Behind the Music: Interview with Vinok

‘We believe it’s a social duty for artists to raise awareness and provoke conversations that are often avoided.’

Following the release of Vinok’s ‘Elephant Girl’, and ahead of their forthcoming debut album, we chatted to the American-Ukrainian trio about what drives their musicality, and what the music industry can do for inclusion.

Describe the sound of Vinok in no more than 5 words: 
Rock. Energy. Piercing. Authenticity. Grunge.

What are your biggest musical influences and what drew you to these in the first place? 
Our influences include Arcade Fire, The Cranberries, Rage Against the Machine, Florence and the Machine (Lungs Album), and older Radiohead releases. We have always admired the energy and drive that comes with real live rock music, and have a deep appreciation for witty lyricism, music with a purpose and messages that matter.

What is the story of Vinok? 
Nathalie: Myself and Ilya met back in 2009 in the USA while studying and began writing music for Vinok in 2016. A year later, Anton joined us and we met in Kyiv to unite all our musical talents, as well as our passion for justice and societal change. We then spent 2018 songwriting and started to conquer the music scene in 2019. Though we only started releasing music in February 2019, we’ve already graced some of the biggest festivals in Eastern Europe such as Ukraine’s Republica Festival and Poland’s Slot Festival. We’ve also had our tracks mixed by sound producer and engineer PDub Walton (Bjork and Massive Attack), and mastered by Jon Astley (U2, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.) 

So what do each of you bring to the sound? 
Nathalie has been singing since she can remember, and as soon as she heard Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, she wanted to sing for all to hear. Her voice carries vibes of inspiration, strength, purity and revolution and she believes music has the power to promote change and healing in the world.  
Playing drums in a Ukrainian punk rock band in post-Soviet schools, Ilya then went on to play in a New York jazz band, an Illinois orchestra and played at various venues in Massachusetts. This diverse background is evident throughout Vinok.

Bassist Anton is a musical virtuoso who has been playing in bands since he picked up a bass guitar. Some may consider the age of 19 to be too late to start, but he broke all expectations and is now one of Ukraine’s best bassists. You can hear influences from one his all-time favourites, Rage Against the Machine, in his guitar-like style of playing on the bass. For him, “Music is his salvation”.

Ilya: As a whole, we aspire as much as possible, to be a live authentic band; meaning that we put an emphasis on using real instruments and keeping the electronics to a minimum. We also want that live energy to be presented in our tracks. We’ve been looking for less popular rhythms and song structures, and want to have the full freedom to breathe and experiment. Our forthcoming album also contains heavier tunes as rock seems to be dying these days.

“The most important thing for us is to keep our music real and alive.”

There is a real emphasis on disability with your latest single ‘Elephant Girl’. What led you to basing the song around this topic?
The release of ‘Elephant Girl’ coincided with International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd December), and it’s the first release from our upcoming full album. Many may wonder where the name ‘Elephant Girl’ came from and why we chose it as the title of our latest song. Ultimately the song, as represented in the lyric video, is a story of transformation and the spiritual awakening of a female person with a disability. The title is inspired by people who have been seen as outcasts, and is in reference to Elephant Man – the true story of a person who was judged and maltreated exclusively because of his appearance. 

It is essential to remember that not all disabilities are visible to the eye, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a reality. Disabilities (both visible and invisible) are still a taboo topic that so many try to avoid and are afraid to address through not knowing where to begin. We decided to change this by specifically honoring those with disabilities in this song, as how can the stigma be reduced if no-one is talking about it?

There is a huge sense of power in the sound of ‘Elephant Girl’, but the closing moments are very different and really connect. What was the thinking behind this change of style? 
At the end of the lyric video, Nathalie (lead singer) finally begins to sing with the words full fledged. The symbolism here was that “her voice is finally being heard despite all of the pain (blood from nose) she has experienced”. The idea is that there needed to be a shift in the mood and pace so that the transformation (or awakening) was real – almost like a breath of new life.

