Gromyka: Distorted Soviet Retro Chic

By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
Published: October 29, 2014 (Issue # 1835)

If we’re seeing the restoration of the U.S.S.R. in Russia at the present, Gromyka may be the best soundtrack for it. Hailing from Petrozavodsk, the band sports the Soviet Politburo’s “pie” hats, suits and painted eyebrows — an allusion to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

However, its name stems from Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet foreign minister, whom the band refers to as its muse. In Russian, the word is also reminiscent of “thunder” and “noise.”

About to make its St. Petersburg debut this weekend, Gromyka can boast being the only band in the world whose music is driven by the Stylophone, a 1960s stylus-operated portable synthesizer most famously used by David Bowie in “Space Oddity.”

Performing in front of a giant photograph of Gromyko, the band also uses a metallophone, guitar, bass and drums to deliver songs about sports and peaceful uses of nuclear power, which were legitimate subjects for pop music of the Soviet era.

Although it first became known in March when it started uploading tracks on Soundcloud.com, Gromyka is spin-off project of Revolver, a veteran garage-rock band formed in 1988 which gained a cult following by performing at St. Petersburg underground clubs such as TaMtAm in the 1990s.

Revolver performed in the city last month, as well as Supermotozoids, the band’s side project which recomposes songs by international bands from the Beatles to Nirvana, making them sound like they never did before.

According to the vocalist Maxim Koshelev, who also plays the metallophone, for Gromyka he developed a special, “proclaiming” and “formidable” voice, as if he was speaking from a party rostrum in the 1970s.

The songs’ subjects appear to deal with mass stereotypes. Koshelev says that one of the first was “Pushkin,” because the name of 19th century poet Alexander Pushkin is the first that pops up in people’s mind when they are asked about Russian poets.

“Pushkin, Shishkin, Myshkin,” the chorus goes, also referring to 19th century landscape painter Ivan Shishkin.

“A huge number of people know only Pushkin, Shishkin and Myshkin, but Myshkin is not a Dostoevsky character but the famous Soviet goalkeeper,” Koshelev says. “I would like people to know more of their great poets and artists.”

Koshelev came up with the band’s name overnight after about 25 songs had been recorded.

“It was not very interesting to call ourselves Brezhnev but Gromyka fit well because we play gromko (Russian for ‘loud’), and we use distorted bass and rhythm guitars, which we never did in our other bands,” Koshelev says.

“It sounds like a fairy tale character, something from the Soviet era.”

According to Koshelev, the band took a different songwriting approach with Revolver. Unlike Russian rock groups, the band starts with a pseudo-English verse, which was later developed into Russian lyrics. But with Gromyka, it is in Russian from the start, which makes the song melody and rhythm different.

With about eight songs officially available on the Internet, Koshelev says the band now has a solid repertoire of 12 songs, with several new ones that have yet to be recorded. They include “Chaliapin” (after the Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin) and “Paustovsky” (after the Russian and Soviet author Konstantin Paustovsky).

According to guitarist Nikita Vlasov, the band adopted the Stylophone after their Faemi, a basic Soviet analogue synthesizer that the band used in the studio, stopped working.

“We spent some time looking for a replacement and chose the Stylophone because the sound suits us, and playing it looks quite bizarre,” Vlasov says. “We bought a huge amount of them from England on eBay right before Christmas. I still have a shelf full of spare ones.”

Vlasov says new songs started flowing after the concept had been defined.

“First, everybody worked out how to play, and who was who in the band. We decided that the bass guitar should always use a fuzz effect, that we should play with fast tempos, and that Maxim should sing in Russian with this kind of voice, using the Stylophone.

“Even with the Faemi keyboard, it was monothematic and when your opportunities are limited, you play in a more inventive way. Or the Epiphone Firebird guitar with a Boss Metal Core pedal — I had never played this guitar in my life and could not even imagine playing such things in a nightmare, but it turned out to be quite amusing.

“But even if what we do surprises a lot of people, we have a very serious attitude. Of course we may laugh but this is definitely not a parody or a joke!”

According to Vlasov, being in three bands at the same time is not an easy task. “Our personality is split in three; we even have to agree before a rehearsal on what band will be rehearsing,” he says.

Gromyka will perform at 8 p.m. on Nov. 2 at Fish Fabrique, 53 Ligovsky Prospekt. Tel. 764 4857.