Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin Discuss Russian Adventure, Upcoming Documentary + New Album ‘Fly By Wire’
What happens when you throw three Missouri indie musicians into Russia in the middle of winter? A life-changing cultural experience. When the Boris Yeltsin Foundation invited Will Knauer, Philip Dickey and Jonathan James of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin to the country in January, the guys didn’t know what to expect from the six-day excursion. But they were ready for an adventure.
There was only one problem: The trip was to take place while the guys were still in the middle of working on their fourth studio effort, ‘Fly By Wire.’ Taking on the challenge, they hopped on a plane, met the good people of Russia and filmed the whole experience, and now, they’re set to release the footage in a documentary titled ‘Discussions With Russians.’ They also jumped right back into recording when they got back and released ‘Fly By Wire’ on Sept. 17.
Diffuser.fm spoke with lead guitarist Knauer about resuming recording in his bedroom, the Russian excursion and why he thinks he’ll meet Harrison Ford in the near future.
How was the approach to this album different from your previous work?
It wasn’t nearly as planned out this time. I think even two months before we started recording, we weren’t sure if we were going to do it or how we were going to do it. Then we realized we wanted to do it. So that was the driving force. We just wanted to make [the new album] happen, so we resorted to anything we could to make it happen, such as going back to the attic where we made the first album so it would be free, and we wouldn’t have any other options. We didn’t work with any producers or anything, so we kind of just falling back into what we were able to do. We just jumped into it and let whatever happened happen.
What were the challenges going back to the attic and recording it the way you did the first around?
I think the biggest challenge was how messy the attic was and how much cleaning we had to do. That was a little symbolic of how much time had passed and all the things that have built up. So cleaning it up and having a fresh start, I think, was a really good feeling. And in terms of the recording, there wasn’t too much of a challenge. It seemed a little easier this time just because we’ve gotten better over the years and making demos ourselves. So I think recording went pretty smoothly.
What’s ‘Nightwater Girlfriend’ about?
That’s about the amusement park in Branson, Missouri. It’s kind of a white-water-style amusement park. And sometimes at night, they do ‘Nightwater,’ and that’s just all about going there, getting in trouble and having fun.
What’s the premise behind the video?
We just wanted to do bad things and look cool, I think. [Laughs] But have fun with it to and not act like too much of a bad guy, you know, in a lighthearted way and be cooler than you actually are.
What inspired the song ‘Harrison Ford’? Are you guys big fans?
Yeah, I love Harrison Ford. We couldn’t come up with a title for that song, and it’s sort of about that movie ‘Bladerunner’ — at least the lyrics were [inspired by it]. So we thought, “Yeah, we’ll put Harrison Ford’s name in the title.” And yeah, I think the goal was that he would somehow find out about us through the song title, which hasn’t happened yet.
But you have your fingers crossed that this could possibly happen?
Aside from touring around the U.S. you also toured Japan. What was that leg of the tour like and playing the Japanese audience?
It was kind of like a fantasy tour. It was kind of like being on tour and vacation at the same time. It’s really amazing. It’s probably my favorite place to be. There’s just so much history there, and we get to go to so many neat places and do so many neat things. I think we went there around the time the album was being released in America. It was our only chance with timing to go there. We had gone once last year and loved it so much and made a lot of friends and connections. So we’re glad that everything worked out and were allowed to go again this year.
Moving on to the documentary, how did this all happen?
How it happened is what gives us mild faith that Harrison Ford could find out about us. Apparently the people in Russia who are in charge of the Old New Rock Festival in Yekaterinburg, Russia, were Google-ing Boris Yeltsin somehow, and they found out about us just because of his name in our band name. And they thought it was a good idea to bring them over here for the festival, and we were the first American band to have ever played at the festival. And it was just because they found our name on the Internet. They invited us over, and then the U.S. consulate in Russia realized this was happening. And they thought it would be a good opportunity they stepped in and upped the ante a little bit and introduced us to a school so we could do a relations thing where we met some students there. I guess they thought it was good opportunity. Then important figures in Boris Yeltsin’s life came there — like his former minister of foreign affairs came out, as well as the president of the Boris Yeltsin Centre, who runs the Boris Yeltsin Museum. We were in this school having lunch with these official guys. We weren’t really sure what our exact role was going to be, but documenting it was such a good idea, because it was going to be crazy. But we didn’t know exactly what were getting ourselves into. So I’m still trying to figure out what exactly happened there, to be honest.
So this happened in January. Besides it be freezing there, Russia is seen to a pretty insular country. Was it a problem filming your trip?
No one had any problems with it, actually. It went pretty smoothly. The only thing we had to tiptoe around was there was a press conference scheduled, and the U.S. Consulate gave us a bit of a briefing before we went out there. They told us to be careful about answering questions that related to the new adoption rule where people aren’t allowed to adopt Russian children anymore. So they told us to be really careful about answering those questions. We kind of got around it, but that was the only time we really felt like, “OK. We need to be really careful about what we say or do over here.”
You guys were also named the official cultural ambassadors to Russia. So take me back to when you first found about this and how you felt.
It was exciting. The day after the concert was the day we were officially ambassadors, which is also the day we went to the school and performed in the auditorium for the students and the principal and everyone. We just started calling one another ambassador just as a joke and though, “When are we going to be ambassadors again?” So I don’t think we knew what an ambassador was supposed to do and were just acting silly about it. But it’s also a very special thing that happened, so we took it seriously at the same time and appreciated it and were trying to be adult about it while we were talking to everybody. We just took a tour of the school, and they asked us questions, and we had some questions.
How did the Russians react when they found out about your band name?
I don’t think the students knew anything about us. I think there was an pre-event assignment for them to listen to our music before we got there, and the person who could translate our song lyrics the best got to ask us a question first. I think some of them were excited — the girls were excited — but I think a lot of the guys got in trouble because they were trying to sneak out the back and didn’t care at all. It wasn’t a very professional concert. They just gave us three acoustic guitars and put us onstage really quickly for the school. In terms of the official people who were there from the Boris Yeltsin Centre and who actually worked with Boris Yeltsin, they were very grateful that we have Boris Yeltsin’s name in our band name because it’s like we’re keeping his name alive, and people are learning about it because of us. So they were very thankful and had a lot of questions about geography and Missouri. So it was interesting.
And you guys got a really nice gift — some expensive vodka. Was it hard bringing that back home?
I think we did have a couple of bottles while we were there. The guys probably brought a couple of bottles back. I didn’t take any so I guess they got it back OK. I haven’t seen the bottles since we got back so I’m guessing they had a good time with them.
With album and just heading to all these places, what’s been the highlight of 2013 for you?
January in Russia was kind of a profound experience because it kicked us into gear to record the album, which caused everything else to happen — all the tours. So none of that would have happened if we weren’t invited to Russia. So that’s the most important moment of the year that spurned everything out. But in terms of my personal favorite, it’s definitely the Japan tour. I really want to spend a lot more time over there. So I really enjoyed that. Plus, it wasn’t minus 10 degrees like it was in Russia. It was nice weather.