Album Premiere: Kosmetika Delves Deeper into Shadowy Synth-Pop on New Album 'Illustration'
Today we have the pleasure in premiering Kosmetika's anticipated sophomore album Illustration, which shows the five-piece pushing their eccentric synth-driven soundscapes towards a more beautifully dark art-punk direction that strikes themes of globalization, the internet, and the state of the natural world. Kosmetika is a Naarm/Melbourne supergroup of sorts that's made up of keyboardist-vocalist Veeka Nazarova (Ouzo!, Moth), guitarist Michael Ellis (Surf City), guitarist-keyboardist-percussionist Jake Suriano (Hideous Sun Demon, Dr. Sure's Unusual Practice), bassist Dom Moore (Eggy), and drummer James Lynch (Delivery). Released on Spoilsport Records, the new album shows the band revitalizing their fuzz-pop roots with an abundance of angular guitar lines, swelling synth sounds, hypnotic motorik beats, and magnetic English and Russian vocals. To celebrate the release, we caught up with Nazarova and Ellis to discuss the album's lengthy process during various lockdowns and how that allowed further room to experiment.
Paperface Zine: Congrats on releasing your new album Illustration! Certainly, the highlight of the week here at the Paperface Zine headquarters! What's it like to finally have it out in the world?
Veeka Nazarova: Thank you so much! It feels incredible finally being able to share it with everyone, it's been such a journey! PZ: There's certainly more of a synth-heavy art-punk edge to these eleven tracks compared to 2019's debut Pop Soap, which combined otherworldly dream pop with '80s-inspired garage pop atmospheres. What has been the evolution for this band over the last few years? Were you intentionally exploring a different sound with this new one or did it just occur naturally?
VN: Our first album Pop Soap was a compilation of ideas that Mikey [Michael Ellis] had written over the years and I just helped him to finish them, whether it was vocals, lyrics, or synthesizers that I added to those tracks. We did write a couple of songs together for Pop Soap, but it was mainly us trying to figure out our own unique sound. I've always been drawn to more synth/drum machine-influenced music, so we decided to explore this sound more with Illustration. I guess I could say we've evolved quite a lot from playing live shows with different people and have been inspired by many of the people we've played with. Kosmetika definitely has its own distinctive sound now and I feel like "our thing" is mashing different styles of music together and constantly experimenting with different combinations of ideas.
PZ: Tell me a bit about how Illustration came together. When did you start recording the album's demos?
VN: Illustration came together in early 2020 when we had just moved into this amazing house in the central city, which was honestly the best location ever, surrounded by beautiful parks and it was right in the middle of where a lot of the Melbourne music venues are. We lived with the coolest people who have incredible taste in music, so we were really inspired by all this atmosphere and kind of dived into it even more when we had to stay home for ages. Writing new music felt like a natural thing to do at the time. We started spending more time coming up with fresh ideas, recorded most of it in that house and then snuck into the studio in between lockdowns to record real drums, was very exciting times cause we had no clue what was going to happen to us and in the world in general.
PZ: I read that you two were unable to work on the music with the rest of the band during Naarm/Melbourne's many lockdowns between 2020-21, so the album started as a home recording project. Did this leave a lot of room for experimentation?
VN: Absolutely! Well, as I said earlier, we've always loved to experiment with our sound and mesh all of our ideas together (especially cause everyone in the band has such different taste in music) and after we released Pop Soap, we wanted to collaborate with our band more and write songs together, however obviously we had to compromise and yeah we've definitely experimented heaps with Illustration! We bought a couple of new synthesizers back then and borrowed our housemates' drum machine, we were figuring out how to use all this stuff and recorded ourselves mucking around as we were learning. Then we just picked the best ideas from everything we had recorded and built those ideas into full songs.
PZ: Whereas you mentioned the debut album was more a collection of ideas, I feel like there's a strong concept to this new album about individuality and observations on life. Can you tell us more about the concept and lyrical themes you explore? Is there a significance to the album's title that threads the themes together?
