Lena Katina’s Interview in “Story Caravan” (December 2011)
Before Julia I had only kissed one boy. With the second kiss of my life everything changed: scandals and indignation around t.A.T.u., concerts around the world, gold and platinum records, extraordinary royalties for a school girl…And at that time I never expected that at the very beginning of my career I met the person I would fall in love with after so many years.
This was a boycott, Volkova walked into the dressing room, Sergey Lazarev measured her with a cold look and withdrew, with a touch of the shoulder. “Hello”, said Volkova, a little bit perplexed. Vlad Topalov got on top of the window pain and pressed his forehead against the glass. I covered my face with red curls to hide my smile… Yulia dropped her bag on the floor and ran out, shut the door. Before the very beginning of the session we found her by the sink in the bathroom. Dripping mascara ran down her eyes, wetting a piece of toilet paper… “Volkova, what’s wrong with you, we were joking!”, the boys cackled. “It’s not funny!”, squealed Volkova in an upset voice. “For what?” For nothing, these are the kinds of harsh games we played in Neposedi. We’ll all go against one person and beging joking. And everyone was a victim, even though they themselves would participate in similar games. When I first appeared in the group, 11 year old Volkova was one of the first to start the attacks, “Why are you dancing like a cow on ice?”, criticizing me during rehearsals and I would turn sour. Then I would sit somewhere in a corner, sad, and Volkova would shake me by the shoulder, “You did well!”, “Oh, go away!”. And then came Nastya Zadorozhnaya, and I would behave in the exact same way. First I’d mess around with her and then I’d go give her a hug.
A real school of show business, not everyone could handle it and would leave Neposedi. But those who survived it are now known. Yulia and I shot out first. How t.A.T.u. toured Russia and then prepared for our release. Sergey and Vlad were jealous, “That’s so cool! We want to have our our band and perform to full venues!’ We smoked, inhaling cigarettes with an image of experienced rockers, and with a hateful, all-knowing hoarse voice said, “Words, they are so exhausting. Run away from her…”, (Of course, we were laughing at ourselves, the basis: not gonna get us!”). I think the guys have measured all the pluses and minuses of popularity and the main side effect: we were jumping around stage in school girl uniforms, but in fact it caused us to grow up very quickly”.
They called t.A.T.u.’s producer, Ivan Shapovalov, many things: A pervert, a pedophile .. ¿Who was he for you?
Many people remember Ivan as a person who loved to shock others with actions, words, even with an outer appearance. He had a firm style, boots in different colors, jeans inside-out with pants that had to be unbuttoned. But when I was invited to go listen (to a recording) at the recording studio of Alexander Votinsko, he had a modest look with a plain sweater and leather pants. It was not surprising that my parents trusted me with him… Shapovalov lead me to the microphone, listened and said, “Your voice is great, this is the type of thing I need”. He had creative thoughts in his head: he planned a protest against the war in Yugoslavia with a rock band… While rugged men in leather jackets played electric guitars, a fragile girl would come out and sing with a soft voice, “During the night under a hail of lead, for the fact that I’m not around, forgive me, my sister -Yugoslavia”. He proposed this idea to Bors Renski. At the time Ivan was shooting commercials for his computer business. “Instead, let’s make a full project with this girl instead of it just being a one-time thing”, Boris suggested. And in a short time Yulia appeared. Ivan found Yulia just like he found me, in a catalogue of a movie studio called Gorogovo. Before she (Yulia) came to hear the recording, I had time to record my voice for a drink commercial and earned my first $250.00. “I can’t believe it”, I thought to myself then, “You sing for 3 minutes and look how much money you get”.
