It seems that Kate Shilonosova is forever on the move. Something of a poster girl for the vibrant new wave of Russian alternative musicians, this feeling of transience is maybe a reflection of her growing fame; surely to be added to with her latest solo release, ‘дуб OAK’ (released by the RVNG label).
Regardless, for someone who is pushing hard at the edges of modern pop - with all the multidisciplinary and technological juggling that entails - she is nothing if not a traditional entertainer. Whether as singer with her brilliant post-punk band ГШ / Glintshake or solo as Kate NV, you are struck by her good old fashioned sense of fun.
One thing that is very striking on meeting her in the flesh is her openness and approachability. She is someone who has no time for starry nonsense, and is happy just having a natter. It’s an incredibly disarming aspect to her personality; as is her shyness. This trait is exacerbated tenfold pre-show. On bumping into her and her manager Tanya by chance in a Tallinn cafe (before a gig at Tallinn Music Week), it’s obvious that the gamine Shilonosova is a complete bag of nerves, almost unable to talk outside of a brief hug of acknowledgement. On stage she is transformed, almost magically it seems. She radiates an air of assurance that also encapsulates an otherness that has something of a ballet dancer’s remove. During her performances, she could be some modern day pierrot, entertaining the masses whilst somehow hinting at a considerable emotional and artistic hinterland.
This interview takes place in the flesh in two countries (Estonia, Slovenia) and three time zones and over countless emails and chatting on Blue Brother between Moscow, the UK and the Netherlands. Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity in action, so to speak? Could be. Over to you, once again, Kate...
Kate the Musician and Music Fan
GW: You are so focused it seems, your music feels so compact, confident, belonging to its own world. But how do you channel your energies over your two bands? It seems impossible. Are there two Kates?
KS: There are two Kates for sure. Each controls one side of my body, right and left. One is for NV and watching Sailor Moon and one is for ГШ / Glintshake and everything else.
Sometimes it's hard, because I confuse right and left. But I’m finally on my way to merge these two into a solid thing, so it will become obvious for everyone that Kate NV plays in ГШ / Glintshake.
GW: Can you explain the difference? Is it physical, or emotional? Is it just driven by music?
One is probably a guy. I’m not sure yet. There’s a lot of physical difference though, between Kate NV and ГШ / Glintshake. ГШ / Glintshake is very important for me because there are instruments involved. Of course, a synthesizer is an instrument too, [Kate’s main instrument in Kate NV] but physically you can’t change the sound of it by pressing it on the back or moving it upside down…of course you can in some way... but in most cases it won’t allow you to do more than you are supposed to do with it.
So in the end it’s all about a dance with an instrument; your body language, the way you “speak” to each other and relationship you have. The guitar is a very interesting instrument, the way it looks, the way people are holding it, the way people act with it. I’m still learning and exploring it all the time. And I guess it also means a lot that I’m a woman holding this giant object in my hands. If you know what I mean. And as NV I’m exploring my body itself. And my voice as an instrument for sure. It is so, so different. Even on stage it feels so much lighter. but maybe just because my guitar weighs 5kg!
GW: Tell me what drives the new (upcoming) ГШ / Glintshake record. When I last saw play you sounded very trippy, very long jams; Syd Barrett / Interstellar Overdrive style....
Did I tell you, by the way, that we finally managed to play a one-song-concert? Everything else was an improvisation. It is nice that none of the public was upset, but some of them were a little confused, of course. that was our first ever gig in Kaliningrad and people were waiting for some songs they know. And instead of this they got some random stuff.
Improvising at ГШ / Glintshake concerts is of course a very stressful situation; every time. In addition, it’s never possible to say whether it was good or not, because everyone has a different feeling or notions of what “great improvisation” is. I’m not even sure that it (“great improvisation”) even exists. From the sidelines it may seem that we are swimming around in a sweet syrup [sic], but in reality everyone is flying into some endless abyss, without a bottom. In general, the comparison of jamming with an LSD trip seems to me quite suitable, because everything depends on a context and so many things that surround you, so that you can easily jump from a very good trip to a bad one.
At the same time, it is always an experience. Creating music is a very intimate process and improvisation is something that you create on the go. At the rehearsals everything, of course, is much more relaxed, because there is no audience except us. But when you do it in front of lots of people, you feel completely naked. The goal for me right now is to relax at the concert the way I do during rehearsals. But probably it’s pointless. Maybe the most important thing of being on stage is knowing that there is always someone watching you.
Anyway; we have a plan to release two albums! An album of improvisations, actually a collection of our best 20 minutes hits, and a pop album, where there will be pop songs; a collection of our best 10 minute pop hits! Haha!
GW: I remember you telling me you drew all over Franz Ferdinand's arms after a show in Moscow. Why were Franz Ferdinand, or the visit of Franz so exciting for you?