VN: Lyrically, I would like to think of this album as putting together a collage of my poems, just metaphorically cutting it up and gluing different parts of the poem together. I wanted it to be abstract, yet at the same time provoking something in the listener. There are themes of adolescence, dreaming, self-reflection, but also commentary on the state of the natural world, globalization, and the internet. The word "Illustration" refers to the illustration of our world at the time and our experiences being illustrated in these songs, pretty simple.
PZ: Veeka, you sing in English and your native tongue of Russian; do you feel more comfortable singing in either? Why is it important for you to sing in your native language?
VN: I love to challenge the listener and sing in a different languages because I feel like it does change a lot for the audience and how they perceive your music. I like how it adds an extra layer between the songwriter and the listener and they have to go out of their way to try and translate the lyrics if they really want to know what the song is about. I love singing in both languages because I think it's very unique and not a lot of bands do that here in Australia. It definitely adds another dimension to the music.
PZ: The ninth track on the album "Mokryj Asphalt" sort of calls back to the debut album with its colorful synth-stabbing power pop. How did that one come together?
VN: Oh really? This thought never crossed my mind, but I guess you are right! It does sound quite "poppy." We do love a good fuzz-pop song or whatever you'd like to call it! A song that has a distinctive verse and a chorus I guess? I'm pretty sure we were listening to a lot of Jesus and Mary Chain at the time and one day I just had this melody stuck in my head. I sung it to Mikey and asked if it's a song he knew and he said not really, and we just recorded the idea straight away. I remember thinking it would be cool to focus on the synths and create a dynamic synth landscape and use a lot of reverb and tremelo to make everything sound super ethereal and psychedelic. So imagine walking in the rain at night, walking around the city by yourself and feeling this electric sensation and being mesmerized by everything. That's the feeling we were going for.
PZ: Veeka, I also understand your father [Mikhail Nazarov] illustrated the album's cover art, who's also a huge fan of the band! The funny-looking, surreal robot art fits perfectly with the tracks here, don't you think?
VN: Totally! The moment I saw this drawing I was instantly captivated by it. It has so much energy and playfulness in it and I feel like it fits really well with the music. I particularly like the semi-abstract nature of it, but it is obviously still a figurative character with a recognizable face. I was actually analyzing it a lot and thought about how it fits with the music and I came to a realization that that's how I would like our audience to perceive us — first when you listen to the album, it has a very familiar sound to it, but when you start paying more attention, you begin to notice it has many more layers or paths that you can follow and draw your own associations and images out of it, just like the abstract lines inside the drawing of the cover.
PZ: I've always been a sucker for Kosmetika visuals. I think my favorite is a tie between "Tiny Island" and your most recent single "House." What was it like putting the latter together?
VN: Aw thanks! We always try to put a lot of emphasis on our visuals, it's important to us for sure. There are just so many opportunities with the imagery you can have for your music, so when we make a video or take band photos, we really like to have some sort of concept or capture the feeling of the song and create characters, it's almost like making your own movie with your own soundtrack. It was a lot of fun making the video for "House." We shot it in two days over the weekend on a Handycam and Mikey edited everything the following day. I remember when we moved into this new house, I instantly had a vision of making a music video there, just cause of the strange '80s motel-like aesthetics it had.
PZ: Let's backtrack now. Veeka, you were born in Khabarovsk in South-Eastern Russia. What was it like growing up there and were you surrounded by a music scene at all?
VN: It was pretty sweet actually! There were many different music scenes happening at the same time. I started going to gigs when I was 13 and there were garage/indie bands, then it was heaps of punk/hardcore bands as well. I left Russia back in 2009 so I probably missed out on the rise of more electronic/hip-hop artists, but yeah I had the best time growing up in Khabarovsk and being a part of the alternative music community there. The only thing I can think of that was not so great, was the lack of female/queer people in bands, but I guess it was a small town in Russia in the late 2000s, you'd be surprised to hear that people wouldn't have heard of feminism at the time and it was sadly just not common to see gender diversity in bands.
PZ: How did you end up in Naarm/Melbourne, Victoria? What was your initial impression of the underground/DIY rock scene there? Who are some of your favorite bands there currently?