Yulia and I weren’t friends in Neposedi, but became close only when we became t.A.T.u. “Katina, is that you?!”, Volkova almost jumped as she saw me in the studio. Right away we ran to the bathroom to talk. Volkova was full of questions, “How is this? What?”. That same day I switched to calling Shapovalov (informal) “you”. Before that I was shy and tip-toed around the studio. All these grown men…but Yulia was everywhere, “Ivan, let’s switch to (informal) ‘you’, huh?”. Can’t say that our producer was specifically looking for girls with opposite temperaments, it kind of happened by itself. But Ivan began watching us, playing on different our characteristics. In the beginning he did not know what to do with us. And in 2001 a film came out called “Show Me Love” about the romance between two school girls. And Boris and Ivan began discussing the video, “These two girls fell in love with each other. How can you tell this to your parents? Their former classmates would look at them negatively…They can’t even explain this to themselves”. Yulia would sometimes get into conversations between Ivan and Boris and in her sweet voice would give her opinion, “Everyone can go screw themselves! And I’d blow up the school to pieces!” “Hm, good idea”, responded the new-born producers. That’s how the idea of the band came about. And I could not believe for a long time that they were offering me to portray a serious love with another girl. I thought they would laugh it off and we would finally start singing. Then Ivan came with the first composition, mainly the lines that journalist Lena Kiper thought of “I have lost my mind, I need her”, to which Yulia said, “Cool!”.
Yulia was making herself, through a scorched life, a woman and in our conversations hinted at experiences with boys. I was far behind her in that department. But, I had a crush on my best friend’s brother, we went out for about a month, held hands, kissed for the first time…Similarly in my 16 years I could not fully understand,how you could need “him” for example,…and to need “her”…I did not see a difference at all. And here we are, standing in front of the microphone, screaming these two phrases and laughing…Ivan looked at us and said, “There is something missing…You are going to kiss!”. Volkova and I died from laughter, “Ya, okay!”. Ivan frowned, “Seriously. Come on, let’s work…” And it somehow turned out by itself. Julia came up to me first. I had funny feelings, odd and interesting at the same time. Ivan became our authority right away, that experiments planned for the future could be marked by one phrase: “Do what you are told”. Only one time I protested, when he attempted to radically change my appearance: Ivan suggested to give me dreadlocks, but after that it would be necessary to shave my head. During the filming of our first video he could not capture our kiss, just as we touch each others lips we begin to laugh. At the end, he waved his hand and just decided to rewind the reel, where our heads get closer. Through the reverse transition the kiss appeared in the video. The first reaction was immediate. Seeing what goes on in his studio, Voitinski hinted that we should look for a new place to have our fun. Credit needs to be given to Shapovalov, everything that him and us did under his direction was not looked at as dismissive but touching and innocent. But it was on the verge…
How did your parents react to your experiments?
I have a close relationship with my mom and I tell her about our work in detail. And I saw that she was scared, her daughter has gotten into a dirty story. Maybe because my dad is a musician (he formed the popular band “Dunya” for whom he wrote songs and also played in “Arsenal”), my mom was ready for all sorts of surprises. Even though my parents were going through a divorce, I was a minor. My dad did not want me to go into show business, he would tell me, “You have a 1 in a million chance to be successful”. My mom thought that I should get my diploma. But it was not known if it was possible to mix education with performances…But Ivan knew how to persuade. I had the last word. My parents asked, “Are you sure you want this?” I could not imagine myself without this project. And even now I would not be able to forgive my mom and dad if my place had been given to some other girl.
Before the clip went into rotation, I had a premier at home. “You need to plant graves, razors were sliding against blades and did get cut”, said my mom. I also brought the tape to school. Not only did our entire class come for the viewing, so did the principal…And on the TV there was her student, in a school uniform kissing a girl. When the last chords finished playing there was complete silence…The kids were almost hidden, waiting for the first reaction from adults. “Katina! What else can we expect from you?”, said the principal. She seemed like an advanced woman, probably only thanks to her that I finished school. In the summer it was time to come out and in February the first tour was happening. We woke up one day and we were famous. 5th grade girls ran after me in school and screamed, “Ya soshla s uma!” Teacher’s were angry, “Lena, you have lost your mind, you’re not doing your school work!” I began being noticed in the street…I would come back home after the studio and I would be met by a group of guys and girls…”Maybe they want to beat me up…”, I thought. It turned out they were fans. Yulia came out one morning and and across from the elevator all over the wall there was writing, “Yulia, I love you”. There were those who called my phone and said, “Because of your song my girlfriend decided on her sexual orientation, when you’re out, watch your back!” We stirred up inflamed minds even without that.
