photos / Sasha Chaika
story / Austin Maloney
It wouldn’t be overly negative to say that Sarah Persephona’s first attempt to start a band was not a spectacular success. “I had a band before this one”, she says. “It was quite a funny band, I had two friends and we had an all all-girl band that was pretty awful. We didn’t even have a drummer and we tried to play grunge, it was so funny. Then, we had an argument and I went on my own”. She lost her fellow bandmates in this venture to modeling and academia respectively, but in the end this may have proved to be a blessing in disguise, as things have gone significantly better with her new band, angelic milk.
LADYGUNN meets Angelic Milk in Stockholm, on the balcony/designated smoking area of their label PNKSLM. They’re here on their first foreign promo tour, and the last week has seen them run through a number of interviews with the Swedish music press, as well as play their first show outside Russia at Debaser Slussen. It’s a long way away from Persephona’s bedroom, where the journey started: “I really wanted to be a musician, so when I lived alone I would sit at home all the time, and that’s when I started to write music. It was for myself, I didn’t expect it to be more than just my little demo”. She then put a few demos out on social media, and was contacted by future angelic milk partner Valja. Valja had seen and heard a lot as a serial band member in St Petersburg, but Persephona’s demo stood out: “When I first heard her voice, it sounded strange. The same with the songs, they were really strange songs”. He got in contact (“we had one plan: we wanted to record Sarah”), introduced his friends Roma and Ven, and soon they were a band.
It wasn’t long before the band started to get a lot of attention, both in Russia and abroad. Soon Stockholm label PNKSLM were in contact, and then they put out their single ‘IDK How’. Persephona regards her label’s support as the band seem to regard most of their success; as both wonderful and slightly baffling: “It’s really amazing: they found us through the Bandcamp. There was nothing else on the internet about us, and they were interested for some reason. I don’t know why, because the recordings were really weird”. At another stage in the interview she says “I don’t think we really deserve any of it, we should play much better […] none of us expected it to be like this”. Her modesty regarding her band’s abilities shouldn’t put you off however, because Angelic Milk are really, very good.
Their big single ‘IDK How’, is loaded with guitar crunch and shiny melody, as Persephona shows off her take-on-the-world confidence with lines like “I don’t know how but I learn fast” (given a little extra edge by her claim that “It’s about a girl who gave head for the first time in her life. What else could it be about?”). The Pale EP is an excellent showcase of the band’s abilities, from the dreamy, vaguely Warpaintish ‘Ripped Jeans (slow)’ to the mean, feral rock of ‘Tiger’.
Despite their success abroad, and the fact that they’re one of the few Russian acts to emerge internationally in recent years, Angelic Milk haven’t always been well-received at home. “Everybody hates angelic milk in Russia!” says Persephona at one point, and she’s only half-joking. The main issues their home audience has is that they don’t sound ‘more Russian’, whatever that means, as well as a classic begrudgery. Says Persephona: “When Russian people listen to our music they say, ‘Oh, these guys try so hard to sound like they’re not from here, and that’s so bad, they should be proud of their country and do something really different [to standard western music]’. I mean, I don’t want to sound like anyone else from elsewhere, but neither do I want to sound stereotypically Russian”. “People in Russia don’t even think that they could be noticed in other countries”, Ven adds. “If Sarah sang in Russian they would say, ‘What the fuck, there’s already so much culture in Russia, what does she think she’s doing trying to get involved in it?’”.
Luckily, the sense of community in the music scene in St Petersburg means that the band can simply shrug off the comments of those they refer to as ‘the haters’. A thriving DIY culture has emerged amongst the city’s young indie musicians, grouped together in a loose collective they’ve christened ‘St Brooklynsburg’. And the band’s enthusiasm is obvious when they discuss their friends and the scene at home. “In St Petersburg there are a lot of indie bands, so we make our own parties” says Persephona. “We put on our own shows. We put on a festival about a week ago, where we invited thirteen different bands, all playing lo-fi garage, or surf or something like that. It’s small, but there is a local scene”. Valja thinks that there’s been a definite shift in Russian indie culture: “Maybe the situation in St Petersburg could blow up, because things have changed. Ten years ago, we didn’t have normal amplifiers in Russia. Now we have better equipment, we have the internet, we listen to different kinds of music, from all over the world. Two years ago in St Petersburg we didn’t have a lot of guitar bands, but now we have a lot.”
For now at least, angelic milk are still the scene’s headline act, and they’re enjoying the international attention. “It’s exciting. It’s so great that we are playing concerts in Sweden, because there aren’t many Russian bands touring other countries. We’re going to London in autumn, which is amazing. I’d be happy to go to London just to see someone else play there, and now I’m playing a show there! It’s just amazing”. But Persephona’s first love is still the thing that got her this far, song-writing: “I love composing songs, and recording them. I really loved the process when I was at home, on my computer, and I was trying to make different sounds. Using GarageBand or something, trying to make something interesting. For me, the process of making a song is the most interesting”. And as long as angelic milk’s enthusiasm for song-writing lasts, it seems like the music world’s enthusiasm for them will too.