In the Cuckoo’s Nest: Ukrainian DSBM Troupe With a Taste for Lighthearted Remixes
Approximately one month ago, we ran across the following hit on YouTube:
It left me feeling many emotions. I laughed. I cried. But most of all, I was oddly impressed. The production, posted by an entity called Cuckoo's Nest, demonstrated the deep musical skill needed to seamlessly fuse a Ukranian party pop tune with the dark shrills of suicidal ideation. Naturally, my next reaction was to locate this nest, infiltrate its walls, and get the first willing participant to speak with me about it all.
Doing my due diligence before I "embarked" on four layovers to Mykolaiv, I quickly came to find that Cuckoo's Nest is no randy. Having released three full-lengths since 2013, the troupe has been prolific in providing DSBM staples that have caused rumbles in the underground. Equally as entertaining as their own compositions are their vast array of covers ranging from An Autumn For Crippled Children to a viral Russian casino jingle. Whether they're putting their touch on an existing melancholic track or an upbeat Slavic slapper, Cuckoo's Nest shows the world who's boss.
Fortunately, an hour before I was due to arrive at the gate, we got a Facebook message back from Cuckoo's Nest's leading member who was kind enough to correspond with us in his second language.
With whom are we speaking?
Hi, thanks for your invitation for this interview. I'm Jan de Valua, founder, composer of this project. On stage now I'm [the] guitarist (but some time before I was a drummer). On recordings, I also play bass and other instruments if I can, l am the lyrics writer and vocalist in some songs, and after that I mix all that shit, so maybe I'm one of [the] driving forces, but other guys in some ways are more active in making/performing music, so I appreciate them very much.
Can we learn a little more about your background? How did you guys get together? You've had some lineup change over the years.
It will be very difficult to explain, but I’ll try. We got together as this project in summer/autumn [of] 2011, but before that, we all had some musical interests to realize, so in reality, we began to learn how to play music in autumn 2010. But later I wrote my first music with our guitarist at that time, Alexey, who suggested sketches. So since that time, I proposed to play and work with this music. After all, no other original propositions were being put forward and [the] guys liked that. So later, to summer 2012, I realized that an album is ready and it's time to record it. After that, in autumn, we got invited to our first concert. At that time we had this lineup: like Alexey and me on guitars, Yarik on bass, Denis on drums, and Oleh Maliy on vocals. But after that Yarik left us and Oleh became bassist and vocals on [his] next gig, and later, after that, Denis left us too. So I become a drummer and I found Vasya (FLV) and invited him to be our guitarist (he was our listener at our first concert) and that's become our stable lineup for a long time.
After that in summer 2013 we recorded our second album Everything is Not as It Was Yesterday and some years later [our] split Traces of Burnt Feelings and third album Tales of Human Being -- that was recorded without vocalist Oleh because he moved to live in another town, but he took part in one of the songs of the third album “Le Mal Du Pays” after all. In Traces of Burnt Feelings, material [was by] the main vocalist Ihor Shirokij and I also consider him not a guest member of the band despite the fact that he also lives in another city too. In [the] near future we hope to do a performance with vocalists Ihor Shirokij and Layne Darkwood, our stable vocalist here. He joined us somewhere early last year and that time we started to record with his vocals for the first song from the Tales of Human Being.
It was a really hard task and we worked on it for about three months, but that song became really great. This whole album was very difficult in every sense, that is why work on it was carried out for a very long time, maybe since 2015, and, as you can see, there were many changes in lineup and in concepts of music. [There were] problems with vocalists and the ideological contradictions of the contents of this album inspired me to make it the way it is. One vocalist has one story to tell because he's the lyrical hero and everyone [else] has maybe the same end, but radically different input data. So, [the] current lineup, actually, returning to the main topic of the question, we have: Layne Darkwood, Ihor Shirokij (vocals), Razin (bass), Crying Orc (drums), Vasya (guitar), Jan de Valua (guitar).
What inspires you to play styles like DSBM and blackgaze over more traditional, second-wave-inspired black metal?
Here I can not say with full confidence, because [there are] really many reasons that influenced [all of this]. That’s, maybe, how to ask the poet, "Why do you prefer to write poems about love over more poems about other things?" -- because it’s not fully his decision, but already established fact of his true, sincere feelings, that drives him more than his desire to do something concrete. For him this question is not even worth it -- he just writes, but, of course, with due share of skill, admitting one or other tricks that make his works more refined, and this is where his choice precisely lies, in choosing one or another writing style.
Moreover, as for me, [there] were many times when I imagined how I would like my future music to sound, unwritten at the moment, and the result diverged from the expectation at that time, but not [in] a bad sense -- it’s just different. That's music -- it’s just that thing that inspires me to think deeper, look wider, and make new unexpected senses and meanings for me at first.
As a result, our last two works, Traces of Burnt Feelings and Tales of Human Being [are] about how people try to make something better for themselves and others, but they’ve got problems, surmountable or insurmountable, and if some doom is observed in rhetoric, then the aspirations are completely different and there is a desire to avoid it all. Some topics of songs were experienced by me personally which turned into the most outspoken, almost autobiographical work, our Traces of Burnt Feelings split material.
Everything there I speak from myself, and some other topics I imagined somehow. Possibly, that is why we got the resulting music that we got.
