Tragically Unheard Of
Band O’ The Week

photo credit: Andrei Konst

I effing love Alina Simone. The first time I heard her was in a artist-related search on the incredible CDBaby. I was hoping to find artists who had the raw emotive sense of PJ Harvey and early Cat Power. Alina Simone was my answer.

I have also been lucky to experience her as an endearing person who adamantly pursues her musical goals. In fact, she tours the US, Europe and Eurasia frequently. When she’s not touring, Alina is switches her homebase between NYC and Carborro, NC.

The first time I met her, she was parked illegally outside of my former apartment and had mistakenly locked her car keys inside her car. After AAA came to rescue her we chatted it up like we had known each other for years and after she left Portland I have to admit I drove 111 miles (round trip) to see her play and interview her for Church Of Girl. ((( Read that interview NOW!!! ))). Almost a year later, I joined her on a West Coast tour where I switched between her opening act and her driver (she had forgotten her license in a town we have driven 150 miles away from) and I loved every minute of it.

While we drove south from Portland to LA, we talked about how playing music has impacted our lives, enjoyed some great scenery and some crazy adventures.

(ie. Between San Fransisco and LA we were allured by a mirage in the desert and drove several miles off track following signs boldly stating: “HOT TUB/COOL SWIM”, which I translated to “Natural Hot Springs”. My judgment was sort of lost since A. We were in the desert and B. the destination was really just a creepy, rusted, outdoor bath tub full of hot water they “bring from the source” and some reluctant senior citizens. After the lord of the land didn’t fall for Alina’s charm on our hopes for a 2-1 traveler’s discount, we continued to drive south towards LA with a story to tell.)

While on the road, we listened to hours of Alina’s primary influence, Yanka*, a “Tragically Un-Heard Of” Russian folk/punk singer. While on the trip, Alina had shared some un-mastered versions of her upcoming album, Everyone is Crying Out To Me, Beware, a collection of covers/revisions of Yanka’s work.

You are releasing a new album, in tribute to the Siberian folk singer, Yanka. Can you briefly tell us why you chose to do an album of her songs? What about her work is so meaningful to you? Do you stay true to her original song structure or do you translate it into your own style?.

Not to sound cheesy, but Yanka is my hero. Not only is her music powerful and haunting, but she lived this really authentic life, doing what she felt passionately about despite all of the constraints of both Soviet society and what people expected of her as a Russian woman. I would say that all of my covers differ somewhat from the originals, but some are quite close to her versions (usually slowed down a bit) while others are almost completely re-orchestrated.
Listen to Alina’s inspiration, Yanka*, play the original version of “Half My Kingdom”

Listen To Alina Simone’s revision of Yanka’s “Half My Kingdom”:

The music industry is definitely changing. Record labels are going bankrupt, mainstream acts such as Radiohead are embracing the digital era, gas prices are sky rocketing for touring musicians and affordable basic recording technology is available for the DIY musician. How do you define (or find) “success” in music making in such a time?

What a good question! I definite ‘success in music’ as getting to the point where you feel happy. The most important thing is to find a good balance in life and not drive yourself crazy. I got to the point where I realized that I just don’t want to take on projects that make me broke, angry or tired. So now the selection criteria is more like, Will it be fun? A good life experience? A totally new, artistic challenge? Not that I don’t want to work hard or am some kind of hedonist, but, you’re right, it’s really, really difficult to eek out a living as a working/touring musician and setting that as a goal involves significant life sacrifices, such as spending lots of time away from the people you love the most in life, and not doing other non-musical, but otherwise fulfilling projects. So for me it’s about finding a healthy balance. Awwww 🙂

You tour extensively throughout America and Europe. Any favorite places to play? Do you notice any different attitudes towards indie rock in your travels?

I love touring Europe because it’s just so incredibly beautiful and I love touring the mid-western US. Omaha especially is full of amazingly cool musicians and club owners. I would actually single out a number of venues in the midwest that are particularly artist-friendly such as the Triple Rock in Minneapolis, The Waiting Room in Omaha, Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center in St. Louis and The Record Bar in Kansas City. I think that, in general, the indie rock circuit is a very supportive one so usually differences in how you are treated have more to do with external factors like how much time and money a venue/promoter can devote to your show, rather than how much they appreciate your music.

Photo by Rachel Bernstein

I would consider you to be a self sufficient musician : You can play with others or you can fly solo. Do you prefer one to the other? What are the pros or cons of having a backing band or touring as a solo artist?. How do you feel the audience perceives your solo work versus seeing you with musical accompaniment?

Well, I think that my set sounds much better with a full band, though the solo thing does have a raw sort of intimacy which appeals more to some people. I love my band mates, but in a way, prefer to tour solo just because it’s easier to make ‘real’ friends on the road when you can have one-on-one conversations with people who you meet. Also, getting band mates to tour with me can be complicated because everyone has jobs and bills to pay, etc. So having the flexibility to jump into the car alone if no one else can come is pretty great.

I am a freak about hearing artists develop their sound through lo-fi demos. I am lucky enough to have a small collection of demos of you playing new songs solo. When you give these demos to other musicians, whom will play on your studio release, do you give them a vibe or musical instruction to work off of? How do they integrate their personal style to help create the final version of each song?

Wow, what a great question, Em! After a long time experimenting with different approaches, I settled on this policy: Find amazing musicians that you REALLY trust and who can read your mind. Then let them do their thing. Of course, I will work with them to polish up the rough spots, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m working with a small team of trusted, long-term collaborators as well as some professional musicians, some of whom are classically trained.

Listen to a solo demo, “Just Here to Watch The Show”, unreleased.

Listen to collaborative demo, “Day Glow Ave”: http://www.gaycondo.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/dayglowavewdrums.mp3″

Listen to “Saw Edge Grass” off of Placelessness (2007):

Any detailed plans you’d care to share about your next release?
Mmmm…my next album, ‘Everyone is Crying Out to Me, Beware’ will be released [later in 2008] on Fifty Four Forty or Fight! records. I’m going to start recording my next full length (original!) album this April as well.

*Yanka was an underground rock icon from Siberia/USSR. I would compare her to Kurt Cobain or early Cat Power. At age 24, she ended up drowning in 1991. “None of Yanka’s recordings were released commercially during her lifetime, but they circulated hand-to-hand as samizdat and she acquired a devoted cult following.” Hundreds of these recordings (including albums, live performances, remixes and covers) are available for free online. A fan also created a myspace in her memory. Currently this myspace page only has a little over 100 “friends”. Talk about the MOST Tragically Unheard Of Case yet. For more extensive information on Yanka, check out the biography Alina Simone compiled for the liner notes of her upcoming Yanka Tribute album, Everyone Is Crying Out To Me, Beware.

Here are some of my favorite Yanka songs…I do not speak/read Russian so they will have to remain Untitled…

Unknown #1 – dark, tangled grunge…reminds me of Bleach-era Nirvana

Unknown #2 – jangly indie-pop rock.

Unknown #3 – solo acoustic

“From Great Knowledge” electro remix….
Tragically Un-Heard Of Band O The Week Archive:
Adam Gnade
Fast Heart Mart
Podunk Nowhere


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