Text by Nikolay Nelyubin
Translation by Vladimir Kolosov
Viktor Tsoi is 60 years old. On this day, Novy Prospekt publishes an interview with his American girlfriend Joanna Stingray, who has just released her book «Viktor Tsoi. The last hero. History». In a long interview, the musician, who started her rock and roll career hand in hand with Boris Grebenshchikov and other heroes of the Leningrad Rock Club, presents her new video Something Here’s Not Right, talks about archival recordings that were released only a third of a century after they were actually written. And, of course, Stingray talks about her T-shirt slogans from the mid-80s: «Let's Save the World».
Joanna, when we met in 2018 after your nearly secret arrival in St. Petersburg, you told us about your plans to publish a couple of books. Since then, five books have been released: «Stingray in Wonderland», «Stingray through the Looking Glass», «Russian Rock. History», «The Real History of Russian Rock», «Russian Rock. The End of the Underground.» Did I miss anything?
— There will be the sixth one called «Viktor Tsoi. The Last Hero. History.»
And that is still not the end?
— It is hard to say! Originally, I only wanted to publish two books. About the Russian rock underground and about what happened afterwards. As well as a photo album. Along with photos came the idea to make two albums, as it was with the books. The first photo album about the underground period, and the first book «The Russian Rock. History» from the very beginning of my arrival in the USSR until my wedding with Yuri (Stingray's wedding with KINO guitarist Georgy Kasparyan took place in November 1987 — NP). We did it together with Alex Kahn, who was responsible for the translations. We brought it to AST Publishing House, and they said it could not be published in one volume. I thought that the next picture book would cover the period of 1988-1990. Then it became clear that Victor’s 60th birthday is coming up (Victor Tsoi was born on June 21, 1962 — NP).
Of course, the publisher said yes, yes, yes. And we started working on it. Maybe next time we will write a book about the post-underground period of 1988-1996. However, it is less important compared to the underground times. Maybe we will divide this period into 2-3 more books. I left Russia in 1996 and came back there only once, in 2004. Well, if AST agrees, the last book will cover the period starting from my return in 2018. Presentations, meetings, friends, BG in England. Probably, after that all of this will finally end (laughs).
Dozens of books have been written about Tsoi. What is new for buyers of the book «Viktor Tsoi. The Last Hero. History?»
— It turned out that I had forgotten a lot about this time… For me personally, it was important that I found a woman who worked for a Japanese company, and she was at the Sundance Film Festival (National American Independent Film Festival in Utah — NP), when Viktor and Yuri came there after the release of the film «Needle». She was watching the movie, listening to how the guys were playing. She really wanted to do something with them after that. She gave me some of her photos to publish in the book. Then there was another person at Sundance who invited the guys to stay in his loft in Los Angeles.
And he also gave a number of photos and wrote some of his memoirs. Viktor’s drawings will be published there as well. Each of these main characters wrote something in all my books. Boris wrote something, Yuri and Titov did the same. I asked Kolya Mikhailov (Director of the Leningrad Rock Club since 1982 — NP) if he could write something. He gave me some pictures and told me stories I never heard before. There are photos taken from KINO rehearsals, their concerts, and my wedding party. I tried to choose photos that no one had seen before. There are shots that may be out of focus, but sometimes that makes them even more interesting. But for sure, many of you have not seen the Japanese photos as well as pictures taken from a trip to the USA.
The pictures are the main thing in this book. I preserved many videos — some shots from them are also part of the book. My first three photo albums were chronological. In this particular book there will be well known and slightly unknown to me stories of Viktor’s life from the inside. Kamchatka, tours in the USA and so on.
Viktor would have turned 60 this year. His songs are more relevant today than ever. Why do you think that happens?
— Sometimes there are songs that get their own life, apart from their songwriter. And a few of Viktor’s songs, like «Changes» and others — they are just like that. They were written by life itself. Everyone who listens to these songs feels something personal. For many, these are protest songs.
Could you have imagined in the late 80s, that his songs would live forever? When did you realize that?
