Interview: tAngerinecAt on the experiences that influenced new single “House of Shards”

Ukranian/British non-binary duo tAngerinecAt release their new single and music video “House of Shards” on 7th October. It’s taken from their forthcoming concept album Glass, which was partially funded by a Help Musicians “Do It Differently” Award. The record is based around Eugene’s personal life experiences as a neurodivergent person, severe trauma, acute poverty and Chernobyl disaster survivor, and a queer multiethnic refugee activist from Ukraine. The new track combines industrial strength post-punk and incessant beats with organic instruments including hurdy-gurdy and Carpathian bagpipes, layered with effects. This alliance of old and new creates a sound quite unlike anything we’ve received in the Joyzine inbox of late, the drones of the organic instruments adding to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the oppressive post-punk pulse to form a track that is uncomfortable but essential listening.

John Clay caught up with Eugene and Paul to find out more about the album and the events that led to its creation.

‘tAngerinecAt was created after a four hour conversation with an eighty year old lady who spent a large amount of her life in Gulags that we met in her hut high in the Carpathian Mountains.’ – tAngerinecAt

Theodosia and Eugene taken by Paul of tAngerinecAt

John Clay: Tell us about the meaning of ritual to you and it’s value in your music to date.

tAngerinecAt: Thank you for the thought provoking question, John! Here are our answers.

Paul: Words are very abstract and allow us to communicate without necessarily feeling the full depth of emotion and meaning behind them. Ritual takes us into a different state of mind and allows us to go deeper. It enables us to get in touch with parts of ourselves that we couldn’t access in such a deep way in our normal state of mind and this can be very enlightening and liberating.

Eugene: I have used ritual from childhood. I used to go into the forest every day at dawn where I had a favourite birch tree that I tied a ribbon to so I could find it. For some reason I chose the smallest and thinnest birch. In retrospect this was probably because I associated myself most with it. I called it “my sister”, hugged it, kissed and told it about all my problems, and cried a lot. Then I thanked it for listening to me and after this I felt comforted and free. At this time it was the only living thing that listened to me, and the closest “person” to me. 

Before I became an atheist I was religious and took part in different Christian ceremonies. In the Ukraine the official religion is Christianity but they still have dualism so in everyday life there are still a lot pagan traditions and ceremonies. Even my godmother was a practicing witch. In my college I wrote a work about Ukrainian magic and demonology, and I lived in the Carpathian Mountains for some time where I studied folk traditions and music first hand. So I know quite a bit about rituals.

Now creating music and performing is a sort of ritual for me. It helps me to free my emotions, remember my narrative, reflect on it and heal through special ways of creation, repetitive movements during performance, singing and body movement on stage. We use a lot of repetitive techniques in our music and performance that create a feeling of ritual and take you into a trance state. People often say that our live performance is like a passionate ritual or ceremony that takes them into a different world. There is also a lot of erotic energy in rituals and this is a healthy way to express your aggression. Also rituals often connect a group of people together in a similar emotional or body experience at the same time. So, in some sense protest action or even revolution is also a ritual. At least that’s how I felt when I took part in anarchist protests in Ukraine.

John Clay: Nature has inspired your sense of ritual so I’m keen to know if urban landscapes in the UK have had an effect on this context.

tAngerinecAt: No, we don’t think nature or any other landscapes inspired our sense of ritual.

John Clay: A more considered inquiry on my part would perhaps lie in the reveal of ritual in your current musical exploration. What would such activity entail and have you ever thought about creating documentation on your process?

tAngerinecAt: Our music contains many ritual elements. These include the use of deep bass drones whose sound takes you into a trance, certain types of repetitive melody on the hurdy-gurdy and whistles that are often used in ritual circle dances. Polyphony, vocal techniques, some of which are recitative and elements of Eastern Orthodox liturgy, repetitive DIY urban samples recorded on the streets and at home, and the actual atmosphere created using certain scales that aren’t minor or major. We never thought of documenting our process!

John Clay: Intriguing! I take it that these multiple aspects were discovered at different stages? What portion of that lovely menu has served “House of Shards” the most?

tAngerinecAt: “House of Shards” is based on a big base drone from Paul’s Ukrainian bagpipes. Eugene’s hurdy-gurdy lead intertwines with heavily delayed vocal echoes that circle around the stereo field similar to a ritual choir, and Eugene delivers the last chorus with vocal techniques that are used in Ukrainian ritual singing.

