Kaliningrad Oblast is a “semi-exclave” territory currently owned by Russia, but geographically situated between Lithuania and Poland. On the heels of the Ukrainian invasion, one must wonder how a separated-from-the-motherland Russian territory must be feeling the effects.
We recently spoke with Kaliningrad-based metal act Ape on the Rocket about their new anti-authoritarian single, negative impacts and censorship from the Russian Ukraine invasion, secret concept of Deacon the Hornet, writing lyrics in English vs. their native language, the regional metal scene, and plenty of upcoming plans for the rest of the year and 2023. Enjoy the interview below.
You just released the single, “Faith,” which seems to thematically focus on blindly following authority with the lyrics: “I believe every word you say / I will vote I will pray / I will kill all of your foes / and I will die if you will ask me to.” Can you expand on the message you’re hoping to convey with this song?
There is actually no direct message behind “Faith,” but rather we perceive this song as a story, as a book, and as a script that every listener can adapt to their own experience. We wrote this song a few years ago, however, considering the situation nowadays, this song truly reflects our fucked-up world we live in now.
Musically, “Faith” could draw comparisons to other bands blending metalcore and deathcore like new The Acacia Strain, Alpha Wolf, or fellow Russians, Falsegiver. What groups have you recently discovered or enjoyed particularly lately?
It is an honor to be compared with these bands, especially with our friends Falsegiver. Talking about my newest discoveries, I would highlight the band It Follows. They are from our neighboring country, Poland. Also, there are two bands currently spinning non-stop in my playlist, the last album by Spite and Oceans Ate Alaska. Spite is heavy as always, while Ocean Ate Alaska has a comforting ambient vibe which, in my opinion, they could explore more deeply.
Ape on the Rocket is located in the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, which is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, and a fair distance away from the motherland of Russia and Ukraine. Can you clarify if the war between Russia and Ukraine has affected Kaliningrad in any way?
Of course, it has had an impact on Kaliningrad. There is a long list of changes – borders are closed, Russians can hardly leave the country, foreigners cannot enter Russia, prices skyrocketed, a lot of companies and brands have left Russia, etc. Most musicians have canceled their tours in Russia, therefore, the number of cool bands’ shows are very limited. On the other hand, life is as it always has been – people working and spending their coins for food.
As Russian citizens in Kaliningrad, can you briefly share your experience and perspective on the overall conflict?
It is still hard to put everything together in my head; it is hard to believe what is happening and sometimes it feels like I live in a parallel universe, as it is popular in pop culture now. For many years we all have laughed at the TV reports, thinking this bullshit will not do any harm, however, we were very wrong and completely lost the battle with TV and common sense.
We hold no positivity when thinking about the conflict. As I already have mentioned before, the consequences are tough. And I don’t see any bright light or reasons to feel the opposite. What perspective could be in Hell?
I recall many protestors at the wake of the invasion were arrested. As Russian citizens in Kaliningrad, do you hold fear about speaking about the Ukrainian invasion or Putin negatively?
For now, words such as “freedom” could take you straight to jail. People are not allowed to talk and not allowed to write as they think. There is only one truth in the country. People have got used to having what they have, even despite how little, and therefore fear losing it all. The only way to share what you really think is at home with some close friends and after a few shots.
Do you feel connected with the “Russian metal scene” or more-so just the Kaliningrad metal scene? Can you describe the status of your local metal scene and shout-out noteworthy groups?
There is certainly a disconnection between Kaliningrad and the mainland’s metal scene. Mostly, it is because of the geography – visas, trains, planes, etc. Booking agencies for this reason don’t really want to work with Kaliningrad. Most of Russian bands’ tours do not include Kaliningrad and for this reason mostly local musicians take part in Kaliningrad concerts and festivals. Same goes for us – if you go to the mainland for tour without maximum preparation you certainly will come back without pants. Despite that, the metal scene in Kaliningrad is alive with a few very popular bands among Russia and Europe such as Tvangeste and X-Rated 6ex6ex6ex. Certainly, there were even better bands than these, however they never got that popular – Constructions, Machines, Kaant, and Pig Down, but maybe also because the enthusiasm ends at the border. Concerts and festivals are happening, and I can see from peoples’ eyes that they really need it.
For me, the Russian metal bands that have received some attention in the US include Slaughter to Prevail, Arkona, Wowod, Fallcie, and Kauan. Do you have a relationship or opinion on these groups? Are there other Russian bands that the US should know about?
Sure, I know all of these bands and the hype about them is well deserved. Once I attended a Wowod concert in Kaliningrad; they played in a very small bar and their show was amazing! I have never experienced such a heavy, and at the same time, atmospheric music. From that show, I discovered Amenra, which opened another gate of metal for me. We were planning a show with the band Fallcie in Kaliningrad, but something went wrong and the concert got cancelled. After some time, we met their drummer and had a typical Saint Petersburg party. I have never listened to Kauan, but I checked them out and they went straight to my playlist. Thank you, they’re a great band! I like atmospheric music.
Maybe it’s hard to believe, but there is an infinite number of metal bands in my country. I discover new bands every single day, but maybe it’s just because I listen a lot. For example, Invertor, Пустые комнаты, Grima, Путь, Kickrox, Ермак, Deadly Gangbang, Under The Scythe, Ил, Nouade, Enter the Mind of Psychopath, and Рожь. I can name bands all day.
In 2019, you released the 3-track EP titled Deacon the Hornet, which opened with the killer track “Bill Hill.” With such interesting titles, I wonder if there is a concept or history behind these names?
The song is a biopic about my real friend Bill Hill from Los Angeles. We met in 2011 when I came to the US as participant of the Work and Travel Program. He is just crazy, in a good way of course. He taught us a lot and showed us the best spots in the city. His energy, the way of thinking, living, talking, and acting, I literally saw that famous American freedom in him. I miss him a lot. I hope we will have a chance to meet once again.
But Deacon the Hornet, I don’t even know how to start… so, we were backstage after an Error 37 concert. We opened up for them and the venue manager told us that she was invited by the main priest of Kaliningrad to talk about the upcoming Krovostok (famous Russian band) concert. Yes, this kind of shit can happen only in Russia, I guess. And we started to dig deeper into this topic – that he is sitting at the top of his church as a bee, waiting for her, etc. At the moment it was more fun, of course, but then that event has just stuck with us. We started to call secret things as “hornet” or “deacon.” And when time came to find the name for our EP, the title “Deacon the Hornet” was decided very fast.
I believe most of your music is written in English, but “Good Luck” has Russian lyrics. Do you have a preference of writing between the two languages? Do you feel pressure to write in English to appeal to a Western audience?
We didn’t even discuss if we should sing in English or not – the Russian lyrics actually came automatically; I just like it more. We’ve written songs in Russian such as “Good Luck” (and whoops, SPOILER: we will have one more song in Russian on our upcoming album). It must be a pressure, as you said, but I would like to think about it as our simple way to talk to the audience is through lyrics and English makes our songs more understandable for a wider audience.
Sometimes I have very a weird way of writing songs – I write both in Russian and English. It simply depends in which language I was thinking in the second I got an idea. For example, the song “Good Luck” is mostly about my experience and moments in Russia, therefore the whole song was written in that language. I still think it was a great idea.
We finished recording our upcoming album with six songs. We might release one more single this Winter and then Spring we’ll drop the full album. We’ve filmed two music videos. We’re working on the festival in Kaliningrad this November. We also are planning some events in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Minsk as well as some festivals next Summer. We are hoping to take a part in some festivals abroad finally too. More importantly, we are currently looking for a record label. As we say, the direction is only forward!