Exclusive interview with Kauan’s leader Anton Belov

Photo provided by Anton Belov — Exclusive interview with Kauan’s leader Anton Belov
Photo provided by Anton Belov

"Sorni Nai" has become the first concept album in the discography of the Russian-Ukrainian project Kauan, dedicated to the Dyatlov Pass incident. Just a few weeks after the release, the LP was sold out, going to the top of sales on Bandcamp and reached high positions in the rankings of foreign zines. In the exclusive interview, the band’s mastermind Anton Belov told Noizr Zine about nuances of the material recording and the special attitude to the album’s theme. The musician also shared with us information about future performances, working on a new album, preparing for the debut video filming and more.

The latest album "Sorni Nai" stands out with its strong concept, a deep examining of the Dyatlov Pass incident. Why did you decide to take up this subject?

Anton Belov (hereinafter — Belov): For me, this topic is very close to me, because I’m from the Urals, and it happened in its Northern part. The theme is, in fact, known since childhood. It happened that the several members of our band, independently from each other, got on all sorts of information about Dyatlov. We’ve met a couple of times, discussed it and, it turned out, that this topic has become interesting and relative to all of us. There appeared a new wave of reading all sorts of different documents, forensic reports, criminal case and all the rest. By the time, I had made a few musical sketches, which matched very well the atmosphere of cold hike by the concept. So that’s how it all started. More than half of the album material was written with the idea that it would be about the Dyatlov Pass. But we didn’t want to describe their death or publicly propose our own version of what had happened. We, on the contrary, wanted to show more positive part of the camping, its beginning in 1959, the absence of any visible threats, people were going with open hearts. For example, Zina Kolmogorova, who waited four months for this hike, wrote letters to Dyatlov: "I'm looking forward to the end of my practice, I can't wait to go to the camping."

Tell us about the work on this record.

Belov: The recording was held in the same way as it was with the second album in a row: we wrote sketches, then collected them in one long stretch, so to say, "a monolithic piece of material". For a while, we were thinking it over, then there was a final arrangement, I created a clean project with instruments recording, everything that is available at home — I recorded in Kyiv, the rest — in Chelyabinsk. The recording took place at the friendly for me studio Newtone Studio where we have been working on the fourth album in a row. I finished all the missing instruments and after that we started mixing.

"Sorni Nai" stands out from the previous works by using a lot of our own field, literally, records. I walked in the Ural mountains and woods where I recorded soundscapes: birds, winds and far-riding trains. I also tried to use only analog synths and synths from the Renaissance of the synthesizers digital era (i.e. the instruments no later than 1992-93 year made). The sound of a remake, for me, is unattractive: it’s cold, sterile, computerlike. And in old instruments one can feel some core, idea, love... Many people say: "Why do you make much ado about it, nobody cares from what ancient times have you dug these mammoths". I believe the listener on the subconsciously knows apart who and what is playing in front of him. Maybe just by his heart or soul or something else, but realizes that it’s a sound of the instrument, which on its own is a story.

Also, we used recordings of some pretty rare Soviet broadcasts for this album. I’ve even saw the guys on Facebook who were trying to figure out what broadcasts were there and they almost nailed it, umph. One of these broadcasts is an interesting Soviet experiment: a girl reads a verse of Alexander Blok, which she had heard once during hypnosis, being unconscious. On the recording she repeats it expressively, emotionally, thinking that she is in fact Blok.

You’ve told me about working with the archival materials. How had you searched such things?

Belov: It all started quite trivially. I didn’t think we would go somewhere deeper. All "basic materials" are almost on the Yandex folder of one guy. There is the Dyatlov Foundation and, loosely speaking, there are some dull people. They, knowing many public details, continue to argue that the hikers died because of element they were unable to prevent. By the way, I still love this wording!

There is alternative "camp", I do not remember the name of the guys’ organization, but they have a big closed forum with the one Yandex folder for all scanned docs. They laid all camera rolls, I think, six rolls from the hike, one roll, on which the bodies were photographed, there is also a criminal case, as well as the diaries of Kolmogorova, Dubinina and pieces of Dyatlov’s diary, in general, all public documents. Then, the more interesting part started with trips, communication with the involved people, incredible turns of events. But this part doesn’t apply to the album, most to me personally.

Share with us the most interesting detail.

Belov: Hum… For example, not so long ago there were released new archive documents and one of those was the telegram, sent from Ivdel to Yekaterinburg by the investigator Lev Ivanov. They had just found the first five bodies, one of which was Zina Kolmogorova. And according to the forensic report, she had died from frostbite on the way to the tent. And in this telegram it was noted, "Zina had a head injury. She didn't live long". This clearly indicates that even at that time strong, serious beatings on their bodies were not considered.

