Based in Astrakhan, in southern Russia, Vespero have been quickly developing into one of the most exciting instrumental bands on the contemporary Space Rock scene. Utilizing elements of Space Rock, Psychedelia, Krautrock, Progressive Rock and ethnic influences, Vespero morph, mutate and blend their various influences into music that varies from one album to the next, but is always uniquely Vespero. After reviewing several of their releases and playing their music on Aural Innovations Space Rock Radio for some years now, we wanted to get more information about this electrifying group of musicians and conducted the following interview via email.
THANKS to Igor Gorley at R.A.I.G. for facilitating communication and translation!
Aural Innovations (AI): Vespero formed in 2003 and your first album (Rito) was released in 2007. How did the band come together originally and tell me about your activities in the four years that led to the release of Rito.
ARK (bass, keyboards): I started to play bass guitar and synths in a local psychedelic-rock band MIRABEAU. It was disbanded in 2003. Violinist Valentin Rulev and I decided to continue as VESPERO. We were joined by my brother Ivan on drums, Alexander Kuzovlev on guitar and some other musicians. During the first four years of existence, we were experimenting with various arts and styles, including Russian futuristic poetry, avant-garde theatre and dance, academic and pop music, rock and jazz… we’re searching to stabilize the line-up and to develop our own style. I think the core of the band was formed somewhere in 2004-05 when keyboardist Alex Klabukov came on board and Valentin left for Germany.
ALEX (synths, keyboards): I would call that time a period of training and education. We were learning to listen to each other and interact properly. We made quite a few amateurish recordings before Rito, but those were mostly drafts and low-quality live tapes. So I wouldn’t recommend that stuff to connoisseurs ☺
IVAN (drums): Many local musicians passed through the band that time. We were working with several singers, but the best one was Natasha Tyurina who joined in 2006 and helped to shape the concept of VESPERO for the next few years.
AI: Were there any specific goals or “grand plan” in mind at the beginning?
ARK: I think, no… We just wanted to play together and try ourselves in various areas like acid-jazz, post-punk, prog-fusion, avant-garde, psychedelia, etc. Then, we met Igor Gorely, a chef at R.A.I.G. Records. He selected several compositions to make our debut album. And when Rito was out, it became more or less clear to us what we want to do.
ALEX: We have different music tastes. So, I think our primary goal was to learn how to perform music that suited all of us. We’re still digging this, by the way ☺ Another goal was – and still is – to get maximum satisfaction from making music. I enjoy our rehearsing or recording sessions very much – the feeling is like magic pumping through our veins!
IVAN: Yes, Rito was probably a big turning point for us. No special plans before that, and suddenly we realized that our music is important for many other people, not only for us.
AI: It’s been interesting following Vespero’s musical evolution. Rito had a lot of variety, including ambient-soundscape elements, Gong-like space rock, space-groove-jazz, avant-prog-jazz, and spacey ethnic rock. And then the next album, Foam, was stylistically very consistent, with most tracks being characterized by an ethnic/tribal/ambient brand of psychedelia.
ARK: Chronologically, Foam was recorded before Rito, in December 2006. It’s a live bootleg which was re-mixed and published in 2008 on request of the New Jersey record-label Trail Records. That time, we played as a six-piece band and tried to add some authentic ethno-touches to our music. Foam is the first album of our “Liventures” series – a special line for presenting our live recordings, alternative versions, covers, etc.
IVAN: I really enjoy that period. For about six months, we had two drummers in the band. It was a great experience playing with Alexander Krupin, former MIRABEAU’s drummer.
AI: Both Rito and Foam had a female vocalist, and Foam had her on most tracks. But I don’t think I recall hearing vocals after Foam (except for Jennifer). Was there a specific reason for dropping the vocals?