— When we met, of course, for me they were very, very cool songs. Anyway, we did not think that they would last forever. When you stand next to a great man, you rarely understand it. After many years, you realize that it was magic, that these songs are forever…
Should we wait for changes, or should we do something to make them real? What is your recipe for changes?
— If you just wait for changes, you can wait for a very long time, and most likely they will not come at all. When people really want changes, they need to act, at least to say something. You cannot be lazy.
The new musicians of KINO without Viktor — is it more about nostalgia, or the future?
— New KINO concerts are indeed about nostalgia, but at the same time about the future. People really need the songs of KINO now, because they feel that they are missing something in our world. Viktor wrote about silence, peace, and warmth. This is extremely necessary. Especially now. The songs of KINO help people to be a little happier.
You do not talk about your life outside of Russia in your books. Is it not that interesting?
— Exactly! It is not very interesting (laughs).
— In 1996, I was pregnant. We were thinking with Sasha (the second husband of Stingray, drummer of the Center band, sound producer Alexander Vasilyev — NP) that we would go to the USA and then came back to Moscow… At that time, I was already working on Russian TV, where I was making a program… Standing in our apartment in Moscow in February, I looked through the window, realized that tomorrow I would fly away, and never come back here again… For some reason I knew that. This is the end, beautiful friend… (a line from a song by Jim Morrison, The Doors — NP).
It is obvious that any newborn child changes a person’s whole life.
— Naturally. But I had a plan to have a daughter, and then to return to Russia and live there. I was standing on the seventh floor looking out the window… You know, Moscow has always been a different city for me than Leningrad. Leningrad is my favorite. I feel at home there every time. As for Moscow, I came there for work. Yuri and I were no longer together. It was the time of undercommunism, where Moscow became a real center. I remember that church bells were regularly heard ringing in my apartment. At the same time, there was a lot of dirt, dirty air. Very beautiful things and very dirty at the same time. So I was sitting doing the montage of my program, and I felt solid exhaust gases in the air. And I was pregnant. I was very careful and tried to eat only clean food. I think I ended up doing three seasons of my program «Red Wave Presents». It was the first money that I earned in Russia. It seemed that I could live peacefully in Russia, earning enough money. And then something happened. Channel One closed the project after their management changed.
In late 1995, their former boss Vlad Listyev was killed …
— Exactly so. I left for Los Angeles with Sasha… The next period of our life is only interesting because of the new record that I was doing together with Sasha. I was already very pregnant. And Sasha was a perfectionist. We spent many months at the studio recording and recording… We started doing vocals when I was two months pregnant. And we finished when it was already the seventh month. I gained 25 kilograms by that time. He was making me sing again and again. «Up All Night! Up All Night!» — it was necessary to sing it in a high voice. And I could not do that anymore. And I thought that the child would then take revenge on me (laughs).
The child has grown up, so the early music lessons were definitely not in vain! You can also recall your joint punk-rock action movie with her…
— Yes. And my friend, the sound engineer, told me that his heart bled when Sasha forced me to sing in the seventh month of pregnancy (smiles). I was afraid that Madi would beat me up all night long.
Judging by the songs you sent to me, everything ended well. I remember her solo lyrical song dedicated to Viktor.
— Yes … and that Shades of Yellow album (released in 1998 by the Moscow-based FeeLee label — NP) was the best, in my opinion, the best that Sasha did from the production standpoint. Sasha played all the instruments. The highest quality album in terms of music. By that time, I had grown up both as a lyricist and as a person, thanks to the experience I gained in Russia. This is my best album. This album took six months longer than we expected to record. I would like it to be released in America as well. But I never had time for that. I tried to sign a contract inAmerica when I was recording the very first album with Boris (the album of the mid-80s Stay Together was released in Russia in 2021 by Maschina Records, it is available on Spotify, YouTube and other digital platforms — NP).
