Interview with Egor Letov.
"Outlying Nervous System" No.2, 1990


This is Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense) with its leader Egor Letov and Jana Dyagileva (called Janka). For the purpose of getting the most true impression about these people and their music, it's best to read these fragments from an interview that was done by E. Letov for the underground magazine "Outlying Nervous System 2" from Barnaul.

MRR: Tell us the story of Grazhdanskaya Oborona.

E. Letov: It began in 1982. We founded the group called POSJOV (Crop) under the title of a well-known book, and we played some fusion of punk, psychedelic and music of the 60ís. I lived in Moscow in my brother's flat, and he constantly brought discs from Novosibirsk Academgorodok. So I heard The WHO and other groups. I got into it. Since I was 10 years old I became a fan of that kind of music. I have a theory that every person who was involved with that artistic set became sometime later like a glass, filled to overflowing... Just a lot of creative energy was accumulated. I don't know anybody from that set who didn't begin to create something in his own way. When I was 16, I decided to collect my group and begin to write some songs. I bought a bass guitar in Leningrad and organized my group POSEV in Omsk. There were guitar players Babenko (now he is a member of CRIZISHOE OTDELENIE (Crisis Department)) and Kuzja (now he plays bass in our group). We played till 1984 and after changes in our lineup, we renamed our group GRAZHDANSKAYA OBORONA (Civil Defense). We played just at homes or in basements in Omsk. It was so hard. It began with Babenko's mother. She heard our records and then went to the KGB (she was a Communist Party of the Soviet Union member). She told them, "Comrades, my son is involved in an anti-Soviet organization." There was a kind of scene around Civil Defense at that time and there we could read fanzines written by Aksenov, Strugatskie... And at March 1985 the KBG opened a criminal file on us. It matured by November. They visited us and collected information. They interrogated everybody and threatened everyone with the most terrible things for each of us.
Once one of my friends, who worked in a discoteque, brought some audio technics for recording to my flat. Then the KGB met him at the station and told him that there might be some trouble with his new born daughter. He turned pale, returned to my flat and took his technical stuff back. The others were pressed by the same means.
But I could only guess about that. I was a designer at a factory, and "the First Department" began to take an interest in me. We were all taken in hand by the KGB in November. They tried to throw the global blame for anti-Soviet organization, act of terrorism, and so on, on us. They wanted to blame us for making preparations to destroy an oil refinery. They threatened us. Our "crime file" reached Moscow. Kostja was conscripted in one day in spite of a heart insufficiency. Moreover, he was sent to Bajkonur, into a closed zone. I was threatened with application of "truth-calling" drugs. I didn't tell them where I had received the fanzines. They told me that they could also blame me for my voluntary betrayal, and didn't tell anybody about their pressure. It was carried on for a month. I never tasted drugs before. I never felt something like that, never. And there I began to think about how there is no meaning in doing anything. I decided to commit suicide. I wrote the note, "I have committed suicide under pressure of Major Vladimir Vladimirovvich Meshkov..." and so on. They found out about it by an unknown way. I can't guess even until today. I was taken into a "nut ward" and my "criminal file" was stopped. They made my friends give a written undertaking to break off any relations with me. My friends were warned by the public prosecutors department. And when I was discharged after 3 months isolation, I had no one to play with me. So I began to learn to play on different musical instruments. I was alone through the year and composed some songs such as "Ice Under Major's Feet" and "Totalitarianism." We were called fascists and were doused in mud by Omsk newspapers. In 1987, I recorded all my songs by myself. "Red Album" and "Optimism" were composed at that time. The first album was "Nasty Youth." Also I recorded "Necrophilia" at the same time. After that we came to Novosibirsk festival. We didn't contemplate playing there. But "Zvuki My" didn't come and Murzin suggested that we play instead. And we played. The electricity was cut after the first 20 minutes of our performance. Somebody called the Omsk department of the KGB. We were registered and named "exponents of fascism." After my return to Omsk, they wanted to put into a "nut ward" once again, and for a long time. I had made the acquaintance of Janka that time, so I took my jacket and sack and went away as "sistemnik" (as a member of Soviet underground hippy's organization). It had happened in 1987 and I was hiding during the whole year. I was wanted by the militia. So I travelled all over half of the country and sang songs, playing guitar. By December of 1987, I was informed that the search was over. I had returned to Omsk and I lived so peacefully through the month. Then I recorded new songs "Everything Goes According to a Plan" and "The Steel Was Tempering In Such a Way." I was in a great hurry, because I was frightened of new actions by the KGB. It was 1988. We went to the Novosibirsk festival, where we played with Selivanov. I think that he was the best guitar player in Siberia. He committed suicide last year.
We began our concert tour after leaving Novosibirsk. Usually, we played in basements. We visited a punk festival in the Baltic Republics, played in Moscow and Leningrad. In 1989 we decided to make our studio record. We went to Leningrad and began our recording at the studio of "Auction" group. During our recording I began to understand that high quality recording excluded some important parts of our conception. I stopped our recording, packed, and went to Omsk. Then we recorded 4 albums just in my flat. I think it must be that way.

MRR: How many albums have you released?

E.L.: In all? There are about 15. They are "Nasty Youth" and "Optimism" from 1985, "Red Album", "It's Good", "Totalitarianism", "Necrophilia", in 1987; "The Steel Was Tempered In Such a Way", "Fighting Stimulus" and 30-minute live record "Songs of Joy and Happiness" in 1988; "War", "Fine and Forever", "Armageddon-Pops", "Russian Field of Experiments" and a compilation album "Red March." That contains different versions of never before recorded songs of 1989. And there are some other solo-albums. Well, I think that there will be no more albums. We will play once or twice after Barnaul and that will be enough. I will play with Janka.

