Revolutionaries don’t repeat those around them but create something of their own
Eliza Hyde interviews tAngerinecAt following the vinyl release of their album GLASS
I began talking about my experience only after I was 30 years old thanks to anarchist activism, and the first few years that I sang about anything connected to my own experience I wore dark glasses.
Hello there! It's an honour to have this opportunity to ask you some questions about your band and the music you make!
First of all, how did you come up with the name of your band? Does it have a particular meaning?
It was in 2014 when Russia first invaded Ukraine. For Zhenia as a person with cPTSD it was a very traumatic event that led to serious mental health issues so we decided to leave Ukraine which we hadn’t thought about before. Also, Zhenia was persecuted due to his anarchist, queer, antifascist, feminist, and mental health activism and things became extremely difficult for us. All this led to isolation and our only friend was a big ginger street cat who was very sweet and friendly. It was very hard to say goodbye to it, and on the plane, Zhenia suggested renaming our band in its honour. We write it as one word because the capital As stands for anarchism and they also look like a cat’s ears. For us, this word represents faithful friendship, commitment, belonging, and freedom. tAngerinecAt is a state of being that you long for but perhaps have never experienced, like hiraeth.
Who are the members of tAngerinecAt, and what are your pronouns and interests outside of music?
Zhenia Purpurovsky: I’m a nonbinary who was born in Ukraine during the Soviet period, came to UK 7 years ago, and now is a British citizen although ethnically I’m Ukrainian/Jewish. My pronoun is he/him although sometimes I feel like I’m gender-fluid, but I feel rather awkward when people call me “she”.
I studied music and theatre from 10 years old. I have national awards as a poet, singer-songwriter, composer, and actor. I finished a 10-year course at music school in 5 years on the Bandura and Pavlo Chubynsky Academy of Arts in Kyiv specialising as an orchestra conductor, folklorist, solo artist, and music teacher. I wrote poetry from 5 years old and music from 10, and learned from well-known Ukrainian producers, studio engineers, vocal and stage speech teachers. I performed as a solo singer-songwriter and in different music projects – from folk to doom-metal. I studied academic, pop, and Ukrainian folk vocals, and was invited to join the H. Veryovka Ukrainian National Honoured Academic Folk Choir when I was 16. Paul and I also attended lectures of Ukrainian Carpathian ethnic music by Mykhailo Khai at the National Music Academy of Ukraine in Kyiv, and we both went on numerous folklore expeditions to the Carpathian Mountains. I self-studied Sean-nos – unaccompanied traditional Irish vocal music. I also worked as a theatre studio director for teenagers from abusive families.
My first performance was at the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional Philharmonic in a composers competition when I was 11. Since then, I have performed a lot including on regional and national TV. Unfortunately, my family was very poor and abusive, and didn’t support me but demanded I work for them for free, so I ended up in terrible poverty, homeless, disabled, exhausted, with serious mental health issues, and working in hard physical labour, without any hope for a better life. tAngerinecAt was my new beginning when I wasn’t very young anymore so I feel like I have to work hard because I haven’t much time, haven’t any music industry connections, and I’m from marginalised group.
Also, as already mentioned, I was involved strongly in activism when I was in Ukraine. It was mainly direct street action and online.
I live a quiet life. Actually, I hardly have time for anything apart from my music work because we are unsigned independent musicians without management or PR team, and I’m disabled. But, when I have time and am able, I like cooking something interesting and going on long walks. I like to read, especially about psychology (I don’t mean pop psychology) and watching meaningful films from anywhere in the world but I have no capacity at the moment for this. I like to go to concerts of unique and original music but there aren’t any where I live, unfortunately. I am very interested in different cultures and I like various types of art. I went to an art studio as a child and wanted to be an artist but my parents didn’t support this either. I like beautiful free standing and table lamps, insence, Chinese food, owls and other animals.
In tAngerinecAt I do production, sound design and mixing with Paul, and also do arrangements, sing, write lyrics, and play hurdy-gurdy through effect pedals.
Paul Chilton: I was born in Cheshire and lived in Ukraine for 19 years. Now I live in N.Wales. I like traveling, meeting people and discovering interesting things, especially from older people who experienced life in a different time, although to be honest I haven’t done this at all recently for the same reasons as Zhenia. I like to watch films and read books sometimes. My preferred pronoun is they but it’s not such a big issue for me and I don’t feel very gendered at all.
