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The music itself is a result of living--IndieChina interview with Mooncake

[日期:2010-12-12] 来源:IndieChina  作者:Rhine [字体: ]

It was fantastic experience to interview the Mooncake. It was around half a year ago I came across their tracks and immediately fell in love with them. Through the interview I Discovered they are really kind people, I mean, after all, it was my first serious interview, I did not expect it would go so smoothly. Thanks again!

Thank you for doing this interview. Here are the questions.

Mooncake IndieChina
Mooncake are:
Pavel Smirnov – guitars
Nikolay Bulanov – cello/keys
Anton Marchenko – bass
Leonid Kurashov – drums

1 How did mooncake start? Could you briefly introduce the band members please?

P: Everything started early 2003, when I met Anton. Back then we were freshmen at the university. We forged friendship with each other quiet quickly and found common language with each other. It also turned out that he plays bass in a band called “Do Not Tumble Dry” (which literally means in Russian “Do Not Dry In a Drum). He and his mates that he studied together with started the band that year. Having learnt that I played guitar Anton offered me to join them.

We would play rock and cheerful Punk, so it was a funny time then. It was all an amateurish stuff, we had never even played live…

A: We did play two shows but it was at the university cafeteria and still it was about being Cool guys that play guitars, nothing serious…

P: Then some years later our music tastes changed (thanks to Sonic Youth), we evolved as composers and musicians and at last found ourselves together with lots of musical material to start a new project.

At that time we still tried to play music with vocals. Having found new musicians we recorded a few Songs in a decent quality with a girl on vocals. And at that precise moment it became obvious that the band needed a name for itself.

Anton made a list of possible names and then we excluded from it those each of us didn’t like. The last was “Mooncake”. One month later the project self-eliminated but Anton and I decided to keep the name “Mooncake”, because it contained a kind of magic as we thought. It was spring of 2006.

A: Yeah, the problem was also that when each time we changed the name of the band it would split up, so we kept the name to be on the safe side also. 

P: Already in summer we began to look for a drummer on the web and one of the search criteria was the music of above-mentioned Sonic Youth. So that is how we found Leonid.

A: But mentioning SY in the ad wasn’t of much use, cause Leonid’s ad said “Drummer. Preferences in music 1960-1980-s”. I thought it didn’t matter much what the ad actually said, I just messaged him via ICQ and later it turned out that we got much in common.

P: After the first rehearsal all three of us understood that we found each other for something serious and important.

Then there was the first single “More oxygen, I said…” in summer 2007 but we thought we were in a lack of additional musical instruments. So another search on the web gave us a new friend Nikolay who played cello and keys. After that we had a full line-up and started to record our debut album.

A: I’d like to say that we never wanted to play some concrete music. We never told ourselves something like “OK, now we play Post Punk” or whatever. We were seeking our place in music thoroughly measuring our composer’s skills, while trying to understand what the sum of the collaboration of four of us would lead to. It was a long evolutionary way, and today everything is working perfectly within Mooncake.

2 Why did you name the band "mooncake "? What is the story behind it? Is there anything especially about China?

P: Well, I’ve spoken partially about that above. It happened so that when we chose the name “Mooncake” we didn’t know that it had something with Chinese culture and traditions. Only months later we learnt that Mooncake is a traditional Chinese pastry and that you have annual mid-autumn festivities for lunar worship and moon  watching when everyone eats different kinds of mooncakes. Being curious about mooncake we went to a Chinese fast-food to taste it. We didn’t know what to expect but hardly were we disappointed – we liked mooncakes and it gave us enthusiasm and confidence that we were on the right path.

Mooncake IndieChina

3 Which are your favourite bands, and the bands have influence on you?

P: Each of us has its own musical taste. But the musical taste lines of each of band members cross somewhere and that is how the Mooncake’s music is born.

I cannot but mention “Sonic Youth”. This band changed my mind completely as well as Anton’s and Leonid’s. We also like very much “My bloody valentine”. On the contrary, Nikolay is more acquainted with classical music and Jazz. He is the one who advised us Jaga Jazzist and the one in the band who has professional musical education. Well, “Godspeed You! Black Emperor” as well as “Mogwai” are also worth mentioning.

4 Some people say that your music reminds them of God is an Astronaut. You have shared stage with them, how was that show?

P: Yes, we played with them in 2008 when they were in Moscow and it was an awesome show. You know, they are real professionals and it was a great experience for us to share stage with them. Though we think that we play different kind of instrumental music. Maybe only description “space music” unites us somehow. Generally speaking, the notion Post-Rock includes lots of bands playing completely different music: for example, “Mogwai” and “65dos” – both are post-rock bands but you cannot fail to admit that their Songs have nothing in common except the absence of vocals.

5 You have toured in Russia and to Ukraine, any changes after the tour?

P: Well, first of all it was the first time that we played in so many cities in a short period of time: eight gigs in two months. We had a chance to see the state of the Russian indie music scene, I mean in the province. Before the tour we performed mostly in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These are the major Russian cities, where everything is OK with good music clubs and music culture.