MRR: How many albums have you recorded in cooperation with Janka?

E.L.: Well... They are: "No Permission" in 1987, "Go Home" at 1989, "Angedonia" at 1989. There is one more album called "Tumenian Album", but Janka renounced it because the drummer from "Instrukcija Po Vyzivaniju" (Instruction For Survival) who took part in that recording made many terrible mistakes. That recording was strange as hell, but it's the most known. Then another Janka made her recordings at the cooperative "April", the "Melodiaís Department".

MRR: And what about your albums?

E.L.: I don't want to release any albums. They suggested that to me, but I refused them. I have no relations with official organizations. It's my principle, because then everything will be depreciate. I donít want something like this to happen with us, as happened with "Aquarium".

MRR: Is the "G.O." line-up stable enough?

E.L.: We have been playing together for a year and a half. There was some small period apart, just for the rest. We can't live without each other. It's like a commune. But I think that we must stop it after Barnaul. Now it's that sort of situation in the country, that they make money by rock music. It's just a profanation. People come to concerts as they would go to a discoteque, only for jumping and crying. Or there are some athletes who want to listen to some arpeggios or some timbre layers. I don't think that rock is music or aesthetics. I think that it's a kind of religious movement. I want to play the kind of music that we played in basements of Novosibirsk. It's better to me if there are only ten persons in the concert hall, because they really want to listen to me. It seems to me that it's absolutely impossible in our country to have such a small show.

MRR: It was written that thereís a "G.O." record released in France.

E.L.: The record with some 'round the world punk was released in BRD. There are some American groups, English groups, and groups from Thailand and Peru. And there are two of our songs on that record. Now they want to release our EP. And some Frenchmen wanted to make us popular. They wanted to make a high-quality recording with drum machines and synthesizers. I refused them. And now they sent our records to other European punk firms that produces cassettes and records and I am the last to know it. And I don't know what was released there. Well... our record was released in Denmark, but it's not too interesting to me. There is no one in the West who can understand what is going on in our country. There is a large wave of our groups who want to make it in the West. I don't know why. Everything is so rational and everything is all right there. Everything, including culture, is sorted out. They've invited me to visit France. But I think that I'll stay home. Their mentality is so different from ours. And everything is just opposite in our country, everything is going through the ass and they donít understand it. It seems to them that everything that takes place in our life is a kind of vanguard... Really, that it's a kind of pathetic vanguard. And everything that is so serious and everything that comes from the soul are looked upon as aesthetics, like nonsense. They would be horrified if they could understand it.

MRR: Did Bashlachov's works exercise influence on you? And what do you think about his life and death?

E.L.: I think that he was the greatest rocker in our country. When I heard him for the first time, it exercised influence on me. Well, it wasnít influence in fact, because I came from another base in music and texts. I came from "garage" rock of the 60's and punk of the 80's. And he had no connections with that. He had Russian roots and came from a Russian verbality. And everything was mixed on the 'trash' principle, but wasn't 'metal'. Just when it's a single riff and some monotonous verbal construction on it. It's a kind of voodoo, it's growing and then it's falling, and so on. And he found it by his soul. His "Ballad of Egorka" is so global. That's the essence of his influence. When I saw him for the first time I couldn't understand how he could sing in such a way. I composed short, melodic, but cruel and hard songs at the same time. And he wrote six-minute vast compositions. It was a dreadful stream of mentality. It was with dreadful, bright and aggressive. And this has no connections with aesthetics. I think that nobody can understand him 'till now. And I find more and more common features between his and my works. You can understand him, if you can find something inside yourself as he has. I have understood his "Crookie" quite recently. He's the greatest person who has ever been there. And when I met him in 1987, he looked so bad. He looked like an absolutely broken and destroyed person. He was completely dispirited. And I was at the top of my energy and I believed that something could be changed, and he didn't believe in it. I was so broken then. And now I've understood him.

MRR: What do you think about his suicide?

E.L.: I think that it's a single way and natural end for a fair-minded person in our conditions. If you have a fair mind, you can understand that you can't change anything. And if you progress, if you develop yourself as a personality, you'll lose any connections with the outside world, because after some time nobody can understand you, and you'll find yourself in a vacuum. Then, if you can find some powers, you'll progress and then you'll become the saint, I think. And if you have such a kind of mentality and if you understand that you can't change anything - it means that reality will kill you.

MRR: What do you think about the end of the world?

E.L.: I think that the end of the world is everything that is happening right now. The end begins when live creative energy is destroyed. I don't know the terms of human creation. Maybe it was only an experiment. I don't believe that man appears just on the earth. There have been some prophets and teachers on the earth at all times who want to drag our civilization out to some kind of non-human sphere.

MRR: Do you speak about the USSR?

E.L.: Oh, not yet. It's happening on a world scale. It's just happening in the West, and now it's happening to our country. The death of culture is going on - the death of religion, of art, of philosophy. Culture is impossible under civilization. People lose their creative energy and they lose their connection with the universe. And this is the end of the world. I don't know how long it will take. Maybe will take millions of years, but it's really the end. Humanity can't exist without creative individuals, because everyone will destroy each other. In our country, there is "Pamyat" ("Memory", Soviet nationalists), for example. Pink Floyd in their album "The Wall" told us about some creative individuals who became targets for blowing off any kind of hatred. Recently the writer Boudarev said an interesting thing. He said, "there are many Jews who hide themselves under another nationality." That is, a Jew becomes not a national enemy, but a metaphysical enemy, who could be of any nationality. That means that you and me can all be Jews also. That's all. That's really the end.