More Than Just a Rock Idol

For MTFamed for his off-the-wall lyrics, Lagutenko says he doesn't probe the sources of his creativity too deeply for fear of losing it.
The rumors proved true. Ilya Lagutenko, the leader of the band Mummy Troll and one of Russia's most glamorous, well-known rock stars, is a remarkably pleasant, quiet and calm person. On the eve of the release of the band's new album and latest tour, he answered The Moscow Times' questions while sipping mineral water on the summer veranda of a modest Moscow cafe. Lagutenko discussed new songs, houses with a view of the sea and the need for solidarity with the growing numbers of Russians infected with HIV.

Q: Your new album will come out in less than two weeks ...
A: Yes, it's called "Meamury." We worked on it for a really long time. Our previous album appeared in 2000, and then we went touring for many months, and that's when we wrote most of the new songs -- during and between tours. We made the first recording exactly a year ago and spent the whole of the past year working on further recordings. The album was recorded in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Germany, Latvia and Britain.

It's a kind of diary. These songs are the best possible reflection of what was happening to us in that period. It's an album full of kindness and light, because that was how the past year looked to me. The songs are the impressions, hopes, fantasies that followed me through the year.

Q:Could you tell me about your upcoming tour?
A:The first concert will be in Moscow at Vasilyevsky Spusk [on Sept. 1], and it will open the Mummy Troll Motorola Meamury Tour. The long name comes from the fact that, frankly, only through cooperation with Motorola could we actually afford to have the tour look exactly like we wanted. We'll have five video screens and made-to-order lighting that will change for every song. We hope we've reached the optimal variant, where rock is not turned into a circus, but the concert will be the kind of performance that I myself would like to attend.

Q:From what we've been able to hear, songs on the new album will continue your tradition of bizarre lyrics, swarming with aliens and seaweed that has human emotions. Where do those lyrics come from?
A:I believe one is entitled to do with language whatever one finds fit. I take those lyrics from wherever it is that they come from. The depths of the ocean, the heart of the volcano. I really try not to think too much about where that is. If you manage to find the deepest source of your creativity, you might actually lose it.

Q:Musically, however, everything seems pretty clear -- you're a child of the '80s, if there ever was one.
A: I got mesmerized by music in the '80s, which was quite an eclectic period. On one side you had hard rock and on the other side, the new romantics. And I found the romantics fascinating -- they were something distant and mysterious and had nothing to do with our reality. Plus, I was brought up in Vladivostok, which is close to Japan, so we knew what was going on in the Asian rock scene better than our countrymen in European Russia. There is a nostalgia for those times in my music, of course.

But I'm trying to keep abreast of everything that's going on in the world scene, be it classical guitar or electronic music or all sorts of experimental music. There are also bands whose concerts I never miss -- The Cure, U2, Depeche Mode.

Q:But these are all foreign influences. There are no Russian names among them.
A: I won't deny it. I think that there hasn't been anything truly revealing for me since the times of the Leningrad bands Akvarium and Kino, which made me realize you can actually perform rock music in your own language. That was a true revelation.

But I'm glad about the changes happening in Russian music now. It's not just a scene anymore. Now it's also a market.

Q: What is more important for the musicians on that market, tours or album releases?
A: Artistically speaking, I'm a child of the Western system, where albums are treated as a sort of report on a certain period in an artist's creative life and are therefore very significant. And they are also a much more convenient medium for distributing your message -- you reach places you will never be able to tour. But the music that we're playing is made on live instruments, by live people. We play the music, we don't process it, and we can and want to play this music live. Playing in a concrete place, at a concrete time, for concrete people, is emotionally very satisfying.

Q: And financially?
A: As far as financial issues are concerned, the situation in Russia is clear: Releasing an album and selling copyrights to certain record labels can't even cover production costs. The market is overflowing with pirated CDs and there is no protection of intellectual property. Laws are there, but we can only dream of them being enforced. Even the best-known, best-sold artists earn nothing on record sales.

Q: You're a Russian rock star, but do you actually live in Russia?
A: Well, I do have my Vladivostok propiska [residence permit], but we're traveling constantly. I'd love to live in Vladivostok, where every house has a view on the sea. But it's a 10-hour flight from Moscow, and much more than that from other places I work. So I guess I'll just keep on traveling.

Q: How did you begin your collaboration with nonprofit international health organization Population Services International?
A: The health of the younger generation is a pressing topic in every country, and especially in Russia. Russia is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of the spread of AIDS and we can't remain indifferent to that. Therefore, when PSI, which advocates safe sex to prevent HIV infection, approached us, we were more than ready to agree to be PSI's mouthpiece in Russia. In America the idea of safe sex is promoted by Ricky Martin; in Europe by the group U2; and I decided to follow the example of my colleagues. Love is, above all, caring about the person you love, looking after that person. And the most elementary way to look after them is by always using a condom.