John Clay: Politicians, actors and musicians often contort their message beyond its original intention in order to fulfil the demands of a Capitalist drive. You’ve found a loyal following by running in the opposite direction! Keen to know your thoughts on this subject.

tAngerinecAt: tAngerinecAt was created after a four hour conversation with an eighty year old lady who spent a large amount of her life in Gulags that we met in her hut high in the Carpathian Mountains. This person left a lifelong impression on us. She begged us to tell the truth in our art. She also said that one day we will come to the graveyard by her house and will see her portrait, and then we will either thank her or curse her. After such an important and inspirational conversation it’s hard to imagine how you could do something to fulfil anyone’s demands. Our art is so much a part of us that it’s almost sacred for us. We think we have a lot to say and we have huge experience in music that is unique to us and we don’t want to lose that because it’s what people love. Maybe it would be different if we had nothing to say and didn’t have such rich heritage and skills. Our loyal following is a result of many years of touring in the UK, Ukraine and Russia. Of course, we would have a much bigger following if our music would be pushed into everybody’s ears but we don’t have anything in common with people who make those decisions. We know that people from all sorts of backgrounds love our music.

Still from the video for “House of Shards”

John Clay: This band mythology is strikingly unique. Can you share more details of your conversation with the old lady and are there days when the hard life she seemed to hint at (in regards to the curse) move you slightly away from the thankful element in her revelation? I suspect not, but I’m also aware and impressed with your adherence to your principles, no matter the awkwardness it may entail.

tAngerinecAt: Theodosia told us her life story, from childhood to current, and sang some of her songs accompanied by her guitar which we recorded on video. She said that a girl from a poor family like her in her region could never marry because she didn’t have a dowry. She said that she was prohibited from writing poetry in Ukrainian and many Ukrainian women in Gulags embroidered and had to hide the needle beneath their skin when they were searched because it wasn’t allowed as it was a part of Ukrainian tradition. She told how she worked in uranium mines and how they were fed rotten salted fish. She also told us about her artist neighbour Paraska who finished only a few classes of school but spoke several Indian dialects and hand made books where she wrote poetry in those languages that we saw with our own eyes. The red army took her to the Gulag when she was sixteen because her family couldn’t give them a cow that was demanded, and a fellow prisoner pulled her out from a pile of dead bodies by her long plaited hair and saved her life. Both of these women, Paraska and Theodosia, avoided men, and remained close friends till Paraska died.

We just don’t want to do some other art. 

John Clay: There is so much palpable emotion there. Forgive me, but it wasn’t clear; did Theodosia ever get to hear the music you made? I hope so.

tAngerinecAt: No. tAngerinecAt was created after meeting with her and due to meeting with her! We, and especially Eugene, had different projects before that and we gave up creating music because of many difficulties connected to surviving in the music industry. We met her when Eugene was very depressed, and this meeting pulled him out of depression. We haven’t seen her since. We would really like to if we had the chance, and not in the way that she described when we left.

John Clay: …And is there any aspect of her story that lent itself to your band name?

tAngerinecAt: No. That’s a different part of the band mythology.

John Clay: I see! I feel it would be untimely to cover that aspect here, and fitting to end on a final few questions pertaining to Theodosia and Paraska, obviously driven to create art as an expression of the self and natural conduit for societal pressures and dictats set up and maintained by an uncaring elite. Have you sought to immortalise these artists in specific past works, or would that denigrate their memory in your opinion?

Eugene: No, none of our work is connected to these two artists. The only thing is that my singing style contains some elements that I learned from Theodosia and other Ukrainian Carpathian singers. But you gave me a great idea! Thank you! I would like to create a piece of music about them, and I already started to think about that.

John Clay: Well it’s good to know our occasional misunderstanding has given rise to some creation. Do you think you could let us know more about the fruits of your labour upon their readiness?

Eugene: Yes, of course! I’m excited about it already. It will be after we release our album Glass that “House of Shards” will be part of.

Still from the video for “House of Shards”

John Clay: Good to hear, and I guess we’ll know more about the album in due course. For now, do let the readers know where best to buy “House of Shards” on the 7th October. I believe Bandcamp is the best option, yes?

tAngerinecAt: They can buy it on Bandcamp or via tangerinecat.net

John Clay: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time and I’m looking forward to our next interview as we’ll have to discuss some invaluable parts of your backstory, particularly the transition from one religion to another and then finally atheism. Cheers for introducing us to ideas off the usual beaten path.

tAngerinecAt: Thank you so much for your time and hard work, John! It’s always interesting to talk to you.

Find out more about tAngerinecAt on their official website

Interview by John Clay: heylink.me/Johnclayartist
Photography by Ray Moody

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