O Psychonaut 4 are a self-titled Post-Soviet Suicidal Black Metal band from Tbilisi, Georgia. Success as an extreme metal band is nearly impossible in Georgia but the group has had done considerably well. They have released 3 albums and several split CDs and have had several small tours in Europe. Psychonaut 4 was even invited to play a headlining tour in Mexico but unfortunately the series was cancelled by the promoters. The band consists of Alex (bass), Drifter (guitar), Glixxx (guitar), Graf (vocals), Nepho (drums) and S.D. Ramirez (guitar, additional vocals & instruments). Jan Chudozilov sat down for an interview with the band in one of Tbilisi’s few venues for metal, Creator Bar, to learn more about their personal connections to music, the history and contemporary state of the genre in Georgia, and to hear what drives members of Psychonaut 4 to create their unique form of black metal.
JC: How did you all got involved into music?
Graf: I was at home with my brother and father. My father was drunk. We had a cassette player with a recording set. Me and my brother were listening to some rap tapes. My father came to us and said, “Ok guys now it's my turn, I want to listen to some of my music.” He turned on the radio and it was a Russian radio station. They usually played stuff like Agatha Christie and Boris Grebenshchikov
O . My father fell asleep and we started to listen to rap music again. He woke up and radio music back on again. He was like “Please listen to my music, maybe you will like it.” My brother left. I was just sitting there while Agatha Christie played on the radio.
Glixxx: I have an older sister. She liked electronic music like The Prodigy. She had it on tape and I thought, “that's some good shit.” Later, I was like 10 years old, I drank alcohol for the first time with my friend. We were alone at his house, no parents. We were drunk and listening to the radio when suddenly they played “The Unforgiven” by Metallica. I was like “Wow, I like this!”
Alex: I mean, the first time you hear Rock music you just immediately want to play it yourself!
Everybody: Yeah, exactly!
Alex: In 95 I started to listen to music, and in 98 I took some guitar lessons. The band that got me into Metal was Sepultura, and the song “Roots, Bloody Roots.”
S.D. Ramirez: I was scared of listening to Sepultura! My aunt got me my first guitar, my aunt got me my first Sepultura tape, “The very best Collection”. I wouldn’t listen to Sepultura when I was home alone. I was so fucking scared when “Troops of doom” was playing
Graf: At school we would trade tapes- because of this I got into some new stuff. I know how Drifter got involved in music. His brother stole a Pink Floyd tape. He just came home and pressed play.
JC: Graf, How did you become a vocalist? Did you initially play an instrument?
Graf: No, I don't play any instruments. I started to do vocals when I started singing in Psychonaut 4. Well actually, I have had 8 lessons on the drums.
S.D. Ramirez: I remember the story. Me and Glixxx were playing in the same band, he was a drummer back then. Then I left Georgia for studying in the USA. When I came back they had their rehearsal. I just showed up, like “Surprise, I fucking came back, yeah!”. This guy (Graf) was just there, he had short hair and no beard. He looked like a fucking ugly girl. That's a fact dude. He had a Cannibal Corpse backpack, from the album
O “Butchered at birth.” So that's how I got to know him. He would come to all our rehearsals. And then he had this new band, Psychonaut 4. I was not part of the band, but I really liked their music. I would just hang out with them, come over to the recording sessions. Then I was like, “Let me record this and that!”.
Graf: He was like “Let me show you how it's done!”.
S.D. Ramirez: The last exam I passed was playing Rachmaninov
O . I got a 5, that was the highest score. Now I can only play Cradle of Filth and Bon Jovi.
JC: How was the Metal scene back when you first started the band?
S.D. Ramirez: Exactly how it is today.
Graf: No progress.
S.D. Ramirez: Nothing is moving forward, nothing is moving backwards.
Glixxx: We’ll take a step forward and then, after some time we take two back!
Graf: When we started Psychonaut 4 people were like “What the fuck?! Depressive Suicidal Black Metal in Georgia? Are you crazy? It's so destructive! Blood! I'm gonna call the police!“. They were shocked when they saw me with cut arms on stage. And then my strange lyrics…
Glixxx: Our stage show was difficult to understand for these people. It was very cool, it was new.
Graf: No one knew us before that show and after it everyone did. Every Metal guy was coming to me like “Ah, you are the guy who was cutting himself on the stage! That was great!”. I didn't expect so much attention.
JC: What’s it like playing concerts in Georgia?
Graf: The main place to play is Tbilisi. Kutaisi is only for Heavy Punk.
S.D. Ramirez: The thing is that in the early '90s the Rap and Punk came out of Kutaisi. And the Jazzy and Indie rock stuff came from Batumi. And that's it. Nowadays, Tbilisi is the main place. The Metal scene is mainly in Tbilisi. Bohema
O were the first to play outside of Georgia.
Alex: Well, the first time a couple of bands went outside of Georgia to play live was in 2007. They went to play in Armenia.
