our album “Dalai Beldiri”.


Alexey: You have quite a lot of covers of classic western rock ballads. How do you choose a song for a cover? Is it about your personal musical taste, or is there something else? What covers can we expect from you in the near future?


It’s about my personal musical taste now, but on “Re-Covers” the sound producers also had a say. There are two covers on the new album, but that’s all I can say. It’s unlikely there will be such covers on our next album.


Maxim: Do you like your or other bands’ live recordings? Do you like to watch or rewatch live videos? In Yat-Kha discography there are both studio and live albums: which do you like to listen to most?


Mostly I don’t like live recordings, with rare exceptions. I prefer our studio albums, although the sound and performance on Live In Europe 2001 is also not bad.


Maxim: What kind of music do you like to listen to? Do you keep track of the new releases? What are your favorite albums of the last year?


I listen on occasion to a wide variety of music, except bad pop-music, the so-called "Russian chanson", modern Russian jazz and rock. I haven’t been listening to music intentionally for a long time, unless one of the younger musicians asks to evaluate their work. Although I have a large collection on CDs and in digital, including some very rare records from all over the world. And I don’t keep track of the new releases, only for the recommendations of people whose music taste I respect, and there are very few of them. Of course, there are some interesting young bands, like The Eternal from Australia, for whom I recorded my back vocals. But for the last year I haven’t listened to a single album in full.


Maxim: How has your relationship with muse and inspiration changed over the past 20-30 years? Was it easy for you to get into the groove before, and how does it happen now? Why were there no new Yat-Kha albums for so long after all?


I hope my muse hasn't left me, although she is getting older as I do. I used to get into the groove faster and easier before, maybe because I knew less and my mind was more serene, as if there was more room in my head. Now I have more self reflection and patience, but as soon as I start to sing or play something, I get a song’s sketch or a riff. And there is no goal to release albums every year, especially if they’ll come out similar or identical. It’s more of a thing for the record labels and young musicians.


Maxim: And about your personal views: have your perception of the world or philosophical views changed? Has the 2020 pandemic affected you or your attitude?


I became quite irreligious. Vanity and ambitions also passed by. I stopped putting myself in the center of the world. All of this happened gradually over the past years. The pandemic didn’t affect this particularly, but I already understand I may not have time to finish everything because of my laziness. The borders are closed, there are less opportunities farther in time and space and the proverbial “here and now” becomes more important.


Alexey: Your music is often described as a mix of meditation and drive. What is the main component nowadays?


There is more drive right now probably.


Maxim: Evgeny “Rasputin” Tkachev, one of the oldest members of Yat-Kha, left the band. How many years have you played together? Who is behind the drums now? Was it easy to get together with a new drummer? Do you feel the new blood pumping?


Evgeny played in Yat-Kha for about 20 years. Other drummers played with us from time to time, both in the studio and on tours: Lu Edmonds, Alexey Saaya, Steve Goulding, Martyn Barker, Igor Karavaev. Now we have Nayys Dulush who played drums in Hartyga band. It was easy to get together, he is a real pro, he knows our songs, Tuvian music and music in general very well. I felt the new blood immediately: the energy and tempo of our songs are back again.
At concerts I can barely keep up with the rhythm section in some of our songs .


Maxim: How is your music born? Do you devise all the parts yourself or do you rely on the musicians? How often did you meet and rehearse over the last years? After all, you and the other band members live quite a long distance from each other.


Basically, I come up with a melody, a riff, a general skeleton, and the musicians do their parts, but I can make them change something if I don’t like it. Yes, we don’t meet often, and we rehearse even less often, but that’s what professionalism is for.

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Maxim: What are your plans for the future? For a long time you have been performing songs with lyrics by Russian classic poets. Can we hope it to become an album?


I have had an idea to record an album featuring the lyrics by Russian poets for a long time. There are already several demos with the lyrics by Kondratiy Emelyanov, our contemporary.


Alexey: How did you come up with the idea to make a tribute to the Russian symbolist poets and use their verses in your work?


Their poetry appeals to me since my youth, from the age of 17. Some time ago I had to fight a creative block and I tried to find inspiration in Russian poetry. And Kondratiy Emelyanov reached out to me first with a single song, then with his entire book.


Alexey: Where did you get this desire for classicism, classic poetry? Is it an aspiration to counter modern literary and poetic anarchy with discipline and precision of the orthodox poetic word, to divorce oneself from modernity and emphasize the timeless otherness?


This is partly due to my experience during the Soviet era, but the main point is, I had enough musical experiments and came to be more old-school.


Alexey: Why these particular poets? Why not Bryusov, Gippius or Merezhkovsky? How do you choose the lyrics for your new works?


I just like this poetry, it’s not about any particular authors. I also like foreign poetry, but I can read it only in translations. Besides Japanese poets I have tried to use the pieces by Scottish and Mongolian poets. My own verses on the album “Tuva.Rock” were edited by English poet and singer Kerry Shaw.


Alexey: How is your relationship with your fan base? Do you feel their support? For example, do they offer you backing or some other help after a concert? Have your digital sales changed during the pandemic?


Our relationship was always a solid one and I hope it still is. We don’t have a fan army, more like a loyal Guard. It is already a great support that they come to our concerts and buy our CDs, during the pandemic and via the Internet. There are always people who help us in every way they can, like gallery owner Konstantin Khankhalaev. As you say, a couple of years ago some guys came up after the concert and offered to back our new album, which was really nice.


Maxim: What is your audience geography? Do you receive a lot of fan mail and from which countries?


Most of the audience are from Europe and the US, then China, Russia, South America and Turkey. The fan mail is mostly from the same countries except for China due to the language barrier and their Google ban.


Maxim: Tell us about Yat-Kha Tangri tea. What kind of tea is this and where can you buy it?


It is a wholesome mix of Ceylon black tea and Siberian herbs. It was a collaboration with Sibteaway, an Irkutsk-based company . It was marketed as a limited edition and almost everything went abroad. I don’t think you can buy it now, but you probably can order it from this company.


Maxim: Can you give some advice to young musicians? What are the three must-dos for a successful band? How to understand that you are going in the right direction?


There are really no must-dos, especially if you got a producer: it’s all about him and the record label, and you are just a commodity. But if you are an independent band, if you consider yourself talented and you have enough patience, then it’s like a voyage: trust your captain and row in one direction.


And all jokes aside:

be original yet comprehendible
find a style and sound that would tell you apart from millions of others
your music is energy, not just a collection of notes and sounds
become professional enough to work with people in the music business. That’s a lot of people: from promoters and sound engineers to news reporters
love your fans and they will reciprocate
make friends with journalists


And the success will be nigh.


Alexey, Maxim: Thank you for the interview!
Alexey Irineev, Maxim Yaremenko.

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