Boris was extremely inspired by this. And I even got a call from a man representing an American label who told me that he had listened to this album, that he liked it very much. And he was ready to make a contract. But Madison was only two months old. And they asked me if I have musicians right now to be ready to go on tour. A bus touring small clubs. It was so weird. Once I had a dream. Here it came true, but I said, «Sorry, no.» Well, how could I be with a two-month-old baby in all those small bad hotels (smiles). And then I was just a mom for 16 years. So, the recording period of Shades of Yellow was the only interesting period…
My parents' family broke down when I was 11. We lived in Beverly Hills with my sisters in an apartment with my mom. In Los Angeles, it was a shame to live in an apartment, and not in your own house. People there believed that Beverly Hills was the center of the world. Then I studied at university on one program, where 500 people visited 12 countries during just 3.5 months on a ship. I even got to China in 1981. It was the first year they opened. When my daughter was already 10 years old, we went on a similar trip again. We went to Africa on a ship and we began to figure out how many countries we could visit in such a way. I have never been to Lithuania before this summer. I have never been to Latvia. We visited Estonia once in 1989. As of today, I have visited 79 countries.
You were talking about your Stay Together archive album recorded with BG. It was on the shelf for a third of a century and has been finally released in 2021. What was the reaction to the album?
— I did not make any presentations of this album… People were just happy to listen to what they never knew. In general, BG had a huge impact on my life. This was such a look at the very beginning of my creative work. It is important to me that I wrote texts only with him. He is a good poet in English actually. As good as in Russian. Thanks to my acquaintance with Boris, I began to understand many processes.
What did he say about publishing these recordings from your youth now?
— I just told him that I wanted to publish them. «Why not?» he replied (smiling). I said that I would do an official copyright, everything else. And he said it was not that important. The record was released only in Russia. A small print run.
At the same time, the sound is absolutely unique. Pure 80s. Then they started recording in a completely different way. It sounds like you came back to your childhood…
— I understand what you mean. And these are my first studio recordings. Sound engineer Paul Dell was helping me in the studio in those days. I grew up as an author thanks to Boris. And as a producer, I grew up watching Paul. This is my rock and roll school.
Another rarity has just been released in digital format. I mean the album Surfin' on the Red Wave (NP presented it on June 9). The album contains your versions of songs by BG, Kinchev, Strange Games, KINO — those who were published on the legendary Red Wave compilation. Maxim Kondrashov, publisher of Surfin' on the Red Wave, said that the album originally had a different name. Why was it renamed?
— Initially, we were planning to call my solo album simply Red Wave 2. But then the idea came to reissue the original Red Wave of 1986, and in parallel to make an album where the same musicians make modern versions of the same songs. And then it would be logical to call the new album Red Wave 2. My idea was different as I decided to make cover versions of my friends' songs with a different name of the album. In general, most of the titles of my albums and books are not mine. I do not really fight for titles. I trust others. But we already made a mistake in the title of the book because of that. My publisher came up with his name for one of the books: «The True History of Russian Rock». And we wondered how a subjective story could be authentic? It was too late to change the name, the publisher said. It is even not the people in the publishing house who came up with it. They have marketers who also need to work (smiles). That is why I did not argue about the Red Wave 2. The cover was also made in red and yellow — in the communist spirit. I was convinced that the songs were taken exactly from that period, so I did not start to argue again.
Is the idea of Red Wave 2 still alive? Or some of that legendary quartet does not support the idea of singing about younger versions of their now mature selves?
— Some five years ago, even before the idea of the KINO reunion arose, Yuri Kasparyan asked me about this idea. It was Yuri. And it seemed strange to me. I understood that Kinchev would not do that anymore. Probably, the same about Grebenshchikov. However, Yuri asked me to talk to them about it. But I had not been to Russia for a long time, so it was strange to me. Later on, Yuri told me that he found everything out without my participation. He asked Alex to call Boris. He did not mind rewriting these songs again. I think, Kinchev said that a big concert would be needed. Boris did not want any concert. Or vice versa. I do not remember exactly. They did not agree with each other, in general. At the same time, there is still no first Red Wave album on the Internet. Not so long ago Kinchev had an album where Yuri participated! I was surprised that they worked together, although they did not meet in person. In 2021, I was at the 40th anniversary of the Rock Club in St. Petersburg. Finally, I was able to meet with Kinchev. We have not seen each other for many years. I met a lot of people after 2018, but not him. And there we finally met.