In tAngerinecAt I do production, sound design and mixing with Zhenia, and also play whistle, synths (mainly self-created), back vocals, and trigger beats, samples and effects on stage.
Musically, you combine a host of different genres together. Was this always the case, or has your sound evolved over time?
Paul: We have always combined different genres but our sound has definitely evolved over time. We became an electronic act quite early on but originally we played different acoustic instruments.
Zhenia: Our sound is always evolving as we continue to learn and listen to a lot of different music so we have a lot of new influences.
I'll be asking you about your lyrics shortly, but on a purely musical level, how important is it to get the sound just right? In terms of creating a mood, an experience for the listeners?
Paul: Creating a piece of music involves a lot of different disciplines and years of experience. It’s important to be happy with the result. Sometimes you create something that you are happy with very quickly. Sometimes it takes longer and some things you discard on the way. Maybe that answers the question, not sure.
Zhenia: I think, you need to be on a certain technical level as a musician to create what you talked about in your question. Talking about us, we work on every detail and everything is in its place and has its function.
What instruments do you use to create these soundscapes?
Zhenia: Almost all our sounds and electronic instruments we create ourselves from scratch. We mainly use electronic instruments because we find that this gives us more opportunity for creativity and control, although it’s harder to do everything yourself than work in an ensemble where everyone plays one instrument, and requires more skills. We also play some acoustic instruments such as Hurdy-Gurdy, Whistles and Duda (Ukrainian Bagpipes) as lead instruments but with effects, and we use them in other ways too…
Paul: … nearly all the synths that you hear live are instruments created from our own self-made samples that we played and recorded ourselves of Vocals, Duda, Hurdy-Gurdy, Whistles, industrial and nature sounds etc. For example, I record a drone sound of the Duda or broken glass, and together we transform it into a rhythm section using various techniques and plugins to manipulate the sound, or I map it to the keys on the midi-keyboard, add effects and play a lead.
How is it performing live, and what kinds of audiences do you tend to get at your shows?
Live at Sesiwn Fawr 2022. Photo by Remade Guitars
Zhenia: I have been performing since before I can remember! So, there is nothing special about it for me, and for me, quality of sound, venue, right audience, right conditions so I can sing to full capacity etc is very important which is very hard to achieve as an unsigned independent musician. Still, I feel great joy in connecting with the audience and the opportunity to express my love to people and make them happy.
Paul: Our audience is so broad that it’s very difficult to say. We have fans of any genre of electronic music, industrial music, metal fans, hard rock fans, psychedelic music lovers, people who like pop music… We went down well at prog-rock festivals and we attract some fans of drone, noise, and experimental music. Generally, people tend to discover us and say things like “I didn’t know I would like it so much! I never listened to this kind of music before!”
Zhenia: Artists really like our music, probably because of its visual/cinematic side. We have a huge amount of fans who have mental health issues and who find our music healing and familiar to them. Also anarchists, migrants, BAME, queer people, and especially gays from all over the world. We have fans from the UK, Japan, France, Italy, Germany, the USA, Canada, Ukraine, Australia, Denmark, Norway… and we really want to do a world tour as soon as we have the chance!
Your latest album, Glass, is a very atmospheric piece. In equal parts melodic and abrasive. What was the process behind the creation of this record?
Paul: It’s hard to pin down an exact process or method but generally it begins with one sound or melody, or idea. We often create a whole rhythm section from one sound that we manipulate in various ways, especially with pitch and speed effects. It’s not uncommon for us to start with one thing and as the song develops replace it with something else. And one thing can inspire something different. On Glass, we mainly created the rhythm section first and built everything else into that. We wanted to use our breaking Glass samples throughout the album because this was important to the concept.
Zhenia: Paul talked about the technical process but from an ideological and emotional perspective we drew upon my experience as a migrant, war in Ukraine, something from my personal life and feelings, and our knowledge of Ukrainian mythology.
There seems to be a theme throughout several of the songs - the sound of glass smashing in the background...When did that theme become prevalent in the writing process?
Paul: The idea came when we created the song Something Broke Inside. We set up a microphone and smashed an empty wine bottle on a stone floor. I tried to break it carefully but glass flew everywhere and we were lucky it didn’t hit us. The smashing glass worked so well with the subject of Zhenia’s lyrics and gave the music an extra hard-hitting edge that we really liked. We liked it so much and as we both agreed that there is so much symbolism in the breaking glass that fits our narrative perfectly we decided to make it a theme throughout the album.