ARK: Natalia Tyurina is a very talented singer. She was performing with VESPERO from January 2006 till June 2008. Then she left Astrakhan for Saint-Petersburg. We decided not to search for a replacement and switched to completely instrumental music. Our final work with Natalia was the studio album Surpassing All Kings, our second official release at R.A.I.G. It’s very different from Foam though. Arguably, that was an album with the strongest “prog-rock” influences, a sort of our own vision of “progressive rock” music. Surpassing All Kings was also the first album which was mixed and mastered by Alisa Coral of Space Mirrors. That partnership was very important to us – Alisa helped us a lot in finding our own sound.
AI: By The Waters Of Tomorrow went in a different direction, having lots of quite complex progressive rock. But there is a lot of variety and the space rock elements are prominent. For example, I like how Amaryllis starts off somewhat whimsical and then blasts off into a blistering space rock jam, then transitions to the more complex prog structures, and then back to space rock again. But yes, the prog rock elements took me (pleasantly) by surprise when I first heard this album.
ARK: By The Waters Of Tomorrow is a keystone album for us. We knew exactly our strong and weak points as well as what we wanted to achieve. We strived to expand our sound palette and invited Vladimir Belov, a cellist from Saint-Petersburg to join the line-up. Some tracks featured guest appearances of our past-member, violinist Valentine Rulev, flutist Natalya Dosoyevskaya, back-singer Elena Belozyorova, and synth-master Alisa Coral who also did the sound-production. Yes, prog-rock influences were strong on By The Waters Of Tomorrow… yet I hope we managed to create something beyond the genre’s clichés ☺
ALEX: Working on that album was a real challenge. We used new music equipment and recording technologies in our studio. And we wanted to give more fluid and atmospheric character to the songs. It’s great to learn that many music lovers around the globe assessed our efforts.
IVAN: We are grateful to all musicians and producers who helped us to make it possible! Vladimir Belov’s contribution to the album deserves a special mention. He is an incredible musician who has a unique feel for the balance between composition and improvisation.
AI: Sticking with the progressive rock influences topic, by the time The Split Thing was released a couple year later some of the music on those three tracks had taken on an overtly classic 70s progressive rock sound, though we’re also starting to see the high intensity heavy rocking space-ambient-prog sound emerge that would be more fully fleshed out on Subkraut.
ARK: I think that three tracks for The Split Thing reveal a softer, more delicate side of our music. We were honored to make a split release with one of Sula Bassana’s bands but had no intentions to sound like Zone Six or Electric Moon. The main idea behind that album was a contrast between free improvised, tough and heavy stuff of Zone Six and relatively short, structured and atmospheric instrumentals of Vespero.
AI: I liked the first three albums and The Split Thing a lot and for me these made Vespero a band to watch. But Subkraut was the first Vespero album to really blow my mind. In my review I made references to a more space rocking version of Korai Orom and mentioned Ozric Tentacles as analogies, though Vespero has their own sound that is distinct from those bands. Subkraut has some incredibly intense music, with tribal ethnic influences and some really cool deep space jazz infused space rock.
ARK: Thank you, Jerry! We love the music of Korai Orom and Ozric Tentacles… but Subkraut was mostly inspired by the German kraut-rock scene of the 70’s. We wanted to show our respects and delights to the bands like Amon Düül II, Tangerine Dream, Can, Guru Guru, Neu!, Faust… We love what they did and believe that their influence on modern pop and rock music can’t be underestimated.
ALEX: All tracks except the cello parts were recorded during three sessions at our rehearsal spot with subsequent overdubs. We plunged into kraut-rock retro aesthetic and tried to filter it through our own visions. Subkraut is yet another experiment for pleasure ☺
IVAN: You’re absolutely right about “tribal ethnic influences”. Our homeland is a crossroad of multiple Asian and European cultures. The echoes of ancient ethnic sound still can be heard in people’s songs of the Astrakhan region.
AI: Subkraut also had a very interesting theme and packaging. I’ve got the basic edition with the big beautiful map. And I’ve seen pictures on the RAIG site of the Seebar edition with the hard cover case, booklet postcards, vintage photographs, U-Boat pennant replicas, dog-tag and cuff-title. Tell me about what inspired the theme of this album and what all the items that accompanied it mean.
