I don’t think there is a need for a detailed introduction. Aria is the biggest heavy metal band from Russia, with 35 years of experience on the metal scene. As far as I am concerned, this is for me personally, one of the most significant interviews I have ever done. Our questions were answered by Vladimir Holstinin (guitars) and Vitaly Dubinin (bass).
Greetings to Russian brothers from Serbia! I hope you are doing well during these difficult days for the planet. Although Aria is the biggest heavy metal band in Russia, I don’t think you have ever been interviewed by a Serbian heavy metal magazine/webzine (correct me if I’m wrong). How do you spend your time on these pandemic days?
Vitaly Dubinin (VD): Hello Serbian brothers! Yes, as far as I remember this is the first interview for Serbian media! God forbid, not the last one! What do we do in these pandemic days – everything is the same as before it, except that we cannot go on tours… But we try to hold some interesting events for our fans, play online concerts, stream on the Internet and we continue to work in the studio.
Let’s start with the latest events related to the band Aria. You recently re-released the albums “Armageddon” (2006) and “Baptism of Fire” (2003). Why did you decide to take this step?
VD: We had difficulty putting these two albums on the internet on digital streaming sites such as iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, etc due to the position of some of the members that were involved in the recording at the time. Therefore, our label M2BA advised us to take such a step. We thought – what else to do during quarantine? Let’s do it, especially since now we have a vocalist who has not previously participated in the recording of these two albums, and the fans will be interested to hear how these songs will sound in his performance.
Let’s go back to the very beginning of the band. Can you describe the period of the 80’s when you started working? At that time, in the Soviet Union, they did not have a positive attitude towards everything that came from the West, even rock music. How did you get into rock/metal music? What bands have influenced you in making heavy metal music?
Vladimir Holstinin(VH): In the USSR, it was almost impossible to play your music on a professional stage. And even more so in the heavy metal style. We were lucky that our first steps coincided with the period of “Perestroika”, with the beginning of changes in the political life of the country. We were mostly inspired by bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest.
Did you have problems with the police or the authorities at the time because of the music you played?
VH: Yes, at our first concert, about 40 people were arrested just because they were dressed like metal fans, in leather jackets and metal jewelry. And the authorities didn’t give us the opportunity to release our albums on vinyl, despite the fact that we were playing in stadiums. And, of course, almost all the money from the concerts went to the Communist Party. For example, musicians received about 5-6 dollars per concert in terms of the then exchange rate.
You released your first album, “Megalomania” in 1985. How did you feel when you released your debut? What was the reaction of the audience?
VH: The success exceeded all our expectations: we suddenly became known throughout the country. Everywhere we performed, there were fans who knew our songs, despite the fact that we could not be seen on TV or heard on the radio.
The period 1986-1987 was very important to the band. Release of the album “With whom are you?”. Then the line-up changes take place in the group, new members came, and the group releases one of the best albums “Hero of Asphalt”. How do you look at that period today?
VH: This was the period of the formation of the group, the search of our own style. It was important not to stop at what has been achieved, to learn to work together, to make compromises. Not all musicians were ready for this.
The success of “Hero of Asphalt” album showed that the lineup renewal was good for the band! As many as three songs hit the first places in the Russian charts, and the album itself was finally released on vinyl and the first circulation of 1 million copies was sold almost instantly.
VD: I think that period in the life of the band was the most interesting and fruitful! We were young, full of ideas and desire to play our own music, so everything was filled with enthusiasm and inspiration!
With the 1987 album “Hero of Asphalt”, you became stars in Russia. The album was sold in over 1 million copies. I believe that the goal of every musician is to make their music as popular as possible. Did you expect at the time to suddenly become a star?
VH: Of course not, we were just doing what we loved and did not realize the scope of our popularity.
VD: I share the concept of “star” and “famous band, or musician”. We were, rather, the second!
In 1987-88, you performed outside the USSR for the first time. What were your impressions of these concerts and what were the reactions of fans from Western Europe?
VD: The first time we went abroad from the USSR was in January 1988 to East Berlin. It was unforgettable – it seemed that we were in the real West! The audience received us very well, although they probably knew nothing about us …
VH: Yes, it was amazing, and we were received very well almost everywhere. And we finally learned to feel more confident in front of an audience that does not speak Russian.
In the first five years of your existence, you had many concerts and five very good albums. How did you manage it?
VH: I remember that we worked without the rest. Immediately after the tour, we went into the studio. We even rehearsed between concerts, in the hotel rooms. The first time I went to rest was four years later.
VD: We lived by this and forgot about everything else!
The period of the 90’s in many Western countries is considered the best period in history. We, on the eastern side, in Serbia, Russia, Belarus, etc. do not remember those years for good. However, in those difficult times, the band Aria released excellent albums. Can you describe this period to us from your point of view? Has the economic crisis of the 90’s affected your work/concerts/sales or album popularity? Did you have to look for a permanent job or could you make a living by music?
VH: It was a difficult time for the musicians. Many bands disbanded at that time. There were very few concerts, we did not receive money from the sale of albums. We had to earn a living working as watchmen, taxi drivers, etc.
