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We caught up with Ukrainian band Stoned Jesus at the recent HRH Doom Vs HRH Stoner III Festival, so here's the result of a chat with band founder Igor, and a brief live review of their set.

Interview with Stoned Jesus.
"Stoned Jesus have made a pretty big name for themselves. Despite that, the latest opus 'Pilgrims' being a look at the dark side of touring life, and founder Igor Sidorenko's self-description as 'not the one to socialise', he proved extremely down-to-earth, affable, and approachable when we met up for this interview. Just as well - as I had to confess to a certain lack of familiarity with the band before going into this, and he merely replied cheerfully that that was probably a good thing! Fortunately, I had come equipped with questions supplied by my more knowledgable colleague Nick, who unfortunately wasn't able to come along and ask them himself. So, here's our jointly-engineered fifteen minute look into what makes Stoned Jesus tick, with thanks to Igor for his good-humoured and enthusiastic participation."

Talking to us here: Stoned Jesus founder Igor Sidorenko (Guitar, Vocals). Photo: SD Photography, headbangersball.co.uk.

Thanks for being interviewed by doom-metal.com, can I get you to introduce yourself?

Hi, I'm Igor from Stoned Jesus. Nice to meet you all.

Thank you very much - it's great to see you over here: how do you like the audiences in the UK?

First time in the UK was last October, and we were blown away by the response, especially in London. We were playing the [Camden] Underworld, and it was our first London show ever, and the Underworld was sold out. I was just sitting backstage googling 'who played the Underworld', and it was easier to google who's not played the Underworld - like, I mean, all the bands really - so it was really cool to play in a legendary place that is packed with people who want to see your band. So, yeah, we're still fascinated by the UK and the response here.

Cool, and it looks like you're on some massive tour...?


...three months?

Well, this leg is only 17 dates, and this is the last date and then, yeah, we have some shows in Ukraine, and then we have three weeks more into Eastern Europe, France, Portugal, Spain, Southern Europe so yeah (laughs) that's the way to promote a new album!

The band: Igor, Dmytro Zinchenko (Drums), Sergii "Sid" Sliusar (Bass, Vocals). Photo: SD Photography, headbangersball.co.uk.

So is this your full-time job?

Yeah, I got fired actually in October four years ago (laughs) from my previous job, so I just do Stoned Jesus 24-7. I do all the logistics, all the merchandise, social media stuff all the label contacts and booking contacts and I just basically feel sometimes like I'm a freelancer just sitting with my laptop and when I get a text message from our bass player like Hey let's have a rehearsal, I'm like: Rehearsal? Am I in a band. Oh, I am in a band, yeah! (laughs)

So how do you decide which tracks to put in your sets?

We basically wanted to play the new album in full, which is pretty demanding from the audience because some of them - if not most of them - haven't heard it yet, because y'know life is slow these days. But they have the chance to hear the album live, which is the best experience in my opinion, and we like throw in some older tracks like I'm The Mountain and Black Woods, just like - three new songs, one old song - three new songs, one old song, so they don't get tired from the new material. But so far the response was phenomenal and almost every city was sold out and every crowd was so generously receptive of the new album material, and that makes us very happy because we've spent three years working on this record, so we're very grateful and very blessed that we have people enjoying it so much.

Have you had any critical feedback yet?

Yeah, I read reviews I follow the reviews and that's funny because most of negative reviews we have people lamenting that we're moving away from the genre but that's basically the idea of the band! We've been you know sorta pigeonholed into the whole Stoner Doom niche but, honestly, apart from the first record I never felt that we belong this much here. I mean, I love the Stoner Rock audience: they're very receptive, and very open, and it's very easy to go from Stoner Rock to some experimental sides - like from Stoner Rock, you can go to Psychedelic rock or Prog rock, to Metal, to, like, Punk...anywhere, but we don't really wanna be pigeonholed, so when reviewers complain about us not being part of the genre, well, like, yes, that's the idea - I don't want to be part of the genre, I want to be my own identity!

