The Ukraine isn’t exactly known as fertile ground for rock ’n’ roll, so it’s pretty remarkable that Jinjer, which formed in Donetsk in 2008, has not only managed to secure a record deal, but it's also toured the world several times over.
The band performs on Tuesday at House of Blues in support of its latest album, Wallflowers.
“Nothing has changed much [in the Ukraine] since the band formed in 2008,” says bassist Eugene Abdukhanov in a recent phone interview. “The extreme music scene is very, very amateur. It is taken from the old music business [approach] and is deeply underground. There are no venues and no infrastructure to play shows. In recent years, there have been some big festivals. But generally, it’s maybe two or three venues in Kiev where you can play this type of music, and I’m not even talking about the provincial cities. But there are bands now, and there were bands when we started which had underground popularity. It’s still like that.”
Abdukhanov says there’s a stigma attached to metal that makes it hard for bands and fans living in the country.
“It's considered to be socially unacceptable and opposed by the majority,” he says. “Most of the people consider metal to be anti-social or satanic. They consider us as junkies.”
Abdukhanov says he never accepted that aversion to metal.
“We always knew that this was wrong,” he says. “All four of us were checking how things were with our favorite bands and reading news about them. We knew that somewhere on this same planet this music was accepted. We knew there wasn’t something wrong with us; there was something wrong with them. I think we listened to everything. We listened to European and American and British metal bands. We listened to local metal bands. I don’t think the bands I grew up are that much different from what anyone else my age used to listen to. We all love Pantera.”
Lead singer Tatiana Shmayluk has said the band's latest effort, Wallflowers, is much different than anything the band has produced in the past, but Abdukhanov maintains it doesn’t drastically depart from past efforts.
“It is still Jinjer, and it honestly has more in common with 2016's King of Everything and our 2019 EP,” he says. “It’s stylistically between these two in some ways. It is raw and faster. It has fewer metal influences and parts, but it is also a step forward. We explored new areas of musicality and found new musical solutions and implemented them in our songs. We never want to stand on the same place and enjoy the comfort zone. We always want to get out of it, and this is what we are pushing for. I think we managed to do so.”
The songs for Wallflowers came together when the touring industry shut down in March of 2020. While many artists have said that writing and recording while a global pandemic raged wasn’t easy, Abdukhanov says the band saw writing as a way of coping with things.
“You have a very easy choice,” he says. “Either be bored to death or write music. Of course, we chose to write music.”
The group recorded earlier this year in March and because it kept everything in what Abdukhanov refers to as a “small bubble,” the band was able to safely record and produce the album.
Band leader Shmayluk often draws from personal experiences for her lyrics, and the tune “Disclosure!,” a track that begins with a spirited yelp, shows how she has the ability to take a personal matter and turn it into something that speaks to a larger issue. In the song's case, she addresses a run-in with a pesky reporter.
“Tatiana went to do an interview last winter, and the guy just tried to turn the whole dialogue into political areas to bring more conflict and oil to the fire,” says Abdukhanov. “We were trying to abort this, and it was a stressful thing to go through. [The song] is about how she felt, and what it was for her. As always, her lyrics have different layers. She literally tells the story of the interview, and on the other hand, she speaks to protagonists all over the world — people who use social media to brainwash people and make them much worse versions of themselves. Look at what is happening now; people in the media feed us with anger and hatred.”
“Wallflower,” a bonafide ballad, shows off the group’s gentler side.
“Well, yes, it’s one of the songs we’re really proud of,” says Abdukhanov. “We never write songs with a certain plan behind it. All music comes naturally. We spent most of the time on it because it has complex arrangements, and it’s not a wall of sound of distorted guitars. You pay more attention to the choice of notes. It turned out to be really cool. We’re really proud of the song.”
While Abdukhanov admits that hitting the road again after a lengthy hiatus was difficult — the band toured Europe earlier this year — he says he’s happy to be touring again and excited to return to Cleveland, which he says “has always been a cool place to play.”
“Playing live on stage wasn’t an issue,” he says when asked about the European tour. "But we needed to oil the machine to get it to work properly. For me personally, it was hard to start. You had to get back into it, but once we did, it was okay. It just takes some time, but the shows are selling well, and it all looks great.”
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]