ARK: The design and packaging for Subkraut was in the ZonderZond design studio. It is directly related to the album’s plot… Actually, Subkraut tells the story about the expedition of the mysterious German submarine U-530 to Antarctica that happened somewhere in between 1940 and 1942. We used various conspiracy theories related to New Swabia, the ice-free Schirmacher Oasis, the “Highjump” expedition to Antarctica by the US admiral Richard Byrd in 1947, secrets of the modern German “Neumayer III” Antarctic station… and set forth our impressions in the manner of Matt Ruff, an American author of thriller, sci-fi and comic novels. Those who are familiar with his “Sewer, Gas & Electricity” could remember that the eco-terrorist submarine “Yabba-Dabba-Doo” found its shelter right under Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbor… on the ruined underground berth for German U-boats. There was an old signpost in that fictional place saying “U-boats Willkommen Hier”. We thought it sounded like a proper title for our conspiralogically satiric kraut-rock-tinged album ☺
AI: Droga, your latest, is another total mind-blower. This is another album with lots of complex progressive rock compositions, though you’re still deep in space. In fact, I think I made more analogies to other bands than any previous Vespero review I’ve written. At the end of the review I said, “imagine a cross between King Crimson, Djam Karet, Ozric Tentacles, and early Genesis, and you might get something like Droga.” I think that variety of references I made speaks to the difficulty of trying to describe your music.
ARK: Thanks again, Jerry! Making Droga we wanted to express our feeling of the space within and around us. In some sense, these are wordless songs about our homeland – the Astrakhan region in Sothern Russia… about strange smells of the endless Steppe, huge empty prairies where ancient legends and mythos were born. Someone defined Droga as “Space-Canterbury” music… Probably, this is the most accurate description of our style ☺
IVAN: I think Droga exhausted our potentialities within the “progressive rock” genre ☺ I wouldn’t do another album in the same vein.
AI: So each album has its own distinct qualities. What kind of planning goes into a new Vespero album? Do you just get together and jam and see what happens? Are the tracks carefully composed?
ARK: Oh, it’s early to speak about a new Vespero album ☺ Making music is definitely a collective process for us. We think out new structures together, play a lot of jam-improvisations around invented themes, develop compositions, search for interesting harmonies and original sounds, and so forth. We can do it endlessly… until something wonderful happens: we get the album idea. In fact, any details can spur us – a new place we visit, another book one of us finished or movie or just a good story.
ALEX: We’re currently studying ancient Slavonic harmonies and folklore… our guitarist is learning to play an 8-string mandolin with a bow processed through a dozen of filters. We’re full of new ideas. But no one knows when all these exercises lead us to a new album.
IVAN: That’s true, we are very curious, sensitive and unpredictable persons ☺ So, it could happen any time.
AI: You’ve appeared on several Fruits de Mer compilations in the past couple years. The recently released Vespero single has two Pink Floyd covers, and you have contributed two Faust covers to Fruits de Mer compilations. Is there anything about Pink Floyd and Faust that stands out among your influences?
ARK: Pink Floyd and Faust are among our favorite bands. We were always curious about how their music could sound in our interpretation. But I don’t think we would ever go for making covers without Fruits de Mer Records. It was like Keith Jones invited us to a candy shop ☺ Thanks for that!
IVAN: I don’t know if we succeed in our retro-travels, but yes… it was excellent experience.
AI: Do you get to play live often? Where do you usually play and have you ever played outside Russia?
ARK: We play regularly in our hometown – probably once a month. And we tour Moscow and Saint-Petersburg twice a year. So… no we don’t get to play live often. This year, we were invited to play in Kiev, Ukraine. Except that, we have never performed outside Russia.
ALEX: But are always open to any invitations and proposals ☺
AI: You come from Astrakhan, in southern Russia. Is there an audience for the kind of music Vespero plays in your home town? Are there other space/psych/prog bands local to you?
