(We present Comrade Aleks’ interview with Igor Sidorenko of the Ukrainian band Stoned Jesus, with photos by Oscar Szramka.)
Here come the robots! The outfit Stoned Jesus (Kiev, Ukraine) was revealed by the Solitude Productions label in the year 2010, with the label then releasing their first (after two demos) full-length release – First Communion. Stoner doom from Stoned Jesus acquired new features and developed over the years and became more artistic, energetic, and alive, so the number of the Stoned Jesus congregation has grown steadily.
In February 2015 they released their third album – The Harvest — and the idea of doing an interview with them began to take shape gradually, but their busy concert schedule became a serious obstacle on the way to transfer this plan into life. Anyway, Igor Sidorenko (guitar, vocals) took the time to answer the quiz directly from the epicenter of another tour. And one more thing – it’s not just another doped stoner band, check the “Here Come the Robots” song… you know.
Salute Igor! How are you? What’s going on in Stoned Jesus’ life?
Hey! We’re currently on tour with Mars Red Sky and Belzebong, so I’m writing this to you from a nightliner, with Goat’s 2012 album playing in my headphones.
Stoned Jesus’ first album was released by Solitude Productions, and the second one named Seven Thunders Roar was on Moon Records. Did this label change reflect on the band’s life?
I don’t really think labels influence a band’s popularity in the XXIst century. Besides, all the promotion has always been done by myself alone, with labels handling the technical side (printing CDs, organizing digital sales, etc). The result of this work is pretty impressive, but mostly because of the music itself I believe. Even if you’re God Of Marketing, people won’t follow a shitty band.
Your new album The Harvest was produced by Iнша Музика. I was thinking that you already had a deal with some major label, considering the band’s extremely active tour schedule!
Look, we’re still minor players in the eyes of the machine. Like you know, we’re playing Hellfest’s stoner stage this year, a 30-min long morning set – that doesn’t sound too cool for the labels, does it? People love us, but we still have a lot to prove…and this is what we do these days basically.
But you did play on other big fests before Hellfest — you were booked on Desertfest in 2015, you have Up In Smoke in 2016, how was it?
First of all, Up In Smoke is a Roadfestival (this is how they call it), i.e., a tour. Second, yes we’d played Desertfest Berlin in 2014, Desertfest Belgium in 2015, and even were scheduled to play Desertfest London this year, but cancelled due to visa turmoil – nothing serious, just figured we wouldn’t have had enough time to make UK visas. As for playing major festivals without any major label’s support – well, people they love us, so bookers and promoters take that into account. Otherwise all festivals would be filled with signed bands only.
Stoned Jesus – Here Come The Robots
The songs on The Harvest are absolutely killers – they sound heavy, powerful, and clean. How much time and efforts did you put into this record?
Well, it took us almost 18 months to finish it – either we were going on tour or our soundproducer was busy – and we threw a shitload of money into it. But we’re more than satisfied with the result, it’s actually the only StJ album I can listen to. The playing is great and there’s almost no studio trickery involved – none for the vocals at least! It means I had to sing every line for like 666 times, ahah.
What are your plans for the next record considering the tight tour schedule you already have for this year?
Being a setlist freak I would really love to fit the next album entirely on future setlists. With previous LPs we had too many cases of “oh we don’t play this one live”. Now the idea is to present the album live the way it is exactly on the record – we’ll try to fix this gap between “live StJ” and “studio StJ” for this one! Our touring schedules are kinda crazy right now, yep, but if you need to build the band, you have to play a lot of shows. The best thing is we’re really in demand for these shows, we’re not over-saturating the market, we’re playing exactly as much as they need us to.
By the way, Stoned Jesus works as a power-trio and your work is bloody effective. Did you ever face some problems on the road when one of you were unable to take part in a gig?
I remember losing my voice mid-tour back in 2012 – we had to play one show almost instrumentally, and it was horrible! Last year our drummer got his passport stolen in Budapest, and we had like one week off before the next leg of The Harvest Release Tour. Cancelling wasn’t even an option – we’d cancelled way too many events last year anyway – so we had to find a new guy in two-three days, with a Schengen visa and ten job-free days, who’d learn an hour of material! At the same time we were trying to get Viktor out of the situation he found himself in, so that was one stressful period for us. Fortunately it all turned out good – we toured with a session guy and Viktor returned home – but I hope for less troubles like these in the future.
The artwork of The Harvest is very simple, why did you pick up this one? And okay – what’s the best artwork of 2015 from your point of view?
When we had the initial material for The Harvest – the deep, elaborated, proggy one – there was a certain idea for the cover. But with the songs getting heavier and more in-your-face we thought we’d need a different artwork as well. Our bass player’s idea was to drop a line to David Cook – we didn’t think he’d even respond! – and see what we’ve got… I love this art a lot, even though most people prefer The Indian from Seven Thunders. As for 2015’s releases, Freddie Gibbs’ Shadow of a Doubt has this amazingly striking image on its sleeve, even though I’m not a fan of artist’s pics for the cover artwork.
