"Everything - or nothing!" could be the principle of Elena. When she has a goal, she will do everything it takes to reach it. Whether as a raving reporter for the biggest Russian news format or as front-woman of the rock-band butch* - Elena does what she is best in - be in the limelight. At the age of 30 she had the dream to sing professionally and become a rockstar. This exceptional woman litterally conquers the radio stations of Russia over night. At their first concert, butch* delighted 100.000 spectators with just three songs. Her apparent unlimited energy sweeps away her audience. Her androgynous being confuses the media and her poetic lyrics wins every heart. After the immense success of their first album, butch* published their long-awaited second album in May 2005.
AC Coppens (Interview) and Ric KĂ¶hler (translations) met Elena Pegrebushkaja for AVIVA-Berlin in Tallinn and talked with her about her goals, the new album "fakel" (engl: torch) and why one has to go unusual ways sometimes.
AVIVA-Berlin: First of all. It is about singing. Is singing for you evidence? Is it as if you HAVE to sing?
Elena: Well, we are right away starting with such a philosophical question! LetÂ´s say yes, it like this, I love to sing. And I have loved to sing all my life.
AVIVA-Berlin: Is it your main profession now? Are you only singing? Or is it something you are doing "on top"?
Elena: I started off with a completely different career, as a political TV-journalist (NB: E. was a TV-journalist for the state-owned Television-company "ORT", where her reports from Chechnia or the war in Kosovo were broadcasted throughout the entire country in the main news-format). I wanted to sing only as a hobby. But there was a moment when I realized that either I do start to sing now - or I will never do it. Now I am only singing. ItÂ´s my job.
AVIVA-Berlin: How old were you as you realized that you had to sing? And how old are you now?
Elena: I was 28 years old. Today I am 32 years old.
AVIVA-Berlin: What where the highlights and the turning points in these last years? Important dates, concerts, events?
Elena: The very first concert. That was 3 1/2 years ago. It was at a big rock-festival, so not an entire concert, "Nashestvie" (NB: Nashestvie -Invasion- is a rock-festival in Emmaus -Tver Region. Since 2000, each summer, 100.000 young people celebrate the stars and newcomers of the Russian rock-scene for 4 days.) There were about 100.000 people. That was an incredible finale. I wanted it to be that way. My dream was that fast, just like that: I sing and right away there is the arena.
AVIVA-Berlin: So, was it a breakthrough right away? What was the feeling you had? How did it feel?
Elena: We hadâ€¦ I had - and still have - this song, Zhustva Na Volije"("Feeling towards Freedom"). It was the last song out of three I sang thereâ€¦ We bought for 200$ 120 white air balloons, and had kept them in special containers. The stage was very highâ€¦about 3 meters. At the very end of the third song, there were 12 people who were standing there and they opened the containers and from there those white balloons arose. And in this moment 100.000 people experienced likeâ€¦ a catharsis, in the Greek meaning (NB: strong reaction of an audience liberating passions and feelings repressed till then). I had this idea not a long time before the gig and it was so simple and so effective. ThatÂ´s why it was that successful.
So our band was already 1 1/2 years existing, and in the beginning everything was achieved very easily. Then 1 1/2 years passed byâ€¦may be, even two...and there was a second turning point. We kept on handing in our songs to the radio-stations and they said, "No, this does not work. We donÂ´t like this neither." Our record-company withdrew from financing our album, so it was lying in the studio where we had recorded it. The first album was nearly finished. And all songs that had been recorded stayed at the studio. The atmosphere in the band changed, we were all wondering why nothing was happening and why everything was suddenly so bad. I got a depression for 2-3 months, and then I had the idea that I could go a totally different way.
AVIVA-Berlin: When was that?
Elena: Winter 2003. So, it came to me that I could approach a person who writes songs. Not the group. He wrote a song that was completely different from the chemistry of the band. Usually, a rock band writes their songs and music themselves, but we could not achieve anything and I realized that a totally different person had to write the music. I wrote the text, and the title "vso ravno I stanu" (But I stand up) reflected my feeling in that moment. It was like self-therapy for me, that at any case I will stand up and will not surrender. The song became a hit, it was in the charts on many radio stations. Right away, all the situation changed. The band became happy again and the depression went away. The conclusion out of this was, that it is possible to go on a totally unknown and strange way, something might come out of it. Because if you keep on beating always at the same place in front of the wall, you wonÂ´t move forward.
AVIVA-Berlin: Where do you want to go now? You have been doing many different things. All quite different, not homogenous. Butch*, the first album, then Romances... Will there be a style "Butch*" establishing itself with the new songs?
Elena: It is pop rock. But, now, it is closer to dance music, which a lively rock-band would be playing. We want to perform more at concerts, as well as release a new album very soon, in February 2005.
AVIVA-Berlin: Do you want to go outside the Russian-speaking states?
Elena: Yes, we seriously want to make English versions of your songs and to make something with them. But, openly speaking, I do not believe that it will be enough to send some discs (written and recorded in proper English) to labels as long as we do not have an established place in Russia. I see it as important, that a band is first of all very popular among its own nation and only then you can become successful abroad.
