Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Interview with Dr. Mike Trubetskov of The Overcoming Project by Dave Wolff

Interview with Dr. Mike Trubetskov of The Overcoming Project by Dave Wolff

Your new single “Overcoming” has just been released on several streaming platforms. Describe what the song is about and your experiences recording it with Mike Heller of Fear Factory, Jon Howard of Threat Signal, and Sergei "Efes" Fomin of FS Projekt.
It’s just a story of me going through a Doctorate Degree and immigration, experiencing massive challenges, and overcoming these to start a metal production career in the end. On the other hand, though, this song is about overcoming the inner misery in any human being and ascending through this process into the core essence of our souls and the true meaning of our lives.
Recording with Mike Heller was a breeze as always. Mike went ahead and rearranged my guide parts into absolutely spectacular, vibrant, and very sophisticated drums. We got 95% down in Mike's first take, and then just tweaked the details from there. Very similar process with Jon as his melodic ideas were so catchy and outstanding that I didn't need to change a thing! I just had a few requests for adding extra emphasis layers and accents, and that's it. With Sergei, the process was more sophisticated and stretched in time. "Overcoming" has the most complex bass line for the entire project. We started by working with MIDI in guitar pro, tweaking and refining Sergei's vision for these Mudvayne-inspired bass lines. Once we got it down, Sergei had to really take his time to record these up to his highest standards, as he is the one who challenges and criticizes himself the most. It took months, and it was worth it as the results speak for themselves.

What were the challenges you experienced on your way to starting your career? How much time and work did it take to get past them?
Apart from the "normal" challenges of getting new clients, my biggest challenge was that I was new to Australia. I had no network of musicians. No one knew me, basically. And that had to be fixed in order to get interested. So I went ahead and met every musician that I could at every show that I could go to. I introduced myself to everyone, sometimes with great success; other times, awkwardly as I was so fresh in there. That created a snowball effect eventually, but it was incredibly difficult to pull off at first. I spent at least a few years building this momentum.

Where were you based before relocating to Australia, and what were the reasons you decided to move?
I was based in Moscow, Russia. Before coming to Australia, I briefly lived in Philadelphia, PA, USA. The reasons for moving were: the unstable political climate and the very poor musical situation in Russia. At the time, I didn't know that I wanted to pursue music as a career, however, I could feel the need subconsciously, and the only way to make it work was living in a country that accepts heavy music widely. That certainly aligned with Australia with its rich and diverse heavy scene. I moved to Australia because I was offered a scholarship for my Ph.D. studies at the University of Melbourne.

I’ve heard a little about Russia’s political climate, especially the way bands are regarded. I remember hearing one or two other stories in which a band had to relocate under similar conditions. What were those conditions from your perspective and at what point did you decide it would be better to live somewhere else?
While I was playing with Gift Of Madness, we were quickly growing from just your regular underground band with history (the band was formed in 2003) into a better-known metal band that opens for international artists (we supported Black Bomb A and Killswitch Engage). While that rapid growth was really exciting and somewhat unexpected, I could quickly see the ceiling. There wasn't much further to go from that level, and we would be probably stuck there if I didn't move out.
I mean, there absolutely were much bigger heavy bands (like Amatory, Stigmata and such), yet even for them, opportunities were scarce. All of that stemmed from the lack of heavy music culture in Russia. People simply didn't go out to gigs, unless it was a big deal international band. And even then, it was very common for listeners not to just have fun - yet to judge how musicians were performing, what was lacking, etc. This sense of elitism and gatekeeping are quite common in the English musical communities too - yet back home, it was cranked up to the max.
I was much younger and didn't do any comprehensive research on the scene or opportunities, however, it just felt the way I describe it now, and I trusted my gut feeling. Needless to say that since I moved out, heavy music became even less popular, and right now only a handful of bands exist in very niche underground communities. Very little international touring is happening (I know that Arkona is coming to Australia which is sick, but apart from that - nothing really).

Was the Ph.D. scholarship you were offered by the University of Melbourne related to music or other academic areas?
I did my Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. I studied how cells die when exposed to Huntington's Disease. Before that, I studied Physics at Lomonosov Moscow State University and then specialized in Biophysics. While it all sounds very fancy, in reality, Ph.D. was mostly repetitive and exhausting routine work with experiments not providing results for months and one's supervisor being unreasonably mean about that.

What are the most significant differences you noticed between Australia and Russia, music scene and music industry-wise?
As I mentioned before, the main difference between the Australian and Russian music industries is that you can immediately see the Australian scene being truly alive. There are hundreds and hundreds of metal bands in Australia, and some are truly worldwide known, and rightfully so. The level of performing and entertaining is much higher, and even though Australia does feel more laid back, musicians utilize the best of both worlds. The listeners are the ones that keep the scene alive. It is in the culture - where the older generation supports younger artists by going to the pub, having a drink, and listening to all the bands performing, and being truly open-minded about it. There really is no such thing in Russia, it's not in the blood. I attribute this to the Soviet Union's false ideology, where heavy metal bands were considered violent, anti-Soviet, or racist. Even though the Soviet Union fell more than thirty years ago, the stigma is still there.

