All Songs Considered Blog
12:28 pm
Mon May 7, 2012

Mumiy Troll's 'Hey Tovarish': Channel Surfing in Russia

I can pinpoint the exact moment that I decided I loved "Hey Tovarich," the new music video from Russia's Mumiy Troll. About halfway through the video, there's a quick clip of singer Ilya Lagutenko bewigged and looking like a very mellow Bob Ross. On his canvas aren't happy little trees, but gigantic explosions.

You might have heard of Mumiy Troll when it represented Russia in the 2002, Eurovision song contest, but it's been making waves in Russia for almost thirty years. The band's songs have a dark swagger — a smirking glam rock style that can be both creepy and funny at the same. "Hey Tovarish," the single off the band's first-ever English language album, starts off as a song about "best looking ladies" and quickly turns into something stranger. The horns and throbbing bass kick in and Laguntenko sings lyrics like "Beat the leach / Suck pain till the last drop."

The video for "Hey Tovarish" has the same surreal/sinister twist. A kid, identified as Mumiy Troll's number one fan, flips through TV channels to watch all of his favorite Mumiy Troll programming. Laguntenko appears as a bumbling '70s variety show frontman, an out of control anime Power Rangers-style rocker and an unnerving Blues Clues-esque Steve lookalike. That would make for a pretty fun concept by itself, but what's supposed to be the real world — the kid watching TV — becomes more dream-like as the video goes on. By the time the boy is placed onto a scooter, doing donuts to a cheering crowd, the video has evolved from a sequence of homages to a bizarre, saxophone-filled nightmare.

In an email, Mumiy Troll frontman Ilya Lagutenko talked to us about the meaning of "Hey Tovarish":

This is the first video from our debut English album Vladivostok. Whatever the song is about (it's actually about our guitarist who's always fussing over his girlfriends, but hush hush ... that's a secret) we wanted it to sound like an introduction to a band that's willing to become your best friend. Reaching an audience that knows very little Russian, is unfamiliar with the our band and usually only thinks of Russia in terms of the Soviet Empire and Cold War is not easy.

We're kind of like the kid in the video, dreaming of becoming international rock stars. Like him, we believe pursuing your dream is a reward in and of itself. As a bonus, when you watch the video and listen the song you learn at least ONE word in Russian. "Tovarish" means Comrade and Amigo at the same time. And you don't even have to see a single Russian spy, mafioso or pretty blond in the video! Amazing, yes?

Director S.F. Porcaro adds:

From the start, this was a great project to be involved in. Ilya's only real requirement was to make it fun and unique. Other than that, he was pretty much open to anything. Game on.

The trickiest part was trying to come up with something humorous that was also appropriate for the song, since it has a very epic and dramatic feel. The idea of a kid flipping through the channels looking for cartoons, only to continually find the band, seemed like a good place to start. Then came the scooter and the fans, which helped enhance the dream-like feel to the whole thing.

I was fortunate that [the whole band] were all really nice guys. When working with rock stars, especially ones as successful as Mumiy Troll, you never know what you're going to get. But they were a joy, and really fun to work with.

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