Rock Impressions

by Giancarlo Bolther

Would you like to introduce us the band with your history?
We are Pinknruby, a London based duo - Mihaela Repina from Slovenia and Paul Bradbury from Britain. Pinknruby began in 1998 and at that time, we were writing mostly drumnbass and garage – always with a strong female vocal line. By 2001 we had an album of music that we sent out to various record labels; some of them liked the music, but no one wanted to release anything. And so we decided to go back to our roots, which were much more folky and guitar based. This is how The Vast Astonishment came to be. We signed to French fairyworld label, Prikosnovenie, last year and we released our debut album, The Vast Astonishment with them last October. This year we are performing at several festivals in England, hopefully including Glastonbury and we are performing in Rennes, France, this summer. In the future, we are very much hoping to tour in Europe.

Can you tell us about the songs and the making of the new album?
Some of the songs are personal mantras about taking responsibility for one’s own life, reclaiming one’s own power and choosing to be happy in the now. There are miniature fairytales, incantations to the beauty of the world and philosophical reflections on the self.
We started writing in no particular language: Adio Te, Ama and Zacetek have no real words, just word sounds. There is a freedom in expressing yourself without a language. But, Mihaela also felt the need to acknowledge her roots by writing in Slovene. Sometimes, Mihaela would write the lyrics on her own, on some songs like Celebrate we wrote together in Slovene and for Stone, Paul wrote the lyrics in English, which Mihaela then translated.
Ama is a song that expresses love. It is a warm a peaceful opening to the album.
Stone is a fairytale in which the Dance Lord comes to a still earth to create movement. All the inhabitants of the earth start to dance except one stone that remains motionless. When the creatures ask the Dance Lord why the stone does not dance, the Dance Lord replies that it is to remind everyone that perfect stillness is also holy. It is a song about the importance of contemplation as well as action.
Adio Te is our song of the mermaid.
Vast is an incantation to the Sun, Moon and Stars.
Morje means “The Sea”. It talks about that moment when you first return to the sea: when it becomes your horizon. The reflection of the sun hits your eyes and your nose is filled with the smell of longing and possibilities. So Morje is an ode to the sea.
Return is a positive mantra about reclaiming your own heart.
Sanje means “Dreams” and talks about reconciling the world of dreams with the waking world. The conclusion we reach in the song is that only this moment counts.
Celebrate is about pursuing one’s own truths and one’s own uniqueness. The final question, “can you celebrate for no reason” is really at the heart of the whole album.
Aya is our ode to Ayahuasca and the Amazon. We recorded the crickets in Brazil while at Ayahuasca ceremonies.
Angel is an ancient Slovene prayer to the guardian angel that is in each of us.
Zacetek means “the beginning” – ironically, considering that it is the last song on the album and the last one that we wrote. This is the only time the piano appears on the album and this gives it a very different flavour. We bought the piano a few days before the recording at a second hand shop. It is 98 years old with the original strings and we loved it’s ancient quality.
The lyrics of the songs are reproduced in English on the beautiful cover that Prikosnovenie’s Sabine designed.

There is a concept behind the album?
We wanted to write joyful and healing music. We wanted to do something celebratary, that would inspire people to think of the beauty of life. In our lyrics, we wanted to write about the things that are special to us and ask questions about life that we are asking ourselves: the album is the product of the journey that we were each on at the time.

How do you manage the compositive process?
The whole album was written in our bedroom on very basic equipment: an acoustic guitar, a microphone, a computer and a mixer.
The basic songs were generally quite quick to write. We usually had the basic idea for a song worked out in a couple of days. Often a song will come into your head almost complete and you have no idea where it came from or how it came to be – it is just there.
Arranging the music was the fun part. The arrangements are quite orchestral in that we take a basic theme and then modify it as the song progresses. Our favourite modification was to run a melody line backwards. Many of the vocal harmonies are reversed versions of the original melodies and most of the guitar solos run backwards, making a sound that is often hardly recognisable as a guitar. In Stone, a whole choir runs backwards at one point. We were delighted with the beauty of the melodies that came out when parts were reversed. They are melodies that we never would have thought of and yet we are totally responsible for creating. It is a strange paradox and the source of much of the ethereal feel of the album.
We enjoyed experimenting with different recording techniques. In Morje, we sliced off a piece of the main vocal and looped it around to form the chorus. In Aya, we recorded drops of water falling into a bucket and turned that into a rhythmic rainfall. In Return, we jammed a sock under the strings of the guitar to dampen the sound.
The hardest part of the album was the production. Because our equipment is very simple, we had to spend a long time getting the sounds up to the necessary standard. The album took a year to complete – although we were both doing “normal” jobs at the time, to pay the bills (and still are!). Frederic, at Prikosnovenie, did a final stereo remastering and that really put an extra professionality into our sound. He did a great job.