But, the story was required to continue… “No one understood you, you must run away together now!”, Ivan developed thoughts. And we ran away, at first under Dmitrov, where we show the clip for “Nas Ne Dagoniat”, and after it’s release, on tour around Russia. Then we took over Europe, America and Japan…
In every town with our arrival there were more mummers. At the hotel teenagers were watching and complaining, “During the time of your concert parents are being threatened with arrest”. But it looked like they all ran way, the venues were full. Every time we went further in our experiments. Ivan would guide us during rehearsal, for example he would tell Yulia, “Unbuckle your belt. Put your hand under Lena’s shirt”. We would get girls and boys on stage, tell them to kiss a person of the same sex. One time I did not have time to walk up to a protester before security got a hold of him, they noticed that he had a knife in his hand. Basically, there were enough adventures. During the time of the performance bottles were being thrown and were shattering, debris flying in all directions…a dancer got hit in the head with a flask. But we were not concerned with fear, discussions of morality or what anyone thought. Yulia an I agreed on this, we were lead by excitement, which changed with extreme fatigue. One time I finished a concert, went behind the scenes and fell down unconsciously. Another time I lost feeling during a banquet after a performance. I wake up and a female doctor is scolding me, “You need to drink less, young lady!” I could not say anything from shock, I did not consume any alcohol that day! We had to cancel a New Year’s concert, Yulia could not get up from bed, arms and legs in spasms, fever…we put a thermometer under her arm, 104 degrees! Although we performed on stage with fevers. We were young, we worked even though we were worn out…
Probably during those three years Yulia and I were closer than ever. The body guard would walk us up to our room, we’d lock ourselves in and and he’d woke us up in the morning. Sitting there locked up, we discussed everything…Ivan would educate us, for instance he forbade us to smoke…We would sneak cigarettes and smoke them in the bathroom…He would pretend that we fooled him, but when he was in a bad mood he would fine us. At 18 I could already smoke in front of my mom, but Shapovalov kept fining me. He tried to be on our level, but wanted to have it be known who was in charge. And he surrounded us with an aura of mystery: he forbade us to give interviews, we would not interact with journalists, we would answer them in one word or ambiguously. Just to make sure we wouldn’t accidentally say something, Ivan would not let us go out…One time we were invited to a trendy casino in Moscow at the time called Metelitsa. Yulia could not take it anymore, “Katina let’s just go, no one will know!” We got dressed up, got our heels on- we were very recognizable. There was also alcohol flowing like a river. The next day Ivan shook a gossip newspaper in front of us, there was a photo of us with alcohol in our glasses, “What has gotten into you! This is not your style!”
Our friends were far from show business. We would tell our parents we had rehearsal and run off to go party. Sometimes we would mess around with the people who would say, “Is this whole thing between you two serious?”. At that time we would specifically run away, holding hands, hiding, and when we were found we would start to kiss…Shocking people and observing their reactions became a fun game.
Did you have time for romantic relations? Yulia became a mom quite early, did you support her?
I introduced Yulia to the company of people I hung out with, where I began seeing someones myself. Then we would go hang out with her friends at an entertainment spot called Champion, a popular place back then. There Yulia met the future father of her child, Pasha Sidorov, a big guy, he did karate and compared himself to Jean-Claude Van Dame. At home, Pasha had a poster where Van Dam was doing a split with his legs balancing on two chairs. Pasha was proud that he could do the same. I did not understand what a bright girl like Yulia saw in him, he was just some guy. When he came to our tour in America, Yulia patiently dictated to him the name of our hotel. “E” with an “S” like the dollar sign, “Y” like the Russian “y”. I remember at the time I thought of him as an unworthy friend, I would tell this to him half jokingly. But I could not ignore them. After all, Yulia chose him, and, of course, I would invite them both on my birthdays.
