(In this interview Comrade Aleks spoke with fellow St. Petersburg resident Vitaly Belobritsky, a founder as well as vocalist/guitarist of the Russian band Psilocybe Larvae, whose newest album (their fifth) was released last December.)
Psilocybe Larvae turned out to be a constant element of Saint Petersburg’s metal underground. Being formed in 1996 on the Baltic shores of Vyborg, they relocated to the Russian “Northern capital” soon and firmly established there. Usually they tagged their music as “melodic death doom” but they were always different genres in-between.
Psilocybe Larvae developed from album to album and if you compare, let’s say, Stigmata (2000) and The Labyrinth of Penumbra (2012), you’ll find both a lot of common ground and a lot of differences. It’s always a pain in the ass to categorize Psilocybe Larvae’s material, but it’s the last thing they care about, and that’s the right attitude indeed.
The band’s only remaining founding member Vitaly Belobritsky celebrated Psilocybe Larvae’s 25th anniversary with the release of their fifth album Where Silence Dwells in late 2021, and for me, as always, it’s easier to talk with the music’s author than to waste my time trying to explain an author’s intentions.
Hi Vitaly! How are you doing? Let me congratulate you on new Psilocybe Larvae’s album Where Silence Dwells. Do you plan to present the new album live?
Hi Alex! So far so good! You know I’m very excited about our new release. This is a big thing for our band considering the fact that it has been nine years since the previous one came out. So thank you for your congratulations! Yes, we have two album-release shows scheduled in the coming months in St. Petersburg and Moscow. We are also planning to do some mini-tours but it seems it would be very difficult to book even a single show because things are constantly changing due to this pandemic, and the economic situation in Russia is not good either. As you might understand, we can’t make it to Europe as well. So I’m afraid to make plans for the future 🙁
How many times did you play since the quarantine started? Are you already used to this state of affairs with almost zero gigs in your schedule?
We were recording an album and searching for musicians when all this shit started. So gigs were the last thing we thought about at that time. But when the line-up was completed we managed to play two shows in St. Petersburg, perform at T’ma open-air festival in the woods near St. Pete, and celebrate the band’s 25th anniversary in my hometown Vyborg in 2021. At the end of last year, we also played our first online album release concert and it went great! It was an unusual thing for us but it turned out to be a really big and professional show! You can watch it here:
How was this live stream show organized? Was it your own idea or was it someone from outside who offered you this?
I was approached by the guys who worked in the Pushkin Media Group and organized the Rock Palace open-air festival at the beginning of the 2000s. They offered to do an interview, talk about the festival, and record an online concert. I was interested and after a while I went back to our conversation and came up with an idea to do an album release live stream show. I thought that given the current situation, it would work, and I was not mistaken. Within a month, the gig got eight thousand views. For us, these are good numbers.
Psilocybe Larvae was born in 1996. A lot of things have changed since then: venues opened and closed down forever, promoters appeared and vanished as well as labels, magazines, and e-zines. Do some of your old contacts still work?
Sometimes it works like in the example with the online concert. It relates to labels and webzines as well. We are certainly not in show business, but even in the underground everything is built on personal connections and contacts.
Do you still associate Psilocybe Larvae with your hometown Vyborg? Or do you see it as a band which belongs to swamp-city Saint Petersburg?
I feel a deep connection with Vyborg personally because this is the place where I was born. I like its medieval streets, Karelian nature. This is still my source of inspiration. By the way, there is one song in this album dedicated to Vyborg, called “Sorvali Cemetery”. Sorvali is the Finnish name of one of the areas of the town. The cemetery was abandoned and ruined in the Soviet period when Vyborg became a part of the USSR after WWII. I decided to tell about this place and wrote lyrics about an unquiet spirit wandering through the cemetery. I tried to show the connection of times, that indifference and disrespect for the past lead to the destruction of history, memory, and human values.
But returning to your question I can say that objectively Psilocybe Larvae is now a St. Petersburg band, because all the musicians are living here and the majority of the band’s existence is connected with this city. Undoubtedly, St. Petersburg gave the band an opportunity to develop and reach the level that we have now.
I remember when you toured actively before — what’s the further point on the map you reached with Psilocybe Larvae?
