Summer in the editorial office of Kreativ Magazine ended with an interview with the legendary Russian pop-music singer and ex-t.A.T.u. member, Lena Katina. The artist spoke about the upcoming reunion with her t.A.T.u. colleague, Julia Volkova, within an official tribute, getting ready for the release of her new solo mini-album, and also revealed her own understanding of conceptuality in creative activity. In addition, Lena shared her impressions of participating in shows like “The Mask” and “Stars in Africa”.
Not long ago there was an announcement that t.A.T.u. is reuniting for a performance at the Ovion Show in Minsk on September 3rd. Will this be a one-time performance, as an exclusive? Or is it worth for us to wait for other collaborative concerts?
The performance with both of us is definitely happening in Minsk. This will be inspiring for fans. It is planting the seed, so to speak, for the upcoming tribute, which was moved from 2022 to the Spring of 2023. We are working diligently and doing everything to make it happen. This will be the official t.A.T.u. tribute. We want to see everyone, without exceptions, who, in one way or another, was associated with the creative work, with us, with t.A.T.u. So I think you should wait for the tribute.
Going to the past a little, which t.A.T.u. album, somehow had an influence on your solo creative work? Or which one of them is your favorite?
t.A.T.u. effected me as an artist, and, of course, there are some notes of t.A.T.u. in my solo work. But it is hard for me to say if there is an influence. t.A.T.u.’s style is so wonderfully complicated, it is original. I probably have t.A.T.u.’s rock sound in my work – pop-rock, as it is called. I am experimenting and am recording different types of songs. My English album was probably closer to t.A.T.u. songs, but, at the same time. they were very diverse songs. I am also the co-author of those songs. It’s great that I managed, among other things, to bring a piece of myself, my history, my vision. My voice was in t.A.T.u. and it has remained in my solo work as well. At the very least that is the common denominator.
In the last few years you took part in television projects, which we also want to talk about. One of them was “The Mask” on NTV. Your spider outfit became one of the most memorable and colorful characters of the project. Did you focus your gaze on that costume or did you search for one for a while?
“The Mask” was a surprising project, it was very interesting for me. I was able to perform my favorite songs from other artists and while wearing a costume. The spider costume was amazing. To be honest, I think it was the best costume in the entire first season. It was absolutely royal, but honestly it was heavy. Regarding the performances, one of my most favorite ones was the song “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey. It was an extremely beautiful performance and I think that I was able to sing it in my style, creating a good cover. I love Lana Del Rey and it is once of the songs which I dreamt of singing. Going back to the topic of the costume – I had the choices of a butterfly or a spider. And of course I chose the spider – it was a total contrast for me. It was interesting to perform in an uncharacteristic role.
Sometimes artists noted that vocal experiments and a change of genre in this project helped to reveal themselves from new sides, both for themselves and for the audience. Were you able to discover new facets of acting or singing?
Regarding diversity, yes, I think any artist sometimes wants to try different genres. “The Mask” gives that opportunity, the opportunity to understand what you can sing and what you cannot. Actually, that is what these shows are famous for. When you cover the music of other artists, it helps determine the direction, maybe find something new for yourself, find yourself in a different role which you are not used to. We, as artists, are sometimes fighting ourselves and sing what we like. It is interesting to go beyond the boundaries. I think it is a great experience and it is fun and important to do it.
Currently, the format of releasing music as an album is dated in the music industry. We love your album “Mono” and find it one of the best in Russian music in the last few years. Are you planning on recording an LP? Or at least a mini-album?
Yes, you are right. Right now, singles are very popular and they are easier to push to streaming platforms. They end up on charts. But for me, as an artist, it’s important to release work that is whole, and EP or and LP. Right now I am working on my EP, which we are planning to release in the autumn. There are 5 songs already, but we are thinking about how many songs the EP will have in total, 5 or 6. We are still in the process. I think it is important for an artist to sum everything up. So, either an EP or an album – they are still relevant in my opinion. It’s important for me.
Do you think it is important adhere to concepts in creativity? Or is the new era of singles revealing the different facets of the performer instead?
Regarding conceptuality, I think it is important to save it. I am a musician and am in music. Music is one of the leading areas of art. So of course when a person creates something, he is guided by some specific principles, preferences – the concept. t.A.T.u. is a great example. This is a completely conceptual project which brought to the world hope that you can be yourself, that you can be accepted, be free throughout the world, regardless of your gender or other attributes such as religious belief. It is important for me to know and understand my audience. If you make honest music, the audience will surly find a response in people’s hearts and will become popular and their favorite.
I would not say that it is the era or singles, but they are certainly relevant now. Listeners love to create their own play lists or use the playlists on streaming platforms which they are on. Spotify or Apple Music. So, I think it is a time now when singles are relevant. It is a trend of the time which is tied to the growth of technology.
In the beginning of your solo career did you work a lot with musicians from around the world? How was it? Which one do you remember the most?
In my solo career I definitely got lucky to get to work with amazing musicians. I lived in America and worked on my solo project there and it was a huge experience because everything happens differently there. It happens without effort. We would meet up and have a jam-session during which we would write music. But the most familiar collaborations were in t.A.T.u. We were lucky enough to work with Trevor Horn, one of the greatest producers, I think. Also with Sting, it was fabulous and very cool.
