Gut Reactions to an Empty Stomach: "I Drug Moi Gruzovik"

Today marks the third occasion that we've written about Ukrainian funk-rockers I drug moi gruzovik ("My Friend Truck & I").  The reason for doing so is a happy one: the release of an album, entitled Zhivot (tr. "Stomach" or "Gut"). It first appeared not long after the New Year and is therefore wrapped up with all kinds of festive- and tour-related news on the band's website.

The images in this post are also from the same timeframe, showing Anton Slepakov, Rostislav Chaban, and Denis Shvets over the last few weeks. Cold weather and thick clothing makes it harder to tell them apart.

Perhaps most important of these recent newsflashes, the album aside, was the band's tenth anniversary on Russian soil. That distinction hints quite clearly at a longer period spent working at home - before anybody north of the border paid attention. This ability to garner press attention in two countries over ten years has come, not surprisingly, thanks to one fundamental PR technique: touring.

As some of the images here suggest, the trio is constantly on the road, which led to a recent question from the Russian press as to where "a real sense of home" might be. Is it in any particular Russian town, maybe somewhere in Ukraine? The answer: "We feel at home pretty much anywhere. Any place where you're safe and warm, away from the 'frontline,' where there's a cozy, friendly atmosphere. A place where you can turn up unannounced at a friend's house, dry off your socks, boots, or camera... since they all get soaked by the rain. A place to drink hot tea or Glühwein, listen to some good music... and chat about all kinds of stuff."

Interior decoration is clearly not a concern.

"...Thankfully we can find that atmosphere in all the towns where we tend to live or work. In any case, a sense of freedom isn't something that you find in a given location; it's inside you." This good-natured introspection is somewhat at odds with the new album, which - by the band's own admission, is marked by higher levels of "grown-up cynicism and pessimism," often directed against the mass media. One of the tracks we offer here, at the bottom of the post, even suggests that radio stations be burned down to the general benefit of the public...

...Thankfully we can find that atmosphere in all the towns where we tend to live or work. In any case, a sense of freedom isn't something that you find in a given location; it's inside you.

And that subversive thought brings us to the new CD. The album's title is contextualized and explained by a small blurb that was recently placed online. "The human stomach is virtually the only thing that gives away an individual's true age. A person might look fairly young, drink bootleg gin, and even sleep with his windows wide open [in the Russian/Ukrainian winter], but he'll not be able to hide his gut forever. The stomach is a kind of sentence passed on a careless youth; it's the result of an offhand attitude towards oneself. It comes from not thinking about tomorrow..."

The discussions below were probably not about health and fitness (esp. from the young lady on the left, transparent liquid in hand).

Any rough & ready songs dedicated to this ongoing struggle between carefree hopes, adult frustration, and professional problems are unlikely to match the jollity of the CD's purported raison d'etre. And indeed they were recorded in a way that reflects a darker, almost knee-jerk reaction to a changing, sometimes disappointing world: "The new album is practically a live recording, even though it was all committed to tape in the studio. It was done in a deliberately raw manner, as loud and powerfully as possible. There's no virtually no overdubbing or editing... and the whole thing was finished in three hours[!]."

The new album is practically a live recording, even though it was all committed to tape in the studio. It was done in a deliberately raw manner, as loud and powerfully as possible. There's no virtually no overdubbing or editing... and the whole thing was finished in three hours[!].

Ironically, this CD - designed to criticize various failings in the music business - fell foul... of the music business. A major problem emerged in the printing of the discs. When this disaster came to light, the band immediately went online to inform their fans.

"The entire first print-run has ended up being trashed. We've managed to fix everything ASAP; by tomorrow evening we hope to have the new CDs ready. When, however, those discs will actually reach us - not to mention you guys - is another issue altogether. It's entirely possible that things won't be ready before the start of our tour... Unfortunately there are some situations over which we simply have no control. They occur due to a lack of supervision, slapdash standards, bureaucratic holdups, a lack of time, and - sometimes - fear."

Time spent outdoors helps to restore a sense of perspective.

These hassles have produced some paradoxical rewards, since Zhivot is, without doubt, one of the most powerful Russian-language albums of the year. As we know, these forty-two minutes, recorded over three hours, meant that editorial work was basically out of the question, so the level of gruff, impetuous energy here is extremely high - to a point where Anton Slepakov's vocals are sometimes inaudible: impromptu outpourings get the better of rational expression. At times the project almost approximates a form of primal scream therapy.

This same severe, if not masochistic, degree of instinctive expression has also found its way into a phrase used to promote to the current touring schedule. Shows of late have been advertised under the heading of "No Pity for Our Gut." This can be understood in terms of "unwise" energy levels, dictated by audience expectations, rather than the band's health. Likewise it could be interpreted in the context of a ten-year career that continues according to the rationale of passionate commitment, rather than fiscal well-being.

As for the album's gritty, ever-funky sound, however, we shouldn't forget that in several published chit-chats, the members of I Drug Moi Gruzovik have also linked their trademark, well-slapped basslines to something felt "in the gut, especially if you stand next to the amps. The low notes make your stomach shake."

The same feeling can be reproduced with six feet of compacted show and a pair of cheap jeans.

Although some offshoots of this band - such as Negruzoviki - were pioneers in offering free downloads after the collapse of the music business, the members of I Drug Moi Gruzovik have now asked their fans not to up- or download copies of Zhivot for free. Journalists, not surprisingly, immediately said this request was proof that the group, for all their prior generosity, clearly needed to make at least some money. This same request, they added, was the end of online romanticism, the place where freely distributed music finally goes head-to-head with the demands of one's "stomach."

Perhaps ironically, perhaps not, our musicians have countered this view, claiming that real, bona fide fans will respect the request not to upload the album.

"Our close friends and listeners will absolutely respect that request." They add a somewhat peculiar analogy: "Imagine if your girlfriend asked you, 'Oh! I look so fat in that photograph... Please don't show it to anybody.' You'd know, of course, that it's just a matter of bad lighting or some unfortunate foreshortening in the image.  In fact, you know that girl better than anybody - and love her however she might be: skinny, fat, or otherwise, right? So you could show show close friends and family the photo. It wouldn't matter..." The logic here seems skewered, but the point is clear. Sympathy, respect, and fidelity will be forthcoming from the best, most loyal admirers.

The faithful few will keep things going.

Whether those fans are enough in number to keep one's stomach at a functioning level, though, is another issue. The group was asked three simple questions a few weeks ago. They gave three simple answers. "Is it easy being a musician right now?" "No, it's not." "Do you earn enough to make a living?" "No, we do not." "Are you obliged to work second jobs?" "Yes, we are."

The tension between online romance and daily realities is palpable. With an empty stomach, so to speak, only a gut reaction to the importance of music will keep things going. This is a face-to-face struggle between feelings of satiety and spontaneity, between logic and love. It may have given us a fantastic album, but the cost is evidently high, in several senses.

No wonder the smiley face on the album's artwork has a black eye.

Audio

I Drug Moi Gruzovik – Mir dlia khudykh (A World for the Thin)
I Drug Moi Gruzovik – Molodezhi (Young People)
I Drug Moi Gruzovik – Papa igraet na bas-gitare (Dad Plays the Bass)
I Drug Moi Gruzovik – Radiostantsii (Radio Stations)
I Drug Moi Gruzovik – Urok (A Lessson)

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