I was 16 years old and that was my first ever concert outside of my home city. Franz Ferdinand were a super-hype and it actually was the first time when some new fresh and super-fancy band visited our country while becoming so popular around the world.
I went nuts after the show. First I asked them to draw something on my arms (which is ok) and then something happened (I got too excited) and while they were chatting with other people I drew all over their arms. I even had the intention to draw something on Alex’s face. That was a very good plan because they couldn’t stop me because they were busy talking to other people. I still cannot believe that they didn’t kill me. But now they have a good chance to do it pretty soon because we are playing as a supporting act at their Moscow concert.
Kate as International Polymath
GW: Where does your energy really focus on? My main feeling with you is you are restless, not in a bad way but you like constant movement. You get about, recording in Koeln, residencies in Japan, festivals everywhere…
I’m not restless at all! I actually feel that I’m not doing enough. Also I’m a huge fan of just lying in my bed watching walls, doing nothing. I love to sleep a lot. And to ride my bike around the city. I’m super lazy. Unfortunately I can’t do this all time.
GW: Didn’t record your LP ‘Binasu’ on a moving train?
No I never recorded on a moving train! I have no idea where this information came from. I love trains, I love to look out of the window, it’s very mesmerising. I can’t afford to let myself make music while those beautiful things are happening [outside]. I need to watch this.
What really saves me from lying in my bed all day long is my curiosity. Such a wild combo, being lazy and curious at the same time. So much struggle.
But curiosity always wins. If I had to describe my life in two words it would be “why not”. Although sometimes I jump to the next level of, “OMG why did I say yes” really quickly, but it always turns out great in the end. So no regrets.
GW: Painter, musician, dancer, from what I can take from our conversations you are well read... You said Turgenev's ‘Fathers and Sons’ was your favourite novel. Tell me about your painting or your reading? How does that feed into your music?
I read quickly but not often. For me, watching movies and reading books is a very intense thing. I’m quite emotional and these things really affect me. So I have to choose very carefully every book and every movie because it can completely destroy all my plans and beat me out of my schedule if I get too involved.
It’s the same with concerts and the theatre but somehow I got used to that. Or I’m on my way to. Recently I participated as a performer in a theatre play called ‘Motherland’. The whole thing is pretty intense for the public anyway, it’s a play of three-and-a-half hours. But being inside of it leads you to another level of depth and perception. I bet half of the performers fell into a depression for a week right after it all happened. And I wasn’t an exception.
Kate the Modern Dancer
GW: You have very intricate, precise movements when you play your keys and jerky movements when you dance. Do these movements signify anything? Or do they just happen?
They all just happen. I can barely control myself. I actually can just about - in a weird way - like I’m trying to stop myself and at the same time I’m trying to let go. Sometimes I really feel that all my moves look ridiculous and unfinished. But then I watch videos from the concert and it all looks completely different than I thought it was.
I always loved dancing but I’m not a professional dancer and usually when I perform it’s always a very stressful thing for me. Every time. It doesn’t really matter if I’m performing for one or two people or a very big crowd. I’m always very nervous and I cannot control my hands or my arms! Sometimes during a performance I always think… “What the hell are you doing with your fucking arms and legs, I don’t know: whaaa!”
GW: So there is no moment when it’s constructed?
Well, it’s kind of constructed, in some way. There are certain movements I want to do during a song but usually I am always asking “What are you doing with your body? Argh!!” For me the biggest goal during the performance is just to relax and not just have fun but let my body move the way it wants to move. I’m still working on that point and I am pretty sure that once I get that it is going to be really cool. At least for me.
GW: With bands like Shortparis and you, it’s always expressive movements. With “modern” Russian arts, there is always an inherent movement inherent, whether in Rodchenko, or Constructivism or Stravinsky or the ballet. And now I see it in these Russian bands. ,
It’s nice you notice that. I will think about that more. I’m trying somehow to connect the idea with musical language. When I was in music school I was studying piano and I was always wondering why, when people played piano they moved too much, like being too expressive. It irritated me a lot. And I asked my teacher why they did this, and she said the music moved them. But that wasn’t enough for me. Why couldn’t I not move? Do it my way? And the teacher said, You can do whatever you want. Maybe there is a cultural code there I need to understand. And for me I am definitely still at the beginning of my path. I really need to relax to express myself.
GW: Why are you so stressed about this then?
I’m not even stressed. I am just really shy. Really! I love Kate Bush. Her work is so varied. And the way she did things was just so chill and it seems she was so relaxed all the time when she did things. It’s easier not to be shy when I am in a band. It’s always easier with the bands.
I really wanna dance a lot, do awkward stuff and yet I keep screaming to myself, “Kate, be careful, people are not prepared for this shit!” No, I would really like to dance more, dance complicated, weird stuff. And I hope that my project with [Dirty Projectors’] Angel Deradoorian will help to understand all this stuff. We were recording a record together in Koeln. We have a band together and we’ve almost finished and it will be so much fun and I’m going to play guitar, play and sing a lot and dance ridiculous stuff!
