Saddam Vnozdrevich Of Mrachnye Shchi on Turning Music into a Life Pursuit
Running into a Mrachnye Shchi performance in one of Moscow’s central subway stations, it’s hard not to stop by the gathering spectators. Questions begin to pop up: What’s all the fuss about? Why are all these people here? How come some are unabashedly dancing?
Part of it is the pure curiosity of seeing a man wearing a dragon hand-puppet play the guitar behind his head while operating a digital music sampler with his toes. But for the most part, what really forces people to stop and pull over, is the sudden surge of adrenaline brought on by rollicking guitar riffs, hard hitting drum beats and rich electronic harmonies echoing through the vast subterranean metro space.
Making a living as a musician is not an easy gig but there’s nothing else Mrachnye Shchi frontman Saddam Vnozdrevich would rather do.
We sat down with Saddam to talk about his newest work and discuss his life as a full-time independent musician.
Soundeon (S): How did Mrachnye Shchi first form?
Saddam Vnozdrevich (SV): I had a band with my high school friends until they became adults and left music for good. It bummed me out at first but then I posted an ad on a musician forum that read, “looking for musical freaks” and found my drummer Alexander Nikushin. He is a very talented musician with lots of experience. He even performed for Gaddafi (Muammar) once, at a parade. A true pro.
S: What is the meaning behind the name Mrachnye Shchi?
SV: In Russian, “mrachnye” means grim and the word “shchi,” besides being the name for a Russian cabbage soup, is a slang term for a person’s face. I’ve noticed that a grim face is a distinct characteristic of Russian people taking public transit. Everyone looks very serious, especially after the ruble has fallen.
S: You claim to have invented a new musical style. Please explain.
SV: Ever since I was a kid I’ve been searching for the ideal sound. For me, that’s hard-driving guitar leads, powerful riffs and propulsive rhythms blended with electronic arrangements of what is generally referred to as “rave music.” But no matter what I listened to, I could never get enough drive and that’s why I became a musician — to create my ideal music. Simply speaking, it’s a mix of techno-house, drum-and-bass and rampant, unabashed Britpop.
S: Your performances are unique and energetic, almost theatrical. You take turns playing on two guitars while operating a music sampler with your toes. Now the obvious question: why a sampler and not live musicians?
SV: I’d love to play with live band but from my experience dealing with musicians can be a bit difficult, especially when there isn’t much money involved. You have to address creative differences and commitment issues among other things, and I don’t like to compromise much because it weakens the result. I tried live looping as a temporary solution and now realize that a sequencer has certain advantages, it has all these cool filters, rolling loops and there’s just so much you can do with it.
S: And the actual process looks interesting too.
SV: Yes, I record all my loops right in front of the audience, then sequence them and merge them into a live mix.
S: You often play with a hand puppet while holding the guitar behind your head. Isn’t that extremely difficult, not to mention uncomfortable?
SV: That’s Zeleniy Zmiy, a musician’s best friend. (Russian trans.: Green Dragon). I had it custom made. Before I played in a dragon-shaped child’s glove — now that was uncomfortable. I once read an interview with Jimmy Hendrix somewhere in which he complained that most audiences care more about his showmanship rather than his music. I remembered that very well and now try to surprise people every time.
S: Where did you learn how to play?
SV: When I was 17, I accidentally put a guitar slide on my left-hand thumb, which no one does, and started playing. It just felt right, I came up with a new technique. And that’s when I got arrested for selling weed and went to prison for two years. Fortunately, there was an old, janky guitar there and I played every night after my work shifts. I got out at 21 and had to somehow make a living so I started playing in the streets. I remember I used to play a lot of funk and surf-rock. That’s where I really learned how to play and developed my style.
S: Many musicians say that certain “substances” help their creative process. What’s your personal stance on it?
SV: Personally, I haven’t tried anything in five years, although I do get offered a lot. I need to stay sharp to write new music and to control the various technical elements that go into my performances. I guess I need all the brainpower I can get.
S: Where do you usually perform, clubs, parties, corporate events…?
SV: We do weddings, birthday parties, city festivals, club venues… but most often, we play in the subway.
S: How much do you make playing in the subway?
SV: Taking into account that there is a city-imposed two-hour limit for each performer, we earn anywhere from ₽2500 to ₽5000 ($40 to $80 USD) for the both of us. We only play our original songs so we don’t make as much as musicians who play covers of famous hits. For us, it’s about growing as musicians rather than the cash. We make enough to pay the bills but not enough for studio recording sessions.
S: What got you interested in the Soundeon music platform?
SV: I was drawn by the idea that the platform would eliminate middlemen and enable musicians to independently sell concert tickets as well as collect royalties from various sources, whether it’s someone playing your song on their phone through a Google Music type app or a sneaker store puts you on their playlist.
S: Do you think it’s possible to make it in the music business without relying on record labels, managers and other middlemen?
SV: I think it finally is. It took me years to learn how to play and develop my own style, and least of all do I want to deal with producers and various crooks who don’t only take a hefty portion of the royalties but also stick their greasy fingers into the creative process. It’s best without them.
S: What are your plans for the near future?
SV: I’ve got the most propulsive, off the wall, rock ‘n roll music blaring inside my head and I will make sure that everyone hears it!
S: Which of your songs would you recommend new listeners to listen to?
SV: Feel Like God.