It was Volgograd if we consider Russia, it’s about 1800 km from St. Petersburg, and Schuby in Germany where we played at a local open-air, and the way to this place was more than 2000 km one way. It’s not that far, really, as flying to the USA or Australia. But, being a completely underground band, we are limited in our travels due to the long distances even in Russia, not to mention other countries. It is hard to make it work out financially. Sometimes it’s really easier for us to play a few gigs in Finland or in the Baltic States than to arrange something like that in Siberia or the Urals where, by the way, we have never played. However, we are working on it despite the fact that covid is messing things up everywhere.
Did gigs’ orgs ever invite you to play beyond the Urals?
Nothing concrete, because it’s hard to realize it financially. Well, we’re just not ready to go there at our own expense.
Where Silence Dwells was released by Fono LTD and the Japanese label Red Rivet Records; how did you get in touch with them? Does this deal with Red Rivet grant you new opportunities?
Nothing difficult. I just emailed our promo to different labels. Fono ltd and RRR showed interest in releasing the album and offered acceptable conditions. I do really appreciate it, and although they have limited capacity to promote the album, I think we made a good deal (actually a gentleman’s agreement). Sure, I hope that through RRR we get an opportunity to expose our music to the Japanese audience, but I have no illusions in this matter. I’m used to relying on myself mostly! 🙂
Psilocybe Larvae started in those times when the CD format was popular. Did you have any income from CD sales back then? Do digital platforms guarantee a more effective way of getting compensation for your music?
Yes, we had some income. Not so much, but that was enough to pay off our studio expenses at least. Today everything went into digital realms. It works out and can help bands to get noticed, but anyway digital platforms take a cut of revenue from your sales and streams. leaving you with next to nothing. There are some great resources like Spotify that could be a good platform for people discovering your music but you can’t make much money off that thing. We use Bandcamp, and I think this is a good tool for the DIY band to sell your merch, but anyway without gigs it doesn’t work. The biggest income for the bands has always been touring and merchandising. It’s a fact.
Metal-Archives are blocked in Russia because of some NSBM band(s), and for similar reasons they blocked pictures (!!!) in Bandcamp. Did you face any other restrictions of this kind with the band?
We don’t touch any political ideology in our songs and don’t set churches on fire, therefore we didn’t face these problems. Our authorities just don’t know about our existence, but we must understand that anything can happen in our country. You wake up and metal has already been banned. 🙂
Psilocybe Larvae’s fourth album The Labyrinth Of Penumbra (2012) combined all kinds of the genres you have ever done musically while adding new musical directions. How would you compare The Labyrinth Of Penumbra with Where Silence Dwells? What are the principle differences between these two works? I see that on the one hand you have that dynamic and progressive death metal material but also some electronic parts which, honestly, confuse me a bit. Also I believe you’ve said that this new material would be more simple, but I wouldn’t agree with that.
In Where Silence Dwells we continued adding new music directions. This album combines some gothic and even post-rock elements with our traditional dark atmosphere of doom metal and the heaviness of death metal. The main thing for me is that we managed to get a more organic sound, close to our live sound. It’s along the lines of wall-of-sound, which we couldn’t get on the The Labyrinth Of Penumbra album. I don’t think that there are too many samples, this is a more guitar-riffs-oriented album. Electronic parts are used as a background to just emphasize some elements and set the atmosphere. All in all, this is a very diverse record, so everyone can find something they like. Yes, the structure of the songs is simpler than on the previous album but it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to digest. Undoubtedly, this album requires some time to dig it. The more interesting it is for the listener, I think.
Was it more difficult for you to orchestrate all of these new elements to make the material sound more organic?
I’m used to doing it since the very first album and I have a solid sample library. Computer and audio workstations allow you to do practically everything, of course, if you have certain knowledge and skills. During the period of Non-existence and The Labyrinth Of Penumbra our former keyboardist Dmitry helped me out with keyboard parts and all arrangements because he is a professional musician and composer. But on the new album, this work was done by me.
I see that the band’s lineup has been updated, as Alexander Yakovlev (drums) and Anton Veresov (guitars) joined you in 2021. And I see that they have a rich background. How long have you known each other? Why did you choose to recruit them?
