I don’t have as much time to go seeking out new music as I used to. For the most part, though, I don’t really have to. More new music shows up in my inbox than I could possibly listen to in an entire lifetime. I also have an ever-widening circle of friends–many of whom are musicians, label owners, music bloggers, or some combination thereof–who frequently share their new discoveries with me as well.
I mention this not because I’m trying to do a humble brag (is that still a thing?), but because I’m fairly certain that Bjarla might be the first band I’ve stumbled across on my own that I’ve featured here at the Vault. I honestly don’t remember how I discovered the Moscow-based pagan folk band’s Instagram page. However, I quite vividly recall how thoroughly entranced I was when I clicked on the YouTube link in their bio and started listening to the band’s then-latest single “Хульдра” (“The Huldra”) from virtually the first note. There’s a lot going on in “Хульдра” – throat singing, flutes, bagpipes, acoustic guitar, a variety of percussive instruments, mandolin. What truly stunned me, though, is that voice. Part of me doesn’t even want to try to describe it – I want our Vault Hunters to be just as amazed as I was the first time I heard it. The phrase ‘powerfully ethereal’ may seem like a complete contradiction in terms, but it’ll make perfect sense as soon as you hear the band for the first time.
So obviously, I had to reach out them. Are you up for an interview? Do you have any new music on the way? Fortunately, the answer to both was an almost immediate ‘yes.’ And here we are, a few months later, wand their new single “Обряд (Сейд)” is ready to be unveiled to the world. Much darker musically than their previous singles, the lyrics (which are in Russian) have a haunting quality about them as well, with stanzas like (as per Google Translate):
“The sky is clear in the distance,
The scattering of stars flickers with fires,
In the red gleam of the moon
Nobody recognizes the spirit of the wind.”
I couldn’t be more thrilled to be premiering Bjarla’s “Обряд (Сейд)” today here at the Vault. I also had the chance to talk to the band’s two main songwriters: guitarist/bassist/mandolinist Anton Marchuck, who writes their music, and Alexandra Kupriyanova, lyricist and possessor of that unbelievable voice. Give it a listen below, and then head over to their Bandcamp page to check out their previous singles, all of which can be purchased for just $1.
Indy Metal Vault: So first of all, Спасибо for agreeing to an interview. This is a bit of a unique one for me – Bjarla is actually the first band I’ve discovered via Instagram. In fact, that seems to be your primary method of reaching fans. You have a Facebook page and a YouTube channel as well, but neither have anywhere near the same following as your Instagram page. I’m a bit curious as to why you think that is? Admittedly, I’m no expert on Russia, but is Instagram more accessible where you are than other social media platforms? I notice you don’t have a Bandcamp page, but I know that there are complications with PayPal in that part of the world.
Anton: Clayton, the fact is that social resources in Russia differ in comparison with the USA. For example, we have a very popular analog of Facebook – www.vk.com, which was created by the same person that did Telegram. Compared to Facebook, the site vk.com is more convenient for music promotion. Therefore, we’ve put an emphasis on it.
As for the remaining resources, we really started with Instagram because of its simplicity and attention to the visual component. Soon we’ll create Bandcamp, YouTube and Facebook pages. All in due time.
IMV: Since next to nothing is currently out there online about Bjarla, we should probably start at the beginning. Who is everyone, and what drew you to playing this kind of ambient/pagan folk? How did you come together to form this band? I notice you have a connection to the band aliceBlue, who seem to have a pretty large following.
Anton: In general, I’ve always had an interest in folk music, but I only decided to gather the group in April 2017. I sketched out the first track in June 2016, so it was just waiting for its time. I am the creator of the group, then Alexandra (vocalist) and the other participants joined me. My main project at the moment is the band aliceBlue, we play alternative rock / electronic with female vocals. In addition to these two projects, I am also a member of the alco-battle-metal group Your Brother Ax. Songs from this group can also be found on YouTube.