Julia fell in love. When we left for tours she would part with him peacefully. When we got to the hotel she would be on the phone. When Pasha came to visit, she would light up. They would lock themselves in their hotel room. During the same night they could have a fight and Pasha would sit there all upset. During the time of shooting of Podnebsnaya Yulia called me over to talk and to ask for advice and I was not really surprised. ”Lena, I am pregnant. What do I do?” My first reaction was, “Give birth of coarse. I will wait for you”. I was one of the first who Volkova trusted. It was understood that her decision would determine our career. Show business is not patient with downtime, but a child for me was holy. Yulia had to tell the news to Ivan and Pasha. We went to Ivan together. He kept looking over our stomachs, back and forth between mine and Yulia’s. Then he said, “Katina, we planned for you to be the one who got pregnant!” See, Ivan thought up this idea at one time, to have us come out on stage with a fake stomach on one of us. As if Yulia and I are waiting for a baby…An then people would guess, “Who’s baby is that?” I said many times I want children, but I had a rule with my boyfriend, “The Kinder should not be a surprise”. But Ivan never expected this from Yulia, it seemed that the news did not sway out producer at all. But this meant we must cancel concerts, turn the project around…Ivan could take very little adequately at that point. We were constantly getting closer to our departure with him…
We shocked the entire world, country after country. Shapovalov believed that he had omnipotence. At his go-ahead there were hundreds of girls dressed in school uniforms running across the Red Square. America was stirred up after our anti-war statement about Iraq. We expressed what we thought of it in 3 Russian letters that were written across our shirts. In England Ivan was almost incited by Scotland Yard, them calling the video for “Ya Soshla S Uma” a reference to the dirt of all British pedophiles. Ivan was now concerned not with the music but the controversy that surrounded it.
We were denying our involvement in Eurovision for a long time. t.A.T.u. did not need this, but Russia requested us. As a result, they sent us to perform at the last moment. We only rehearsed twice so that is why we sounded so horrible, in my opinion. Before that we were jumping around and lip-syncing, we were not used to singing live. Shapovalov was happy with the next scandal: “We were deceived with the sound and the scores!”, “Anyway, we did not screw up”, Yulia said to me. I watched it at home and decided, “This is embarrassing, I am leaving show business!” Volkova was always positive, it was hard for her to observe herself from the outside, I was worried about our unfortunate event very much.
And because of Ivan’s ambition we began losing a lot of money. For example, the band “Rammstein” suggested we collaborate on a song called “Moscow”. I left for the airport, but we turned around halfway there…It turns out, there was a clash. Our managers did not come to an agreement which band will be at first place, t.A.T.u. feat. Rammstein or Rammstein feat. t.A.T.u. After some time we met with the guys from the band in Lisbon with a misleading smile. In Japan Yulia and I were offered 2 million dollars to take a photo with some kind of vitamin water. Ivan cared about creativity, to him money did not matter. “Pop music! We don’t need this kind of commercial!” Our director went into a convulsion and begged, “Girls, understand what you are losing!” We understood, but were so used to going along with Ivan that we could not make our own decisions. And then we almost lost the Japanese market due to Ivan. In Tokyo we were invited to a show, but Ivan, who was waiting for us at the hotel, called before the very beginning and said, “Leave the live broadcast”. He did not think of the national characteristics of the audience, this was extremely disrespectful, and the Japanese answered us in the same way…At the concert following the show the venue was half empty, but judging by the album sales people should have been packed in there, sitting on each other. And even after we returned to Japan after a couple of years, in 2005, we felt there was an upset mood. To once again express how much we regretted what happened, we even recorded a song, “Gomenasai”, which means “Forgive”.
I think that in money matters I always looked to the future, for example, royalties were being invested into something immobile. But Yulia was the opposite, she easily departed with money. I remember Ivan saw it as a revolt on a ship when we hired attorneys who began looking over the terms of our work. At 16 years we got $100 each for a concert, then $350, then $600… At the end the attorneys demanded a significant amount from sales and performances. Ivan turned around and left, our representatives pounded on the table…When we came to an agreement, Ivan smiled and said, “Did you grow up?”