ARK: We have about a hundred dedicated fans who come to our gigs in Astrakhan. We’re grateful for their support and happy to play for them. Though, our hometown is far from being a new capitol of space/psych/prog music ☺
IVAN: There are no other bands in Astrakhan playing this kind of music. We often share stage with MYSTIC MORRISON VISIONS from Volzhsky, a town located 400 kilometers from Astrakhan. This is a three-piece band playing superb prog-fusion music with some psychedelic touches. I would call them “spiritual brothers” of Vespero ☺
AI: Tell me about Vespero in concert. Do you typically play tracks from the albums? Is there any improvisation during your concerts?
ARK: We usually combine new material with already known songs in concerts. But stage improvisation is an important element of each performance. Live versions of our compositions are rather different from studio originals. Sometimes, we return to our earlier songs that are 3-4 years old and do some developments in composition and arrangement.
ALEX: Flight of the Lieutenant is a good example. This track was composed and recorded somewhere in 2011 as an exclusive for the French Falling Down IIV 2xCD compilation. The original version is around 6 minutes while the current live version lasts over 14 minutes. That’s how it sounded at our recent concert in Moscow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ff_oUEMDH0E
AI: Your Facebook bio mentions, “avant-garde poetry and live theatrical performance”. Can you explain what that means?
ARK: As I said above, we had a period of strong infatuation with the Russian Avant-Garde and Futurism of 1900-1930, and we often incorporated elements of dance, pantomime, poetry readings into our stage shows through 2003-2006.
AI: Any new projects or future news that you would like to share?
ARK: We are currently working on the Vespero’s second DVD-album based on the materials from recent concerts in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. Ivan and I are also involved in a collaborative project with guitarist Ilya Lipkin, a leader of the instrumental heavy-psyche band THE RE-STONED. A couple of songs have been already recorded, and we hope to continue in 2014, Let’s see what the Wood Horse Year will bring for us ☺
We send our warmest greetings to all music-lovers who believed and supported us through the years!
Thank you, Jerry, for this interview and opportunity to speak through Aural Innovations!
Home made discs and cassettes
Dust From The Silver Fingers (2004)
Milano 18.00. Live Vol.I (2004)
Like The Moon (2005)
Crabs Ashore (2006)
Bormotuha EP (2006)
Luxemburg 17.00. Live Vol.II (2006)
Concert at the Union Of Theatre Artists (2007)
Jet 5 Live (2007)
Official (studio) albums/EPs
Rito (R.A.I.G. Records, 2007, CD)
Surpassing All Kings (R.A.I.G. Records 2009, CD)
By the Waters of Tomorrow (R.A.I.G. Records 2010, CD)
Subkraut: U-Boats Willkommen Hier (R.A.I.G. Records 2012, CD / Krauted Mind Records 2012, 2×12″ LP – Germany)
Droga (R.A.I.G. Records 2013, CD)
Careful With That Axe, Eugene (Fruits de Mer Records 2013, 7″ vinyl – UK)
Liventures series (live albums)
Foam (Trail Records 2008, CD – USA)
Liventure #19 (R.A.I.G. Records 2008, CD-R)
Liventure #21 (Golden Pavilion Records 2010, 12″ LP – Portugal)
Liventures 2008-2010 (R.A.I.G. Records 2011, DVD)
Liventures, etc (R.A.I.G. Records 2013, CD-R)
Compilation & Split appearances
Psychedelic World Music (Trail Records 2012, CD – USA)
Falling Down IIV (Falling Down 2012, 2xCD – France)
Vespero & Zone Six / The Split Thing (Transubstans Records 2012,CD/12″ LP – Sweden)
Vespero vs. Temple Music – “Jennifer” (Fruits de Mer Records 2012, 7″ split vinyl – UK)
Shrunken Head Music (Fruits de Mer Records 2013, 2×7″ vinyl – UK)
Trail Records – Five Years In Space (Trail Recrods 2013, CD – USA)
Strange Fish 2 (Fruits de Mer Records 2013, 12″ LP – UK)
For more information visit the R.A.I.G. label web site at: http://www.raig.ru
Digital versions of all R.A.I.G. released can be streamed and purchased at: http://raig.bandcamp.com
Digital versions of Vespero’s albums can be streamed and purchased at: http://vespero.bandcamp.com