I was four when Vysotsky died, but his music was always played at my home and around me. I started playing Vysotsky as soon as I first learned to play guitar in 1989, like thousands of other Russian boys. His “If Your Friend,” known at that time to every pre-schooler, was the second or third song that I learned. I memorized the majority of Vysotsky’s catalog and played his songs at various informal gatherings, to modest success.
After moving to the US, I almost immediately began translating his songs into English. My first translations were bad, just like my English skills. But as my English improved, I kept returning to these translations and improving them as well. 15 years later I deemed some of them worthy of being recorded.
In May 2007 my vocal coach, Polina Goudieva, offered me to record in her studio. I took up on her offer. The project was self-financed all the way. Quickly I realized that playing 16 songs in Vysotsky’s manner (one acoustic guitar, five chords), so popular at various Russian cultural events, would be boring to the American audience. I decided to change the arrangements, while preserving the melody. Some songs were left as acoustic pieces. Some songs were given orchestral arrangements, similar to Vysotsky’s own recordings with Soviet orchestras. Others were completely re-arranged, made into blues, heavy metal, or even genre-bending fusion.
I enlisted all of my instrument-playing friends and hired some professionals. As opposed to “normal” bands that first practice and then go into studio to record, I went to the studio with an acoustic guitar, and we created arrangements on the spot, with one guest musician at a time, leaving very little room for error. There were moments of triumph. There were moments of extreme frustration. Almost ten months later, in March 2008, I held the “Singer, Sailor, Soldier, Spirit” CD in my hands.
It turned out that I wasn’t done. I convinced a Russian blues legend Yuri Naumov to produce the sequel. The second album, titled “Two Fates,” took three years to complete and was finally released in May 2012. Like the first one, it features a variety of genres and an international cast of superb musicians. Unlike the first one, the production values are ten times greater, and the music is ten times more original.
The third album, “Wolfhunt,” came out in May 2014. It was independently produced by several people, under my general supervision. Yet again it contains some unexpected twists and takes on Vysotsky’s legacy, such as full symphonic orchestra, female vocals, gothica, and hip-hop. All three albums received praises from all Americans that have heard it: from academics to laypeople.
Release #4, “His Last Bow,” saw the light in November 2017. Unlike previous records, it was almost entirely self-produced and rather minimalist in approach, although collaboration with a terrific Moscow musician Lex Plotnikoff, did shine through a number of instrumentals.
Parallel to that, I play live shows (acoustic and electric) and record whenever I can (such as my recent performance with symphonic orchestra in Yekaterinburg, Russia). You can check for news and updates in Facebook page.