AVIVA-Berlin: How far are you established in Russia today? Is it more the Western part? Is it everywhere?
Elena: We sold 25.000 albums. But these are official figures. The unofficial ones are different ones.. Concerning the popularity in our country, it is approximately the same throughout the country, whereas we are more popular in all big cities, like Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod.
AVIVA-Berlin: How do you explain this?
Elena: May be, because it is all rock-music. I classified it as pop rock, but it belongs more to rock.
AVIVA-Berlin: You are as well doing traditional music in "Romances".
Elena: "Romances" is a difficult story. "Romances" was not a commercial project at all. Because, it was not clear who would hear that music, who would buy the disc. Its success was not expected.
AVIVA-Berlin: Your stay here in Estonia, is it the first stay outside of Russia?
Elena: No, we were in Moldavia, Byelorussia, Ukraine. In London - no, that was a joke!
AVIVA-Berlin: What about Germany? Is Berlin an option for you? There is the Russian community. Lots of people (nearly one million in Germany) talk Russian, it is probably the biggest Russian community in a foreign country. So, Berlin is a very important platform. Can you consider Berlin as a next station?
Elena: If somebody organizes a concert for us, we would take it into consideration. (laughs) With pleasure we would play there, but I cannot imagine how many people really know us.
AVIVA-Berlin: How did it actually come to the name Butch*?
Elena: All in all, it was quite a bad coincidence. No one ever thought that this name would become a serious one.
AVIVA-Berlin: It was not a nickname.
Elena: It was not a nickname at all.
AVIVA-Berlin: It is not you - it is the name of the band?
Elena: Here comes the story: we did not have a name at all. And there were these three already written songs. And I wanted it to happen all at once. And thatÂ´s why we prepared 300 demo-discs. It was like going fishingâ€¦ then a record-company became interested and they asked, "what is the name of the band"? And I said, it is "Nemo", like the captain. But, pretty soon, it became evident that there was already a project named that way. We had read an article in a newspaper, which was about the classifications used by lesbians, and had some fun about it. One of us said, come on, letÂ´s name us "butch". There were 5 more men, who were part of the group. So, we all laughed about it and forgot about it. Then I had to sign the contract with the record-company and they asked what the name of the band would be in the end? And I did not have anything else in my head except for the word "butch". I would never had thought that the name would be successful at all and that we would have to explain so many times, why we had taken that name! It would be interesting to know how the press is understanding at all but, usually reacting on it and what they understand from it.
AVIVA-Berlin: Yes, how is this name understood by the press, from the people? What is projected on you? Because of your name and because of what you are incarnating, experimenting on stage?
Elena: We usually have a big percentage of lesbians in the audience. In the beginning we did not believe this. We were very amazed. ThatÂ´s the first thing.
Secondly, everybody think we are a scandal-band, even though - in my eyes, we are the most peaceful band and could not do harm to a fly. But anyway, we have the reputation of the most scandalous band one may be. Thirdly, everybody thinks I am a person with a very dry and hard character, who only thinks about competition with men. And non of these points is not true at all.
AVIVA-Berlin: (pointing out the album) This is an interesting trilogy of you. Is it all the different aspects of you? It is all you. And you identify with all of them, right?
AVIVA-Berlin: Do you feel an evolution? When you look at what you have been doing on stage.. you were performing as a gangster somewhere, and then at the festival "zhartova dushena" in the summer 2004 you were in a dress. In your image, in your appearance, how do you explain this evolution? What do you feel about this?
Elena: So, now, I think there is a period that the female part on me is better visible in me and we show it. Because, so far, none had seen it. We always want something new to happen. So, here is the female side of me: this is the new thing we want to show. Because, once it exists, it has to be made visible.
AVIVA-Berlin: Is there an aspect of you where you feel more you, where you feel more you than other aspects? Or do you feel principally androgynous, simply naturally androgynous, simply natural?
Elena: For me it isâ€¦ I am an artist. And on stage I feel equally good in any kind of costume. We are talking here about the stage and not about life.
AVIVA-Berlin: You could not tell me in life, where you feel the best?
Elena: Well, like this (she is wearing very casual clothes, quite a-sexual). It is, of course, understood that in real life I would not walk around in a black dress. But, on stage I can perform in it at ease. But it is and remains a scene costume (with a clear function), to show the female side.
AVIVA-Berlin: Talking about your message, you have been saying that you want to demonstrate openess and invite to â€¦be yourself, be open and stay until the end.
Elena: The end may be terrible.
AVIVA-Berlin: Ok, if we erased this, what would be your (last) sentence to your audience? Very shortly? What do you want to say? What are you going to leave for us as an audience?
Elena: Be alive!
AVIVA-Berlin: What are your goals?
Elena: Money and fame. This is my goal.
AVIVA-Berlin: Really? I mean, it is important, it is justified to have success. But, isnÂ´t it the message "Be alive!" so much into you that it has to go out? Stronger than you?
Elena: I think I really need the success. Because, I cannot do some kind work, just quietly sitting in the corner. I need a high level of influence. Firstly. But secondly, I need it to say "Be Alive!". One is not possible to feel the other.
More information about Elena Pegrebushskaja at www.butch.ru