Rarely do bands come along who not only push the envelope, ignore genre constraints but go the extra length to create their own. tAngerinecAt is such a band. Who would have thought that mixing electronic beats and a hurdy-gurdy? UK’s tAngerinecAt answers that question. Their Bandcamp would indicate that indeed they are developing a cult following. We just had to know a little more of this gem of a duo from the UK. Thanks to Eugene and Paul from tAngerinecAt for the interview.
Hello and thanks for the interview. Can you start, please by giving us a bit of a background on the project and how it was born? Where did the name come from?
Hello. Thank you for having us! Firstly, we would like to say that Eugene is Ukrainian/Jewish and Paul is English who lived in Ukraine for 18 years but now we have been based fully in UK for 5 years. We played in different projects in the past and started to play together as a duo after a trip to the Ukrainian Carpathians where we met a woman in her eighties who spent most of her adult life in Gulags. After a lot of discrimination as non-binary person from working class background with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, chronically ill and homeless, Eugene had all but given up on music and was very depressed. This woman called Theodosia talked to us for about four hours about her life experience, Gulags, her discrimination and persecution as a Ukrainian woman and queer musician and poet, and then she sang and played her songs. She encouraged Eugene to play, sing and perform, do what you want and speak your truth. Then she showed her portrait by her bed and said: “One day you will return here and see this photo in the graveyard near here, and you will either be grateful or you will curse me for my words of encouragement.” After this we walked about 30 km through the mountains. It was all such a cathartic experience that we decided to play music again no matter what.
We were originally called Dark Patrick because we really found a resonance with the Donegal (Ireland) legends about an Irish philosopher and wise person from working class who often helped poor and oppressed, called Dark Patrick. We changed the name of our band when we left Ukraine. As Eugene was persecuted in Ukraine as an activist, received daily death threats and hate messages, we had to hide away for a while. We lived in a tiny, converted garage and our only visitor and friend was a huge ginger cat. So in honor of this cat we changed the name of our band to tAngerinecAt. The capital A’s represent our anarchist views and also look visually like a cat’s ears. The actual word for us symbolizes, a friend, someone who doesn’t desert you in your most difficult times and someone who is free, can go where they want, talk their truth and has no masters.
We should talk a little bit about the new single, “Something Broke Inside.” It’s noted that the lyrics deal with some very personal, uncomfortable topics. Can you further explain as much as you like?
It’s really personal because it deals with raw emotions but these kind of feelings it seems are common to people who have had to emigrate to a completely new culture and start their life all over again. When we had toured in UK in the past before we moved here, we met a migrant worker from Poland. She said that she only got friends in UK after 9 years. Before that she was met with a lot of betrayal and an attitude toward her as a second-class person who nobody trusted and was always put down or excluded. Eugene met with a similar thing after immigration to UK, and in musical circles especially it was hard to be treated as someone with no history who just appeared, so all your successes are received as undeserved and you are received as an enemy and completely misunderstood and misrepresented. All of this together with lack of legal rights and having to fight to remain led to an emotional breakdown. During this time Eugene had a dream about waking up spitting blood and glass as if something had broken inside. That was the beginning of the song.
Could you also go back into your history and pick out any particular recordings which dealt with difficult subjects? And what about some of your releases which deal not with
In all our albums there are a lot of stories from Eugene’s personal experience dealing and coping with difficult subjects as well as a lot of hope, protest and imagination of alternative ways to be. A lot of people find our music to be liberating and healing, and some called it just lovely.
Parts of the new single feel structured and some feel improvisational. Is this accurate and how does the creative process typically occur?
Something Broke Inside originated from improvisation that we structured over time. It was honed over time in our live shows. When we actually recorded it, we made some changes. The live version is about 9 minutes long and has a long live looping slow prelude containing whistle, harmonica and hurdy-gurdy. On the recording we added Paul’s Ukrainian bagpipe (duda) solo instead of the whistle.
Our creative process has been different for every song but usually it begins with one musical idea or element or separate elements that we combine. For example, Something Broke Inside was built around a sample that we recorded of breaking a wine bottle. From this sample we made a whole series of different sounds and rhythms that will be the main theme that will run through every song of our future album called “Glass”.
Can you describe your studio and how the live show instrumentation is different? How much of the show is not pre-planned?
