I was late. Rushing down Kyiv’s Pushkin Street and turning left into Prorizna Street, I breathlessly asked two passers-by where the Molodizniy Teater (The Theatre of Youth) was. It had been closed for renovation, but I stood at its corner as arranged, waiting for Dmytro Dobriy-Vechir, the lead singer of one of Ukraine’s legendary rock bands, «VIY». I was just thinking that we had perhaps missed each other, when a deep gravelly voice behind me said: «Vy Maryana?» (are you Mariana?), and I turned to face a large man with long, grey hair tied back in a pony tail, friendly blue eyes and a large smile on his face. He had a cup of coffee in his hand and announced that they had only just got up. «We arrived in Kyiv at 5 a.m. this morning» he grinned. With him was his manager and webmaster, Serhiy Litvinyuk. After completing the introductions, Dmytro presented me with VIY’s album «Khata Skrayu Sela» (The House at the Edge of the Village). «I hope you like it» he added modestly.
«You have a very interesting surname — ’Dobriy-Vechir’ (Good-Evening)»
Dmytro’s face immediately lit up. «It’s not a stage name, it’s real. I found the name Mykola Dobriy-Vechir in an old register from the Zaporozhian Cossack Army. Apparently he was our ancestor».
«When was your group founded and why did you choose the name VIY (Vee)?»
«In February 1991. We came together thirteen years ago, and soon we’ll be releasing an album with thirteen of our best lyrical songs which will be called „Trynadsiat Rokiv Samotnosti“ (Thirteen Years of Loneliness), and we’re very pleased about it. Actually it’s not an unlucky number for us at all.
The word ’VIY’ originates from ’viya’, the Ukrainian word for eyelash. In this case it is the name of a pagan spirit (discovered in a fable by Ukrainian writer Mykola Hohol (Gogol), author of „Taras Bulba“ — M.D.). It looked like a very old man with huge eyebrows. He also had long eyelashes that reached the ground, through which he could barely see. A glimpse from his eyes could kill a man and cause great destruction, even though he is not necessary an evil being. I chose his name because of how I imagined him to look, according to my innermost feelings.
I have always dreamt of making music that is connected with our pre-christian roots. It doesn’t matter whether its rock, pop or folk, I just allow it to come to the surface. I believe that every nation’s ancient musical roots are connected with each other, and so can imagine what type of music there was in this country, before it became a nation, over a thousand years ago. I would like the youth of today to take an interest in this type of music.»
«How did Ukrainian audiences react to your music when you appeared for the first time?»
«We actually arrived with a bang at the right moment. It was ’91, Ukraine was newly independent, and as there were not many Ukrainian rock groups around at the time, artists like Vika, Braty Haidiukyni, VV, Komu Vnyz and our group soon sprang to life. Everyone became popular in their particular genre in a very short space of time, even though many were not professionals. Now there are hundreds of excellent groups, but this is a different era. Nowadays, we have 16-year old professionals who can perform in their sleep, whereas then, half of us couldn’t even play an instrument properly! But they were heroes then, they started it all. Unfortunately, many artists didn’t survive the years that have passed since then, mainly because they had no backing or support from anyone. Not it’s easier, as new labels and record companies have sprung up in this country. Luckily, some of the original groups survived and can be heard today, including VIY.»
«What is VIY’s message for the Ukrainian diaspora?»
«Don’t forget that you are all from Ukraine. I have spoken to many diaspora Ukrainians in the past, and have realised that most of them have stopped at the so called ’vyshyvanka’ and ’sharavary’ level. It would be better to develop an interest in what is going on in Ukraine now, and not to just stop when one gets to Shevchenko. Ukraine and its people are so fascinating, with its rich culture and music. One should open up and discover this, enjoy and love it. I sing about love. Not only about love between people, but in general. We should love one another and that’s when thing start to change.»
«Do you collaborate with other artists?»
Generally no, as we prefer to work alone. I also must admit that I’ve hardly concerned myself with the group’s PR work. We became popular mainly because people just asked us to perform. Our manager, Serhiy Litvinyuk, is an old friend of mine. Two years ago I asked him to take over the administrative work, as I couldn’t combine my creative work with this. We work hard and are independent, have our own studio, were we can practise and record at will. This also includes recording other musicians. I’ve recorded choirs, soloists and groups, namely the music that I like and people that I support. Sometimes, when I hear that a young group are talented but not up to scratch, I re-record a guitar track, as I am a bass player — and don’t tell them that I did it. One should help where one can.
«Tell us about your tours»
«After winning the Chervona Ruta festival for our music category in 1993, we went on a European tour, together with the other winners. We appeared in Paris, Munich and in other major cities. It was grand! At the moment it is rather difficult to let people outside our borders know that we exist. The group ’Komu Vnyz’, who are good friends of ours, manage to travel to Germany every year to participate in Gothic music festivals.» (’Komu Vnyz’ are to apparently to appear with Germany’s ’Rammstein’ - M.D.)
«Serhij, please tell us about your work with VIY»
«I am not only the manager of the group, but also their webmaster and programmer. I’ve created at least sixty independent Ukrainian rock/folk music portals, with the aim to make contemporary Ukrainian music popular via the internet. The most important site for me is ours — VIY: http://www.viyfrom.kiev.ua/»
«Dmytro, Serhij, thank you for the interview.»
© Interview and translation by Mariana Dzus Kyiv, 14th of October, 2004