Hello Shauna! It’s so good to be in touch with you, even though this is a very busy time for you. How is everything going for you right now?
Thanks Jen. It is always a busy time for me, to tell the truth. Always busy with a whack of projects, some involving our duo Ummagma and other ones that are musically oriented from different facets of the music ‘industry’ (or whatever you want to call it). But it’s really frustrating for me on multiple fronts because I’m used to doing everything with my husband Alexx, who is the other half of Ummagma. Right now I’m in Canada (I moved here with my daughter due to the war) and he’s stuck in Ukraine until we can overcome our consular ‘challenges’.
As you just mentioned, Alexx is the other half of Ummagma. You have also contributed to Roman Kalitkin’s noise-pop project Sounds of Sputnik. Sounds of Sputnik’s debut album, New Born, is out now on Ear to Ear Records. How did this cross-continental collaboration come about?
We go way back with Roman Kalitkin, who spearheads Sounds of Sputnik. He is the main composer and I handle the melody, lyrics, vocals, and arrangement. We used to do the same 12 years ago in Moscow, where we were both living at the time, and this all happened before I met my husband. The three of us did some things together after we were already a couple, but then moved to Kyiv during the Orange Revolution. We’ve been back and forth between Ukraine and Canada since then and have never returned to Russia. We met online again a decade later thanks to a fluke Internet chat with some shoegaze artists with friends from his hometown. Through them, I got his cell phone number and we reconnected…then passed music back and forth and began to generate new ideas… this is how New Born and the other tracks there emerged.
Several guest musicians appear on New Born, including Graham Bonnar (Swervedriver, Brian Jones Massacre), Malcolm Holmes (OMD), Fran Ashcroft (Damon Albarn, Lords of Acid), Russian producers Morozov and Oleg Mezherovsky, and Brazil’s Mind Movies. How did they make your short list and were there other artists that you wanted to collaborate with as Sounds of Sputnik?
There are always other artists we are interested in collaborating with but these are the first ones we considered, as they had heard the original tracks well before release and were excited about them for us. Some of them offered to remix this material upfront, while we approached some of them to see if they would be interested. The exception to this rule is Graham Bonnar, of course, since he is not a remixer – he’s a drummer. If you think back to the powerhouse sounds of Swervedriver’s “Rave Down” or “Son of Mustang Ford”, it’s easy to figure out why we would want to work with him. He is epic! We are planning to collaborate on one or two more tracks with him this year as well – either as Ummagma or Sounds of Sputnik. Let this be a regular tradition, I say.
You are Canadian, Alexx is Ukrainian, and Roman is Russian. What sort of musical/cultural sparks did that create for the album?
I don’t think nationality has much to do with this particular recipe culturally. We’ve known each other for more than a decade. I see where it could create waves in such a relationship nowadays however, for other people, since the political and military climate between Russia and Ukraine is burning hot these days. I’d say that where the important ‘spark’ existed here is that the urgency of showing the world that we were going to collaborate on this to fly in the face of the overarching trend of division between these two countries, as well as the gap between much of the ex-USSR and the West. This was very much our psychological stance when we decided to ‘hurry it up’… otherwise this project could’ve dragged on for another year instead of launching the release when we did… because we had a message for the world that was very timely. I don’t know how many people were listening, but this message is one of unity and solidarity in mind and in music, despite all the crap happening in that part of the world.
As Ummagma you also recently released an album titled “Kiev Remixes”. You feature your original, Cocteau Twins-inspired “Kiev” song as well as 9 remixes by various artists. Who did you ask to rework “Kiev” and what was the reason behind picking this particular song to showcase?
‘Kiev Remixes’ EP was something that followed suit after our remix-based release ‘Lama’ EP and ‘Rotation/Live and Let Die’ single, which was released on German boutique label Emerald & Doreen Recordings. This one also followed this format, but with just 7 remixes. That was a big success, musically speaking, as we proved quite well that Stereolab-esque dreampop shoegaze can be quite nicely remixed in as many as 5 different sub-genres of music. That release involved the legendary Alexander Robotnick, one of the forefathers of Italodisco/nudisco/electro music (and a contemporary of Giorgio Moroder), as well as other renowned producers in their respective genres, including Theatre of Delays (Germany), Irregular Disco Workers (Italy) and Go Nogo (Germany).
