Continuing efforts to engage with Ukrainian artists and musicians in the midst of the Russian invasion that is now into its third month, I had the recent pleasure of connecting with Igor Sydorenko, vocalist and guitarist of Stoned Jesus—one of Ukraine’s most iconic reefer-shrouded outfits.
Now signed to the legendary international label of heavy-making oddballs, Season of Mist, Stoned Jesus carries the bitumen-soaked torch of sludgy, geological stoner rock.
Brandishing abundant low-end fuzz, loose yet patient song structures that build to monolithic crescendos, and Iommi-inspired riffs that are both celestial and subterranean, Stoned Jesus are unique in the stoner/doom metal scene with their simultaneous firm foothold in the realms of more progressive explorations.
Igor was gracious enough to answer some questions about his band and their current activity, which I’m excited to share below.
NY: Thanks so much for making the time for this, Igor. Pleasure to virtually make your acquaintance.
Igor Sydorenko: Sure thing, nice to e-meet you! Let’s go!
NY: Where are you based right now, and what are things like there as Russian aggression intensifies?
IS: I wouldn’t say it intensifies, really, quite the contrary—they’re pretty laughable in land combat, so obviously they have stalled. Now they have been using mostly airstrikes in the past week. I left Kyiv on the second day of the full-blown invasion and now I am in central Ukraine.
Our drummer, Dmytro, is in Kharkiv volunteering with the locals while the city is being obliterated by Russian airstrikes. People can simply Google pictures or videos to see the scale of destruction; it’s inhumane.
They never aim at military objects, they just bomb regular houses, schools, and hospitals like they did in Chechnya, Georgia, and Syria. Sergii, our bass player, is in his hometown in central Ukraine, also helping as much as he can. The whole country is incredibly united at the moment. Russian TV would probably call this “nationalism,” lol.
NY: Psychedelic music seems to be very healthy and alive in Ukraine. Can you tell me about the scene?
IS: Yeah! We’ve been there since the very beginning (hence the ridiculous name of the band), and our first record is a 100% stoner doom album. But, you know, the more you grow as a songwriter, the more you progress as a band, the less you really think about the genre and its limitations.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m following the new bands and I’m trying to listen to each and every new release here in the Ukrainian underground. I’m even curating a yearly music festival called Winter Mass—a festival for Ukrainian-only stoner/psych/prog/doom/post-whatever artists/bands. I would say, though, that a lot of great acts fall between genres, you know? So, for me, it’s definitely not about stoner or sludge exclusively.
I’ve always been pretty bummed out about the fact that many people can’t get past our name—they think we’re some joke weed act, not the prog-rock auteurs like I myself envision us in my head! But really, everything seems so small and unimportant now. I’m just happy a lot of people support us and our country; this is all that matters at the moment.
NY: I read an interview with you where you discussed a bit of the gear you were using. The interview is a year or two old now, but as a gearhead myself, I’m curious about what kind of hardware you are playing on to get that thick syrupy sludgy sound?
IS: Hah, I don’t think much has changed since then. We basically use whatever is available; we don’t have our own backline or our own signature sound, and dare I suggest this flexibility makes us who we are. Give us any gear and a room full of people, and see these people get crazy soon!
NY: Before the war, what did a day in your life look like? What does it look like now?
IS: Wake up, morning coffee, and walk in the park. Then for the whole day I’m sifting through loads of emails and messages—as band manager I do all the paperwork for Stoned Jesus, including label and booking communications, interviews, merch, logistics, all social media, etc. I’m listening to a lot of music while doing all that, and then in the evening I can finally relax.
Sometimes I remember I also play guitar in this band, so I do play some, but right now I can’t play my guitars. I left them in Kyiv and can only pray they’re still there and that my flat isn’t ruined or marauded. I have to do basically everything else because the band needs to keep going. I do all I can to get it done!
Read also: “The Heart Is Supposed To Beat. And It Will Beat:” A Wartime Conversation With Ukrainian Rocker, Artem Dudko, From Straytones
NY: I recently interviewed Artem from Straytones, and he had very positive things to say about you and Stoned Jesus. He told me that when COVID started you began doing standup comedy? Tell me about that.
IS: Busted! Yep, I’ve been always interested in comedy, and with 2020 being such a gloomy one, I figured I needed a sort of therapy. Instead of going to a shrink, I chose to go to a local open mic, and somehow it worked, hehe.