Why do you think that stigma still exists so many years after the collapse of the Soviet Union? Do recent events in Russia generate the same feelings today?
That extends to the bigger paradox of Russian society. One would think that indeed, the obsolete approaches would eventually fall under the pressure of progress. Modern Russian history shows us otherwise - the concepts only grow stronger. In the heavy music world, I assume it may be due to the fact that Russians still haven't been fully exposed to the proper culture of heavy concerts. There certainly were a fair few, yet not widespread and always stigmatized. When I first went to the US I attended Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God gig, and the atmosphere was just so drastically different. People had a state of immense bliss combined with a ferocious push toward freedom. People felt free. Russians don't quite allow themselves to relax enough. This concept would be very foreign - based on how the society and the government is set up.
There was a strong anti-USSR punk and rock music movement in the late 80s in Russia, and one of my big influences Civil Defense band were the formers of that movement. This wave has completely subsided, though. Some think that it has partially transformed into modern hip-hop/rap music in Russia - but I wouldn't readily agree.

How much of a stir did Civil Defense create in Russia when they were active? Is this band still active now, or what are they doing?
Massive stir. Listeners were going absolutely nuts on those gigs. Full-on punk action including the destruction of venues and anti-social actions. Just one example from 1997: At the same time, Civil Defense members hated the misunderstanding that their music met in the audience, the lack of empathy, and just plain stupidity some of the fans were showing. Egor Letov's aim was to show the beauty of progress and growth that literally anyone can achieve by making an effort. Throughout his career, Egor stopped the band a few times - particularly in the early 90s when they were truly about to blow up and play stadiums. The reason being, he would never "sell out" if his message wasn't delivered, and he felt like it wasn't at the time. Quite a band with incredible history. Egor Letov died in 2008. His project has therefore concluded.

Who were some of the musicians you met with while searching for people to work with? How often would you run into musicians who were interested?
I met the whole metal community in Melbourne, who were very open and friendly to me. My closest friends were the guys from Vulture Culture - Tim, Gus, Mitch; the Hybrid Nightmares crew - Adam, Ben, Johnny, Loki; and each and every musician who worked with me on their own projects.
For production work, I would say half of the musicians were interested in talking about their sound further and just vibing with our common music tastes together. For The Overcoming Project, it's been much less since I have very specific music taste in heavy. However, there were a few guys online and locally interested to talk about the project, and many more supported it by giving a listen.

What do you mean by overcoming inner misery and ascending into one’s own core essence, finding one’s true meaning? How does your music reflect that?
My philosophy is that every human being is at ground level to start with. That is, lazy, egotistical, and miserable. It requires an enormous effort to break through that slog and become better by achieving results that help one to grow, and help change the others around them with positivity. That is only possible when one discovers what they are born for, what their place in this world is, and the path towards getting there. My music reflects this idea by describing my own journey and hopefully inspiring others to follow; but also by creating a certain feel of ascension musically. It is similar to what one experiences through meditation.

In what ways are your songwriting and playing likened to meditation and introspection?
I link meditation to ascending into a certain state of mind, clear, focused, and sharp. I wrote these songs in or right after meditation sessions. Similarly, with guitar playing and recording, I try to capture this enlightened state by at the very least being in it on sessions - and that's not an easy task. Most of life stuff distracts from it, and it requires enormous focus and attention to carry through - or come back another day when there are fewer distractions. Very much the same with mixing, although probably three times harder - considering how intense and laborious this process is in itself.

How long do you usually need to meditate before you can compose without outside world distractions?
It's just eight minutes. I meditate every morning before I hit the studio. Sometimes, in between the sessions or before some intense ones when I can.

Can you describe the state of mind you’re in when you are completely focused and able to concentrate on your songwriting?
It’s a state of flow without any anxiety about external interactions, relationships, messages, or anything, really. It's just pure immersion in the music and 100% concentration on what it means and feels. I find that any outside interactions easily disrupt it and leave only a fraction of this pure musical essence flowing. Therefore it is so important to be in the right state of mind to approach the music with the fullest attention possible.

How much of your inner self can you express once you reach the state of mind you’ve been talking about?
Probably about 50% - as much as humanly possible. I have definitely succeeded in expressing this state of my mind in this EP, with "Victory" containing it at its highest - as humanly possible. What lies beyond isn't quite describable with music or even visuals at all, hence 50%. One has to experience it to understand. I hope that my songs may serve as a guide into this state.

On how many of your releases have you worked with Mike Heller? How did you and he come to work together so well as long as you’ve been acquainted?
We worked with Mike on four out of five of my releases, starting with "Anxiety" which was released in 2020. When I wrote "Anxiety", I wanted to collaborate with the very best in the metal world - and with the musicians who have been my biggest inspirations. I went ahead and discovered a resource called Metal For Hire. Mike was there, available as a session musician. Being a fan of Fear Factory, I reached out to him. I guess, the biggest factor was that he liked the music. It all started from there.