Stoned Jesus - 'Thessalia' (Official, 2018):

So, did you have a very particular vision for the album when you started it

No, not really but it sort of appeared during the process. Lyrically, the idea of the album is touring life, and us being exhausted by it, and, like, the feelings you get - or rather lose - during the whole touring process. Ironically, right now, this tour is very smooth and I feel very satisfied with it, but back in the day, especially in the last year, when I lost my father but I still had to tour because this is my job, and I still had to be on the road, still had to be - you know - socialising with people that I met for the first and probably the last time, and I'm not the one to socialise, to be honest - so, like, it was really awkward and tough and yeah the whole touring routine really gets you going! It's like, is the place I wanna be right now? And when you get back home, and your mates are calling you out for beer, and you're like I really fucking hate beer, I have seen it on tour so many times, because I don't like beer, and still there were so many beers during the tour that I don't wanna do that, and for them - you know - weekend is time for party, and for me, weekend is time to work, because all the best shows are at the weekend. So, trying to balance this whole thing with life on the road and life at home, this is basically what the album's about, that's why it's called Pilgrims, and musically it's like a lot of different influences and ideas that we just threw into one big pot and whatever we got from it, this is Pilgrims...

Where did the artwork for it come from, the idea for that?

Ah hah, yes: the artwork was done by Anders Rokkum, Norwegian artist. It's funny, with the album - like, the musical side, we could be like, let's do this - alright, let's do this, and with the album side of it, we could spend like half a year arguing about how, you know, the letter 'S 'should look like! (laughs)

So with Anders we just found the guy, we loved his style, and we just picked the picture that all of us loved the most - that's basically it. And he added some more pictures to this one, so, basically, the whole artwork is based on his work.

How would you describe the album itself, now that it's out there

Ah...it's introvertive, dark, personal, maybe a little challenging and - heavy. (laughs)

Photo: SD Photography, headbangersball.co.uk.

Do you and the other band members bring different influences in

I'm like the prime writer, I usually bring a 90% ready song to the rehearsal and then the guys help to shape it up, to finalise the version that goes to work, and sometimes they help to cut some part or add something, and we're mostly on the same page with our music. It's cool to know that they really share the vibe because it's not about the genres, or "let's make this section sound like this, and make this sound like this": it's more about the vibe, like, if we want this heavy, it's going to be heavy; if we want this one to be fast, it's gonna be fast. So it's really nice to have people on the same page as you.

Cool. So, 'Seven Thunders Roar', was that the moment when you really arrived - it got such a massive reaction, how did you feel about that

Actually it was a sort of sleeper hit, I would say, because when we went on tour we sometimes played to like 20, 30 people per night and it wasn't featured in any top albums of the year list, nothing like that. And then it all started with I'm The Mountain being a hit on YouTube, with all the, you know, views just climbing and climbing, and last year when we did this fifth anniversary tour of Seven Thunders Roar - yeah, obviously it was a bit like - there was a lot of humour in it, because there's a lot of bands doing this 'tenth anniversary', 'twentieth anniversary', 'whatever anniversary' tours, and I'm like right, let's make fun of that, and do the fifth anniversary. But people were so happy about it, and that was actually the due date - you know - for this album, that was really the time for it to shine, because back in 2012 nobody cared about it . Now, all of a sudden, when we do a fifth anniversary tour playing the album in full, everybody likes it! So it was a little bit like yeah, where have you been? (laughs)

Photo: SD Photography, headbangersball.co.uk.

So, what's the scene like in Kiev?

The scene - it's basically, I think it's like everywhere: you have an underground which is constantly struggling, you have mainstream acts that are pretty well known in Ukraine but no-one cares about them outside of Ukraine. Like we have our own local U2, we have our own local Coldplay, who are selling out stadiums in Ukraine, but if they come into Germany they basically play in bars - it's like 500 people in the audience - so it really warms our hearts to know that we're not that sort of band and we play for people who love our music rather than people who love which country we're from, or which genre we're in, or something like that.

Do you hang out with any of the local bands yourselves?