There is another interesting thing. Everyone knows that the bodies were found in two groups: the first were discovered in late February and the other four — in May. In early March there was a session of the Sverdlovsk regional Committee where the secretary said: "The issue of the Russian tourists death in Ural mountains: get the facts straight, find out and punish the guilty" and then asked the reporter, who told about the death of nine people by element. And there is a little question, because at that moment only five bodies were found, but there were mentioned nine, and in Soviet times, everything was very clear, you could not make a mistake in the report for the secretary of the regional Committee. A week later there was the City Committee sitting, during which the rector of Ural State Technical University and the chairman of the tourist club, which Dyatlov attended, got it in the neck. And there was noted again that nine people have died. Such a mistake could not happen twice, apparently, the Soviets, at that moment, knew that nine people died...

Actually, when they found first five bodies it would have been logical to assume that there was a hard conflict during which those four, who have not been dug yet, killed the others and left. But everyone was sure that these four hikers also died, and sooner or later they would be found too.

Recently, this information was published thanks to Natalia Barsegova from Moscow "Komsomolskaya Pravda", who periodically goes to Yekaterinburg, burrows among archives, gets new released or as-yet unknown documents. The last time she found these transcripts...

In short, there are loads of such mysticism, discrepancies and understatements. And more you get into it, more you come to some little private investigations.

Recently, you’ve mentioned that the Dyatlov Pass story became too personal for the band and that changed you in a bad way. Has it happened with you earlier during the work on other albums?

Belov: Do you mean the post on Facebook? No. Firstly, we have never had such a concept album as-yet. Everything before this, generally, was outlined by one theme, but we’ve never had a particular story, which we would be telling and expressing so emotionally. Regarding the post on Facebook, the main question is when I mean myself I write and say "we". Аs a matter of fact, this story has changed me.

When I was in Chelyabinsk, I knew I need to go to the cemetery in Yekaterinburg, stay there for a while, figure out something emotionally inside of me, talk with all of them. It’s not a simple thing. I just noticed the more popular this story is, the more interesting it becomes, because it’s one of the most extraordinary hoaxes of XX century. And though it happened in 1959 with nine completely ordinary (but it seems that they were common only at first glance) people, it still causes goosebumps in America, Europe, Scandinavia. Everywhere people have their own topics, forums where they write about all of this, chat, discuss, think, investigate – it’s incredible!

A month ago, I started to post on Facebook, to be honest, not the most common photos from the hike, the diaries scans, the bodies photos and then we got a huge feedback, not so much because of likes, but also due to reached audience.

I’m glad that our audience doesn’t like everything, the subscribers get to know many posts silently, rarely commenting. In general, all these stuff rocked people and they began to ask questions: "And what is your personal opinion about what happened?", "What do you think about that or this?". And I realized that we should cut this all down somehow and we have to move on to a new stage in the band’s history and forget about Dyatlov because anyway nothing good comes out when you raise ghosts. For myself, I’m continuing search into a matter, but I just don’t do it such publicly. A short time ago, I’ve got an anonymous letter with the archive photos of Dyatlov. This photos are not so cool as previous, but also they aren’t so common on the Internet, and the letter sender asked me to post them. I’m posting them little by little, after the New Year a few more photos will be published and, I think, that’s it.

In Kauan’s discography there are some really "cold" releases. Snow, storm — why do you pick up these themes?

Belov: I was born and grew up in a very cold place, compared to Yakutsk and Norilsk, in native Che we have above-zero temperature a little higher, but still we have very cold nine months in year. And it happened that many guys who live in Siberia, enjoy traveling in Egypt, Turkey because they want to get warm, and I was born in the cold, and I'm very comfortable in it. I can't stand the heat, do not stand the warm weather, and I think favorite temperature mode is expressed much in my music.

So, we shouldn’t expect, so to say, a "warm album"?

Belov: I had one project, I almost never talk about it, it was called Strecosa. Only two tracks were recorded within it... We’ve even managed to give an interview where we’ve been asked one of those stupid questions "describe your music in a few words" and I thought it was best to say that "Strecosa’s music is hymns of warm sorrow". And that something is, it's such a pleasant sadness, which doesn’t scratch your soul, doesn’t hurt you, but triggers positive, nostalgic, a little tingling, and at the same time melancholic emotions. Like love which is not expected to be requited.

In general, yes, in the future only cold, only frost, only numb limbs.

According to Metal Addicts, as a result of online voting, the album "Sorni Nai" took second place in the race "Album of the Year", leaving behind the novelties of Iron Maiden, Slayer, Ghost. How do you feel about these tops? What does this result mean to you?

Belov: Nothing at all. I believe that it's all very subjective. In general, each person reacts to such things only when it has something to do with the fact that he knows what he has heard. Just overtake Iron Maiden... I never liked Iron Maiden, but if they ever made a post on Facebook and said, "Vote now", then everyone would be left behind, very far. But this didn’t happen and deep inside my soul I’m pleased that something is happening and a dude is not too lazy to follow the link and make a few clicks — it means something, but technically, I believe that all of these charts are a very subjective thing. In my life there are Pitchfork, perhaps, and a pair of some very segmented magazines or online zines, in which, if there was made a post about me or our album, then it would be an achievement.