GW: Do you have any dancers as heroes?
Maya Plisetckaya is for sure my hero. Not only as a dancer, but as a very strong person, a strong woman. I cannot even dare compare myself to her, I’m just a log of wood and need to work on my body much more.
GW: You say you’re shy and I do believe you! Yet it’s so funny shy people love stages.
I think, if you are curious about yourself and you want to find out more about yourself and move your boundaries, it’s maybe better on a stage. And I think people who are very shy are definitely very brave. Because they find they are shy normally they have to find and use things like a stage to express themselves the way they are. Other people wouldn’t. The first person who comes to my mind is Freddy Mercury It’s a very sad thing I think that the stage was the only place where I think he could be real. And true to everybody. Acting that way in real life, everybody would think you’re insane. Onstage people let you be alone and anything you want. They accept you, and let you be you. It’s funny and it’s very, very sad actually, very sad.
GW: Did you do that video for ‘Kata’ on the Moscow tram live? I could NEVER have danced in front of all those commuters.
It was a train that goes to the suburbs of Moscow and the “dachas”. I really played live, we made like 4 or 5 takes (we’ve been using a film camera as you might have noticed) and then combined them all together.
And yes, I was quite nervous but you should always keep in mind that most of the people don’t care about anything that surrounds them. as soon as you realise this, it gets easier to do a lot of things without being afraid to be judged.
Kate and Mother Russia
GW: Remember at Tallinn when we watched that act (tema kresta) from St Petersburg and you immediately said “oh it's so obvious they are from St Petersburg!” Tell me more about how you see the cultural and creative differences between Moscow and Petersburg.
People are divided into those who love Moscow and those who love “Peter”. It has always been so. These are two very different cities. Moscow is huge and restless, Peter is huge, but slow. It all depends what pace of life, you find more convenient. At the same time, it sometimes seems to me that the degree of insanity in Petersburg is a little higher, it seems that they are more detached from the reality in general than the Muscovites.
GW: I found out that the idea that yellow is the colour of madness, that it originated as a reference to the yellow paint of the Obukhovskaya hospital in St. Petersburg, which housed one of the first psychiatric wards in Russia. St P has lots of yellow buildings doesn't it?
Yes it does. if you read Dostoevsky you probably know of that famous St P “yellow” suffocating vibe.
GW: What's Moscow's colour then?
Pantone 7457 U
GW: Moscow's party scene is getting talked about a lot, for example, the "Pain" organisation, Bolь. You've lived there for a few years now, how do you see Moscow now?
Moscow is where my home is. The scene is growing constantly, there is a lot going on in electronic music and guitar music. Just two or three years ago it all looked like it was a sort of escapism, but now it seems that everyone finally relaxed and just do what they want to do without really looking at each other or America’s independent music scene. I might be wrong, but that’s how I feel now.
GW: You're from Kazan: What's going on in Kazan then? I saw in an interview that you had "many questions for the city" What does that mean?
Unfortunately last time I visited Kazan almost two years ago, so I can’t say much. Cities are like people. They grow and change all the time. I need to go there to see what happened while I wasn’t there. Making comments about it now would be very unfair.
GW: You once said Russia was careless with its musical legacy. How would you define that legacy and how it translates to pop music now?
I think everything has become much better now. I see more and more people are interested in our history, culture, why and how everything happened; let’s say a century ago. Not that we all denied “all that” [legacy] before, but rather we did everything, like so many others, with one eye on Western culture.
In any case, the internet played a huge role in this [process]. Everything became more accessible, free, but at the same time mixed. If we did not have such open access to information before (and it seemed that it was always better elsewhere), now it's interesting to return to the basics and our roots and explore something that is really close.
GW: I once chaired a panel with some Russian movers and shakers and at one point everyone said the Anglo-American music industry is now hidebound or old, but yet during the panel they used all these established Western pop music tropes and phrases, such as "new wave", and all these shitty PR language terms like "awesome". Which makes me think, if everyone's so confident, why do music people in Russia use this language? Or are they not confident?
Apparently you expected the Russian guys would say everything would like the first exhibition of the Jack of Diamonds Probably no one is ready for that yet!
People tend to hang labels on things, use clear terms and constantly compare something with each other. Most often, while reading a music review for the album of a new band, there is a name dropping with bands or genres all the time. Especially if it's hard to say what style the musician plays. This is absolutely normal. Many think by associations. I think there was only once in my life when I read a review on someone’s release, where no genre was mentioned. The music was described almost as an abstract painting would be. I had a clear impression of how it sounded.
But it was a pretty big longread. Probably I was the only one who read it till the end.
It must also be understood that most delegates are not musicians. It's still a bit different. while musicians and artists invent a new language, the rest are quite successfully trying to translate it into the usual one.
(Kate's LP as Kate NV, дуб OAK’ is out now on the RVNG label)