Yeah, yeah, we've had an amazing time with Mothership and Elephant Tree on this tour and like the chemistry was fantastic, the good times were fantastic, and we had a tour manager supplied by our booking company - Sound Of Liberation - and I didn't have to do all the stuff I'm usually responsible for like tour managing and logistics and all the merch and social media and all this kind of stuff! I still do social media, but the rest was taken care of, so I was finally you know ready to be a musician and just come out and play...and this is good!

How would you define Doom Metal?

I don't know, I'm not really good in genres! I would say for me My Dying Bride is 100% the epitome of doom metal, of all of its good sides. This is still the band that I love, and I'm looking forward to each and every release.

Stoned Jesus - 'I'm The Mountain' (Live, 2015):

So apart from being on tour now, what are your immediate plans?

Well, after this tour we're gonna have a tenth anniversary tour next year, because next year the band is ten years old and we're gonna do a greatest hits setlist sort of thing. And then when that tour's over, we're going to start work on the next album. So basically, you know I don't have a girlfriend, I don't really have a circle of friends - apart from my music friends - so like everything I do is about Stoned Jesus, so all my goals, my plans are connected to Stoned Jesus in one or another way.

Well, you've done well for the band so far: lots of hard work or some luck as well?

Yeah, hard work! (laughs)

And, finally, what made you choose the band name?

Ah! (laughs) Yeah, the initial name was Stoned Jesus From Outer Space, and I remember showing the first demo to some friends of mine who are familiar with this kind of music and each and every one of them were like dude, your music is fantastic, but the name is too ridiculous, you should cut that off. So I just cut it in half and it became Stoned Jesus.

If it works...


Well, thank you very much for your time - any last word to finish this?

Ah...see you there, hopefully! (laughs)

Live review:

Perhaps no surprise, on the last date of this leg of their tour, Stoned Jesus were right near the top of the Saturday bill at the Sheffield HRH Doom vs Stoner festival, only just behind the headliners: Boston-based Elder. Fair call, if you counted up the T-shirts on display, Elder looked to be clear winners, though I'd probably have to call it in favour of a non-partisan audience with "other" actually being the most popular category. (If you want some flavour for that, top of the pile that day was my '02 Blue Öyster Cult tour shirt, so that's what I wore: nobody really cared, apart from Cybernetic Witch Cult who thought they were a cool band).

So, whilst there might not have been all that many Stoned Jesus shirts showing up, the main stage area filled up pretty quickly, and with some degree of enthusiasm. I can't blame anyone for that - whether you like the band or not, whether you're particularly familiar with their work or not, there's no denying that Igor, and bassist Sergii "Sid" Sliusar - as the pair performing front and centre - know how to put on a good show. Both relaxed and professional, slick and yet seemingly spontaneous, the presentation was as good as you'd expect from a band who thinks a seventeen date tour is business as usual.

Of course, they did 'I'm the Mountain'. As a composition, I'd have to say it's kinda '70s Golden Earring by the numbers, but that's no bad thing itself, and it's difficult to argue with the best part of 12 million (yes, 12 million!) YouTube views. And just as it propelled the band towards their initial success, it made for a truly rousing and crowd-satisfying centrepiece of a live set that seemed to satisfy pretty much everyone there. The mix of new and old material had already gone down well, this fifteen-minute-odd epic put the seal on it, and Igor's follow-up, self-deprecating , "OK, we'll do one more and then we'll fuck off!" earned them a justifiably large round of applause. Though I'd only had the chance to hear 'Pilgrims' once, the new songs sound very promising, and the track which followed that ('Apathy') was a suitably funky, energetic work-out to close the evening with.

Pro band, pro show, worth the price of entry all on their own (OK, I didn't actually pay, but you get the idea) - hopefully they'll be back over on the ten year anniversary greatest hits tour next year: if so, I thoroughly recommend catching them then.

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Visit the Stoned Jesus bandpage.

Interviewed on 2018-10-24 by Mike Liassides and Nick Harkins.
Aesthetic Death
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