After the tour we’ve never got disappointed by what we saw in other regions of Russia. The places we played are no doubt competitive in compariSon with the ones from our major cities. What made us even happier was that there was always large crowd at the shows. People knew who we are, they knew our songs and it gave us a lot of enthusiasm. So thanks once again to all of them!

A: Definitely, the crowd in the Russian province is more sincere as far as dEmonstration of emotions is concerned. In Moscow or in St. Petersburg people would stand apathetically, but still it does not mean they don’t like you. You can understand it by looking in people’s eyes or by the reaction to the first notes of the tracks. Some even start to cry, I consider that a winning as a musician and performer, cause we make people experience deep emotions.

Anyway, the crowd in major cities is highly restrained and there’s a high percentage of people who come to gigs not even knowing who’s playing or just because it’s a fancy thing to be indie. This public’s got choice of so many gigs that the listeners finally became effete. I can say that people in province are more sincere and open, cause they don’t have a lot of good gigs going on, that’s why they value music and performers. If they don’t like you they’ll let you know at once.

the front cover of Mooncake's first album Lagrange Points IndieChina
the front cover of Mooncake's first album Lagrange Points

6 Your debut album, Lagrange Points seems closely related to science. Why is that?  Anyone of you is crazy about science fiction or the space?

P: Indeed, I’m a fan of science fiction and so is Anton. When recording Lagrange we thought about the possible name and some sort of the main idea which could unite all the Songs in a one piece of art and describe what Mooncake was at that moment of his history.

One of my favorite authors is A.C. Clarke and I often came across with the notion “lagrange point” in his books. Having read some materials about this I understood that “lagrange points” would be an ideal conception for the entire album.
The thing is that when we talk about “lagrange points” we mean a certain balance between some objects in space. Moreover, in an orbital configuration there can only be five lagrange points. As a result we have five L-tracks on the album and each musician has its own “L” from 1 to 5. So all this illustrated that we were five people in a band being in a creative and musical balance with each other.

Well, it was relevant for 2008, because from the beginning of 2009 Mooncake is a quartet and now we are thinking about a new conception for the second album which could describe our new musical paradigm 
7 You aim to balance Rapture and grief in your music. Usually in what mood do you compose them?

P: I wouldn’t say that we’re trying to achieve any balance or compose specific music. We just play what is going outside our hearts and Souls and that’s it. You know, in lives of all people the good goes along with the evil, Rapture with grief and the things like that. So maybe that’s why our music can be described in such a way, we just live like everyone of you with our joys and sorrows and the music itself is a result of living.

A: You can never say that “Now I’m taking a guitar to compose a melody”. This mood occurs when you never expect it. And yes, Emotional state influences much this very moment of composing music. But yet you can compose a sad melody while being quiet calm and not experiencing any sorrow.

8 You added cello in the album version, what drives you to this change?

P: One day we understood that we couldn’t realize all our ideas only with two guitars. Trying vocals led us to nowhere but to comprehension of the fact that the instrumental melodies were all-sufficient and not leaving any place for the voice in our music. Nevertheless the lack of additional musical instruments was obvious and we started thinking of strings. Well, we were lucky enough to find a new friend  Nikolay playing cello as well as keys. As a result the arrangements became more complex and improved.

9 Which of your Songs do you like best?

P: I’m afraid it’s a continuous process. Today you like one Song, tomorrow it will be another, in a year you’ll return to the old one that you never liked so much before 
We put a lot of time and force in each Song that’s why we like them all in their own way.

10 Only in “The Horizons” you put in vocals. Is there anything special in this Song that refers to this method? Would you try more vocals in the future works or less?

P: This Song stands apart from the others because it was written under inspiration coming from a poem written by our friend Mikhail who makes video-art for our shows. Thus we decided to make an atmospheric intro with vocals reading this Poetry.

As far as our next album is concerned, maybe we’ll use back-vocals in several Songs but the decision will be made only in studio during the final process. So far this point isn’t clear enough to confirm it strictly.

11 What is your expectation on the LP to release next year? 

P: Well, we’re doing our best to make a great album. All the Songs were composed almost a year ago but we didn’t have enough money to record them properly. Now the things are going a little bit better and we’ve already recorded drums for two tracks. To tell the truth, my expectations are high – it will be a serious work, the arrangements are well thought and worked out, the music became more complex. The album will show how the Mooncake’s music has evolved in a good way.

So far all that we’ve been doing was a diy activity and now we hope that the new album will get real support from labels at home and abroad. At least we’ll do our best to achieve this goal.

12 What is the most significant different between the new LP and Lagrange Points?

P: The most significant difference between “Lagrange Points” and the new album is the creative approach. First of all we are not in a hurry. We have all our time to prepare the Songs and work them out. Secondly, new instruments will appear on the record such as brass section and different kinds of piano. The arrangements will be improved and more variable. We have evolved as musicians and composers since Lagrange. And the new album will reflect these changes.

The one thing that will remain unchanged are the melodies which we put at the head of our music.