Tell us more about how the wedding music video came to be. Both the audio and visual splices are pretty incredible. You can tell that whoever wrote it has an intimate knowledge of both Ukranian music and DSBM.
That’s my work too. It was written some time ago. My friend, Black Noir, is also an artist for our band; he made every painting and design for our works. He sent me this song and said that I need to make a DSBM cover of it. It was morning and I had nothing to do, so in about 10 minutes I wrote what you hear. Vocals and [the] final version of [the] music was recorded six months later, but that’s another story. That was something [of] an experiment and joke at the same time. The experiment was to make the song sound depressive without making changes to the structure of the song at all, but only hooking new instrumentals over it that would do what I had in mind (which is what we fully get in the 'remix'). [A] similar logic was [applied] in composing poems for it, completely repeating the structure, size, and style of rhyme of [the] original, but radically changing the storytelling.
I do not really know about Ukrainian music or about any other [style] very much, but I think that I'm [a] true music lover. I've seen scenes many times: something [along the lines of] someone turning on his favorite music in public and someone else telling him to turn it off because he does not like this style of music/this artist/something else (underline whatever [is] applicable). But I cannot remember moments when I felt some sort of rejection to any music, regardless of its origin. So, maybe, that is why such things are easier for me...I [have] more good ideas [for] composing such remakes.
A lot of other depressive artists shy away from revealing too much about themselves. What inspired you guys to make a very candid YouTube Channel where you show raw instrumentals and moments together as a band? Overall, we get the impression that you like to have some fun.
I do not really think that is something about [being] “shy” for other artists, but yeah, shyness here also has a place, but not in the sense in which I can directly explain. Maybe here "shyness" is some kind of shyness from making such music at all because the more intimate and sincere feelings you express the greater fear of being rejected. Plus it’s, of course, creating a certain band image, something like they really live in endless depression and that is why they know what they are doing in their music. Or maybe they just do not want to mix themselves up as an individual and this project in which they participate, so they exist separately. Often this is the reason for inventing pseudonyms and fake images -- this is a purely practical goal.
In my case, I think there is no need to do this because everything is traceable with a certain amount of desire. If true sad moments [are] present I can’t even show them, I don't even think to. Everything you can see as an image. It is the product of all the consequences of that sadness in [the] best case, but not sadness itself, because personally I, in this state, cannot produce anything. [I'm] sure that someone can and sometimes it worked for me too, but this can not last long. I’m not ashamed to show production if it at least looks decent. But if it looks great, why not show it even if it goes against the prevailing image?
What does "my mom will proud me" mean?
That’s my side project under whose name I can publish any of my experiment. The official description tells us: “It's our little bowl of shit, where we can pour off into it everything.” Most often it’s some weird covers, like I said before, “Женщина, я не танцую” (“Sorry, lady, I do not dance," a translation of the name of that pretty popular song). Another was a cover of [a] famous (or infamous) Russian commerical [for the] Internet casino Azino 777. At that time there were a huge set of covers of that rap composition that [were] used there, but I did, as before, [a] depressive black metal variance of it. I also did not stay away from the trend, if I can say so and [the] result of it was called "Russian Roulette" (the reference to the casino and other extreme entertainment has not gone away). At the same time, you can find musical adaptations of some very weird memes or simply funny pictures.
But besides that, there [are] many serious covers of depressive/black/other bands and music where the main goal was to completely repeat the sound of the song because [much] of it sounds really unique, so repeating the original sound is really the most difficult task. Or, make everything even better with due respect to the original. [That's] how I made [the] cover of depressive horrorcore-rap composition “Skabbibal ft. Skulder - Неизбежность” (“Inevitability”), where [the] original was pretty depressive and emotional, but we made music more atmospheric and depressive. I made it with Ihor Shirokij, but fans of Skabbibal and Skulder ambiguously accepted that cover [for] reasons I said before: someone does not like rock/metal, someone else does not like our vocal performance in this song, [and] the third group does not like it at all, with no reasons.
But I like it. Also, there are some new covers [in the] works [that I] hope to complete very soon. But my mom, fortunately, never heard [the] music of MMWPM.
What are your daily lives like making music in Ukraine?
Everything is pretty ordinary. It’s even too ordinary to talk about it in some special way and that is one of the main reasons why I [like] making this music as [a] way to feel it not so strongly. And how many poems, how many sketches of songs were started [as a] way of understanding this in different meanings, to view it from different angles... I’ll [talk] about it as if I do not know reasons because it’s even more elusive. But in another way, I see something interesting from, for example, [the] USA. It’s a place where artists and musicians create something radically new and conceptual even in those styles where everything seems to be clear, even in depressive black metal or something like that.
What's next for Cuckoo's Nest?
I do not really know exactly because now I’m thinking [of] something new again. I have hope it will be about something personal for me, but I do not know how it’ll look in result. It’s the most difficult part. But as [a] very small gift very soon, I hope, we’ll release the remastered song "Grey Music" from Traces of Burnt Feelings, but with vocals and it will be named something like “Grey Music of Grey Life." You can listen [to] a piece of it on our Facebook, but this is not the final version, but only a sketch.
Follow Cuckoo's Nest on Facebook.