VN: Mikey and I moved here from Aotearoa five years ago. I just heard so much about Naarm and its vibrant music scene, so I was always dreaming about making a move here. This city just has so much to offer, so many different cultures, different music scenes, crazy weather, just anything for anyone. I really feel like it's a perfect city for us, super inspiring, and I never take it for granted! I love Eggy, Delivery, Gut Health, Cool Sounds, and Belair Lip Bombs.
PZ: Tell me about the origins of Kosmetika. This is your first ever band and it all started from a Facebook post you made right?
VN: Oh yeah it all started from me posting on Facebook asking if anyone would want to start a band. I was kind of half serious, half joking, but I knew Mikey and he was in a lot of bands at the time and I also knew he was a talented musician so when I saw he commented on my post, I replied straight away, so that's how it all started. Then we made some demos and moved to Naarm/Melbourne where we met the rest of the crew.
PZ: Talk to me about the Kosmetika crew. What's it like being part of this star-studded lineup of musicians and what do you admire about each one of them?
Michael Ellis: We have Jake Suriano (Dr Sure's Unusual Practice, Bayonet), on synth/percussion/guitar, James Lynch (Delivery) on drums and Dom Moore (Eggy) on bass guitar. All of these people are insanely talented musicians and genius songwriters in their own right and we are very lucky to have them playing with us in Kosmetika!
PZ: I've always been a fan of your guys' band name! Fits perfectly with your eccentricity and ethos. The name of your band came from a Soviet band you're heavily inspired by called The Institution of Kosmetika-Nee Kosmetiki, aka НИИ Косметики, is that right?
VN: Thank you! Wow you did do your research! Yep that's where I got the idea from, I love that band! So eccentric and scandalous, they used to wear a military uniform in a very provocative, sexual way, had a lot erotic themes in songs, and just mocked the hell out of the USSR government. I'm pretty sure they were blacklisted and banned from playing any shows in the USSR back in the '80s due to their provocative nature. I love how their songs are based on humor, mockery, and not taking themselves so seriously.
PZ: One of my favorite records I had on heavy rotation during the early stages of the pandemic was your debut album Pop Soap, especially the track "Spiller." Can you tell us a bit about how that came together and what are your thoughts now looking back at it four years later?
ME: Thanks! I wrote this song in my bedroom in Auckland one afternoon in late 2017 and it just kind of just fell out of my brain. I recorded a demo for it as I was writing it with a couple of takes on each instrument and the whole thing came together in about an hour. I was listening to a lot of The Fall and Blur at the time and listening back to it now, I can definitely hear both of those influences coming through pretty strong.
PZ: I remember hearing about some EP composed of unreleased live recordings you were going to release in 2020. Will that ever see the light of day and is it true still that you're sitting on a bunch of unreleased recorded material?
VN: It's true, we are sitting on a bunch of unreleased recorded material.. we might release something soon or might not…who knows….?
PZ: You got a dual launch coming up next weekend [April 29th] at the Northcote Social Club with fellow art punks Dr. Sure's Unusual Practice. There will also be support from Program and Adored for an absolute stacked bill! How did the dual release show idea happen between the Spoilsport and Marthouse Records label heads and what are you looking forward to playing it?
ME: So stoked on the lineup for this show! All of the bands are insanely sick. We've been good friends with the Dr Sure's crew for a long time and happened to be releasing albums at the same time so thought it would be a cool idea to join forces for a double release event and celebrate together in style.
PZ: What's the rest of the year look like for Kosmetika or other projects you're all part of?
VN: We will be playing heaps of shows and going on tour around Australia later this year!
PZ: So lastly, I got to mention that I accidentally stumbled upon this song called "Kosmetika" by this '70s Indonesian prog rock band called Giant Step. Gimme your thoughts on it and can fans expect a cover one day? ;)
VN: Oh wow, this is incredible! [laughs]. I don't know if we can do justice covering this masterpiece. You know we actually had someone message us who is in another band called Kosmetika and they are from Lithuania. So, this band accidentally uploaded their music onto our Spotify and were freaking out about it, asking us if we can fix it. It was sick that we had a "new album" up for a few days, and people probably thought we randomly dropped an experimental shoegaze album [laughs]. We got everything fixed in the end and made friends with those peeps, so who knows one day we might play with them in Europe!
Illustration is out now on Spoilsport Records.