It's been a while since an alternative punk band has been a breakout hit on the music scene, but that is exactly what the members of Louna hope for as the Russian punk rockers branch out beyond their native country with their first English-language album.
Louna is widely considered the most successful rock band of the modern protest movement in Russia (though Pussy Riot has certainly gotten all the press internationally). The band has garnered plenty of prizes in recent years, including the Best New Artist of the Year Russian Alternative Music Prize in 2009 and the 2011 Rock Song of the Year Nashe Award. Then, in 2012, lead singer Lousine "Lou" Gevorkian won Female Vocalist of the Year at the Nashe Awards.
Now Gevorkian and her Louna bandmates have found themselves with a larger audience, a significant portion of which is queer girls. In fact, when we asked if Gevorkian was a lesbian, through a translater and publicists in Russia and the U.S., she was perplexed. She reminded us that while commonplace in America, such questions aren't usually asked in Russia, where there's been a crackdown on anything "promoting" homosexuality.
Still, she and her bandmates, Vitaly Demidenko and Ruben "Rou" Kazarian, were eager to talk about their new album, Behind a Mask (which has many songs that could speak to LGBT issues), their growing LGBT fan base, and why punk rock is a lesbian thing in Russia.
The Advocate: What does the album title, Behind a Mask, mean?
Rou Kazarian: I interpret the meaning of the name more broadly than just the image on the cover of our CD. We all wear masks. Skepticism, ostentatious hypocrisy, jokes, sarcasm -- we all in one way or another have to hide our own true selves behind a mask because we're afraid. We're all afraid of something. Overcoming these fears and rejecting the mask is. for me, one of the basic tasks in life. I want to reach out to real people, not the masks. I want to deliver my music behind the mask.
Lou Gevorkian: Truth and fear and lies are always hidden behind a mask. The real face of man, of mankind, of situations, authority, behind a mask they can all be concealed. Anything, pain, fear, lies, deception. But truth is always revealed. Masks differ, but truth is always the same. A mask can serve as protection and it can also serve evil. It's time to look truth in the eyes.
You've done some work with LGBT groups. What does it mean to be gay in this day and age in Russia?
Gevorkian: There's really not any real social problems as such as long as you don't scream about it on every street corner. It's true that same-sex marriage is prohibited in Russia, but it doesn't mean you can't be together. However, the pop music industry has marginalized LGBT culture in Russia in the eyes of ordinary people by making them seem vulgar and laughable. It makes gays seem like freaks in the eyes of ordinary people. The church has tried to turn this around to their favor by making it a problem. I, on the other hand, really think that the scandalous attention given to such things serves only to distract people from political and economic problems. It's like the situation when Madonna performed in Russia a few months ago. The politicians wanted to sue her for spreading gay propaganda when she voiced her support of LGBT issues during her show. By doing this they sparked another cheap scandal in order to make it look like they are doing something, like they're doing their jobs. They use their power to show people that they are in control and that they make the rules.
Lou, do you or any of your bandmates have a gay following?
Gevorkian: Of course, I have quite a lot of lesbian fans here. They are my friends. We always share our problems and emotions with each other. They're just normal people who listen to rock. I don't divide people between sexual minorities or majorities. I'm only interested in the human qualities of a person.
Your heavy-metal punk sound isn't generally a genre that's thought to have many gay fans. Is that assumption wrong?
Kazarian: I agree. And as I said earlier, gay culture [in Russia] is basically coming from richer people who are not into rock music. But you'll find many lesbians listening to rock music. Besides that, we tend to play heavier than usual rock, and that probably appeals even less to the LGBT audience. I think that is a common prejudice. The LGBT community is definitely a minority in every country, but fans of really heavy music -- like death metal, grindcore, hardcore, etc. -- are a minority too. So we're ready to try to fix that injustice.
Gevorkian: As far as I know, in Russia there are lots of girls who have homosexual relations who love rock and punk music.
What's next for Louna?
Kazarian: I hope a lot. We're already working on new material, and we're definitely getting better at that. We've just released a DVD and a live CD in Russia, we're currently touring Russia and I hope Behind a Mask finds its way to an international audience. Music has become something of a one-way mirror in the world. You in America, Europe, and the rest of "the West" see yourselves in the reflection but nothing of what we do here. What music you make influences your bands, and ours in Russia as well because we see you. What has been missing is that what we do here isn't seen anywhere except for here. We'd like to change that.
Behind a Mask
is available April 30. Preorder the album here