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