It would be fairly easy, by just looking at their name, to mischaracterize them as boneheaded stoners with less depth than a nightcrawler. But Stoned Jesus, through the assertive voice of Igor Sydorenko, mastermind of the Ukrainian’s heavy troupe, have the insight to know, interpret and acknowledge their surroundings like few can. Accepting and employing (almost) all branches that rock has given us, Stoned Jesus are cheered as a stalwart of Eastern European underground. Now, reading themselves to fly all the way to Portugal for Reverence Valada, and having released “The Harvest” LP early this year, we spoke withIgor. Not only to know how the band has been doing, but also to reflect on what is like to be Ukrainian in the nation’s current state of turmoil. 

Stoned Jesus • “The Harvest” • 2015

To sum it up, Igor was kind enough to curate a mixtape for us with Ukraine’s newest and best rock sprouts – a thing that you should be hearing as you read this. You’ll find it at the bottom, with his own thoughts on each track. Enjoy!

First of all, the usual question about how Stoned Jesus became a real thing. When and how did it start?

Hello there, Igor is speaking! Yep, this one is quite a traditional one. 2007: digging sludge and stoner bands while working on my own post-rock and prog projects. 2008: finding obvious ties those bands have to 70’s rock music. 2009: demoing first StJ songs to a positive response of Ukrainian and Russian underground while trying to bring the live incarnation of StJ to life. 2010: doing first shows and tours across Russia and Ukraine and releasing debut “First Communion” on a cult doom metal Solitude Records label. 2011: changing the lineup AND the direction towards more grungy/psychedelic/rocky sound – quite a natural process if you ask me. 2012: touring Europe for the first time, releasing “Seven Thunders Roar”, which many consider to be a classic record already…which is flattering but weird. Is it ok if I skip 2013, 2014 and 2015 to announce the world domination plans for 2016?..

You’ve released “The Harvest” a couple of months ago and most reviews state that it is your fastest and more ‘straight-to-the-point’ record. Do you agree with this idea?

Fastest it may be, but let’s talk straight here. The initial idea of “The Harvest” was to create a prog-rock album with all those acoustic interludes, soaring mellotrons and long multi-structured compositions, while having some doomy and rocky songs already written, like “Rituals Of The Sun” or “Here Come The Robots”. But when all terrible things began to happen in Ukraine, everything got messed up not only in our country, but also in our creative process as well. So gentle pieces turned into heavy riffs, the overall sound changed from rock-oriented to more metalish one, some bits got shortened or even thrown away, and so on. Imagine how mad I become reading something like “Stoned Jesus gone Foo Fighters in their new LP” in reviews. C’mon, just read “YFS” lyrics, this is the angriest song we’ve ever written! So it’s not about being down to earth or accessible, it’s just the nature of this particular record. When you’re pissed off and screaming at someone’s face, you’re not doing it in 15/16, are you?

What other changes would you want to mention as being the most relevant in “The Harvest”?

The band got tighter musicianship-wise, from being on the road, from endless practicing hours, from knowing what we want to achieve with this album. Also the person-from-the-outside, our sound engineer/sound producer Sergey, helped us a lot. I came up with some decent songs they say, and yes, I do feel the difference between two-riffed chuggachugga of “Black Woods” and those intricate patterns “Silkworm Confessions” weaves (pun intended!). Some shameless Swans worship in “Black Church” turned heads, too, he-he. When we had released “Seven Thunders Roar”, there were some people who actually hated it, saying we’re selling out. Now people complain we’re doing this again, but we’re just trying new things. We’ve never wanted to be a genre-rooted band, leave it to those bearded hippies in grandpa’s shirts and bootcut jeans!

Lyric-wise, what subjects do you generally like to address and what topic, if there’s any major one, that dominates “The Harvest” ­– death, I suppose?

Well, it’s more about Man vs Machine, while “Seven Thunders Roar” was more about Man vs Nature – “I’m the Mountain”, “Indian”, you got the message. In “The Harvest”, the struggle rages on so many levels: within ourselves in “Here Come the Robots”, with our beloved ones in “Wound”, with The Machine Of The State in “Rituals Of The Sun”, with The Machine Of Lies in “YFS”, with The Machine Of Religion in “Black Church”, climaxing in “Silkworm Confessions” with the harvest we rip…But don’t call it a concept album – I’m about to write one some day!

Portuguese bands, living in Europe’s westernmost point, usually consider the distance from continent’s epicenter a major obstacle. They end up being isolated from wide discographic markets like Germany. Does Stoned Jesus, being from the eastern side, feel the same exact problem?

Very much so, you’ve nailed it. Even if we’re pretty popular in Central Europe, we still spend a lot on flights and other logistics’ issues. We’re trying to live from music starting from this album, but living in Ukraine makes it way too difficult. Nevertheless, who said we’re giving up?..

Is it difficult in Kiev to find people with the same music taste as yours? Stoned Jesus has changed its formation a couple of times, so is it a strenuous process to meet someone new?

It depends. Back in 2009 it was impossible to find a drummer who’d play slow and good in the same time, haha. In 2013 we were totally cool with the drummer who had never listened to stoner rock at all, but had this very own understanding of groove. I’m struggling to find musicians for my neo-prog project right now, while receiving literally dozens of messages a-la «dude I’m into all this occult stuff, let’s play them DOOM!» every month. I’d say Kiev is a perfect melting pot; this is THE place to be. Kharkov or Lviv may be significant in some other terms, but musically speaking Kiev rules them all…which is not really cool for a country of 45 million people. Check out Germany, they have different electronic scenes and movements for every big city. Tell a Munich DJ that in order to get noticed he needs to move to Berlin. He’d never understand that.

How much the Ukrainian political and territorial crises have affected you as a band? From the Maidan Revolution to the oblast conflicts in Luhansk and Donetsk, did your lives change in any significant way?