S.D. Ramirez: Tanelorn
O were the first playing in Ukraine. Then Bohema in Germany.
Alex: Then Dismorial in Poland. They played like 5 or 6 shows.
S.D. Ramirez: They played in Wacken
1 . I don't recall anybody having a tour in Europe. Next year we have a two-week tour in Europe, that's the first export of heavy music from Georgia. I am kind of proud of that. This is the first time a Metal band from Georgia got invited on the organizers expenses. Not bragging. Before this no one has ever paid a Georgian band to come [to Europe]. How many times have we been abroad?
Graf: Ukraine, Belarus, Austria, Azerbaijan, Russia, France...
S.D. Ramirez: This will be the 7th time we got invited. This is a huge thing here. As long as Georgia is not a rich country like... We cannot afford plane tickets. We have day jobs.
Alex: I've got two jobs.
S.D. Ramirez: He is measuring land and recording bands. Glixxx is a broker and Graf is a bartender. The upcoming tour is the first time we are not paying: we will get paid. The first Georgian Metal band to ever get paid for a tour.
JC: I noticed on your Facebook page and in the comments section of your YouTube videos that there are lots of comments from people from South and Central America. Do you have any idea how this happened?
Graf: I have an idea. In Mexico, in South America there is a problem with criminality. People wake up in the morning, turn the TV on and get news about someone getting killed, raped, beheaded. People are in fear, depression. They are not protected, they are threatened. They find some comfort in this depressive stuff.
S.D. Ramirez: I agree, but I don't understand how our Georgian thing went all the way there.
Graf: Through the internet.
S.D. Ramirez: Ok, they have their own shit like Sepultura and Krisiun etc. But the main thing is with all the interviews I read with big bands like Sepultura or Megadeth, they say the most diehard fans are Latin America fans. So, I guess if they are into something, they are really into it. All the way. If they are into Thrash Metal, they are into it all the way. If someone is into Depressive Black Metal, he is into it all the way. So, at some point of time he found out about Psychonaut 4.
JC: What are some of the reactions to your music here in Georgia?
Alex: Like S.D. Ramirez said, people were quite in shock. They didn't understand it then, don't understand it now and will not in the future.
S.D. Ramirez: Let me put it this way. There are very few people who appreciate what we’ve done and really listen to our music. There is a bigger audience of people who don't understand us at all. They don't understand how we get all these invitations from abroad. How we releasing our 3rd album? Then there are people who understand how we do it but don't have the balls to tell us “you guys, how did you accomplish this but we haven’t?!“ I’m saying this for the first time. They think we are overrated. They think that they could have reached this kind of success before us. But for some reasons they haven’t. And I don't like using this word, but they are fucking jerks. I didn't want to say that, but I have to.
JC: And what do your families think about your band?
Graf: My wife is appreciates everting I’m doing. She likes some of our songs. My father and brother are saying “if you like that, if that's your life, then it's good. We don't care.”
Glixxx: When I’m happy, my father and mother are happy too. But with my wife I have some problems, of course. Because when I'm going here or there she is asking “What are you doing there?” She likes what I do but for her it's not serious.
Alex: Whatever I was doing, my parents never stopped me. They were always helping me. When I wanted to play guitar, they gave me money to buy one.
Nepho: The same with me.
S.D. Ramirez: My wife is totally supports me with music, she is all the way in. But the thing is that Psychonaut 4 and my two other bands are the most successful in their field. Psychonaut 4 in Black Metal, Backwarmer in Rock and Roll
O and Gamouvali Mdgomareoba O in Pop Rock. My parents were always like "Cut that crap, go read this or that book. Do your job, stop this. This is your childish dream that will never come true." I am released that these three my bands are three most of the successful bands in Georgia. Now it’s like:
- “How are things with Psychonaut 4 going?” - We have a two week tour in April in Europe.
- “Ah, wonderful. How is it going in Backwarmer?“ - We are releasing our 2nd album.
- “Ok, and Gamouvali Mdgomareoba?“ - We are making money.
They realized at some point they were wrong. My father sees me on stage and he sees that something is going on. He doesn't really understand what is going on but he sees that something is going on. That's how they react to it
JC: How did growing up in Georgia influence your music?
Glixxx: I don't know because I’ve only lived in Georgia since 2005. In the 90s I lived in Russia. I was in Siberia and we watched the football game Russia vs. Georgia. We had beer, vodka and pelmeni. We were prepared to watch and after the game started suddenly nothing, a black screen. We were like "What the fuck?!" We were checking if our TV is not working. Shortly after, the screen went on and TV news informed that there was a power blackout in Georgia. There was no light in the stadium.
Alex: When I started taking guitar lessons I was 16 years old, it was in 98. I was very happy when electricity came on and I could plug my guitar in.