I suppose that you finally formed all the ideas you had on previous albums in the material of The Harvest. What do you feel is the musical fundament of Stoned Jesus?
Well, I wouldn’t consider myself done composer-wise, and the guys are always eager to bring anything to the table. I feel pity for those who pigeonholed us into a certain genre, and now they’re expecting us to work within its framework for the time being. Of course we’re a rock band, with some proggy leanings, psychy atmosphere, stoner drive, etc, but we don’t have a paragon of our own style yet, fortunately. But you’re right, The Harvest is a logical development of those first two LPs’ ideas, it’s quite obvious from the melodies.
Stoned Jesus – Stormy Monday
Is it possible that Stoned Jesus will visit Russia in the near future?
Unfortunately no, we’re definitely not playing in Russia — in the nearest future at least. Not only due to political difficulties, but also because of those crazy religious groups, which are getting more influence on the authorities. I’m talking about shows and whole tours being cancelled, I’m talking giants like Slayer or Behemoth, I’m talking smaller bands like Batyushka or Dysphoria. And what’s more important, we got things planned concert-wise for months ahead, and this is mostly Europe. Even in Ukraine we play like two-four shows per year now.
That could be an uncivil question, but how do you manage to live through the tour, as Stoned Jesus is not a totally commercial band, though you’re professional musicians with skills, talent, and passion to play this sort of music?
Well, define a “professional musician” first, hah! Considering the amount of touring, it’s easy to understand while we’re able to sustain ourselves. We don’t have any families to feed or super-important commitments, we’re focused on this band 100%, so we keep the hand-to-mouth way of life for now. Of course it would be great to have some extra money to afford some backline of our own (yes, Eastern Europe’s Leading Stoner Rock Band doesn’t have a backline of its own, breaking news!) or build a studio/rehearsal room we’re eager to have. Let’s hope this will happen sometime soon.
How do you deal with the amount of merch you take with you on tour? How do you restock it, and were there situations when some locals robbed you? I remember the story how some dudes stole about 40 t-shirts of The Grand Astoria somewhere in Germany (???), can’t imagine how they used all of their booty…
Oh, I remember this crazy story as well! We got fined once in a German airport ‘coz we forgot the merch invoice, but otherwise it’s usually fine. With vinyls being printed by Berlin’s Nasoni Records and CDs by Kyiv’s Moon Records it gets tough to keep track of what’s in store sometimes, but we’re doing our best.
Stoned Jesus works with a professional agency that has helped you a lot with the organization of gigs. How does it really help you to deal with gathering people for your shows?
Still working with the agency, if you ask me, that’s why I’m writing this while being on tour! Sound Of Liberation have been in the business for ten years already, and they’re the main dudes right now if we’re talking the European psychedelic/stoner-rock community. Name a major band within the scene, and I’ll tell you they’re working with SoL for sure. But of course they wouldn’t have noticed us if we were average, hah, so go figure where we got all these sold-outs and busy touring schedules from.
The band actively conquers Europe and you even played in such countries as Romania, the place that is a dark and unknown corner for stoner bands. How was it touring there?
Romania was a nightmare, maybe it’s because of the sneaky promoter, maybe because of the shitty roads, maybe because of sleeping on the floors and all that. We decided we’ll lay our adventurous spirit to rest for now, so we’re skipping Romania in favour of other territories like Greece, Poland, or Germany.
Stoned Jesus – Electric Mistress
Stoned Jesus did hit the road in February, and your schedule is filled tight ’til April – how do you plan to survive this?
Yep, this is where I’m writing to you from now, that’s why it took so long with an interview, hah. The Polish-Baltic tour was a huge success, now we’re in the middle of our French-Polish-German nightliner ride, then we’ll have two more weeks for France… And we’ve just announced South America for this May, stoked! What helps you though this all is a maximum level of concentration on the most important goal, which is – to play music and to enjoy everything around. Here’s to that!
Igor do you see a chance to cover more distant places like Japan or the States? And is there a country in Europe where you haven’t played yet?
Of course we’re looking forward to the territories we haven’t played before, especially such vital markets (forgive me this figure of speech please) as US or Japan. But it depends on the bookers and their level of responsibility mostly. We do know people love us out there, and we would love to tour anywhere, but sleeping on the floors and playing for gas money should remain in 2012 where they belong!
And yes, there are places we haven’t visited yet even in Europe – Scandinavia remains a mystery to us, UK is a (not so) distant dream too, we’d play more in Italy if we could, etc. Discovering new places is awesome: we have sold-out Helsinki recently, playing there for the first time ever! This is how it should be like, you know, this is what we’re aiming for.
Hadn’t checked in on these guys in a while. That was a mistake.