One of your singles is “Kill Me Softly”, which samples Viktor Tsoi’s song. This year is this legendary artist’s 60th birthday. Who was Viktor Tsoi for you?
“Kill My Softly” did not sample anything, it was just recorded with the mood of that time. I love Tsoi and I wish there was a some sort of big concert for his 60th birthday. I would love to participate in it and do something creative, maybe sing one of his songs in my style, try to find something interesting in performing his songs. His songs were always so relevant that even now both adults and young people come to his wall in Arbat. I am there frequently and always see people. So as a form of respect some kind of big concert would be great.
One other interesting project you participated in was “Starts in Africa” on TNT. Did you agree to participate in the reality show right away or was there hesitation?
This was another very interesting project. I had hesitations, of course, because I never took part in such a show. So I was doubting whether it was worth flying there or not. I was probably viewing it as a personal challenge, as a trial for myself. And I understood that these types of projects are not for me.
Did you prepare yourself mentally somehow before going to Africa, or did you not have any fears?
I did not have time to mentally prepare myself because I found out I was going a day before the flight. I did not even have time to realize what was happening. Obviously it was scary, but I decided to go. This kind of opportunity comes once and it means it has to be taken. I definitely learned some kind of a lesson from this, but it was a fun experience, although a hard one.
What turned out to be the most difficult?
The hardest were the challenges and not knowing. You are there constantly in the unknown. I am a person who is used to controlling everything around me and it was a stalemate type of situation for me not understanding what was going on. We did not know who would do the challenges, what type of challenge it would be. Everything was found out right before. It was very stressful. The hardest thing was probably being are constantly in a state of not knowing, and, of course, the challenges themselves. Thank God I did not have to eat anything disgusting, I got lucky there. But during the last challenge, which sent me home, I was in an aquarium and I do not like when something touches me in the water. It was horrible for me because I had to dive and all these things are swimming around you, and I do not like this kind of stuff and am afraid of it. Crocodiles, snakes, fish. It was a creepy situation and I was really stressed, and so it was my last challenge. The challenge with the food where I was with Misha, that was also very scary, but at least interesting. It was more of a physical challenge. There was nothing foreign there and I am not a fan of living creatures. I only love dogs and everything else I do not like. When I had to dive into water where everything was swimming it was horrible for me.
What did participating in this show give you in terms of experience and personal qualities? Would you agree to participate in any extreme project again?
This show made me understand that extreme shows are not the kind of shows that I will be doing. When I returned, I had panic attacks. I decided that this is not for me and it does not fit my personality – I’d better save my nerves.
How would you describe your interaction with fans? What do you get from meeting them?
I have a very good relationship with my fans. There are ones who have been coming to my fan meetings for many, many years. Unfortunately, we are not able to hold an annual meeting on my birthday, because there was a pandemic, and it was scary to come together. I love and appreciate them all very much. I am extremely grateful that they support creativity so actively, so I am always glad to talk to them. Again, I repeat, there are already very well-known people whom I recognize immediately, whom I know by name, some even have my personal phone number. They can call or write to me if there are any questions, but they are all very well-mannered. I also appreciate them for being well-mannered – no one ever bothers me, does not ask stupid questions, they are very nice people. It seems to me that the relationships evolve into friendships, but, nevertheless, I remain an artist for them, it is always felt – even the look which give me. This, of course, is great, and I am grateful to them for their love and support. For the fact that they take an active part in my life. They are an integral part of my life, not only professional, but also personal.
Name 5 artists who are regularly on your playlist. Did any of them particularly influence your work?
I love Roxette – I sang their song at an audition for what eventually became t.A.T.u. I love Michael Jackson, Kings of Lion, Enigma. Sometimes I listen to classical music. In fact, the list is endless, because I also love Zveri, Zemfira. There are many artists that I listen to. And, to be honest, I don’t listen to music that often, because when you make music, your ears get very tired and you want silence. If I listen to something, then I am guided by my mood. If I’m in a car, I listen to the radio, usually rock radio, or something quiet.
McDonald’s, like in your song, like other brands, left Russia. Has it affected you? Or is it all transient and vain?
It’s not just about McDonald’s, but in principle, many big brands left the Russian market, and this is sad, in my opinion. Not because it’s tasty or beautiful, or that it’s about clothes, but because they provided jobs. Can you imagine how many people are out of work right now? From this point of view, this question worries me, simply because people have lost the opportunity to earn money.
What would you wish our readers in these days of the outgoing summer?
I wish for them to enjoy all the warm days that are passing, to walk a lot, to have fun, because winter will begin soon, and we will again put on a bunch clothes. In general, enjoy every minute of these wonderful summer days, do not think about the bad, love each other, take care of each other. Try to see the good and strive to ensure that you can always see this good, even in small things. Well, and, of course, to be healthy, which is also important now, since the virus has not gone away, it is still with us. So take care of yourself, your health, your loved ones! Good mood to all!