Jinjer: Ukrainian Metalcore Upstarts on Russian Rock, Nirvana, Judo

by Gregory Adams

“I cannot really stand aside and see how badly parents treat their children sometimes. It happens every day. I saw it in the street, and I had to intrude and it led to some conflicts. I knew kids had this dreadful, terrible experience.”

Jinjer bassist and lyric writer Eugene Kostyuk said this, describing the grim inspiration behind the Ukrainian band’s vicious new single “Dreadful Moments” to Revolver over Skype from Leon, Mexico, where the quartet — which also includes vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk, guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov, and drummer Vladislav Ulasevish — was three days into their Latin American tour behind latest EP, Micro. Mirroring Kostyuk’s heavy subject matter, the five-song record is a powerful listen — cascading over the edge with its ever-shifting progressive grooves and mercury-dipped drum blasts, and funk-to-thrash-inspired fretboard acrobatics.

But the focal point is most definitely vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk, whose abyss-deep growling and octave-jumping clean transform Kostyuk’s lyrics into rallying cries, as she does with the particularly moving lines on “Dreadful Moments” — “childhood of misery is a lifelong injury.”

Despite the serious nature of the new EP, Jinjer have been riding a series of highs of late, culminating in the recent announcement of their first-ever North American headlining tour. Micro is just a bite-sized sample of what’s next for the act, who hope to record their formal follow-up to 2016’s King of Everything next summer, between to-be-announced global dates and festival appearances.

In the following interview Kostyuk and Shmailyuk explain how Russian rock, Nirvana and Pearl Jam led them to metal, and why they’re doing it for the kids.

QUICK THING WHILE YOU’RE IN MEXICO: I WAS WATCHING AN OLDER INTERVIEW WITH TATIANA, AND YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT ENJOYING THE PAINTINGS OF FRIDA KAHLO. WHILE ON THIS TOUR YOU POSTED AN INSTAGRAM STORY FROM THE TOUR BUS HOLDING A DOLL OF FRIDA KAHLO. YOU’RE IN MEXICO CITY TOMORROW, ARE YOU GOING TO GO TO THE BLUE HOUSE [THE PAINTER’S FORMER HOME, WHICH IS CURRENTLY A MUSEUM]?
TATIANA SHMAILYUK
Actually, I’m planning to. There are two places which I want to visit on this trip: the pyramids in Teotihuacan and the museum of Frida Kahlo.

YOU HAD WANTED TO BE A PAINTER AT ONE POINT, CORRECT?
SHMAILYUK
Well, kind of. I tried to draw, you know, and I really used to paint, but right now due to [Jinjer’s] tight schedule, I cannot afford to sit back and enjoy art.

WHAT KIND OF PAINTING DID YOU DO?
SHMAILYUK
I wish I could show you. They were quite strange, mainly symbolism. They were quite symbolic.

WHAT DREW YOU TO THAT INITIALLY?
SHMAILYUK
I studied when I was a kid. Then I had some problems with my health when I was 15 and I couldn’t enter university. I spent a gap year in so-called arts school, but that was very shitty, very lousy. I don’t consider myself to be educated artist; I think that I’m a self-made one.

HOW ABOUT YOURSELF EUGENE? HAD YOU ALWAYS THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO HAVE A CAREER IN MUSIC?
EUGENE KOSTYUK
No, I started playing bass very late — I was 18 years old. Before that I did sports. Martial arts — Jiu-Jitsu and Judo. Well, I started with Judo. It is an international kind of sport, [and] there are lots of Judo schools in the Ukraine. There is this huge Judo heritage, because a lot of Judo champions were from the Soviet Union. Little by little, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu started gaining a reputation and started being more popular. I tried that and enjoyed it a lot. I did it for quite a long time … but I didn’t do anything for the last seven years. Now, this year, I’m back on the mats.

DO YOU KNOW CODE ORANGE? SOME OF THEM ARE JIU-JITSU PRACTITIONERS, AND THEY HIT THE GYM WHEN THEY’RE OUT ON TOUR. DO YOU GET TO DO THAT?
KOSTYUK
I wish I had someone in the band that could help me with this and we could practice, but unfortunately I’m alone. Our schedule is very tight, so I have no chance to go somewhere and roll with somebody in a gym. But I try to keep fit. I do exercises every day.