Yeah, they are all our old mates that we used to hang out with and share the stage with. These guys have always been big fans of Psilocybe Larvae and very skilled musicians, which is also a very important thing. By the way, Alexander played in our band twice a while back and now this is his third coming 🙂 So we thought, why not give it a try? We all came together, played some songs, and it worked out. Everything sounded very powerful and tight, exactly what we were looking for, and what we lacked with the previous musicians.
Did they take part in the Where Silence Dwells recording?
No, they didn’t. Because they joined us when the tracking was almost done and I was finishing recording my vocals, and then the album was sent for mixing. I hope we get a chance to make something together. It would be interesting.
By the way, three years ago you said that the band had been working on new songs for almost a few years, that the foundation for the recording was laid, and that you just needed to do some adjustments on the songs. And yet it took three more years, and you recorded songs in different studios. What happened?
Actually, it needed more time to correct drums and bass parts and to improve my vocal parts. We had no intention of letting the album appear until we were satisfied with the result. So I can say that hard and painstaking work was done before entering the studio. At the same time, we parted ways with our rhythm guitarist Roman because of a lack of motivation from his side. He was slowing us down and we just wasted our time, therefore I decided to record all the guitars myself.
The entire recording from start to finish was undoubtedly a great challenge for the band. After the drums recording, we decided to split with our drummer because it was clear that he would not be able to play the songs properly live. As a result, we finished the album together with the bassist Alex. During the process I re-recorded a third of all guitar parts because I wasn’t satisfied with how it sounded, Alex corrected and re-recorded some bass lines. On top of that, while recording the vocals I damaged my vocal cords and had to recover my voice for about 3 months, and of course the quarantine restrictions affected the whole process too.
We used different studios and rehearsal rooms to cut our expenses. You know we are not backed by major labels and were forced to pay all costs from our own pocket. Therefore, we used different studios and rehearsal rooms, trying to find optimal solutions to cut our expenses without compromising the quality of the recording. Nevertheless, I am really satisfied with the way the album sounds!
How do you see the band’s place on the Russian extreme metal scene now? Can we suggest that bigger gaps between albums weaken a band’s position? Or does that not really affect anything? How do you see it?
Digital technology has changed everything. With so many releases coming out every day, it’s hard to stay afloat and be recognized. Therefore, many bands are now releasing singles and EPs to be in the public eye. I realize that in our case, we kinda start everything from scratch. But we do it for the love of music, not for some benefit, and this is something that we have to deal with in our spare time. So I prefer to have one great album than two or three shitty ones.
As for our place on the metal scene, time will tell, but it doesn’t really matter for me because there are many more things that I need to get done. The main thing is that for our fans we are number one. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were waiting for the album and how many kind words we got after its release. It really gives us strength and motivates us to move forward!
Your song ‘Soul Trekking’ appeared in the Doomed & Stoned in Russia (Volume 1) compilation this year. How did it happen? Are you satisfied with Psilocybe Larvae’s appearance there? Your track was put right in between psychedelic stoner sludgers Pressor and Rada & Ternovnik. I know Billy’s motivation behind this series of compilations, but it’s very unbalanced in the end.
I got a message from Anton Brukov who worked with Billy on this compilation. He asked if we would like to participate. Sure, I agreed because it was a good opportunity to present our band for the Doomed & Stoned auditory. Anton choose the track and we shook hands. Yes, this compilation turned out a bit patchy for my taste too. I would put it in blocks, like traditional doom, sludge, stoner, doom/death and so on. But, you know, it shows the Russian scene as it is, very versatile and diverse, sometimes weird 🙂 As for our band, it’s hard to define our music to a specific genre and I think that’s not bad 🙂 We also faced this problem when our band didn’t make it into your Doom Metal Lexicanum book, as you remember. I always take it easy, bro!
I think to fix in the future that last issue you’ve mentioned, but there’s nothing certain today, so nobody knows what’s gonna happen tomorrow. Well, let’s stop on this if you do not mind. How would you like to finish our interview?
Ok, Alex! Thanks for your interest in our band, it was good to chat with you! I wish that you all stay safe and healthy, especially during a challenging time like this. See you guys at the gigs, sometime and somewhere!