S.D. Ramirez: You were lucky. When I was waiting for the electricity I was reading a book or studying. When it came back I would plug my radio in and listen to Metallica in slow motion. You know why? Because electricity was fucking low and therefore slowing down the tape speed.
Graf: There was nothing good about life in 90s.
Alex: There is one thing. In the 80s, in Soviet times, my father had shit loads of money. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the factory where he worked was closed. They were producing vodka. We were without money. I think when my father still would have had money, I wouldn't have gone into music. I would have been a spoiled child.
JC: Can you tell me more about the story behind
0 "Eyes of a Homeless Dog"?
Graf: Me and Glixxx were drunk, it was rainy winter time. We were waiting for a taxi and we saw a dog at the entrance of the metro. It was sitting there with no reaction to the people around. Totally apathic, it didn't give a fuck what was happening around it. It was preparing to die, I think. Me and Glixxx went to him and were like "Hey wake up!" And then I was like I have to write lyrics about this. I saw a huge, universal emptiness in his eyes. Almost every Psychonaut 4 song tells a real story.
I never care about if people understand my lyrics. My lyrics are literally what they are about, directly from our real lives. No artistic inventions. For example the lyrics to “Personal Forest”
O : there used to be a reefer bar on Rustaveli. I was really smoked up, just sitting on a sofa. A dear Mister came to me and asked “How can I help you?” I told him to please help me to breath. I was really thinking I am going to die. There was a mess around me and people were like “That guy is feeling bad, let's help him” and I was like “I hate you, just let me breath” and I threw up.
JC: There has been a series of conflicts in Georgia's recent past. What do you think about bands like Marduk
O who are more or less glorifying war while they themselves live in a neutral country like Sweden that has not experienced anything near that?
S.D. Ramirez: Religion is something that inspired Black Metal. Marduk is using another popular thing to push their fame. That's what I think. That's why they are pushing into war. I think they have never seen real war, they have never seen a real tank, they have never been in war. Even though they have all those videos with tanks and explosions. This something I don't really like, I'm not right into it. If you are not really feeling, what you are singing about. Ok, they are on of the most popular Black Metal bands. I don't think they feel what they are singing about. All those upside-down crosses and tanks. I cannot relate to that. I think they don't really know what’s going on. It's just that these two things are popular to sing about.
We prefer to do the stuff that we really feel. “Eyes of a homeless dog,” rough side, “To late to call the ambulance.” For example, the dumbest thing ever, “Song written in Paris” from our latest album. Why is it called like that? It's because I got the idea for the riff when I was in Paris. It doesn't have anything to do with religion, war or drugs. I got the idea while walking in the streets of Paris.
I am not prejudiced, maybe they feel what they are playing or singing about. But when you never have been to war or experienced it, you can't really sing about it.
Graf: During the 2008 war with Russia me and Glixxx were in Rustaveli Avenue. We were drunk.
Glixxx: The police were like, “Go home, there is a war.”
JC: First you were using the term Post Soviet Black Metal, then Depressive Suicidal Black Metal and now Post Suicidal Black Metal.
Graf: How to describe all the themes we are playing and singing about? We have elements of Russian Post Rock, Post Punk, and Georgian Post Punk. We have elements of everything there was in the Post Soviet period. We have lyrics in Russian and Georgian. We are just Post Soviet guys playing Post Soviet music. We play music about Post Soviet depression. That's why I called our sub-genre Post Soviet Suicidal Black Metal. Post Soviet, with Post Black Metal elements.
JC: What inspires your music?
S.D. Ramirez: Everything. We are not inspired by religion. Our music is inspired by what we feel, by the moment. We not only enjoy playing together, we also enjoy being with each another. Hanging out together. We are not afraid sharing our stories with each other. We don't hide anything. Simply, we love each other.
Graf: In the song called “Sleeping pills suck”
O there is a moment about Drifter. When I say: "I so much do not care about anything that I pee into my pants just not to have to stand up." Because he told me he had a period in his life when he was so depressed that he only thing he was doing was lying on his bed. He was thinking like “I have to pee but I have no power to go to the toilet, so...”
S.D. Ramirez: If you see us on stage, all 6 of us are like different countries from the world. We are 6 individuals. We act like we feel or how we felt when we created it. We don't head bang synchronically.
Graf: We don't have to act. When I am on stage I don't care if I show my weakness to the public. I want to show the public the moment of weakness when the song was created. On stage I am weak because I think about the weakness of the moment. We are not afraid to be open.
JC: How did you come up with the slogan “From Tbilisi with hate”?
Graf: There is a wine company here and on their bottles they export they write “From Georgia with love.” So, I decided to make our own tag line: “From Tbilisi with hate.” There is no love in our music, no kindness.
Jan Chudozilov is a photographer, musician and anthropologist. He lives and works in Switzerland and Georgia. All of the above photos are taken by Jan with the exception of the second image and album cover.