Many bands sing in English "to be closer to the foreign audience". Have you had any thoughts to record an English album to attract a large audience?

Belov: No. We never wanted to be closer to the public, and especially to attract a large audience. Kauan doesn’t work in such genres, where there is the popularity scale and fee increase. I chose Finnish because almost nobody understands it. Okay, so initially I like it, I like its sound, melody, it’s very cool to use it in the music, but the second and most important goal is to stop the listener’s digitization of text. It often happens that the text imposes irreparable imprint on the song, plus everyone has the perception, even if the text is complicated and clever, it can break off all aftertaste, because it’s not about what listener likes. Thus, using the Finnish language, we disable this person’s part of the brain and he doesn’t listen to the text, he listens to the voice as a musical instrument.

For the new album, there are a couple of thoughts about the tracks in English. I'm a little bit oppressive with Kauan’s compositions, but I try little by little to involve everyone in this area and the concept of the new album provides ideas for each of the musicians. Alex Vynogradoff, who also plays in Vin de Mia Trix, writes good lyrics in English. Presumably, we will do a couple of songs in English, but he is the one who will sing.

Now, there are three or four ready-made tracks for the new album and one of the sketches in Russian! But it does not mean that this one will end up in Russian, it means that I sang in Russian first and then put the normal Finnish text.

On February 26 you are going to perform two albums "Pirut" and "Sorni Nai". Tell us about these Kauan’s works, do they have anything in common?

Belov: They have nothing in common, actually. It was Eugene Dargaard’s cool idea to go out and play two songs with a total length an hour and a half. We are prepared, Kauan is trained to play a 50-minute tracks, although it is hard and difficult, but I think it’s in our power. It just so happened that MonteRay is a cool venue to make atmospheric events, there are coulisses which help to deprive the viewer of all the extra load of technical issues, performance preparations, soundcheck... It’s possible to present these two monolithic albums with good light and good sound. We also limited the number of our shows with "Sorni Nai" to nine events. One time it was played, now it’s going to be performed for the second time and, most likely, this summer in Romania.

Are you going to perform "Sorni Nai" at the concert in St. Petersburg?

Belov: No, in Russia, we’re not going to play it.

Your latest performance at Doom Over Kiev VII was accompanied by a series of thematic photos on the big screens. Are you preparing something special for the upcoming gig?

Belov: There are some thoughts, but I honestly do not want to do it. Our violist Anatoly has ideas and if he realizes them — great, if not — I do not have time for it and a specific image. I can not imagine what I would like to show. Even with photos it didn’t really work out, people still looked constantly at the stage. Photos on the sides, of course, created an atmosphere, but not enough to bother because of that much.

In the interview with MHM TV, you said that Kauan is going to play semi-acoustic program of the third album at the one European festival. What other surprises do you prepare for this year?

Belov: This surprise has been changed a bit. Since we informed that we had a limited "Sorni Nai" shows, the organizers now are thinking what is better for them. In general, this Romanian festival Dark Bombastic Evening has been held not the first year, gathering quite a large number of people and a good, well-known bands. The main organizer loves to arrange for some exclusive show specifically for this festival and he, as all the other organizers, doesn’t seek to put a band at a good time when it's dark, and we believe that our music is perceived only when there is no external light sources. And when we were talking he said, "If you want dark, I want an exclusive program". I said, "Good," and we agreed on semi-acoustic "Aava tuulen maa". Anyway, we still wanted to do it, but for this festival it would be much cooler to play "Sorni Nai" in the dark — it would be more atmospheric, so they’re still thinking.

What other kinds of surprises should we be waiting for?

Belov: Now we draw storyboards for the first video for the new album’s song. It’s done, but it is not available publicly yet. It’ll be the most epic video, and I think it will be worth some enormous amount.

When should we expect a new album? Would it be conceptual as "Sorni Nai"?

Belov: Yes, it’ll be concept, but it won’t describe a specific, already occurred story. It will be associated with us. I think the material writing will end within late summer or early fall. Recording will be started closer to winter and, probably, the album will be released closer to summer 2017. This time I don't want to rush at all, want to do everything regularly. Many people write on the Internet: "Guys, you speeded up, almost once a year you make an album, where do you find the time?". I don't know, it’s all organically since I turn out, and this time I want to take time to work on every detail of the album.

I more and more get into the huge monolithic sound layer, leaving in abstract ambient. A good example is the last couple of Greg Haines’ works. The new album will combine lightly managed fiber string textures, which are in infinite space, soft, warm, rough piano and clear voices. Probably, the sound will be very different from anything that came before. And... we will try to record it on tape.

Interview — Yuri Somov, Anastezia
Read also: Beyond the boundaries of usual release. Review for Kauan’s "Sorni Nai"