What is your favourite piece from the Glass album?
Zhenia: Every song is valuable to me in different ways but most of all I like to perform Molfar because there are so many harmonies at the end that sound so lush live, and I can improvise with vocals which I really enjoy. Also, I love the message and raw emotional content in it.
Paul: I also like Molfar live and I enjoy playing Mass of the Black Cats because there is a lot of improvisation, and it’s never exactly the same.
You're very passionate about your activism. Tell us about some of your experiences.
Zhenia: I was mostly involved in activism when I lived in Ukraine. My grandparents were very politically aware and active and so from childhood, I was very anti-Soviet (against totalitarianism and Russian imperialism) but I began taking part in street protests from 2012. In 2012 was the first protest action that I took part in, and it was the first LGBTQ+ protest action in Ukraine. It was in winter. We stood with banners and we were surrounded by a wall of officers from a special armed police division as seen in the photo below. Members of the most radical far-right party in Ukraine also showed up and started to attack us with gas canisters. I got gas in my throat. A lot of my comrades were beaten but I was able to get home safely. It’s very painful for me that Max Levin who took these photos and also photos from many other anarchist protest actions that I took part in, was taken captive and killed by Russian occupants this year.
In the time after this, I took part in various Antifa, anarchist, feminist and queer protest actions in Kyiv, and made my own actions with Paul.
We stopped touring in Russia in 2014 when they invaded Ukraine for the first time but before that, I received calls with threats whenever I was in Russia, and Russian leading fascist organisations who work alongside the government started stalking me and my friends online.
Do these experiences shape the music (both instrumentally and lyrically) in any particular way? Are any of your songs directly protest songs?
Zhenia: I don’t believe there can be any directly or indirectly protest songs. That I do music at all, raise my voice, and talk about my issues is already a protest. Many with such severe trauma as me don’t survive, not to mention actually doing something, especially if it’s in public. Generally, we are very isolated, full of fear, and silent.
I began talking about my experience only after I was 30 years old thanks to anarchist activism. The first few years that I sang about anything connected to my own experience I wore dark glasses because I was very ashamed. Now all our songs are about my personal experience as a migrant and a queer person from a working-class background who was abused multiple times and discriminated against but survived and rose up, so all our songs are directly protest songs.
There are some musicians, primarily from the middle class and title social groups, who have little experience of oppression or resistance, and who use different protest slogans in their lyrics which makes them trendy in certain circles. As I talk from my own genuine experience, this makes my music and lyrics unique but at the same time unfamiliar to this kind of people so they dismiss my protest and refuse to call what I do protest at all. Actually, I think this happens because they want to keep power, don’t want to let you into their “tribe”, want to continue to appropriate other people’s protests, and retain the benefits from this. Probably, my words also make them uncomfortable because they contribute to oppression.
Revolution happens when the life and thinking of a person change, and it’s by no means the result of fashion, belonging to a particular sub-culture, loud stomping or shouting of slogans. Protest has a lot of faces and images, and the most powerful voices aren’t always the loudest. If we want to see changes, we should listen to all voices. Revolutionaries don’t repeat those around them but create something of their own.
Talking about how anarchism and activism influenced me to create what I want… it’s because I realised that I have power and I can be responsible for my life and create changes in myself first of all. My appearance at protest actions helped me to get rid of fear before other people and studying anarchism caused me to learn to think for myself, resist authority, create my own way and not be dependent on the opinion of music industry gatekeepers who will ignore you anyway. The latter is very important for musicians because the music industry is built on connections, family and friends network, big money, and is highly gendered, age and geographically dependent.
Which song/s of yours are the most personal to you?
Zhenia: The whole of the album GLASS is very personal to me.
What lies ahead for tAngerinecAt?
Paul: World domination of course!
Zhenia: We are in the process of ordering new merch. Also, we are looking for a visual artist who will help us to create our next music video, and we are going on tour with our album GLASS in November. Below is our full up-to-date show schedule till the end of 2022.
You are welcome to book us if you want to see us in your area!
Artwork by Caroline Julia Moore
Thank you so much for your time! I look forward to seeing what you have in store for us next!
It was very nice to chat with you. Thank you, Eliza!
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Eliza Hyde - Trans writer, radio presenter, Whovian, Youtuber, metalhead, tea addict & horror fan. Derbyshire Times top social media influencer.