YOU’VE DONE A LOT OF TOURING AROUND THE WORLD THIS YEAR, SPENDING A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME ON STAGE, BUT IN THE PAST TATIANA HAS MENTIONED NOT REALLY GOING TO CONCERTS IN HER YOUTH. HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO LIVE MUSIC?
SHMAILYUK
I’ve been singing since I was seven, maybe.  At the age of eight I went to vocal lessons [which led to] my first public performance… Or maybe [that was] with my father. We were at a resort somewhere with the whole family, my father played guitar and I sang and that was our performance. The second one was at [a youth centre] where me and other girls learned some songs — we had a lot of classes and different type of activities. That was my biggest show at the time, and I screwed up. [Laughs] We sang and danced there, but I screwed up. Then I realized that I wanted to sing alone.

WHAT KINDS OF SONGS WERE YOU TAUGHT EARLY ON?
KOSTYUK
It was mostly about classical music, European classical music. Maybe in high school we had a bit of popular music, [but] I think we learned only about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

SHMAILYUK I didn’t! We learned children’s songs, nothing serious. And I remember some Russian bard songs.

KOSTYUK At school, we had no idea about popular music or alternative music. The only source we could check it out was TV — We didn’t have internet, it was the Nineties. Maybe someone had dial-up, but few did. We had some TV channels like MTV Russia, which was started in 1998. Before that there were a few more channels which broadcast some heavy and alternative music.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FOR EITHER OF YOU TO GET TOWARDS METAL?
SHMAILYUK
I have an older brother, six years difference. When he was 11 or 12 he brought some Russian rock music into our home. The first thought that I had was , ‘what the fuck? what is this noise?”. But slowly I switched from Russian rock to Nirvana — Nirvana was the first foreign band that I had heard. I got into metal slowly, step by step, starting from rock, then moving to punk rock, grunge, alternative, and then metal.

KOSTYUK Nirvana and Pearl Jam were the first more-or-less heavy bands I started listening to. Out of that I jumped into heavy metal. I had a friend that was older than me and he was deeply into metal by that time. He had a lot of cassettes he shared with me. First I got into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but I got bored with that quickly and moved to death metal.

FOLLOWING YOUR FIRST THREE FULL-LENGTHS, MICRO IS, AS THE TITLE IMPLIES, A SHORTER RELEASE. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO MAKE AN EP THIS TIME AROUND?
KOSTYUK
That’s very easy: The main reason is our very tight touring schedule. We actually wanted to stay home this fall, but after the spring tour with Cradle of Filth, I got a call from our manager and he was insistent in persuading us to come tour the States this fall — which we did, with Devildriver. We knew that we had enough time [to write] five songs at least, and we decided to do that because we honestly couldn’t tour any more with old material. We just couldn’t play only those old songs. After 2 1/2 years since our latest release [2016’s King of Everything], we got very bored with old songs. It was like a compromise: We will tour, but we will bring new songs.

HOW QUICKLY DID THESE SONGS COME TO YOU?
KOSTYUK
Honestly, we had a lot of musical ideas. We’ve collected musical ideas since the last release, so it wasn’t that difficult to come up with five songs [between tours]. We had from the middle of May to the middle of June, and we had the whole of September to produce the EP.

ON THE LYRICAL SIDE OF THINGS, TATIANA, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT “DREADFUL MOMENTS”? IT’S A PRETTY INTENSE SONG — YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND MISERY, AND HOW THAT AFFECTS SOMEONE IN THE LONG TERM. WHERE DID EXPLORING THOSE THEMES COME FROM?
SHMAILYUK
Eugene wrote the lyrics to this song. It was easier for them to compose five songs, but for me, lyrics-wise, that was really hard. I was under huge stress.

KOSTYUK First of all, it is not biographical. Fortunately I didn’t experience violence — well, c’mon, my parents did slap me because I was naughty, but I wasn’t beaten. I saw such things in the streets. I knew people who experienced that very closely. Now, being a father — I have a son — I feel this very hard …

I came up with the music first, this song, and after the composition was ready, musically, I listened to it and [lightning struck] — I knew exactly what I would write about. The musical atmosphere and emotions, they correlate with the lyrical ideas very well. On top of this, I do believe that the problem of domestic violence against children … we have a chance to change things for the better.