Where on the internet can Metal For Hire be found, and how reliable would you say it is? It's a very reliable, curated resource. The only thing is that one has to make sure that session musicians do receive the initial message through the platform as they may be very busy and not check inboxes very often. So the initial conversation requires an effort, and it all goes very smoothly from there.

Name the releases you have out and describe what the lyrics of each of them mean to you. What did you intend to communicate to your listeners through those lyrics?
"Anxiety", 2020. Lyrically, the song describes a journey of getting rid of the anxiety that was seeded in my childhood.
"Determination", 2022. The lyrics are about constant self-doubt and imposter syndrome, and how to break through these by finding my true purpose in life.
"Overcoming", 2022. I aimed to describe my journey of doing a Ph.D. and all the massive challenges that I faced with burnout, bullying, and immigration issues throughout this process.
"Victory", 2022 (out late Sep). I think that I was truly able to reach the highest possible state of mind with this song, and the lyrics depict it the best way they could. Personally, the song serves as an anchor for me to never get back to the lowest state, depression, and misery that I've been in for a few years while struggling with immigration.
There certainly is a common thread in these lyrical ideas for the listener, who may not be familiar with me or my journey. I truly try to share how I persevered through my various challenges and really hope that this may inspire a listener to embark on a similar personal journey. In short, I hope to give some hope to those who may need it in their dark days of mental struggles.

Are the lyrics to The Overcoming Project’s songs made available for your listeners? If so does this help them relate?
Certainly so. I have uploaded these to Distrokid so lyrics are readily searchable and available via streaming. I can only hope that these weird lyrics would make great sense - as, obviously, English is my second language.

Did this common thread you mention develop naturally as you composed those songs listed above? How do you intend to develop it further in future songs?
Yes, this merged naturally into these songs as I worked on my own self-development and used meditation and such methods as a tool for growth. I realized that I absolutely need to share it with others as it may help them on their own journey. Hence I started implementing musical and lyrical elements into the initial song canvas that would represent such states.
Right now, conceptually The Overcoming Project is completed - we shall see how we go, though! I aim to certainly continue implementing such elements onto anything that I compose in the future though, and some of my inspiration is music for the film with a heavier edge to it.

At what point did you decide The Overcoming Project had reached its conclusion conceptually? Looking back, how important a chapter do you consider it in the “big picture” so to speak?
This happened after an event of massive self-reflection at a national park on May 30th, 2020 - this is the date when I completed songwriting for "Victory", too. It felt that everything has clicked in my head and I finally got past the trauma and moved forward clearly. Looking back, this project has tied into all the events of my life completely, and although heavily involving mentally, it depicts major milestones of my adult life. So for my big picture, it's very significant. Overall in the world - obviously not, yet everyone has their own world.

Do you have any ideas for new bands or solo projects? In what ways could you develop as a musician if you decide to continue with a new outfit? How would film come into it?
As I am playing live with Hybrid Nightmares now, a progressive black metal band, I'm likely to be involved in writing the next album with them. I am considering getting a 7 or 8-string guitar to experiment with low tunings and implement a different sound in my music - however, this is currently truly speculative. Film scoring is likely to be one of the main outlets for my creativity as I consider it a sneaky way to channel heavy music influence into the wider audience without them quite realizing it. Heavy music without sounding heavy, essentially. We shall see how we go!

How long have you been performing with Hybrid Nightmares, and what are you hoping to achieve with the band? What was it about their music inspired you to work with them?
I've been with HN since the beginning of 2022. I hope to just be out there and have fun on stage, delivering great guitar performance and energy. The guys have been incredibly kind to me. I loved the unique melodic aspect that HN combines with black metal - some jazz or odd chord progressions, complex song structures, and a deep atmosphere.

Where is Hybrid Nightmares based, and how much material did they release before you hooked up with them? How much involvement do you expect to have in the making of their next album?
HN are based here in Melbourne. They've been active for more than 10 years with a large and diverse catalog of songs available - a few albums and EPs. Right now, their next album has been completed and is awaiting release, I joined at the tail end of the production process. Hopefully, we would compose the next one together!

When in your recording career did you become interested in film scoring? Were there any movies or soundtracks in particular that inspired you to get involved?
I became interested in film scoring during the 2020 lockdowns. I wanted to challenge myself and experiment in a genre that I don't practice very often, so I sat there with my synth and composed some ideas which I found surprisingly nice - and started from there! There are a lot of movies that inspired me, many of these subconsciously without even realizing it. Particularly though, Inception was a huge inspiration, as well as Star Wars and the Dune.

What genre of movies are you considering writing soundtracks for? Are you in contact with anyone who could help hook you up?
I feel like my music would suit a drama, a thriller, an action or a horror. Any genre that allows room for tense and evolving music actually needs it to build the dynamics. It would also suit some kind of commercial ads.
I am in touch with a few people and currently working towards connecting with more. Only time will tell which of these connections become fruitful.
Thank you very much for your kind time and attention to detail, I had a blast answering your questions and would like to thank you again for your diligence.

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