The penthouse in the hotel “Pekin”, which Ivan rented as a recording studio, turned into a hangout spot. According to Ivan’s ideas, we were to record the second album through a live broadcast. So we come with Yulia who is pregnant, but inside there is a thick smog with a noticeable smell. Ivan is sitting there with glazed-over eyes, there are a bunch of strange people there listening to music…we felt that our producer had lost interest in us. As a result, our attorneys sent him a notice for a termination of the contract. Ivan wasn’t able to even try to defend his brainchild…
After a few years during our concert Yulia saw Ivan’s face in the crowd and sent him a hello from the stage. But he never came up to us after the performance…Then Ivan purposely came to our concert in St. Petersburg, calling the PR people so they would let him in. We rode back together in the same train, but again we did not interact. Maybe he was holding a grudge, I don’t know…
When Yulia left for an ordinance, I began thinking of a solo career. I was writing demo versions of songs with my dad. At the same time I began the life of a student. After school my mom kept saying for me to go study psychology. Once I had a dream, to help drug addicts recover from addiction. Maybe because someone I knew had died of an overdose…I paid for the education myself, but because of the touring schedule, I had to transfer to a different college for correspondence. Only then I understood how much touring has drained morally and physically. And because of the involuntary break, it was if I fell into an emptiness. Peers seemed like children to me, I saw so much in my 19 years and earned money like an independent grown up…What could I have talked to them about?
I had a relationship with a guy my age, which my mom called “a marriage on the weekends”, we lived at each other’s places in turns. I was already thinking of children, but he was clearly not ready for that. And this was made evident in the stupidest way. My friends and I rented a cottage for new year’s. And in the middle of the night I suddenly realized that my young man had disappeared somewhere…I walk into another guy’s room and there he is in bed with a girl…”Close the door and turn of the light!”, I heard from the person which I have been seeing for two years… I got drunk and cried on my friend’s shoulder when he finally managed to come downstairs…I told him to go fuck himself and then I went wandering around the forest in my slippers. And I wasn’t cold at all. When I was 20, the same guy asked for my forgiveness, but that part for me was already over.
Yulia’s relationship with Pasha was also going wrong, he did not fit into Volkova’s family, the relationship with her parents and him did not work out…When Yulia became a mom, did she grow up a lot?
Yulia was ready to raise Vika by herself. At least, that’s what it seemed like to her. I came over a few times and looked at how she was running around with the baby…but when Vika turned 3 months, we left for America to record the album. The child was left with nannies and her grandmother for half a year. Yulia called Russia every day, asked them to send her photos of Vika…
Yulia probably changed during the second pregnancy. She was more conscious, I guess…Her and Parviz practically formed a family. Yulia was in love again as if for the first time and was sad when he was not around during the tours. Parviz is a strict person, but he did not try to keep his pregnant wife home. He flew wish her to concerts. Volkova was on stage even during her 7th month of pregnancy…I could not imagine how hard this was! One time toward the end of a concert she whispered to me, “I’ll be back!” and disappeared behind the scenes. I was trying to entertain the crowd, did a few contest, but Yulia was still gone. Finally the director appeared and asked for me to sing the last to songs alone, Yulia was feeling sick. And in the video, “Beliy Plaschik” Yulia appeared nude during her late pregnancy and was taking a stance against abortion and against cruelty. This was a bold idea. Not every girl would agree to do this.
When Yulia was going into the second ordinance, again we had a break in our work and I began having thoughts, “Would I be able to sing alone?” And I thought of how my friend, through a series of trial and error, is trying to build her own happiness. I, in this case, was a very careful person. And you could say I was hit with a theory…it was just about time to write for my diploma at college and I thought of a topic “Problems of self-actualization of a modern woman on the basis of literary works and life experience”. When a woman leaves school she realizes herself as part of either work or family. There are both pluses and minuses for both sides, but the secret is to find a balance between the two.
Working on “self-actualization” was present, but how was your personal life?
At some moment I realized that for a long time I was picking out not a man for myself but a father for my future child. Probably because I saw my father rarely, before the divorce he was on tours all the time, and I would ask my mom, “Did he forget about me?” A great stepfather raised me, we have a good relationship with my dad, but maybe, subconsciously, it was put aside and did not give me peace. Once a month my dad would take me to eat expensive ice cream at a cafe in the Balchuk hotel, but all I wanted was for him to just be around more often. Even though I understood that not everything is so simple…It turned out that all my relationships continued for around 2 years, during which I was crawling out of my skin trying to prove to my boyfriend how perfect we are for each other. But during the 2 year mark, either him or I realized we were not ready to move on further.
