Growing up with Spitfire
Local music legends Spitfire mark their 20th anniversary with concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Published: February 13, 2013 (Issue # 1746)
The members of Spitfire (above) also perform as part of Leningrad, and are keen to launch new projects.
Twenty years after Spitfire formed, the St. Petersburg band that became a major underground success as Russia’s leading ska-punk band singing in English has stepped aside from the ska-punk idiom and now writes songs in Russian.
The anniversary concerts are set to be held at Dusche club — co-owned by Spitfire members and Leningrad frontman Sergei Shnurov — on Friday, and at the Moscow club Gogol the following night.
Spitfire was originally formed as a garage rockabilly trio by singer and guitarist Konstantin Limonov, drummer Denis “Kashchei” Kuptsov and double bassist Igor “Popugai” Akulinin in 1993 and made its stage debut during a psychobilly event at the now-defunct Indie club on Feb. 10 that year.
“They started out playing psychobilly, when it was Kostya, Kashchei and Popugai, who lives in Denmark now,” said frontman Roman Parygin, who joined as a trumpet player in 1997 after Spitfire’s 1996 debut album “Night Hunting.”
“There’s nobody left of the original lineup today. I joined soon after Spitfire had come to its music genre of ska punk and released its first album, and took part in all our insane European tours of 1998 to 2007 and 2008.”
With co-founding drummer Kuptsov’s departure in 2009, the band now features Parygin on vocals and trumpet, Grigory Zontov on saxophone, Vladislav “Valdik” Alexandrov on trombone, Dmitry Kezhvatov on guitar, Ilya “Pianist” Rogachevsky on keyboards, Andrei “Ded” Kurayev on bass and Igor Rozanov on drums.
“It can be said that Grisha, Valdik, Ded and me — and, since 2000, Pianist — these five guys, we’ve been playing together all these years,” said Parygin, who became the full-time vocalist after Limonov left in 2006.
Alongside Distemper in Moscow, Spitfire was one of two Russian bands playing ska punk when it started out. Originally, the band sang in English, and was one of few Russian bands to release its records abroad and perform at European venues.
“When I joined the band, I was 17; I’m 33 now, and my understanding has changed a lot,” Parygin said.
“When we were playing in 1998, there was the so-called third wave of ska music in Europe; it was very trendy, very popular and we would get 500 fans at a gig there. That’s quite an achievement for a band from Russia.”
Despite success at clubs, touring Europe was fun but far from profitable, he admitted.
“When I was 17, I could go for two months or even longer, have a great time and return with 30 Deutschmarks,” he said.
“But we’ve grown up and everybody has children running around in their apartments, and if I were to go away for two months and return with 30 euros, the children would no longer be running around.
“When we started touring, we were an aspiring band and mostly played in exchange for a percentage of the ticket sales or cover charge. There were only a couple of times when we returned from a tour with a load of money. But we still tour, even if it’s not that much.”
Parygin said the band more or less stopped touring Europe in 2008, mainly due to the closing of the German ska-punk label Pork Pie, which released its records internationally, and the overall drop in popularity of ska punk.
“It’s like the genre of psychobilly, which died out,” he said.
“There are some new bands, but they gather 150 people or so now, and when the bands Mad Sin or The Meteors come, people go to see them not because they’re into psychobilly, but because they’re founders of the genre. It’s just like they go to see Ozzy Osbourne, because he’s still alive.”
Spitfire’s fifth and most recent album, called “5,” is all in Russian and represents a step away from the music subgenre that Spitfire used to be associated with, although it contains a couple of ska-punk tracks.
“As years pass, you develop as a musician and want to get out of the framework of ska music, and when we took a step outside ska music, some people who were used to us playing ska punk said, ‘It’s shit,’” Parygin said.
“Because people who are on ska Internet forums like Ska.ru don’t tolerate any deviance. It drives me crazy. That’s why our new album, ‘5,’ hasn’t found a place for itself in the hearts of ska-punk lovers. There’s too much rock music on it — and the rock music of the Killing Joke type at that — it’s too clever for guys who are into ska punk.”
Having spent years with a ska-punk band, Parygin expressed reservations about the ska movement in Russia.
“I like the music, but ska festivals in Russia are the worst thing imaginable,” he said.
“It’s unclear why people come to the event — to get wasted and sleep under the stage? I don’t think that’s punk rock. Punk rock is not a urine-stained lout, punk rock is a different ideology.”
In addition to original Spitfire songs, the album, which was written entirely by Parygin in Russian, contains a song called “Jurassic Park” by local ironic avant-rock band NOM, originally recorded for last year’s NOM tribute album, “NOM Rock Family: 25 Years On Stage.”
“[NOM member Andrei] Kagadeyev called me and asked, ‘Do you like the song about velociraptors?’ I said, ‘Pretty much.’ He said, ‘Would you like to do a cover?’ ‘Pretty much.’ And when I listened to the whole tribute album, I came to the conclusion that our cover version was the best.”
Parygin said the band had switched to writing songs in Russian after the departure of drummer Kuptsov, who had written Spitfire’s English-language lyrics.
“English goes better with rock and roll, it’s more difficult to write in Russian,” Parygin said.
“‘If you listen to a lot of songs by Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, they’re utter nonsense, they’re about nothing. ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ — can you imagine a chorus like that in a Russian song? But I wouldn’t be surprised if we suddenly have a new song in English one day. It’s not like we had a goal to conquer Russia now, or anything.”
He said his own songs were about his “inner world, relationship to the outside world, the struggle between good and evil in myself and about love.”
“But not about blue suede shoes!” he said.
“Of course, I am talking metaphorically, but I’ve never liked Elvis and I’ve never understood why he’s the King of Rock.”
Parygin studied trumpet at the Mussorgsky College of Music, but did not complete his degree, choosing a tour with Spitfire over a final exam.
“We had an entertainment and jazz department at the Mussorgsky, where all the musicians who had no time or desire to attend classes systematically would go,” he said.
“Those who studied in a classical department were reproached for missing classes, while with us it was like ‘Working students should be stimulated.’ If it weren’t for the entertainment department, I would have been kicked out long before the final exam. But it was 1999, and the choice was between taking the exam or going on tour. So I went on tour.”
Since 2002, the members of Spitfire have also performed as part of stadium rockers Leningrad, but are also keen to start new experimental projects such as a spinoff “metal” band called Preztizh.
“I picked up the wrong instrument when I was a child, so I had to buy a bass guitar last year, and last week our pianist, our drummer and me tried to perform as a trio,” Parygin said.
“But that’s another story. I want to try myself as a bass guitarist; we even have some pieces already written. But it’s straightforward rock.”
Parygin said he has broad music tastes.
“I like all music, no matter what genre it is,” he said.
“I think music can be divided into two categories: Cool and crap. Of course, I prefer thrash metal of the 1986 type and everything related to it. I like Pantera, Slayer, heavy stuff. I think Gallagher recorded a great album as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. I like Morrissey, Killing Joke, everything.”
Of Russian-language bands, he mentions Morekorabli, Psikhheya and his recent discovery, Pionerlager Pylnaya Raduga.
“They play grunge in its purest form,” he said. “The pre-‘Nevermind’ type of grunge, let’s say. They should have been in Seattle in the early 1990s, they would have been kings there.”
Spitfire will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15 at Dusche, 50 Ligovsky Prospekt, Korpus 6. Tel. +7 (960) 246 4550.