There were 3 carry-overs between the ‘Lama’ and ‘Kiev Remixes’ releases, because we love them that much - Copycat (Sweden), Mind Movies (Brazil), and Sounds of Sputnik. Nobody does a good psyche-gaze electronic remix like Sounds of Sputnik. The original plan was for fewer remixes on the second release, but we insisted on these artists also being involved. Just as before, we wanted the remixers to represent a good range of genres and geographic origins. I don’t know why – maybe because we are also diverse on both counts – but this ‘quirk’ is essential to many projects we are involved in. I can return to this tendency a bit later. Suffice it to say that we did have incredible diversity on this album, breaking the stereotype of what a remix-based album (or even a remix as a raw element) should sound like. My absolute fave remix from this was by Japanese chillwave producer and Red Bull Music Academy artist Shintaro Haiko. He just floored me with this one. I even cried the first time I heard it because I find it so beautiful! Once again, we were pretty much able to handpick the remixers involved, including Statickman (Chile), Auxiliary Tha Masterfader (Netherlands), David Garcet (Belgium), A Copy for Collapse (Italy), and Mikael Fas (Greece). We are so glad that they each agreed to take something ‘Made in Ukraine’ and each offer their own interpretations of this track – aptly named after the capital city, which was literally in shambles at the time we sent out the original recordings for them to work with and reshape according to their own vision. Both releases really surpassed our expectations and have brought our music to an entirely new listenership.
I’ve read that Robin Guthrie and OMD’s Malcolm Holmes were involved in the remix of some tracks off of “Kiev”. How did you connect with those two artists?
Actually, both of them have created remixes for us, but not for the song ‘Kiev’. Kiev was perhaps inspired by Cocteau Twins to the extent that Robin decided not to remix it – instead, he chose to remix ‘Lama’, as did Malcolm Holmes. Both remixes are fantastic and they both live up to the style of the bands in which they became famed. We shall release each of these releases towards mid-year. As mentioned earlier, Malcolm also remixed Sounds of Sputnik, and you can already find that on our Bandcamp (digitally or on CD), as well as iTunes, Amazon and the like. We hooked up with each of them through mutual friends – different friends for each of them, as they run in different circles, despite having toured together in the 1980s.
In 2012, Ummagma released 2 albums at the same time: “Antigravity” and the self-titled album. Did you decide to serve up a musical double helping because you had so many tunes to release?
Yes, exactly so – there were, in fact several dozen more tracks than that, which we cut from our minds when finally taking the decision to ‘put it all out there’. We wanted to just release 12 but could only narrow it down to 24 and organized the two separate releases according to the feeling embodied there and the timeframe in which we recorded them. The ‘Ummagma’ album is more upbeat and carefree and represents the period when we had just gotten together. ‘Antigravity’ represents our maturing and escapism – we went through a lot during that period – moving numerous times between Russia, Ukraine and Canada, the Orange Revolution, childbirth, loss and death, etc. As reflective as that second album may be, there is still quite a dreamy element there.
The early 1990s dream-pop/shoegazer genre has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years. Which original bands are the ones that you feel have influenced your sound?
If we had to look at shoegaze per se, I’d say that virtually none of them have influenced our sound, as surprising as that may sound. Dreampop is another issue, since it is pretty evident that Cocteau Twins have had an influence on our music – thank goodness they were not limited to one genre either – they were a mixture of dreampop, ethereal wave and post-punk, with even a bit of ambient thrown in there at times. It’s no surprise that we are all over the board, style-wise covering some of these genres, as well as crossing over a tad into shoegaze, indiepop, post-rock, indietronica, and even folk rock-ish whatever. David Sylvian has been a much bigger influence on us than anyone I think – or maybe on par with Cocteau Twins and Peter Gabriel. I don’t know. It’s all a big mesh within our brains, along with all the other bands we love, of which there are many. Fortunately the threads they’ve left within our minds are discreet enough that we don’t really ‘sound like’ any of the bands who have influenced us.
