On today’s episode of Meet Museyon, let’s say hello — or should that be привет — to Alina Simone. Alina is our guide to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and chanson, the soulful sound that grew from the Russian gulag. She’s also an accomplished singer songwriter. Meet Alina, hear her music and discover her favorite Soviet sounds (with tons of videos), after the jump…
Home base: Brooklyn, NY
Day job: Author/part-time International Development Consultant. I am currently writing a book about my misadventures in indie rock for Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Three days a week I work for a consulting company, work which sends me to Russia or Ukraine a couple times a year.
Last band you saw live? Alash (a Tuvan throat singing trio) at Barbés (376 9th St., Brooklyn; 718-965-9177) in Brooklyn.
Museyon Guides: How would you describe the chanson sound?
Alina Simone: It can be sad and haunting or jaunty and hilarious, depending on the artist and style of chanson. Chanson can be a bare bones ode to chasing death laid over a skeletal guitar strum or a raunchy klezmer stomp.
MG: Where’s the best place to see a live show? What’s the most memorable show you’ve ever seen?
AS: Both in NYC and in Russia, the most memorable show I’ve seen has been the Soviet-era rock band Auktyon. They actually just played Joe’s Pub and Lincoln Center outdoors a couple of weeks ago. In St. Petersburg, I’d recommend the venue The Place even though it is off the beaten path. The sound system is excellent and so is the beer. Also, for a comfier, cafe vibe, check out Club Sochi. They have great food and are just off Nevsky Prospekt in downtown St. Petersburg.
In Moscow, Ikra is great — a multi-story club with kind of a burlesque design theme. Apelsin is a good place to see really big shows. My personal favorite place to see shows in Moscow is Proekt OGI. It’s this bunker-like club which also serves great Russian comfort food and even has a little bookstore selling zines, graphic novels and arty contemporary Russian lit.
MG: As a musician, where is your favorite place to play?
AS: I love playing both The Bell House (149 7th St., Brooklyn; 718-643-6510) and Union Hall (702 Union St., Brooklyn; 718-638-4400) in Park Slope. (This has nothing to do with the fact that they are both walking distance from my apartment.) Seriously, both are beautifully designed venues with really good sound systems. As a singer, I’m a sucker for a good sound system.
MG: Tell me about your music…
AS: I’ve never been very good at describing my music. I would say my voice is on the raw and aching side of the spectrum and my music is pretty spare … critics like to call it ‘haunting,’ which is good or bad depending on your taste in music.
MG: What artists/genres inspire you?
AS: My last album was an indie-rock take on the music of Soviet punk singer Yanka Dyagileva. I would definitely encourage people to check out her music. She died when she was only 24, but is still considered the most important woman in Soviet rock. Another ’80s era Soviet rock band that I love is called Kino. Their lead singer, Viktor Tsoi, also died tragically young. Their early work is totally DIY, recorded in apartments with primitive percussion and out of tune guitars, while their later work is all synth pop and drum machines. (Kino is still revered in Russia today — a recent episode of Russia’s ‘American Idol’ style singing competition challenged competitors to cover different Kino songs.)
For more on chanson in Russia — and where you can find it in the U.S. — pick up a copy of Music+Travel Worldwide from Museyon Guides. To find out more about Alina Simone, and to find out when you can see her live, visit alinasimone.com.
photo: Matthew Spencer