Brooklyn, New York’s venue Warsaw recently played host to Jinjer, who have earned and enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years. The evening’s celebration was threefold: their return to New York City after two years, one month, and 21 days (but who’s counting?), a fervent sold-out crowd, and the recent release of their fourth studio album “Wallflowers” 27 August giving fans enough time to learn the words.
Californian metallers All Hail the Yeti performed first, their stage décor a mix of runes, lights, and plenty of foliage. Although they didn’t incite a mosh pit, the band did their part to warm up the crowd. Drummer Ryan “Junior” Kittlitz’s arms practically flew, and singer Connor Garritty often perched himself at the forefront, a level above the audience. A highlight of the set was “Before the Flames” from 2016’s “Screams from a Black Wilderness”, and the band also played music from their latest album “Within the Hollow Earth” released 12 November.
Suicide Silence was slated next, although an unfortunate positive Covid-19 test in their camp rendered the deathcore outfit unable to perform. If you’re keeping tabs on the band’s happenings, year 2020 saw the release of their sixth album “Become the Hunter” (Nuclear Blast), and also the wedding of drummer Alex Lopez to Jinjer’s Tatiana Shmailyuk.
Jinjer – including vocalist Shmailyuk, bassist Eugene Abdukhanov, guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov, and drummer Vladislav Ulasevich –arrived at last with style, the audience craning to get a glimpse of the Ukrainian powerhouse. While mostly clad in understated black clothing, aspects of the band’s wardrobe shone brightly under UV lighting including Shmailyuk’s orange eyeshadow, and Ibramkhalilov’s “Weed, California” t-shirt.
“On the Top”, the set’s second song, boasted Shmailyuk’s seemingly effortless ability to switch between harsh and clean vocals. The band became more comfortable on stage by “Pit of Consciousness” hitting their stride hit and careening into “I Speak Astronomy”. “Disclosure!” was an audience favorite, fresh off the heels of its 15 November music video release.
Although often categorized as metalcore, the four-piece often flirts with progressive elements and time signatures, and incorporates other musical styles such as the reggae found on “Judgement (& Punishment)”. “Teacher, Teacher” was another standout, and the band ascended to monitors at the front of the stage appearing larger than life as the audience sang the words back. The remainder of the set largely focused on “Wallflowers” content played for the first time live in New York. Then “Vortex” punctuated the set as its encore.
A few days prior to the Brooklyn performance, Abdukhanov dialed in from Cleveland to discuss their first tour in North America after two years away, as well as the spirit of introspection and artistic expression behind “Wallflowers”. Not one to shy away from deeper topics, the bassist also detailed the harrowing interview that inspired the “Disclosure!” song and video content, and commented on the band’s inimitable persistence through challenging times.
Last time you came through New York was October 2019 at the Gramercy Theatre. Does anything stick out to you from that time here?
Abdukhanov: Of course! First of all, we had the day off, and my wife was there with me so I have tons of beautiful memories connected to those two days. And well, that was just generally a great time with the band and the family, a nice show, which is actually recorded – you can find it on YouTube. In general, we really love coming to New York every time. It’s always cool place to play, and it’s always a cool place just to be. Going for a walk, sightseeing, doing a bit of shopping, or even going to a different show. Last time in New York I stayed with my wife, and the other guys went to the Incubus show.
This New York gig is in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. Is there anything you’ll try to do – or look forward to most – when the Jinjer camp rolls through New York this time around?
Abdukhanov: Maybe do a bit of sightseeing. Every time I’m there, I try to find a bit of time to do something apart from the band and music. It’s a really great place to be, like I said. This time we actually have a day off before the show, and we’ll park in New Jersey, but I’m sure I’ll just… go over the bridge. [Laughs]
The setlist for this tour rightfully leans on “Wallflowers” as it was released only two and a half months ago. What has the feeling been, playing these songs for North American audiences for the first time?
Abdukhanov: In many ways it’s playing for the first time live at all! We had a couple of shows during the summer in Europe at festivals but didn’t play many new songs, just one or two. There was a short mini-tour in Europe right before we came here, and even then we only played four or five songs from the new record. Now we are playing seven or eight, over half the setlist, and it’s really cool to see how well the audience accepts songs like “Disclosure!” and “Call Me a Symbol”, which we start our set with.
You mentioned in the recent press release for the “Disclosure!” video that Jinjer’s growth and upward momentum comes with a certain level of scrutiny. Can you explain more about some of these external pressures, and also what the band does to insulate yourselves from them?
Abdukhanov: Particularly in this song, it’s exactly about the thing you just mentioned. The song “Disclosure!” was written after Tati and I did an interview in Ukraine, and the interviewer – well, there are parallels with the video everywhere. The guy taking the interview used to be a cop in the past, and the whole interview started reminding us of an interrogation. This is how Tatiana felt, why she wrote the lyrics, and why we made the song. The dude was constantly trying to shift the point of the interview to politics, politics, politics. It’s a sharp issue now in Ukraine, and it’s always been like that. Politics are always in the front of everything; some of the most-discussed topics in society are always political. This is what the dude was trying to do, shift the point, so a couple of days after Tatiana wrote the lyrics, and the song was born. It turned out to be quite good, and it’s absolutely a fan favorite at the moment.