Was it the event where everyone sang songs of the 80s on the same stage, a third of a century later, while Kinchev sang «Heaven of the Slavs» and his other new songs?
— Yes. But I did not understand the words of his new songs. I liked their music. The way he did it. Such hymns. I liked them.
In Russian rock, texts are important. What do you think when your friend says: «I would really like Ukrainians to wake up and realize that we are one people with them. That they were drugged and used to their advantage by the transhumanist LGBT Reich, or, as they call themselves, the post-Christian civilization, which Russia is forced to resist, defending traditional Christian values?»
— (Laughs) He said that?! Where?
In his interview.
— Well, what can I say in this respect… Before 2018, I had not been to Russia for 13 years. I met with friends who were in St. Petersburg at that time. Seva Gakkel, BG, Vitya Sologub. The old friends briefed me about who had became a nationalist, who had became an anti-Semite. I did not think much about it. I met friends with whom I had warm feelings. I realized what huge role all these people played in shaping me as a person. I admire them as much as I did in the 80s. My feelings about the world in recent years suggest that we, as people, have lost something. Something is missing… We have plunged deeply into games for the quality of our lives… As for the current situation, I can say for myself that I have always been against the war. But I firmly believe that I can only talk with my friends about their music. About our relationship in the past. I was invited by the RenTV channel to talk about the split in Russian rock. Who is now on one side, and who is on the other. And I said I was not ready to discuss these people. Talk to them yourselves! It is not my goal to discuss them, to comment on them. It is very important not to judge people. Everyone has his own circumstances. We all have our reasons, our motivations, and our lives. We must return to peaceful feeling for each other. Where we take care of the elderly people, nature, children, animals…
Fears of a nuclear conflict are relevant today once again. KINO not so long ago rewrote the song «Nuclear-Free Zone». Do you have any concerns about this?
— Of course, I am afraid of that… There are many forces in the world that complicate this situation… I have often been asked in Russia in recent years what I think about a new Cold War. Every time I answered that it was impossible… I said that during the last Cold War we did not have the Internet. Control was very simple. Both Russia and the US were just telling people what they should want. My father’s film was shown in schools! I watched it like a schoolgirl!
Propaganda is evil a priori.
— I was sure that if our governments start saying bad things about each other again, then we will have the Internet, and we will be able to understand each other, no matter what. When you get old, you think you are getting wiser. And it turned out to be completely wrong. This is a huge shock for me…
Some people write to you in the comments: «Joanna! Please support Ukraine! Viktor has often been there. We are waiting for you. It is terrible…» But you never answered. Why?
— Because I am not a politician. Some people who ask me about this are absolutely sincere. Others are playing their own game. They want to show their hatred for Russia. They want to drag me into this hatred. I will not allow myself to be dragged into hatred. I am against any war. I have always been for peace.
Some say that you are silent because you have books published in Russia, and you are not ready to give them up by expressing your position. Is that really true?
— Firstly, I am sure that my position will not affect the publication of my books in any way. And secondly, most of what I wanted to say in these books has already been said. I am not sure that the Moscow part of my story will be published. It is not as interesting as Grebenshchikov. It is already about Sukachev and Galanin…
There is a question about these guys…
— If I felt that something really depends on my public position, and the payment for this position is to sacrifice my books, then fuck the books! Do you understand? The only thing that really worries me is that I would be blocked from entering Russia again. I already had the same situation in the 80s. It was a scary change for me. I have already been there and I do not want that again. I am not a person who thinks so highly of themself to make any loud public statements.