One of my boyfriends was an egoist. I would come home after meetings with fans feeling like a squeezed lemon and he would say,”I work at the office all day and you are having fun and telling me that you’re tired!” He did not take my work seriously as all…Another one was very dedicated at home. He made a very cozy nest for me, when I would come home he would serve me hot soup. And I felt like…I was his husband! Where is the strong, manly shoulder? I tried to lean on that should in the following relationships, but he would best the table with his fist, “Do as I say!” I began losing myself with him, like I was a slave…
My little sister thinks that I cannot be alone. I finish one love and another one finds me. There is no time to relax, to think about what I need in life. The guys I was with were not from show business, but from tough crowds. Almost all were my age, one was a former classmate. I introduced them all to my mom and they would say, “He’s a good guy, but not for you”, but I did not believe that and tried to prove her wrong, either with rational reasons or sensual ones. “How can you know if this is love or not?”, I asked my mom. She answered, “When you fall in love you won’t have any doubts”. And this happened for me only during the 7th time.
…t.A.T.u. took an timeless break. Yulia and I got tired of one another, there was a feeling of a peak, no way of moving further. And almost 3 years ago Boris Renski, the person who at one time thought up of t.A.T.u., suggested that I record a solo album. I left for Los Angeles, rented a home in the Hollywood hills. There my musicians, who worked with t.A.T.u., have a recording studio. All the songs we write and come up with ourselves, which for me is something new, because when I was in a group we would get demos and picked what we liked and what we did not. We soon will have more songs than we need for a full album, I want the fans to hear them soon very badly.
And my future husband turned out to be a close friend of the band. Sasha is a musician, like me. It turns out we have actually met 9 years ago, but I have a bad memory with faces, names and this time when I met him I recognized him, “Who is he?” Sasha could not stand Yulia and I together and could also not get over this kind of attention to his outstanding persona.
And so one evening, after a full day at the studio, my band and I went to a bar to relax and hang out. And during dawn, how it’s sung on one of my dad’s songs, there occurred a “hello from a big hangover”, I woke up in Sasha’s house! “Did something happen between us?”, I screamed, shaking, and began gathering my things. “I’ll hurry and leave before he remembers…” Sasha, half asleep, did not understand my rush. “Where are you going to go now? Come back!” He got me under his arm and we just talked for a few hours… The next day when I came to the studio in the same clothes the band all knew what happened and began messing around with me. “What did you do! He’s with a new girl every day! Go get yourself tested!” Sasha had this kind of reputation, a rock musician who only had one night stands. And all of a sudden I get a text message from him. Sven said, “Wow, you guys have reached a new level!” It seemed as if Sasha and I decided everything right away, “No one is falling in love and there is no serious relations”. I had to relax about this. At first it was that night, then it was the first date, then after a month we were living together. The musicians named us “the most unexpected union in the universe.” Sasha is 9 years older than I and combines in himself that which is not able to be combined: a husband, a father, and a child. Probably everything that I have been searching for so long. And even though he is from Slovenia, we communicate with a combination of Russian and English, but we do not feel the differences in our mentalities. Sasha is “his own” person. Even my mom said, “I feel like I have known him for many years”.
It seems everything is good with Yulia, too, although we have not communicated since January. A year ago she came to a nightclub to a party where they asked me to perform. I only work with live sound and at that time my musicians were in L.A., the only thing I could sing was whatever I could accompany myself with, it was a soft ballad. Yulia decided that she had just heard my main single…
And she announced to the journalists, “Lena’s singing is boring…” Before this Volkova, for some reason, did not comment on your debut video “Never Forget”…
I dedicated this song to Yulia and to our past from my heart. But you must not fear to part with the past in order to move forward. In fact, that is why I had a burial for t.A.T.u. in the video in a real cemetery. But my life continues.