Original photo courtesy of Kosmetika / handmade mixed media collage by B.
Mysterious art pop project Kosmetika is about to gift us one of the best and brightest contenders for album of the year with new record Illustration. We’re loving the intricate drum machine bops, melodic basslines, memorable synth lines, English/Russian vocals and odd-form structures. Today Gimmie are premiering single ‘Eighty Four’ and caught up with Kosmetika’s driving creative forces Veeka Nazarova and Mikey Ellis to chat about it and the forthcoming album.
We first spoke with you three years ago when your debut album, Pop Soap, came out. Excitingly we’re premiering a single ‘Eighty Four’ from your new record, Illustration; what’s the song about?
VEEKA: ’Eighty Four’ was one of the first tracks that Mikey and I wrote for Illustration. I would say it’s about a love/hate relationship with the Internet. If you were to translate the lyrics from Russian to English it would read quite abstract, sort of like a collage – a bunch of very surrealistic images mashed together, but overall lyrically it does have this slightly creepy feel to it, despite being a very funky upbeat song.
For instance, in one of the verses I’m describing a moment of me reading a book as a kid and vividly imagining all the characters as if they were right in front of me, just this very special feeling when you are connecting with a book on a personal level. Then on the other hand there is a time when the internet becomes more advanced and takes over humanity, so in the lyrics I refer to the Internet as ‘the water cycle effect’, how it all starts from one drop and slowly turns into rain, makes up a river then evaporates and it happens all over again. Throughout the whole song there is a dialogue between one of my favourite book writers of all time Gogol and ‘the kids’ and it’s him trying to get all the kids to stand up against the Internet and stop them from looking at the screens and being miserable. In the end of the song the Internet supposedly crashes forever.
You told us last time that Pop Soap didn’t have a strong concept and was more a collection of ideas; is there a theme or thread lyrically that links these songs?
VEEKA: Yes absolutely, Illustration has a very strong concept to it. It was written within a couple of months and most of the songs were inspired by the idea of diving deep into your subconsciousness, being self-aware, thinking about yourself throughout the time and embracing who you are as an individual. A lot diving into the past and self-reflection. It’s also about dreaming big and being excited about the future in general.
I would recommend listening to Illustration when you are driving/walking through the city on a quiet night. There were a few songs on the album that were influenced by the astounding stillness of the night city in 2020. This crazy feeling when you are walking through empty streets of the night city and it feels like the most comforting place on earth.
We understand that you were unable to work on the music as the five-piece band, and that co-founders Michael and Veeka started working on Illustration as a home recording project; what were some of the best and worst bits doing things this way? Michael recorded it all, right?
VEEKA: I think a lot of bands/artists faced a similar situation when you couldn’t go out and collaborate/write music with other people. We were just lucky to be living in the same house and because we’ve written music together in the past, overall it seemed like a very natural process. The only thing we struggled with was that we couldn’t record the drums for ages, so had to wait in between lockdowns to be able to go into the studio we had at the time.
MIKEY: The best part about doing it during lockdown was that we didn’t really have any other distractions that would normally interfere with writing an album.
That left a lot of room for experimentation and arranging parts etc which has resulted in quite a strange sounding collection of songs!
The worst/hardest part about it was not getting to work through the songs together as a full band.
I think it would’ve sounded quite different if we’d all been able to work together on the songs but it’s a nice little snapshot of that moment in time – what a bizarre moment in time it was!
What’s your preferred way to write a song?
VEEKA: Usually one person comes up with a concept for the song and then we try to work on it together. Sometimes both of us would have a more solid song idea and the other person just adds a few things to it, it really depends. On this particular album I came up with a basic concept for most of the songs and Mikey shaped them into more finished ideas, doing a lot of the production and arrangement for the songs.
Unlike the previous album that had dual lead vocals, Veeka only sings on this one; are there any different things you’ve been able to explore with in relation to your voice this time?
VEEKA: There are a lot of alternations between spoken word and singing on Illustration, I definitely enjoyed focusing on the spoken word bit and getting it perfect.
Veeka, you sing in English and your native tongue of Russian; do you feel more comfortable singing in either? Why is it important for you to sing in your native language?
VEEKA: I love singing in both languages, it’s honestly a challenge to be able to do both, especially when it switches between the languages in the same song, sometimes my brain gets overloaded and I blank haha but I love the challenge.
I guess I like the idea of singing in a foreign language because it’s very unique and unusual. I believe it gives people some space to focus on the music first, yet at the same time gets the audience intrigued about the meaning of the lyrics. I like to give people the option to translate the lyrics or not, so there is more room for personal interpretation.
What is one of your favourite moments on the new record? Can you give us a little insight into it?
VEEKA: I really enjoyed experimenting with a drum machine and the new synthesisers we bought at the time.
MIKEY: One of my favourite moments on the album is the instrumental track “Institute of Kosmetika”. The song just kind of appeared out of nowhere and one of the main percussion instruments on the track is an empty wooden wine box.
I like to think of the song as a sort of intermission moment in the middle of the album. A palate cleanser perhaps?
What’s the story behind the album title, Illustration?
VEEKA: I participated in this HTRK album title competition back in 2019. They’ve asked people to come up with a name for the new album and the best three names could win tickets to their show. My name was shortlisted and in the end it was my suggested name or the other person’s name. They decided to go with someone else’s title which was ‘Venus in Leo’ instead of mine which was… sIllustration’ 🙂 – so it was sort of stuck with us and we chose to use it for our album.
We love the album’s art by Mikhail Nazarov!
VEEKA: Mikhail Nazarov is my father and he is a very talented artist. Mikhail is a huge Kosmetika fan and he asked me if he could draw an album cover for us. We love his work so much so of course we said yes! We’ve always known it’s gonna be called Illustration so having a hand drawn cover was important to us. We sent Mikhail the demos and he drew the funny robot-like face which we thought was fantastic for the Illustration cover!
What have you been listening to a lot lately? Who are some bands people should check out?
VEEKA: I have been listening to a lot of Eastern European new wave/synth wave plus some experimental Japanese synth albums from the 80s. Artists like Kate NV, Yasuaki Shimizu, Ryuichi Sakamoto ,Yellow Magic Orchestra. Oh and also Mong Tong who are from Taiwan!
MIKEY: I’ve been listening to Vera Ellens new album a lot over the last few days – it’s awesome – it came out last week I think on Flying Nun? She’s an incredible musician/songwriter from NZ and has two other amazing albums which I would highly recommend checking out.
Also been listening to a lot of the Go-Go’s and Melbourne’s magnificent Cool Sounds.
What’s the rest of the year look like for you personally and Kosmetika?
MIKEY: We are planning on playing heaps of shows around Australia and work on some new ideas of course!
VEEKA: Yeah, personally I think we just wanna get better jobs and record as much new music as we can!
Kosmetika’s Illustration out April 21 on vinyl and digitally via Spoilsport Records – GET IT HERE. Follow @kosmetikamuzika_ and @spoilsportrecords