What kind of music you are shooting for?
We simply want to write songs that we like. If you have too much of a preconceived idea of where you want to go, then that can restrict the spontaneous creative force. At the moment we are writing songs that are similar in style to The Vast Astonishment but will hopefully be a progression from it. We want to introduce more instruments and experiment with choirs more in the future, but who knows what will come out?

There is a meaning behind the name Pinknruby?
We both have obsessions with pink things and rubies. Who knows why? The band was originally called “Pink Beauty and Red Ruby”. One of our friends got the name wrong and thought we were called Pinknruby. That seemed a much better name so we stuck to it.

In the album I felt the fusion of your different origins, can you tell us more about?
Paul: I was brought up 25 miles from London. My father played a lot of rocknroll music from the late fifties and early sixties, which I still love although I don’t listen to it much these days. He also taught me to play the guitar and I loved it immediately. I spent a lot of time when I was young, sitting with a friend, playing the guitar and making up songs. Later on, I played bass in a blues band and acoustic guitar in a folk band. When I was at college I moved into a house that had an old piano and started teaching myself. When Mihaela and I met, in 1997, we were both going to a lot of clubs and it was then that I started writing dance music. More recently, I have been writing music for television which is great because you get to write in a lot of different styles.
Mihaela: I was born in Switzerland and moved to Slovenia when I was eleven. Slovenia is at the crossroads of Italian, German and Slavic cultures and I’ve been musically influenced by all three. The first instrument I learnt to play was the piano, but I soon got more interested in singing and playing the guitar. My father used to play the guitar and I think this inspired me. I sang in choirs and in a couple of bands including Grinning Ghouls Against Juju. I only began composing when we started Pinknruby.

You create an album of beauty, did you look for an aesthetic result or for a spiritual one?
We were looking for both. If the music is aesthetically pleasing then there is always going to be a spiritual aspect – that is the nature of music. However we are both interested in spiritual healing – we are both training as healers at the College of Psychic Studies in London – and were therefore conscious of writing music with a spiritual aspect.
Friends of ours are using The Vast Astonishment in healing ceremonies in USA and Brazil. We think the healing power of music is vast and vastly underestimated in the modern world.

Do you have a philosophy? Your vision of the world is...
All things are one; we are all united by love. We just have to realise this connection to make it manifest in the world. Happiness is a choice we make.
During our lives, we are discovering our many different faces. We need to integrate them. We have to accept all sides of our nature; to love our light as well as our darkness. This is the biggest challenge we face – to love ourselves as we are.
We are very interested in permaculture, gardening by the moon and working with nature spirits. We grow some of our own food and medicinal herbs. Our garden was an inspiration to us while we were writing The Vast Astonishment.
This year we will be playing concerts with the “Small World Solar Stage”. All the electricity that powers the stage is produced through solar energy. We are very happy to be promoting this sort of ecology through our music.

What kind of response are you experiencing from the audience to your music?
We have been really pleased and surprised at the response to our music, it seems to appeal to a wide audience. After live gigs, there are usually a few people who come up to us afterwards who have really been moved by it. One person remarked that we sounded like the music he expected to hear on his way to heaven!
People like to play the album just to make them happy; a couple of friends like listening to it in the bath as it relaxes them and one person we found on the internet sings Morje in the shower.

How have you get in touch with the label Prikosnovenie?
We put some music on a website called Vitaminic. The site is huge and we were very surprised when someone called Didier Becu contacted us and asked us if we would send him The Vast Astonishment to review in his webzine, The Original Sin. We sent him the cd and received a wonderful review, comparing us to several Dark Wave bands, including “Les Secrets de Morphee” who were on the Prikosnovenie label. That’s how we heard of Prikosnovenie; we sent off a demo to them and they liked it. We are very pleased to have found Prikosnovenie. Frederic, Sabine and Arno seem to be such warm people – not at all what we expected the record industry to be like! Frederic’s mastering and Sabine’s artwork have really helped us to create a beautiful album.
Mihaela has recently recorded a track with Frederic for his new Lys album, which is coming out soon.

Which artists have inspired you most?
Paul: I fell in love with the Cocteau Twins as soon as I heard them; until then, I didn’t know records like that were made. I was also influenced by the more experimental work of the Beatles, such as the White Album. Shelleyan Orphan, The Cardigans, Portishead - these all influenced me on The Vast Astonishment, as well as some classical composers, like Satie, Debussy and Holst. I think at the end of the day, though, I am inspired by all the music I listen to – even the stuff I don’t like.
Mihaela: I’m inspired by a whole range of different music around the globe. Some people that particularly inspired me are Iva Bittova with her bewitching voice, Trinovox with their beautiful sense of harmonie, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Kate Bush, the sunny music of Brazil, particularly samba and bossa nova, and the freedom in the singing of the Aka Pygmies. I like a strong and beautiful melody.

What is the greatest challenge for your future?
To embrace our fullest potential and to keep a sense of humour.

Reviews (only in italian): The Vast Ashtosnishment; Garden; Queen Kale

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