|No wonder Boris Grebenshikov was an outlaw during most of his life in the Soviet
The Soviet singer-guitarist-composer, who is touring America, doesnt mince
words. He is not afraid to tell you what he thinks about anything.
Luckily, he quipped the other day, he didnt wind up in Siberia.
In the pre-Gorbachev years, when creative freedom was stifled and the government was
tough on nonconformists, Grebenshikov resorted to working underground, recording tapes
that circulated throughout the Soviet Unions hip musical community.
"Im always true to my principles, so I wanted to do the music I wanted to do
and to be able to say what I wanted to say," said Grebenshikov, 36, who speaks
English fluently. "How else can you live?
"In those days, musicians were limited by the ideological concepts of the
government. You couldnt sing about certain things or sing about certain things in a
certain way. I couldnt do things the way the government wanted. I couldnt work in
Grebenshikov will be at the Bacchanal in San Diego on Sunday and at the Roxy on Tuesday
as part of a national club tour to promote "Radio Silence" (Columbia Records),
his first American album. Produced by the Eurythmics Dave Stewart, Grebenshikovs
album is in English with the exception of two compositions in Russian.
On this soft-rock album with folkish overtones, he sticks to universal themes, emerging
as an insightful lyricist with an earnest, often dramatic delivery. His tone and phrasing
are quite Dylanesque at times.
With the arrival of the Gorbachev eras extensive intercultural exchange,
Grebenshikov was able to work out a deal, proposed by a U.S. management company, to make
an American record. He had earlier appeared on a compilation album of Soviet rockers
music released on a small, independent label. His management company cut through red tape
to get him to the United States his first foreign trip to negotiate a contract.
"I was paraded before five companies, but I chose Columbia," he said.
"They didnt know what they were getting." He met Stewart in Los Angeles
though a mutual friend during that trip.
Grebenshikovs attributes the albums commercial tone to Stewarts influence.
"It had to be that way," he said. "But I dont like commercial music.
Still, I have to do things here a certain way or I couldnt make the album."
For 17 years, Grebenshikov existed only unofficially. In the Soviet Union, musicians
earn a living by officially working in the systemwhich he was unwilling to do. His
rugged individualism dates back to his youth. While in college studying sociology and
math, his passion for playing music got him in trouble. He was kicked out of school for
playing at a rock festival.
Grebenshikov, who lives in Leningrad, was somewhat guarded about his political
attitudes. Still, when asked if hes a communist, his candor took over: "I
wouldnt say so. I was kicked out of the Young Communists League. I wouldnt say it
brought me a lot of pain."
Though he is an official part of the Soviet pop music society now, he hasnt lost his
underground tastes. His preferences run to the avant-garde artists like Britains
Cocteau Twins. Most Soviet pop music, he said, is commercial junk: "Theyre only
copying what they hear. Its totally soulless."
Hes not too thrilled with most American music either. "Its boring," he
said haughtily. "Thats why the classic-rock (radio) formats are popular. The
further from the origins of rock the music is, the more commercial it isthe more boring
He also took on those who are in music just for the money. "You dont do
it to make a living," he said. "Isnt that a common excuse for
prostituteswho say theyre in it just for the money? Its just that making love for
money and doing it for love are different. Making music for money and for what I call
sacred reasons are different things too. By the way, I have nothing against
Grebenshikov, who has been a musician since the late 60s, started out listening to
bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Explaining his early attraction to music,
he said, "Its the only thing thats real. To me, its still the only thing
thats really real."
In 1972, Grebenshikov began working with the band Aquarium, which eventually became the
darling of the Russian underground. Still, he had to eke out a living through odd jobs.
Though he is married with two childrena son, 4 ½, and a daughter, 11 -- earning money
just isnt a driving force for him.
"I was doing my thing and letting God provide," he said. "Sometimes I
sound like a crazed preacher on a mission, but Im not after the money. Im looking
for spiritual gratification."
Though Grebenshikov often sounds like someone whos not too fond of his country, he
swore hes not a candidate for defection: "Im not looking to leave Russia.
Its my home. I dont want to live anywhere else."