We have a portable studio setup that we have put together over time. We have a laptop, interface, microphones and musical instruments. Our current live setup has almost the same instruments as in the studio. The main exception is the duda (Ukrainian Bagpipes) that we only use in the studio because it’s awkward to use live with limited time and resources. Although we have a virtual instrument that we made ourselves from the sounds of the duda.
All our shows are preplanned including movements and transitions between tunes like a theatre production. Sometimes it is one long piece. We improvise within the structure but improvisation is not a distinguishing feature of tAngerinecAt. Everything is actually built around composition.
Some of your music feels very trance-like or metaphysical. Are you involved in any sort of meditation or metaphysical activities while composing or performing?
No, but our music has elements of ritual because we studied a great deal of Ukrainian ritual music and also Eastern Orthodox monastery singing. Especially this is notable in our song “Many Kettles or Mass of the Black Cats. This happened because half of Eugene’s family was religious but he lived in a place and time when you had to hide a Bible because your neighbours could snitch on you to the KGB and you could end up in a Gulag. So as a protest against authoritarianism you read the whole Bible, sang in church choirs, studied monastery singing… and after many years of getting disappointed by the authoritarianism of the Church, having been kicked out from several Christian denominations where you were called a witch for not feeling the same way about someone who harassed you and for asking too many questions and having your own opinion, and after they performed exorcism on you and excommunicate you, you become an atheist and take part in anticlerical protests. But your experience shows you that destroying everything to rebuild from the beginning is totally wrong and it ruins your connection with yourself and your history causing you to become dependent on the next authoritarian structure. So instead of throwing away your experience, you give it a new life and sense.
All these singing techniques are really powerful and wonderful! They were created from ancient times to transport people into trance, look deep inside, meditate, feel ecstasy and create a connection between people through ritual. So, we can say that we are more interested and involved in the psychological content and impact of ritual and trance-like things, not metaphysical.
What were some of the most important recordings to you while growing up? What inspired you to use instruments like the hurdy gurdy?
For Paul The Doors and Pink Floyd were probably my most played recordings. They also listened to a lot of blues and Jimi Hendrix. Eugene listened to Soviet punk, post-punk and rock such as Kino, Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Auktsion… as well as “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo and pieces by modern composers that he played in orchestra at music college, and later doom-metal – the most played was My Dying Bride, gothic and other kinds of metal, and he even played in a doom-metal band. Also Eugene heard a lot of Ukrainian tradition music first hand (not recordings) and knew a lot of songs and sang too.
We first heard the hurdy-gurdy in Ukraine. We were fascinated by the old tradition where blind Ukrainian musicians, many of whom were blinded during the war when the Turkish Empire invaded the Crimea, performed in the streets on the hurdy-gurdy telling stories about war and different social issues. These songs are really emotionally charged and heart breaking. Eugene found the atmosphere and depth of these songs combined with the dark, droney and piercing sound of hurdy-gurdy to be relevant to his emotions and experience and he decided to try using this instrument in our music. In the beginning it seemed almost impossible but Eugene trained so much that his hands swelled, and we experimented a lot with different setups and approaches.
How did the pandemic affect you both personally and creatively?
We both got Covid-19 most probably at one of the last shows we played, were ill for months and still have consequences. We were at the beginning of our big UK tour which was canceled due to lockdown. Of course, it was horrible but on the other hand we won some time to record Something Broke Inside and new music, experiment a lot with our setup and create in new ways.
If you could perform in any non-traditional concert setting, where would it be and why?
We have played in old Victorian churches twice and it was fantastic! It would be great to play somewhere surrounded by the ocean or Pompeii, for example.
What are your plans for the foreseeable months in 2021?
We are currently involved in a collaborative audio-visual project with digital artist Robyn Waterston and 3D artist Chayla-Rose based in Cardiff, UK, that we hope to release at the end of Spring. There is a fascinating story behind this project that we are keeping secret until the release day. We are also working on our new album “Glass” which we would like to release on vinyl before the end of the year.
What would you like the project to be remembered for by your fans many years in the future?
For developing our own sound, our honesty, our investment in ending all forms or authoritarianism, and for creating original music that speaks deep into the hearts of people all over the world encouraging those who have lost hope to live and keep going.