IMV: Based on the material you’ve released thus far, it seems like Bjarla are primarily looking outside of Russian folklore for inspiration. You’ve released songs inspired by the video game The Witcher 3 (which I’m a huge fan of, by the way), the Huldra and the Culming songs from Scandinavian folklore, and the “Northern warriors” (which I’m guessing are Vikings). And when I plug the word ‘Bjarla’ into Google Translate, it tells me that it’s the Icelandic word for ‘bright.’ Is there a reason you’ve avoided characters from Russian folklore like the Baba Yaga or Vasalisa the Beautiful in your music? Do you see yourself incorporating more of your native folklore in Bjarla’s music in the future? Especially since all of your lyrics to this point (as near as I can tell) are in Russian?
Anton: It’s very pleasant to hear that someone from the USA knows the characters from our folklore, although I suspect that’s with the use of Google, too (laughs). There is no reason for rejecting the Russian themes, so we will try something in this direction too. But for now, the main theme of the project is the North and the beauty of the northern nature.
By the way, it’s funny, but characters like Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Beautiful are very hackneyed. In Russian folklore, there are a huge number of other stories that we would be interested to tell. Another source of inspiration for me is traditionally fantasy, especially Sapkowski’s books and the Witcher game.
IMV: Near as I can tell, you’ve used primarily Western instruments in your music thus far as well, with the exception of the throat singing (which I suppose isn’t actually an instrument, but still). Is there any chance that you’ll incorporate more traditional Russian instruments in your music at some point?
Anton: Why not? I think that some day we will get to the balalaika. Moreover, our flutist plays on different Russian national pipes – for example, the zhaleyka, a wind musical instrument of the Slavic people.
We don’t limit ourselves to Western instruments. For example, on the track “The Huldra” we used one of the modern variations of the Australian didgeridoo, made by our craftsmen from the Urals.
To sum up, Bjarla is not limited to any frames; we try to think more deeply in a musical sense.
IMV: One thing that immediately struck me about Bjarla’s music is that it’s more vocal-driven than a lot of the other pagan folk that I’ve heard. Was that something you were intending to have be a signature of your sound, or was it something that developed as you were coming together and starting to write as a band?
Anton: I think it’s worth having Alexandra (Poison Ivy) respond. I can add that Alexandra is a big fan of Russian national music and that’s why the vocal is so interesting.
Alexandra: It’s interesting that such opinion about the group was formed. And it’s very pleasant in a way. Anton correctly said that I really love Russian folklore genres, but not only them. As to your question about Bjarla’s desire to be a more vocal group, I can say that it was not planned intentionally. I just sang as I felt. So our symbiosis was born.
IMV: The other thing that I immediately noticed about the tracks you have on YouTube is the production – it’s gorgeous music, and it sounds like it has the production it deserves. Where do you record? Do you do everything DIY, or do you go into a studio and work with a producer?
Anton: Thanks! We really do our best. We have a strong desire to make a truly worthy project, quality folk. Therefore, we give full attention to everything: both records and mixing. All the tracks were recorded at my home, except the drums. I make sound recording.
Then we mixed them in the studio of my good friend Ivan, Anthropocide. We don’t have any producer. We’re the producers by ourselves.
IMV: What are your long-term goals with Bjarla? You’ve released a few singles thus far, but are there any plans for a full-length any time in the near future? I saw on your Instagram that you recently did a fairly elaborate photo shoot – is that an indication that you have something big in the works?
Anton: There are a lot of plans and projects. We won’t disclose them all. Follow the news on our Instagram account, as well as on YouTube and Facebook. We think that all our listeners will be satisfied in the near future.
IMV: We’re premiering your newest single “Обряд(Сейд)” today. What can you tell us about the track?
Alexandra: The new single is the darkest that we’ve made – dark in the lyrics and the music. When I first heard the instrumental version that Anton sent to me, I had many images in my head: ancient and shamanistic rituals, runes, wolves, bonfires under the moon … I can’t say more. Although I think I’ve already said enough.
IMV: Thanks again for agreeing to an interview. I always like to leave the last word to the artist – anything else you’d like to add?
Anton: Thank you for the interesting questions. We hope that we’ll continue to please our listeners. To all lovers of folk music or just good music – let’s folk’n’roll! \m/