Meet Russian DIY Music Band – Billy’s Band

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Billy’s Band was born out of a carefree hobby of a group of friends who were playing for their friends. But in 2002 they appeared on the Russian rock ‘n’ roll scene and were an instant sensation.

Apart from the Tom Waits covers their concert program consists of their own material, which is partially reminiscent of American gothic music and partially absorbs local city myths and stories. The musicians themselves define their style as romantic underground music, or as ”Dixieland for a funeral with an ever-present happy end.” Analyzing the music style of Billy’s Band, we can describe it as a mixture of blues, swing, jazz and rock ’n’ roll.

Anticipating their upcoming major tour across Russia and Europe, Billy’s Band has agreed to talk to a Youth Time reporter. We met right before the band’s performance, with the intriguing title “Being Tom Waits”, in a dressing room at one of St. Petersburg’s rock ’n’ roll clubs. The conversation turned out to be brief, yet saturated with informal quips and the unique charm of the Billy’s Band members.

Participants in the discussion were:

Billy Novik (double bass, vocals, keyboards);

Andrey Reznikov (guitar, orchestral cymbals, voice effects);

Anton Matezius (accordion, percussion, back vocals, voice effects);

Mikhail Zhidkych (sax, piano, floor tom-tom, percussion)

I will start with the question of your self-identification. Are you seeing yourselves as musicians, actors, directors or just people who got together for something that you all enjoy doing?

Billy: I would say I believe that we are people who got together to create a certain kind of stage action, based on the art of sound – or what humans agree to call music. And of course, our action gets complimented by visual festivity. In other words, our concerts become performances in the true sense of the word – we are not just sitting up on the stage and making sounds, we are visually illustrating and acting out this process.

How have you come up with this intriguing definition of what you are doing?

Billy: Well, it emerged in 2001, when we got together to help Andrey «Ryzhik» Reznikov (the band’s guitarist – editor’s note) to enter the Institute of Culture and Arts. At the time I did not quite know yet what it meant to be a musician. My perception of musicians’ image back then was still very much influenced by The Beatles as well as some punk rock bands. That was when I first met some real musicians – professionals, who studied music at university and who treated the complexity of musical harmony as their priority number one. The way they looked or how they moved on stage did not mean much to them. But at the same time, the kind of music they were making could easily serve as background music for a shopping mall. Which was why I decided for myself that this would not be my style. How can one consider himself an artist if he is not inciting any emotions in the audience, if he is sitting still with an expressionless face?

How did your band emerge?

Billy Novik: When you don’t have a steady job with a regular income, you keep working on various free-lance projects hoping that one or another brings you success. But I think I won the guys over by saying: “Lads, this is not a project which you need to spend all your energy on – we don’t need to spend much time on rehearsing.” The downside is in not having a steady income from what we are doing, but the benefit comes from having no need to rehearse all the time. 

Billy, at the time when the band was formed, you were working as a children’s pathologist. Did music come as a comfort zone for you to escape into, or was founding a band just a natural thing for you to do?

Billy: At that time I was so out of my comfort zone that practically anything could work as that very needed escape. The only hard thing about the change was disregarding ten years of medical education, which I had had. It seemed absurd, to just throw what was then about a third of my life out the window. It was not easy, even though my life had not been sweet and merry as it was. I had no reason to expect financial stability when I was making that decision. Either way I was not making much money. But what I gained was freedom and people’s respect. Our first listeners were especially grateful. I remember playing at Molly’s (one of the famous pubs in the center of Petersburg – editor’s note), and we had some respected men come up to us to say: “Thank you!”

Andrey: We were playing quite recklessly back then!

Billy: Well we were drinking other things as well. No grapefruit juice, which I am having now.

Here is a question for Mikhail. When you joined the band, you were the most professional of you all. What made you want to be a part of this collective, with less experienced musicians than you?

Mikhail: I was engaged with studio work when I got the offer to join them for the record – not from the guys themselves, but from their agent. I agreed, made a record with them, then agreed for another one, and also joined them for a concert. At that time I felt the urge to develop and take part in various music projects.

Billy: How can one strictly define professionalism in terms of music? We could try an experiment, just for the sake of it, and offer ten different musicians (or whoever considers himself or herself a musician) a chance to go out in the street and try to earn some cash in 10 minutes. Professionalism lies as well in the ability to earn money with your craft. And this is what I expect to be the result of this experiment: you do not have to actually be a practicing, so-called professional musician to be able to do that. Of course it is an exaggeration – but basically as long as you are out there naked with a guitar, you might get some decent money for your act.

Who or what is inspiring you for your concert programs and shows?

Billy: The main inspiration comes from other people. Some creative minds are more valuable as inspiration for others, rather than as authors of whatever they create themselves. Some people might think of a Billy’s Band concert: “How can they play so terribly? Even I could do better. ” And you know what, they might as well be better musicians indeed! But I believe there is a great sense in serving as an inspiration for someone else’s creation.

What is your vision of where you are going? What are your ambitions?

Andrey: The Grammy award, obviously!

Mikhail: We’d like to become real musicians!

Anton: We’d like to put on a decent show, so that we don’t get beaten up!

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