13 You are offering free download on Myspace. What do you think of this form of spreading your works?

P: Myspace is one of the largest music community on the web and it is a very effective instrument to spread music because lots of people, bands, labels and bookings are looking there for something new. Some share their tastes to give their opinion. Free download for a few tracks is a good way to offer people a chance to get acquainted with your music. Though it is evident that people should pay for music in some way, otherwise the bands won’t have the money and capacity to continue the work, to record new Songs, to create. The bands like ours don’t earn their living by playing music – we all have to work elsewhere, that’s why it’s a bit harder than it may seem.

It’s a normal practice when a band grants free download of a few tracks or a part of an album on their website and in the meantime the physical CD is for sale or there is a possibility, should you so desire, to pay for download.

Unfortunately in the past 10 years with the developing of the Internet the value of music has considerably decreased. One can download free any album, then erase it quickly not even having listened to it. There was a time when we would go to music shops and choose CDs only by covers not having a possibility to listen to them. And I must say that we valued these records so high, because we chose them so carefully. But now it seems that people don’t pay attention to the work that other people do. After a few Songs the album is deleted and moved to trash can. In such conditions it’s not so easy to record new songs in a good quality.

Of course, for Popular bands it’s not a real problem, but for the small and the middle segment the question is on the agenda.

A: Yes, the value of the music both as a process of listening and composing has decreased in the recent years. Nowadays it’s like an assembly line, it’s all about consuming. Musicians compose a product of good quality. Yes, it sounds good, all arrangements are mathematically adequate, but the problem is that thanks to Internet and mp3 the bands have to compete for the crowd, that’s why all this music sound so high-grade. Everything sound good but the same, like a one long Song. Bands have to hurry to catch up with one another, because, as Paul said, in the morning some dude downloads your tracks, takes a listen and then by the end of the day deletes them. The next morning he’ll need something new to consume.

That is why many bands prefer to release EPs and singles rather than CDs, cause you’ll just get lost among all these “composing machines”. You can say that we practice the same attitude, and in some way it’s right.

When recording Zaris, we understood, there’s no need to print physical copies of the single, moreover, it’ll be better not to sell mp3s at least at first. And we were right, this approach attracted much more listeners’ attention than the release of “Cast The Route”. This is one of the ways if you lack working channels of distribution and advertising. “Zaris” was of a great use for us, a new step towards a higher level. It was a free release, but after all we received great listeners’ attention and appreciation. But unlike many other bands, we don’t compete for listeners as if it were a sports competition. We’re just trying to promote what we’re doing with help of the ways we got.

Returning to consuming issue, I guess, all this touches upon art on the whole as well. It will lead to a deep crisis of creativity in some years. For example, check out the movies. If we take into consideration the US movies, where all contemporary movie trends originate, it is also about producing and consuming. It’s all good and quality movies, but they’re Soulless, in the end they’re made just for a single watch and Relaxation. Now you can find real drama only in series. At least, that is positive, cause in this case acting and drama preserves. Paradoxically, years ago series were about just relaxation and useless watching. The same is with music, as I said. Guess creativity will find its way with the music too.

14 You also call for donation?

P: Yes. Listeners are offered certain releases/Songs for free download and if they like them they can donate us the amount they think is appropriate. We think that the ones that like our music will support us whenever they want. Or maybe they can’t afford that and we won’t be disappointed in any way. After all our music is being transmitted 

15 How are the Post-Rock bands in Russia developing?

P: Russia has its own Post-Rock scene, although it’s not a big one and the number of worthwhile bands playing quality music is rather limited. It is pleasant that not only in Moscow there are Cool bands but also in other regions of our Country.

A: There are good bands, but many lack confidence and self-criticism. Once again, it’s about “being indie”, it’s like a disease. In Russia many performers think if you’re indie, you’re automatically become a Cool musician. The same thing is with the listeners – they think if they listen to such music they acquire musical taste on the spot. This is much more about major cities. As we said, people in the province may play not that well, but at least there’re not showing off is if they’re some kind of musical messiahs or gods. Anyway, the tendency is fine – more bands play or try to play such music. But good music needs good provision, I mean the promo agencies, band managers and stuff. Yet this part of musical infrastructure is slowly developing as well. 

16 With which band do you want to coOperate most?

A: As for me, it’d be interesting to jam with Sonic Youth, Godspeed You Black Emperor or some Trip-Hop band like Massive Attack, even do something more serious with them than just a jam session. It is a very valuable experience to collaborate with interesting and professional musicians.

17 Do you know any Chinese bands? 

P: Unfortunately I don’t know any. But it would be great if you could advise me some because I’m are really curious 

A: Once I downloaded a compilation of some Chinese Post-Rock bands, I liked some, but right now I don’t remember their names.

18 Have you decided on your next tour? Are you planning to perform in China? 

P: Today one thing is clear – the tour in support of a new album will touch upon all the cities where we ever played. Of course, we would like to broaden the boarders of our gigs’ geogRaphy. Europe is one of the goals, as it is not far from us, only 15 hours by car.

And, of course, the special issue is about China. As we are Mooncake we cannot but dream of playing a gig in the Celestial. China is a great Country with ancient traditions and apparently it was not by chance that we chose that name for the band.

Thanks and good luck to you all, see you some time!

Thanks again for doing this interview. Hope your LP goes well and probably to see you perform in China soon.   


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