4/19/05 Interview with Nikolai Rubanov. Questions by Zach Dundas of Willamette Week.


Question: It seems that on this tour, the band is making more of an effort to play for non-Russian-speaking audiences. What led to that decision, and what do you need to do in terms of venue selection and marketing to draw in more English-speaking fans?

Answer (Nikolai Rubanov):
During European tours, Auktyon always just performed before the audience, without concentrating on what language they speak, or whether they are able to understand the lyrics. Music is a non-verbal language, and Auktyon plays not songs, but compositions, one component of which happens to be the text. This component is never dominant. Moreover, when a listener doesnt understand the lyrics, they have an additional freedom of interpretation of the piece of music; they are not bound by the language associations. Words are sounds, first and foremost; the meaning is always secondary.

Of course, when the audience understands certain phrases, or even all of the lyrics in a composition, it simplifies communication.

On the other hand, Auktyon has recorder an album Mountaintop Dweller using poetry of Velemir Khlebnikov, and his poetry is hard to decipher even for Russian-speaking audiences.

During our European concerts we had a difficult task we had to play in such a way, that the audience hears us regardless of the language barrier and geographical and national differences.

It was a challenge. And it was a good school of life. If the concert was good and sincere, then there was an emotional contact between the audience and the musicians, a mutual understanding. So we had to put out 100%, without discounting the fact that someone might not understand us. Music is an international language.

The performances before Russian-speaking audiences outside of Russia lack this challenge. But there is a very strong sense of nostalgia. During such concerts, on many occasions I had a feeling that we dont even need to do anything on stage; its enough just to stand there, and the audience will be raving just to have the beloved band on stage.

I am more interested in the process of interaction with the audience. At first people just keep an eye on you what are they doing, those Russian? After that. Different things happen. But such concerts are great examples of authenticity and sincerity of what we do.

In 2000 in Portland, at the North by Northwest Festival there were very few people who spoke Russian. But the mutual understanding was established.

And one more thing. In USA there is a tremendous amount of great bands and performers. Its even more interesting to perform before the audience, whose musical experience radically differs from the experiences of Russian audiences. We are alien, we are from the outside; we represent a different world, in terms of music as well.

Answer (Max Milendorf, Tour Manager):
The challenge of getting exposure before American audience is great for every US tour. Most of the venues deal with large booking agencies, and are not willing to take a chance on a foreign band. Apart from that, even those clubs that we book have no idea how to market such a show beyond a simple listing in the events section of a local newspaper. This year we have been lucky to book Joes Pub, with some help from Tamizdat.org. Its a much smaller venue than what Auktyon is used to in New York City, but this was done precisely with the hope of getting more of the right kind of exposure. Besides that, we were able to book Knitting Factory another small victory for us.

Also, booking venues is not the biggest challenge. With all Russian tours, the promoters are under tremendous pressure to cover large expenses associated with visas and overseas travel, not to mention the fees to the bands themselves. No local bands have to deal with these additional expenses; therefore they can afford a luxury of $10 cover charges. We have to set the ticket prices higher, but, of course, the down side is that people who are unfamiliar with the band are less likely to go, if the tickets are too expensive.

Question: Based on your previous tours, how strong is the Russian-speaking audience in the United States? What cities are the best?

Answer (Nikolai Rubanov):
I was under the impression that the biggest Russian-speaking audience is in New York City. The overall impression in USA there are a lot of immigrants from Russia. Its hard to say which is the best city that we visited. They are all different. Most of all I liked Seattle and the scenery around it. But this is not related to the concerts.

Question: You'll be playing with a Seattle-based band here in Portland. On previous tours, have you usually played with US-based bands? Which ones?

Answer (Nikolai Rubanov):
Unfortunately, the list is going to be a modest one. In 1997 we played after Marc Ribot, in New Yorks The Cooler. In 2003 in Boston we performed with the band Cul de Sac.

I have also participated with Jonathan LaMaster, bass player of Cul de Sac, in Damo Suzuki Network, during their concerts in Russia, and in Jonathan LaMaster Trans-Continental Cross-Fertilization Ensemble, during a St.Petersburg festival SKIF-7.

Answer (Max Milendorf):
Auktyon has also played with a few other local bands. Some of the noteworthy ones are Waterwalls (NY), Amun Ra (Boston), Miru Mir (Portland).

Question: The band has been together 20 years, and I imagine the changes in the Russian music scene have been too extensive to really discuss in detail. What single change has made the most difference to your jobs as musiciansthe economics of being in a band?

Answer (Nikolai Rubanov):
I honestly cannot believe, that I have been in Auktyon for 20 years, but looking at a calendar I have to admit it. Life in Russia is so dynamic, that sometimes you are surprised, that certain events happened just a few years ago. We just played our music, and at some point realized, that in Russia young musicians started to address us as Mister, and the band became famous all over Russia, and we are being called a cult band and similar bullshit.

Question: In the United States independent music scene, a lot of attention is paid to genre. It seems like Auktyon is a band that crosses a lot of genres, and I wonder if that has something to do with Russian musical history or the extent to which Russians are exposed to jazz, classical, rock, etc. Kind of a vague question, I realize, but if you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

Answer (Nikolai Rubanov):

Kind of a vague question...
Kind of a vague answer...
Different roots, different music.
One peace, one love, man.

I also play in my own band Union of Commercial Avanguard Our creative motto is fear nothing to make beauty. These are the words of one mental patient, but they exactly convey an idea of musical perception of the world around us. This principal also applies to Auktyon. There are 8 musicians on stage, each has his own story, all absolutely different, with different tastes and musical interests. And each one, usually unconsciously, displays these interests on stage. Everything happens very naturally. There hasnt been and there is no specific concept. All goes into the same melting pot. If you ask each member of Auktyon what they listen to, the list will be long and amusing.

Question: It seems like Russian politics are heating up a little bitis the Russian music scene political, and if so, how? How does it compare to the 1980s?

Answer (Nikolai Rubanov):
The end of 80s, the 90s, the beginning of the new century you can break it down into three stages.

First stage end of the 80s freedom of speech (in european sense of the phrase) is in rudimentary state; politicized bands tell-it-how-it-is, very often in highly artistic forms and allegorically.

Second stage mid and late 90s so-called freedom of speech; so-called democracy, etc., the reality turns out to be more earnest and scary than the imagery created by the music bands. The politicized bands start to fade away.

Third stage the beginning of the new century. The 90s have dissipated a lot of illusions in people who had them. Politicized bands have naturally become extinct.

In my opinion, politics and music dont blend well together; actually they dont blend at all. At some point its necessary to make a choice. Its very natural, if the musician chooses music.

Its funny, but right now mostly pop-musicians take part in political campaigns. Independent bands avoid political activity. There is no soul in it, only good earnings.

Question: What sort of show can we expect? I saw the 2000 show at the North by Northwest Festival...has the band changed much?

Answer (Nikolai Rubanov):
Auktyon concert is not exactly a show; actually its not a show at all. Its an opportunity for 1.5-2 hours to peep at how a little tribe performs its ritual on the stage. Its a different reality, different life; because of it each concert is unique. On the other hand, if you saw the performance in 2000, I hope youll find some similarities. At the very least all the musicians are the same; except a little older and perhaps a little heavier.

The events happening on the stage dont follow a rigid script. Lately we dont even know which songs will be performed in the concert. Usually, before coming on stage we decide which song will be first. If we are lucky, we can determine the name of the second, but there is no guarantee that it will be performed at all. Welcome to the show!!!

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