The decade of the 1980s was arguably a time of “newness.” The political, social and cultural landscape was fast changing, perhaps faster than some people could keep up with. Music in particular, including genres like new wave, hip-hop, and dance music experienced a radical re-birth when the advent of the analog synthesizer and its injection into the growing scenes became more common place. While our musical forefathers here in the U.S. were breaking these barriers during that neon age, continents away barriers of a very different sort (but in some ways very similar) were being torn down as well.
The Soviet Union was experiencing significant political, economic, and cultural changes during that time, most notably during the latter half of the 80s. The Cold War was coming to an end, the Soviet Bloc was beginning to crumble, and in light of these and other major events, the Russian people were now experiencing freedoms previously unknown to them in that degree. They were now faced with the challenge of “catching up” with the rest of the world, so to speak. Although the world is living in 2011 right now, some Russians are still reeling from the explosive times of that spectacular decade.
What better example of this than the Russian trio, Tesla Boy? Formed in 2008, Tesla Boy has been crafting their insanely authentic brand of New Wave and synth pop (think Duran Duran, INXS, etc.) for only a short period of time, but already they are igniting the flames of fandom across their home country as if sparked by a Molotov cocktail. Tesla Boy embodies the new wave spirit with effortless ease. With a dash of cockiness, a sprinkling of sensuality, and a healthy dose of sheer glam, frontman Anton Sevidov effectively embodies the spirit of that decade, and just maybe, the spirit of his people as they felt it back then.
I had the pleasure of talking with Tesla Boy frontman, Anton Sevidov, about his memories of that turbulent era, what helps him craft Tesla Boy’s sound, and his love of vintage analog synthesizers.
Synconation: Art and design seem to play a heavy hand when it comes to what Tesla Boy is all about. Your releases feature art from international studios such as DW Design (the Tesla Boy EP) based out of Sweden and Mogollon (Modern Thrills, Tesla Boy’s debut album) based out of New York City. What sort of input do you give in terms of art direction for your albums?
Anton Sevidov: We saw a poster for our friend’s party in Moscow which had been designed by DW. I was also very impressed by Killian’s artworks on his Myspace page and then I had a strong feeling that this guy could do exactly what we needed for Tesla Boy. All this incredible neon and bright 80s colors at the same time on a dark background.
Is anyone in the band involved in the art/design community in some shape or form, outside of music?
No – but my father was a big fan of art. I keep all of his art books at home and it’s quite a big collection that includes painters from the 16th Century to modern time painters of the 20th Century.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. You guys clearly have a love for the 80s. What excites you about that particular decade?
The Olympic Games in Moscow 1980, VHS, Soviet PEPSI, LINN drum, Roland Jupiter, Purple Rain, Let’s Dance, Gorbachev, Reagan, Playboy covers, porn movie soundtracks, etc.
You live in a country that was experiencing some truly profound events during the 80s, namely the fall of the Soviet Union where the whole world took notice. Can you recall what the social climate was like at that time?
As I can feel and according to some documentaries and the things that I heard from my parents, before 1986 Soviet people were totally depressed. There wasn’t any fancy food or clothes in the stores and malls, people couldn’t find anything that they really wanted in their lives and there was a feeling that it was going to be forever and nothing was gonna change it. But after Gorbachev became president he started Perestroika and it was like a new hope for all the Soviet people, it was a time when a lot of people thought that their dreams would come true.
…before 1986 Soviet people were totally depressed… after Gorbachev became president he started Perestroika and it was like a new hope for all the Soviet people, it was a time when a lot of people thought that their dreams would come true.
What influence did US pop culture have on you and the Russian youth culture in general?
For me this influence was big and not only US pop culture but also Jazz music and R&B culture too. I think the 20th Century was a great time for pop music in the US.
How do you think the culture in your country has changed or stayed the same in this day and age?
Of course it has changed. Before 1985, there wasn’t free pop culture in the USSR, it was controlled by the government. And then we had to learn a lot of new things about pop culture and learn more about different ways of attitudes too.
Tesla Boy’s sound is distinct in that while many bands nowadays, especially in the “chillwave” community (bands like Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, Neon Indian), often sample music to achieve a certain retro/80s sound, you actually perform with live instruments and use the equipment and techniques that a New Wave band from the 80s would have used. Can you talk about your process for writing a song?
Usually, everything begins from an idea of a track, then I start to play my piano and try to find the right chords, whilst at the same time try to sing some melodies and then I go to my computer and start creating a drum groove. If I like it, I do an arrangement using all my keyboards ‘n stuff and then we meet with all of the band and try to play the track altogether.
Can you talk about your process for recording your songs?
Basically keyboards and vocals – this is what I prefer to record at my home studio but if we need to record drums or Rhodes piano for example, we go to the studio. I love to spend a lot of time with my keyboards, searching for the right sound for the track.
I read that you’re an avid collector of vintage synth instruments. It mentioned in particular that you’re an owner of a coveted JUNO 60 polyphonic synthesizer. Do you own any other synths that you might use for a “go-to” sound?
Yamaha CS-5 (I love this one, it’s really what I love to use in our tracks, it’s a simple one-oscilator synth with a very nice filter, I use it a lot), Sequential Circuits drum machine (TOM), Roland TR-707, Yamaha DX7, & Roland RM-8.
What other pieces of vintage equipment do you use to achieve that authentic New Wave sound?
My voice and we try to find some sounds in vintage delays or flangers which are available at the studio.
You’ve worked with other artists in terms of song remixes before. Are there any artists in particular that you would be interested in working with?
Well, it could be great to work with Holy Ghost! Erol Alkan or Lindstrom someday!
You’ve been selling out shows all over Russia. Are there any plans to make it out to the United States for some tour dates?
We’re hoping we will make it over to the US this summer!
Tesla Boy’s latest album, Modern Thrills, is now available via Mullet Records. You can also find other Tesla Boy releases, including their Tesla Boy EP on a multitude of outlets including iTunes, Amazon, Beatport, and Juno.