So yeah, I’ve been doing this for almost year and a half now, and right before the full-blown war started, I was supposed to film my best 10 minutes of material! I wonder how this will change when we win and I’m back to the comedy…if I’m back. Honestly, I have no idea what I’m going to do when we’re through with this war.
NY: Can you share some highlight experiences from touring with Stoned Jesus? What’s life like on the road?
IS: I’m an introvert, so it kind of sucks for me, haha! But I’m also an exhibitionist in the creative kind of way, and I’ve always needed to share my art with people, so I’ve had to adapt. Obviously touring and playing music is heaven compared to the last two months, and it sucks our huge European tour for April had to be cancelled. Even if everything had been fine by April, we would still be needed here in Ukraine. At least that’s how we feel about it.
NY: What was one of your most memorable performances with Stoned Jesus? What made it so memorable?
IS: Opening for Deep Purple in Kyiv in 2018 was very emotional. First of all, this is the biggest audience we’d played to so far—almost 10,000 people! And second, this is my father’s favourite band. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2017, and I dedicated our set to him. Plus, seeing Deep Purple now actively supporting Ukraine warms my heart. We’re all on the right side of history here!
“It’s always very tough to laugh in the face of death, and I know thousands of Ukrainians have lost their friends and relatives since the war started, but no one can take our spirit, our will, away from us, and humour is a huge part of this.”
NY: When I talked with Artem, he spoke about how Ukrainian people are also keeping their spirits up and keeping humor in their lives during this time. He mentioned the widespread circulation of humorous memes depicting scenes from the war and light-hearted responses to some of the things that are happening. In your opinion, as a citizen, artist, and comedian yourself, what is the role or significance of humor in this time? How are you personally keeping your spirits up in the face of war?
IS: It’s vital. It’s also in Ukraine’s blood. We’ve been oppressed by Russians for centuries and misunderstood by many westerners for decades, so we have no one to rely on but our own people and our own spirit. And what else lifts your spirit if not something funny? Like a lame Russian army with their ancient equipment!
It’s always very tough to laugh in the face of death, and I know thousands of Ukrainians have lost their friends and relatives since the war started, but no one can take our spirit, our will, away from us, and humour is a huge part of this.
Besides, Russian propaganda literally begs to be memed upon on a daily basis—it’s so unrealistic and batshit insane! If anyone falls for it they should check their IQ immediately.
NY: What do you do outside of Stoned Jesus?
IS: Well, all of us in Stoned Jesus have always had to have a side gig or two in between touring because it’s tough to survive being an underground musician only.
Dima was working on a studio that is now being used as a shelter in Kharkiv; Sergii is an aspiring video editor (drop him a line if you need a 3D ad or something!), and I was flirting with stand-up comedy as you already know, while also writing some movie treatments and music reviews.
It all seems so distant now, but I believe we’ll return to our normal life soon, even though it will never be the same again.
NY: What would you ask of your international fans and supporters right now? How can people around the world help?
IS: Spreading the word helps the most. Unfortunately, many people (even politicians!) still believe that this is just a temporary brotherly quarrel, not a full-blown war with thousands of causalities already.
The way Russia wages this war—destroying hospitals and regular houses from the air, turning Mariupol into the new Sarajevo—must be scrutinized also.
Fighting the Russian fake news and conspiracies helps a lot as well, however absurd they are. And, of course, donating to Ukraine helps a lot. Our economy stalled due to the war and it needs time and assistance to get back to normal.
You can help out here: https://supportukrainenow.org
And here: https://war.ukraine.ua/support-ukraine
Just make sure you’re choosing a real Ukrainian charity, not some shady “organization” that registered out of nowhere a few days ago.
With the world’s help, Ukraine will power through! Slava Ukraini, and cheers from Stoned Jesus!
"Nathaniel Youmans is a poet, essayist, editor, wildlife conservationist, and sound artist based in Washington State. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop. His work has been featured in Talking River, High Desert Journal, Soundings, and elsewhere. At Shouts - Music from the Rooftops!, he is a Contributing Writer. He is also cofounder and editor of The Strewnfield Review as well as the editor for the Washington Falconer’s Association. He makes music under the moniker Lahar. "