From what I understand, you work at Ear to Ear Records. I’m a bit confused since I thought this record label was based out of Wales and I though you lived in Canada… What is it like to balance the tasks of being a musician and a promoter?
Yes, I live in Canada and I lived in Ukraine before this (until August of this past year). I am the only non-Brit stakeholder in Ear to Ear Records and first began as a manager and promoter, but now I am also co-owner. So with it being legally registered there and involving the other stakeholders, it goes without saying that this is a British (Welsh) label. North Wales to be exact. Likely the only one like this is that neck of the woods… At times, we’ve even been mentioned as a British-Canadian or a Welsh-Canadian label.
About your second question, it really is a hard balancing act being a musician, label owner, and promoter. I launched Shameless Promotion PR in 2014 to fulfill the latter bit, offering services for the bands on our label’s roster, as well as private clients, who are not on the label (not to say they won’t be in future). The fact is that I only work with artists whose music I love, so there very well is a chance that some of the bands I am promoting will eventually release their next EP or LP through Ear to Ear Records. That is a much more reliable way to proceed, since we already develop a good working relationship in the first stage, making things much smoother with the second.
Wearing two hats is more understandable, but handling all three is more of a challenge – albeit a necessary one in our case. There are far too many labels out there, which don’t offer their artists PR support, and we’ve had dealings with two such labels (for one-off releases), where I had to do all the promotion myself anyways. They just didn’t understand much about promotion or didn’t have time for this. We will never do that to our artists. We help them grow and make sure their music is being heard far and wide.
It’s even worse when a band hires a PR company to get the word out to blogs and radio and then that company produces meager results. Unfortunately, this has been our experience with most of the companies we’ve dealt with in the past, and we are thousands of dollars poorer for it. I recall already having 80 or so press features for one of our releases in the time the PR company we hired had only ‘arranged’ 4 (and no radio play resulting from their ‘promo’ either). That’s so frustrating. That was perhaps the awakening I needed to realize I had a strong knack for this (PR activity) myself and that I would likely never have to ‘outsource’ again. Many of my colleagues and friends encouraged me to launch my own PR company, but I didn’t finally go for it until someone I highly respect convinced me to do so – Joe Foster, co-founder of Creation Records, who is also pretty well known for producing Jesus & Mary Chain, Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine. Joe has been really cool for me as a mentor in many ways, both with the label and my new start-up PR initiative. It’s nice to have someone on your side who has already been through it all and has worn as many (or more) hats than me – musician, producer, record label owner, publisher. In his own words, "Ear To Ear Records are a new Welsh/Canadian label in the spirit of Creation and 4AD and just as obsessed as that!” – so there you have it, the Welsh/Canadian thing again and also I really like the last bit.
Perhaps our most ambitious undertaking, both as a label and for my PR company, is the release of the compilation ‘REVOLUTION – The Shoegaze Revival’. As Joe puts it, “This is a new comp with the best of the world shoegaze/magical psychpoppy's REBIRTH....” There are 30 bands here from 16 countries – most of them you’ve never heard of before, but you should – they are awesome and we went to the four corners of the earth to uncover them and present them to you on a platter, deliciously packaged with other goodness. The press and radio play have been fantastic, and I’ve been arranging a handful of interviews with every single band on this compilation. Never before has there been such promo support for something that might otherwise be written off as “just another shoegaze compilation” – we believe in the artists we work with THAT much. We also just released the debut double A-side single from Cambridge’s Tape Runs Out and are gearing up for an awe-inspiring single from Lights That Change.
Speaking of PR, you have an active social presence online in order to support your musical output. That can be very time-consuming, but also rewarding. Have you been this involved in the online process since Ummagma’s inception in 2003?