They of course did. My parents decided to stay in Lugansk region, which is under rebels now, and the conditions there are quite horrible. On the other side, current Ukrainian authorities are making the same mistakes their predecessors were infamous for. It’s really unstable in here. What once was people’s fight against the corruption of a former state, now turned into a semi-nationalistic cult to monetize on. Hundreds died, economy is collapsing, but for thousands it was the turning point in their lives. Forget the speculations – think of dignity.

What’s your stance on all that’s been happening in Ukraine? I’m aware that this is a pretty wide subject, but some experts affirm that your country is being played as a chess piece between USA/EU and Russia, which is something definitely reminiscent of what was the Cold War modus operandi. What’s your opinion about it? Are you hopeful for your nation’s future?

We don’t have much choice. Nobody knows what future brings, so embracing it with arms wide open could be the only option. I see your point on the Ukrainian issue, and I’m pretty much agree on it – there were couple of moments when each of the conflict’s sides was able to stop the confrontation, but more victims followed instead. It’s all up to Big Players now, and boy we all DO know very well how they like to screw it up.

Is it tough // impossible to book some gigs in Eastern Ukraine and Russia these days?

We don’t even try to. Eastern Ukraine is a freaking war zone, why would anyone want to play there? As for Russia, we’ve been making ourselves clear not once: with all due respect to our fans, we don’t want to visit the country whose soldiers are killing our nationals as we speak. We don’t want to risk our lives facing pro-Putin activists: ask our ex-drummer’s current band Dysphoria how they were treated on a third show of their ill-fated Russian tour. Numerous gigs got cancelled due to religious fanatics, too: we’re talking big names like Behemoth and Marilyn Manson here! Imagine a certain band called “STONED JESUS” embarking on a Russian tour in times like these – should we call it “Occult Black Church” then? Besides, there’s a strong backlash here in Ukraine towards bands and artists who play in Russia these days, they’re largely seen as greedy traitors. Some musicians don’t think about their reputation when they smell money. Shame.

You’re currently on Інша Музика. Are you currently planning on finding a deal with an international label? Can it happen anytime soon?

Well, you have to. The whole system is pretty much the same everywhere, whether it’s so-called independent music or the major league players. Bigger venues won’t be interested in you unless you’re supported by a well-known label. Labels won’t sign you unless you’ve already got hundreds of devoted fans buying your stuff. Nobody’s going to create a unique marketing strategy for each and every band – and some labels work with dozens of them, literally! – so they’ll be selling you as “another Sabbath” or “anotherNirvana” to make sure they’d capitalize. Media doesn’t give a shit about you, but they eventually would if the label says you’re THE shit. Even if you set every club on fire with your performance on a regular basis and have people raving about your songs on the internets, it’s not enough in the 21th century. It’s a pleasant surpriseReverence Valada asked us to play – sometimes good music finds good people without any fancy promotional techniques involved. But it’s not an old-man-yells-at-a-cloud situation, don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying I won’t be super stoked to work with some big names in the future – first I’d wanna make sure they understand WHAT they’re dealing with. German Nasoni Records presses vinyl for us, Kyiv’s InshaMuzyka handles other stuff, and all those guys are more like partners for us. Nobody’s telling us what to play. Nobody’s demanding a radio single. Nobody’s dropping us because we’d sold less CDs than we did last year. But I do feel the big waves a-coming.

Regarding your side-projects, do you have any news, anything planned?

Oh yes. I put my singer-songwriter thing called Voida on hold, butKrobak (instrumental cinematic rock) and Arlekin (neo-prog in the vein of early Marillion and classic Genesis material) are both about to release new full-lengths in 2016. Man, I love doing music!

Leave something written in Cyrillic for those who’ll see you this month in Portugal!

Привет, ребята! Увидимся на фестивале, верно? Мир, любовь, стониджизус! Cheers and thanks a ton.

UKRAINIAN ROCK • Curated by STONED JESUS by Ponto Alternativo on Mixcloud

  1. Maloi – “Boys You Gotta Slow Down” (2012). Probably the best sadpunk band in Ukraine, shame they don’t play/release that often though;
  2. 5R6 – “Vermin” (2015) Bet you never heard anything like that – think of Riverside jamming with Alice In Chains. This is a B-side from the upcoming debut album of this Kharkov’s band, and boy it’s good!;
  3. Ethereal Riffian – “Thugdam” (2014). A shamanistic hypnodoom from the guys who write a freaking BOOK for each full-length – to make sure you’ll get what they mean by it;
  4. Somali Yacht Club – Up In The Sky (2014). A psychedelic trio from Lviv with sharp songwriting abilities. They’re playing Portugal’s SonicBlast Moledo soon, don’t you miss them!;
  5. Burrow – “From Roots To Crown” (2012). Another Kharkov’s gem that would make Baroness run for cover;
  6. Topple – “Apart” (2014): Going indie folk this time now – also me on the lead guitar, guest appearance!;
  7. Date Rape – “A Clinique Poem” (2011). Sadly defunct now, those emos were the most fun live. This is me playing that first solo, again.
  8. Bomg – “Polynseeds Of Shubin” (2013); when they ask us why we’re not DOOM anymore, we usually recommend them to check those guys out. Led by father/son duo, this quartet is THE best kept secret of Ukrainian underground these days;
  9. Krobak – “And there by the River I lost my Glasses” (2013). Okay, this is yours truly and the gang are playing epic post-rock in its least annoying form – expect a new full-length album in 2016!;
  10. Slow Ride Home – “Dharmakaya” (2010). Not active since 2011, this Kyiv-based instrumental outfit was the biggest influence for 90% of the current psych/doom/stoner scene in Ukraine. Fingers crossed they’ll return one day.