The interview: White Russia

White Russia’s debut LP, O Jerusalem, is as haunting and spooky as it is compelling. The band, a two-piece from South London, navigates through a range of genres to create rich layers of sonic reverberations that hit you out of nowhere. Singer/songwriter Marina Elderton’s piercing voice and rebel-rousing lyrics, combined with producer Benjamin Bufton’s powerful, knock-out style productions make for a fresh and revolutionary sound. We caught up with Marina for a quick Skype link up to talk apathetic bands and wanting to be Axl Rose.

Hi there, where are you right now?

I am in Kingston, London, meeting up with Lee Mangan, who’s our video director, and we’re trying to sort out the cover for the album, which is basically going to be stills from our videos.

Have you guys started doing a lot of promos and performing live shows for the new album?

Yeah we basically started doing gigs about May last year for it, mainly around Hoxton in London and in 93 Feet East. Its been really great actually because its given me an opportunity to play some places that I’ve always wanted to play, you know, and it’s nice having something which you feel will make some statement of some kind, make more of an impact than just some kind of apathetic band that can’t even be bothered to make an effort. There are quite a
few of them around.

When and where was the album recorded?

We recorded it from about 2008 to 2010 in Ben’s studio, in his house in London.

What was the vibe during the recording sessions?

It was cool. The way it started was with one song really, Charmless State. I’d been playing music for a while and knew of Ben because I’d met him through friends. I recorded an acoustic demo of the song and Ben heard it and, you know, liked it and so I came in to his studio and I just put down my acoustic version just using guitar, then I sung over it, and then he just built it up. He had a very strong vision which was that he wanted it to be dark and industrial. For me it involved a lot of trust in a way because I was always quite suspicious of things that were too programmed but he played it back to me and I was blown away and it kind of went from there basically.

When did you actually start calling yourself White Russia?

Well at that point we never actually said ‘OK we’re in a band, this is what it is’, it was more of an intrigue about this song, and then it was quite a natural process. There was one point when we probably had three songs and we were like ‘OK, what it this?’ Then we sat down early 2009 and called it White Russia and decided to do a whole album.

Why White Russia?

I was looking at a really old, beautiful map and was scanning the east European section and saw ’White Russia’ written on the map and I was so surprised that I’d never seen it before. It just seemed to go with the music really, that was it.

I don’t want it to be coming across as a patronising preacher going around saying ‘oh you all got it wrong,’ but for me, music is the most powerful platform

A lot of your songs and lyrics, and even your track names, are quite powerful. They could sometimes be seen as a call to arms to a generation of jilted people.

Yeah, I know what you mean. And I don’t want it to be coming across as a patronising preacher going around saying ‘oh you all got it wrong,’ but for me, music is the most powerful platform in the sense that it is the only form of art that is completely intangible, it’s not physical, people receive it in the air, yet it has such a physical force on you that for me that’s a responsibility. People need to be shaken out of the normality that is being forced upon us, that actually to me is very unnatural. I think we do live in quite dark times, there’s a kind of menacing element to society, the fabrication of society that we need to challenge, and question, and at least look into.

Menace. That’s the word I was looking for. There’s a sense of intense menace in your music. One of the things I couldn’t help think of was that your music would be perfect as a backdrop to the recent London riots…

The riots were quite invigorating. Everyone was scared shitless. It was hitting places nobody thought possible. Ealing is the leafiest, wealthiest suburb and buses were on fire there, you know? People’s houses were getting broken into too. It was a sudden shock to the system…And to be honest, I think that can be a healthy thing in the sense that it makes people debate, question and wonder what this was about. I think the truth of those riots is that it shows you that the society we’ve structured doesn’t really fulfil human happiness at all.

One of the words that was used to describe your sound was hazy. You don’t sound hazy to me…

That’s probably more of Ben’s influence. He probably wants to raise more questions that answers. Ben likes the idea of something really quick and extreme that then disappears. Something that sounds like the beginning of something epic but then it doesn’t come. He likes to create this sense of ambiguity that makes you feel quite unsure because you don’t know what to expect. It kind of puts you on edge which in a way makes you more alive.

In terms of style, and maybe this is more a question for Ben, the music kind of touches upon everything. There’s hip hop, there’s dub step, a little bit of electronica, there’s folk, chill wave. How would you describe your music if you had to pigeonhole it?

Yeah, it can be quite hard actually. I suppose alternative electronic is what we’ve been calling it. But obviously there are other elements in it and I know that Ben’s definitely coming from quite a few different strands. He’s got this really amazing way of drawing all these things together in a way that makes sense.

In weird ways Ben and I are complete opposites, we have completely different backgrounds.

What music scenes or tribes did you belong to growing up?

Oh very strong tribes. In weird ways Ben and I are complete opposites, we have completely different backgrounds. For me, my baptism as far as music began with one close best friend when I was 13-14. We started listening to Led Zepelin, The Doors, Guns N’ Roses and we were obsessed with them, we wanted to be them. I wanted to be Axl Rose, like a man you know. We disowned our femininity and we started playing music together and it was brilliant because it gave us an identity. It gave us the confidence to fucking rebel I guess. People used to take a piss out of us, saying, ‘Oh you listen to grandpa music’ but for me it was amazing because it was the beginning of me playing music. Then slowly but surely I opened my mind to newer things. The 60s, the 70s, the 80s. The Cure, The Smiths, obviously amazing. The 90s, Nirvana, Faith No More. It was mainly alternative and rock for me. Then I went into Depeche Mode, weirder stuff. Bonnie Prince Billy and just more mind-wrapping stuff, that was less literal, less of an image-based thing and more about ideas. And then Ben’s obviously introduced me to things like Yazoo, a lot of more electronic stuff.

Do you guys have any side projects or is White Russia your main thing?

Actually I’m working on something new with one of my friends whose playing bass and I’m playing guitar. It’s called The Russian Orthodox Wedding. That’s the working title so far. We recorded our song on a reel-to-reel analogue recorder all in one day. I can’t play guitar very well, she had just learned the bass, so there’s a complete naivety to it. It reeks of all the mistakes. It’s the bare bones but I’m quite excited about it. And Ben’s always working on different stuff. He produces stuff for a band called Steranko who are a punk band in London who Lee Mangan, the video director, is the lead singer of. They’re a fucking amazing band, truly amazing live. Very very rare band.

This is maybe a classic one, but what are you listening to at the moment?

You know the band Girls?

Yeah we’re interviewing them for this same edition…

Oh cool. Their second album is fucking amazing. It’s so fucking profound. It’s like old school music again. You know an organ, and the song is allowed to develop. I love it.

White Russia’s debut album O Jerusalem is out on L’Agenda Records on 28th November.
myspace.com/whiterussiamusic