All these questions and expectations are easily explained. Rock is music of protest. Russian rock of the 80s — even more so. Joanna Stingray is a woman who, in some way, «armed» Russian rock…
— In fact, I am being asked to speak out not just against what is happening, but also against Russia.
Joanna, which songs of your old friends that appeared this spring do you remember? Have you heard Grebenshchikov’s «Divination»? And Kinchev’s «If only»?
— I read the lyrics of Boris, his new song. Fabulous poems! So powerful and deep. I repeat that Boris is a great poet. Thanks to him, working with him on my songs, I then started to compose my own lyrics. When I was working on the album «Surfin' on the Red Wave. The Original Recordings 1985-1987», making English versions of «Aquarium», «Alice», the lyrics turned out to be evil. And it is so weird now… As if they were written just now. In this nightmarish reality.
No so long ago, we presented a video for the song «Ashes». It was filmed in January. And in February this whole situation began. The song has always been very frightening… The coincidence was also disturbing.
— Yes… Today I present another video from this album: «Something Here’s Not Right. «And again the same feeling…Everything repeats… Everything is coming back… In the USA, schools work with children so that they do not forget things like the Holocaust. But if you are not careful and do not think about it all the time, then such things can come back… Yes, I am afraid of a nuclear bomb. And I am also afraid of an American Civil War.
Do you plan to come to KINO concerts in Russia?
— I have just been to the Baltic States. Petersburg is just around the corner. I have a new book that is worth presenting. But if I find myself there now, then, alas, for many people I will be «on the side of Russia» in the «bad sense». That is why I cannot go to Russia now… I am not afraid to find myself in trouble if I come. But my husband is very scared. My friends are afraid that I might have problems, given who I am. I do not know when I will be back. And it is also scary that people get used to this fear…
«Love of Weapons» is an old song by Ricochet and the «Object of Ridicule» band. It was covered by the musicians of KINO with Zhenya Fedorov, bassist and the leader of Tequilajazzz. In the picture about this song on the OUR RADIO website you are also present. This playful song won the first place. If you do not know that this is just a joke about a militaristic frenzy, then it might appear to be an anthem for the military. Zhenya says it is such a partisan story…
— It is great that this track is playing on the air now! It occurred to me that I should post my song «War». It is more about environmental protection, but, apparently, it is worth being reminded of. I read your interview with Zhenya. It is sad that people have to leave Russia…
Are you talking to Madi about what is going on between Russia and Ukraine? Who teaches whom: the child her mother, or vice versa?
— The problem concerns Madi’s generation — nothing was hidden from them. They see everything in real time. My daughter understands what is going on. And it is hard for her. And it breaks my heart. But thanks to this, she writes great poems and songs. There are many songs already recorded in the studio. There are two albums already. But she doesn’t ever want to publish them. She is afraid of being famous. There are three videos of her songs. They are beautiful. But she does not want to show them…
Should we wait for another 30 years before Maschina Records publishes them?
— (Laughs) Yes. The meanness and malice of the world breaks it and suppresses them. And she practically does not follow the news anymore. She lives in the mountains in a small town now. She tries to stay away from reality.
I remember that she really liked Russia in 2018. And we even joked that she would have a Russian rock musician as her husband…
— I remember that (smiles). Sometimes I told her, before February 24, that she should go to live in Russia for a year if Russians are the same as they were 35 years ago. I described to her a lot about our relationship with my friends in Russia — honest and real… But I know that many of them are now leaving. And this is a tragedy.
To end, I will ask you about hope. Your new video, although it raises disturbing questions, is still charged with some kind of light, or something… Can you formulate your hope with all that we have discussed?
— Despite what I said about the lost unity of the world and lost harmony, I believe that there is still something positive and good hidden in the depths of any person. There are chances to improve the situation, to get to the good out from inside. But it is a process. Understanding the evil around you is a way to get the good out. Life is a road with many bumps. You move smoothly, and then a tragedy happens. But after that there will be a smooth road again. The main thing is not to lose yourself in this. It is a long road.
You can read other articles and NP interviews in English in section English Prospect.