VD: But nevertheless, we were not discouraged and were not going to quit with the music. As Vladimir said, there were practically no concerts at that time, because it was not economically profitable to call some band that plays live, for a show that requires a lot of sound and light equipment. It was easier to arrange concerts of pop stars singing to the soundtrack. So our style of music turned out to be unnecessary overnight… But we had a lot of free time to write new songs and we did just that. Then, when the situation in the country more or less improved and “live” concerts resumed, we were able to offer our fans new music and it worked into our hands!
In the period 1997-1998 the band released two excellent albums again. Tell us a little bit about that period. Part of the group recorded an acoustic solo album “Crash”, and at the same time, Kipelov released his solo album. What was really happening in those years?
VD: We just decided to record something different, not like the Aria that everyone knew. Vladimir and I recorded an album of our songs in acoustics, Valery and Sergei Mavrin made an album of songs that, as they probably thought, were not very suitable for Aria, especially since Sergei had no longer played in the group by that time.
There was no background in this.
The beginning of the new millennium was quite turbulent for the band Aria. On the one hand, another very good album, “Chimera” was released, and the band’s popularity was returning. On the other hand, shortly after the release of the album, at the end of the tour, singer Kipelov left the group. How do you look at that period today? What were the reasons for Kipelov’s departure?
VD: Whenever I am asked about this, I answer that it is better to ask Valery himself. How do I personally view this? As for our common big mistake, but which could hardly have been avoided … We became adults, our views on music and not only began to differ greatly, and situations began to arise that simply could not have existed before. And which we could not overcome.
Despite the troubles, the band found a new singer Arthur Berkut, with whom you released two albums. Did you have the same problems that Iron Maiden and Judas Priest faced when Dickinson and Halford left them? In general, how do you see the period when Berkut was in the group?
VD: In general, I consider this period quite successful for the group – we managed to revive the lineup, returning Maxim Udalov and inviting a new guitarist Sergei Popov and singer Artur Berkut. We recorded a new album in a short time and many of the songs became hits! But I agree that we could not avoid comparison with the former vocalist, as it was with Maiden, Priest and Sabbath… And it took a lot of effort, energy, and time to prove that we will continue no matter what, and we will not going to give up!
In 2011, Berkut left the group. Mikhail Zhitnyakov became the new singer. You released three very good albums and the band sounds phenomenal at concerts. Tell us a little about this period.
VD: This is our modern period! Mikhail has been in the group for 9 years. I believe that the update was good for us – we feel in great creative shape and do not think to stop there! The atmosphere in the group is better than it has ever been and we are all very enthusiastic despite the fact that we celebrate 35 years of existence!
I have always been interested in your collaboration with the poetess Margarita Pushkina. How do you work with her? Do you give her the music for which she writes lyrics, or do you get the lyrics for which you write music?
VD: Margarita and our other co-authors of lyrics always write to ready-made music. We are giving away a demo with a ready-made melody in pseudo-English and we ask them to strictly adhere to the specified size in each line! This is a very difficult task, it takes a lot of time, but then we are not ashamed of the result we get! Why pseudo-English? Because we consider English to be the international language of rock, and if, while composing, you build musical phrases based on how it would sound in English, then this is a guarantee that our music, I emphasize – music, is understood not only in Russia, but also in many countries in which no one knows Russian!
We live in a time when all information is available thanks to the Internet. Every band has the opportunity to present their music to the whole world. However, in recent years, the band Aria seems to be more focused on the Russian-speaking environment. Do you have ambitions to perform outside the Russian-speaking region? To be honest, I think that Aria is better than many famous world-known bands.
VD: No, we are not against playing gigs in other countries, moreover, we welcome such proposals and never refuse them! In recent years, we have performed, of course, quite rarely, in Sweden, Finland, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, France, USA, Canada and the countries of the former USSR. But the Internet alone is not enough to go on a world tour – there must be support and interest of the organizers, it is desirable to make a release specifically for the Western market, which someone should offer you to do, there must be a local promoter … And of course, it must be economically profitable! Therefore, as soon as this happens, we go to those countries where, perhaps, we have never been played alive.
Since I am a passionate cook and this is my favorite hobby, I have followed your culinary videos on your YouTube channel with great care. So far I prepared Borscht in one way, and now I cook Borscht according to Vitaly’s recipe. Is there any dish that you especially love to cook? If I were your guest in Russia, what traditional Russian dish would you cook?
VD: Thank you very much, it’s very unexpected that this is interesting not only for Russians! Oh, there are many such dishes – borscht, cabbage soup, mushroom soup … Yes, a lot of things – just come and I’ll prepare!
I know it’s awkward to answer this question right now due to the pandemic, but what are your plans for the future? What can we expect from the band Aria in the near future?
VD: In the near future we will continue our on-line performances, and after the end of the pandemic and the lifting of restrictions, we are going to continue our anniversary tour with full stage production, just like on our latest video “Guest from the Kingdom of Shadows”.
In December, the second book about our band will be released, a continuation of the first, which will cover the period from 1998 to the present.
Further – time will tell!
Guys, I am very glad to have this interview with you. Sorry for too many questions, trust me, I have many more. But since no one from my country has ever interviewed you, I had to ask all these questions. I sincerely hope that one day we will meet in my hometown Belgrade at a concert of the band Aria. Do you have a message for fans in Serbia, but also for all other fans, considering that this interview will be in English?
VD: We’ve heard a lot about the hospitality of the Serbs, about the beauty of your land, we will be happy to come to you if the opportunity arises! All goodness, peace, and an early end to the pandemic! Listen to rock music!!!