So how important is it for music to have a real purpose other than for simply entertainment? 
Nathalie: We believe that it is a social duty (almost a requirement) as artists to take action, raise awareness, and provoke conversations that are often avoided.

Considering the wider aspects of society, how do you feel the music industry can encourage diversity and inclusion?
Nathalie: Society is really afraid of something unknown. We like routine, consistency, rhythm, anything that is familiar, and the ‘norm’ as we define it. However, discomfort and newness is often exactly what’s needed in order to broaden horizons, take a step back, and relate to one another on a deeper level. As for the music industry, it should encourage diversity and inclusion by expanding the repertoire (globally) of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ music.

Being different is okay until it’s not popular anymore. But, who even defines what is popular nowadays? Is it social media? Is it TV shows or movies? Is it radio? The media as a whole? Is it the younger generations? Or is it now based purely off of how many likes or followers you have? We need space for all voices to be heard, even those that are less ‘popular’ and it is only when we truly begin to listen to one another that a change can happen.

Each of you have had a whole range of life experiences. How do these steer the music you create?
Ilya: Yes it’s true. Each of us have very different pasts and musical backgrounds, but most importantly, we know what it’s like to have a real conversation, live life, speak the truth, and create amazing music! Somehow our passions for music and wanting more justice have merged into a truly unique sound. That is what makes us VINOK!

If someone was watching one of your recording sessions, what would they be most likely to notice first? 
Typically when we are recording, all three of us are fully engaged and involved in the process. No one likes to be left out, especially when it comes to the production of the music. On the sidelines, you may also find us having too much coffee and laughing about something super random. 99.9% of the time, you’ll also find two black backpacks in the corner of the room. These go everywhere we go when it’s Vinok related. What is in them? Typically lyric notes, chord charts, shakers, external hard drives, drum sticks, headphones, coffee, and of course snacks.

You’ve just announced that there is an album on the way – congratulations! Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about it? 
This spring we will finally be releasing our first full-length album! It’s been in the works for more than 2 years now, and we started writing some of the songs years back but they have finally reached their full form. It has been a long journey, and we are extremely excited to be releasing it for the world to hear. Most of the messages we convey within our music and lyrics are more symbolic, relating to each individual in a variety of ways. One of our underlying goals is to provoke those who have been finding it too easy, inspire those who have been finding it too hard, and help everyone dig for the truth and run away from the artificial. We can confidently say that this album is something we are very proud of and highlights some of our best tracks.

And other than the album, what plans do you have for 2021? 
We had planned to tour in Europe last year, but like many bands worldwide that was impossible because of the Covid crisis. Of course, depending on how everything pans out this year we would really love to tour and play more live shows at big festivals and venues!

“Our new single is a story of transformation and the spiritual awakening of a female person with a disability.”

Turning back to your songwriting for a moment, where is your go to place for creating new music?
Ilya: It really depends on the circumstance and the song. Some songs are thought through and take ample time to create. Others can be structurally created during one rehearsal. No matter what the process is though, we spend hours polishing each song to get the message that we are looking for. We are very specific, careful and critical of what we do musically, but at the same time make sure that our initial emotions and ideas don’t get lost during the process .

Nathalie: Sometimes one of us could be walking outside and observing life, and a melody comes to mind – voice memos are great for this! Other times we are just jamming in the studio, and one of us will come up with something kind of groovy – a beat, a key, a bassline, etc – and we keep building on that. Then there are times when it starts with a story, a lyric, or a topic that strongly needs addressing.

Reflecting on your previous releases, how do you feel your process has changed, or not, between then and now?
Ilya: The most important thing for us is to keep our music real and alive. We also keep each other accountable in making sure that there’s nothing fake and artificial – a sense of going against the trend of today. This is one of the reasons why the process has been taking us a long time. We want to make sure we are treating the sound with proper care.

And finally, what is the best thing about being part of ‘Vinok’? 
“We like to keep it REAL!

Thanks VINOK for chatting with Listen to Discover

Find out more about VINOK at:
Track Review: VINOK: Elephant Girl

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