Yes and no – online definitely, but not since 2003. This certainly involves massive online time requirements between everything that’s happening with Ummagma, Sounds of Sputnik, Ear to Ear Records, and Shameless Promotion PR. But it has not always been like this. From 2003 to 2011, we really didn’t take any of this seriously and just treated it like some hobby, playing, composing, and recording solely when we felt like it. We never felt like there was any goal we were moving towards, so we were very lax with our compositions and lifestyle. Then, in 2012, when we knew nothing about how things work in the music industry, we just naively stuck 2 albums on Bandcamp (as many bands do) and didn’t know what came next. Within a day of posting them, I was contacted by some very cool people who are ‘in the know’ regarding the music industry, who explained the basic reasoning about why I should be actively promoting these albums and not let them “fall between the cracks” and also shared some ideas about how to get the word out. So I began busting a move on this that very day, I dedicated myself to reaching out in multiple directions and through multiple media, which I still do – to make contact (and become friends with) listeners, bloggers, podcasters, DJs, radio peeps, mixtapers, fellow musicians, journalists, etc. Really the friendship part has been essential for us in this, as music can really be a much stronger force in forming relationships than you might otherwise think. You also have to ‘think outside the box’ if you want to reach people who otherwise are not being reached by your peers. This is still how I approach things today with Ear to Ear Records and Shameless Promotion PR – we are very interested in partnerships, so to speak, and we like to do things differently than most. I don’t like the typical ‘cold calling’ way of announcing an album and seek to approach things like that with a different framework. Such flexibility, combined with awesome music and a lot of hard PR work is reaping good results. This may all be time consuming, yet, as you have mentioned, this is also very rewarding.
What’s next on the horizon for you? Will you be releasing any videos or touring soon for either Ummagma or Sounds of Sputnik – or both?
Quite a lot really – now that both projects are ‘out there’, they have each taken on a life of their own and videos, remixes, interviews, press features, playlists, etc. are all part of that – for each band. Not to mention writing new material. It’s overwhelming really at times. Fortunately, video-wise, we’ve got an arsenal of videos prepared for each band and it will just require some time and a great deal of organization to roll them all out one by one. Unfortunately, there is always overlap between an Ummagma press campaign and a Sounds of Sputnik press campaign since these ‘relatives’ are kind of growing alongside each other, yet exclusive of one another. That can be confusing, both in terms of campaign planning, and for media representatives, who sometimes get confused between the two bands.
Since I’m not even close to Moscow now, so Roman Kalitkin (Sounds of Sputnik) has formed a live team apart from me, which was the plan from the outset. Oleg Mezherovsky, who played drums and contributed a remix for the debut EP, is now a permanent member of Sounds of Sputnik. We will still record together, as we did for the first release, and likely there will be a guest appearance again from the likes of Graham Bonnar (Swervedriver, Brian Jonestown Massacre) and Malcolm Holmes (OMD), just as we did with the first release. They have both become good friends and are interested in further collaboration with Ummagma and/or Sounds of Sputnik. As for Ummagma, we have recorded most of the material for our next LP but we now face a genuine logistical question of moving our studio from Ukraine to Canada, so this has been a genuine hang-up for us, as have the consular ‘challenges’ we’ve been facing until now. Likely we will launch a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to help us release our next LP, since it would be our first available physically (preferably vinyl and CD or cassette this time). Still also considering options for putting the remixes by Robin Guthrie and Malcolm Holmes on vinyl as well. One thing I have learned well is that having no budget does not necessarily mean you don’t have to do something; you just have to be extremely clever in what you do. That’s basically where I’ve been for the period of our musical existence.
Lastly, where we can find out more about you and your music?
Our first 2 Ummagma albums were only released on Bandcamp. Our next 3 releases (1 double A-side single & 2 remix-based releases) through Emerald & Doreen are not for sale on Bandcamp, but are on Amazon, iTunes, etc.
Here are some additional net links:
Sounds of Sputnik: Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Soundcloud
Ummagma: Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Soundcloud
Ear to Ear Records: Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Soundcloud
Shameless Promotion PR: Facebook / Twitter / Soundcloud