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The DIY Mythology of Won James Won (interview)

Published February, 2017
by Easterndaze

Won James Won is a collective of musicians based between St Petersburg and Moscow. Established in 2003, the noise/rock band has put out a number of releases, cementing their status as one of the most prolific artists on the Russian underground scene. Previously, they were also members of the ZveZdaZ art movement, a creative commune, which united their other projects like MUX and WOMBA. There’s a strong sense of logocentric undercurrent and DIY mythology woven throughout their records, visceral and raw, inviting the listener to enter their dystopian world of haunted voices. Their latest album, Prozrachnik, is out now on Baba Vanga. 

Could you talk about the samples that you used on your latest album?

In fact, the whole album consists of samples – everything was fragmentized, chopped and minced through loopers: random module melodies, guitar noodling, found sounds and voices from obscure movies (an amazing rendition of “Aelita” made for Hungarian TV in 1980, for instance). Going for sample overkill is our trademark, actually! So, nothing was played over existing patterns, it was more like solving a puzzle using pieces of random pictures.

Where do you place this album within your work – would you say it’s the most experimental so far?

Well, it’s hard to deduce its level of audacity, but the record surely feels different. It’s pretty self-contained and there is a certain quasi-spiritual quality to these sound assemblages – a sense of deep, deep, wintery delusion and playful paranoia. Also it’s our first record that I’ve mixed myself, so it’s totally home-fidelity and incidental.

How do you work – are you based in one place or between places? (Moscow and St Petersburg)? How do the members work?

Our operating base has always been located in St. Petersburg – it’s the home studio of Dan 271 Smirnov. He is our chief arranger, the one who puts things in order musically. I make some weird sounds, manage vocals and collect samples at my place in Moscow. And our guitarist Andrey Astro Gankin works at the awesome Moscow sound studio “Destroy the Humanity”, where we occasionally record vocals, drums and guitars. Otherwise, it’s extensive sharing of material via cloud services. Man, it sounds so whimsical – “we communicate through clouds”!

Can you talk about the development of the band? You have been around for almost 14 years. 

Our main goal is to keep ourselves entertained. There is hardly any financial or strategic stimulation, just the primal urge to make some weird noise. We have a compact, cult-like following of true fans, and it’s our job to provide them with nerve-tingling off-kilter product. We’ve been through many line-up changes and unlikely collaborations, through phases of total abstractness and more focused “song-oriented” music-making. Next step is another bombastic concept album about the regeneration of the INNER SANCTUM.

Can you talk about ZveZdaZ art-movement and whether it has influenced your musical work later?

ZveZdaZ was a creative commune, which united our other projects like MUX and WOMBA, and it kinda worked for a couple of years. Later we concentrated on our constant search for non-trivial design decisions with our art guy, Dmitry Gomzakov aka ZonderZond. Often, we start from a visual idea for the package or artwork. So, with us it’s not only about music – we also have a strong logocentric undercurrent and DIY mythology which can be traced through all of our records.  

Won James Won – Prozrachnik by Baba Vanga