It wasn’t us, it was the director. He made the “Wallflower” video and then “Disclosure!” video. He was aware of the situation and watched the interviewer, and he came up with the idea for the video. He was also absolutely freaking out about how bad the interviewer was, and how badly he acted. This is how the video was born. This is our artistic narration of how we felt during the interview, and the sort of funny artistic response to the dude’s behavior.
Staying on the “Disclosure!” video for a moment, of course it’s quite intense. Can you talk about the filming process a bit? Also, what was it like to work with Dmitriy [Oksen, former Jinjer guitarist] again in this capacity?
Abdukhanov: Yeah, it was absolute fun! It took two days to film the video, and Dmitriy did a wonderful job reuniting with the band in a different employ, a different role. It was a great surprise for the fans, an Easter egg. The video is full of Easter eggs, actually. It was cool to be on the set with Dmitriy for the first time since 2015 when he was still in the band. It was a nice experience, really full of nostalgia.
As for the whole process, everything was wonderfully organized because Basel [Pereverzev], the director, took care of everything. We were on tour while he organized it, and he did fantastically well. We just showed up on the shooting site on that exact day, and everything went perfectly according to the schedule. A few moments were really fun to film, the band playing or the scene of interrogation. During the interrogation I was just in the shadows watching, and it was an absolute pleasure.
On the second day we filmed at the dump site. It was my first time ever at a dump site, and I was absolutely blown away. It was maybe the scariest place I’ve ever been to. There is much trash around you, and the smell was unbearably awful, which you can’t see on the video. It scares you a lot how badly we treat the Earth in places like that, and I was shocked, honestly. Absolutely shocked. This is how it was and in general, though, it was one of the most entertaining video shoots we’ve done. I loved doing it!
The “Wallflowers” lyrical content is largely inward-facing. When you worked on lyrics, was it a challenge to be vulnerable and open up in that way, or was it easy to draw from that well of material?
Abdukhanov: This is more of a question for Tatiana, as she wrote most of the lyrics. It was very easy for her to open up this way. She was keeping this inside herself, and it was the right moment just to express all of that through music. I don’t think that was problematic for her, as she did well lyrically. In my opinion, she did very well. We are all involved in the composition of the songs, it’s collective work. As for lyrics, it’s more of a one-sided thing because most of the lyrics come from Tati. I did write the lyrics for “Colossus” on this album.
Is that subject matter something of a double-edged sword – meaning, do you feel that people relate to that introspective, introvert-themed content, but in turn now want to have more access to the band?
Abdukhanov: We didn’t think about people, or fans, wanting to have more access to the band. This album wasn’t done to grow or breakthrough, as we already did in some way. It was written for the pure self-expression, the artistic self-expression. This is what we wanted to do. The reason why it’s so much inward-facing is just because Tatiana wanted to do so, not because she wanted to write lyrics that people could relate to. It was time for her to open up to the world, and she did.
Whether people may relate or may not, it’s a personal choice and really depends on the person. But I do believe people may relate to this because of the problems she mentions in the songs. These are widespread things. I myself relate to half of the songs easily because I have the same issues, same concerns, same feelings. I think people have the same shit in their lives. Understanding that someone out there, far away from you, has the same problems really helps. I love meeting people now at meet-and-greets who actually say this to our face, that our music helps them to overcome their problems – real problems in real life. This is one of the best feedback we could get.
I know this is a popular question but I’d be remiss not to address the “heaviness” present on “Wallflowers”, as an evolution of Jinjer’s style. Was that style choice a conscious decision, like, “We want to do this,” or just something that naturally came out during the arrangement and mixing process?
Abdukhanov: The truth is somewhere in the middle ground. I think we wanted to make something heavier, and also more musically sophisticated. It was time for us to write a piece of music, an album which is – if I say – not for everybody. It may be too strict, but it is like that. We just wanted to write the music, which is music for those who really get into this, not for everybody. I cannot say for critics. For the lovers of really sophisticated stuff, lovers of something complicated, something well arranged. Like classical music, for example, because you don’t see massive popularity for classical music, right? But everyone gives it a credit. We wanted to do something like that.
Jinjer is a band that continues to overcome. Whether powering through civil unrest in your early years, or releasing perhaps your most acclaimed record during a pandemic – you seem to shine when it would be easy to fold. Is this something that you take time to reflect on, either personally or as a band?
Abdukhanov: No. There is no time for that at the moment. Last time I did reflect like that, to what we had done, was when the pandemic started, and we had a bit of time off. I looked back at all the things we did. That went away very fast though; we went back to work and did “Wallflowers”. Now there is no time for this reflection, as we’re right exactly at the middle point of American tour at the moment. We still have a month to tour around the States, and that’s what I’m thinking about now. What you said, it’s time for many to fold, but we are standing strong and moving forward. This tour is a perfect display of that. Things are going well for the band. This is what I am focused on, playing the remaining shows very well, and staying healthy, because everyone knows how bad it is now with Covid. Every second band just canceled, and so far we managed to keep all the shows on. It’s an achievement.
What’s the recipe for this level of grit and persistence?
Abdukhanov: I think it’s something we inherited with the milk of our mothers. It’s common for the people where we come from. We come from this very provincial, very industrial area in the east of Ukraine, which is actually coal mine area. There are a lot of coal mines and miners. Each of us in our families has a miner, either a father or an uncle, and everybody understands that the job of a miner is fucking crazy hard. Just hard. And this is what we were told since we were just kids that life is tough, and the job is hard. You need to do that and keep going forward no matter what. This is what we are doing.
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