Igor and the Red Elvises claim to be your favorite band. Given enough time with the crazy music the combo generates -- a mixture of traditional Russian folk combined with surf, hard rock, rockabilly, ska (well, you get the picture) -- and its infectious nature could easily take hold. Before long, one might also be wearing striped jumpsuits, sporting pompadours and building oversized instruments. Stranger things have happened.
Yet to hear band founder, lead singer, and songwriter Igor Yuzov tell it, it's not so strange after all.
"It's pretty natural, the two. I've always loved rock 'n' roll, surf music, and all. I tried to kind of play like that, but with Russian background, it comes out a little different," Yuzov says, fighting off jet lag at his Los Angeles home. The band just returned from a brief tour in Ukraine and Russia. "We don't try to play Russian style. It just sort of comes to us. We grew up with that kind of music, so that's how we make those sounds. Even if we tried to sound like American band we probably wouldn't be able to do it."
Okay, that explains the music, but what about the outlandish costumes? Or the bass that looks like a ginormous piece of baklava, one corner resting on the floor? And the seemingly nonstop party vibe that should drive a large man such as Yuzov to exhaustion?
"I am serious about my music. But to me, music is fun," Yuzov says. "I lean toward comedy movies and funny things in life, and mixing rock 'n' roll and humor has a certain musicality to it, even a circus feel about it. I like a show to be fun and even oddball."
Before forming the Red Elvises, Yuzov made a decent living playing the traditional music of his Ukrainian (then part of the Soviet Union) homeland. The music came easy, and there was little competition.
"It was unique band with exotic sound," he says.
Then Elvis (as in Presley, the King) came calling on Yuzov in a dream.
"He said, 'You start a band called Red Elvises and play rock 'n' roll,'" Yuzov recalls. "I always loved rock 'n' roll. It was question to be unique band or play rock 'n' roll, and Elvis told me what to do."
Yuzov was ready for the challenge. Growing up, his older brothers introduced him to rock music, artists like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Grand Funk Railroad. They also showed him an Odessa, Ukraine park where, every Saturday, he could buy contraband records smuggled in by foreign sailors. Yuzov observes that as many as 300 people might show up to purchase or swap albums.
"Rock 'n' roll bands weren't common, so we had to put lots of efforts to get [those records]. Sometimes there would be a police raid and people would scatter into the trees with their records," he says with a laugh. "Now, it's funny to talk about it. Times have changed."
For the Red Elvises, the music keeps changing, too. The band initially performed early rock and roll before in switching to original cross-cultural material.
"When we started we played 1960s covers like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry. Then people were asking for our original songs," he says. "Now 99 percent are songs I wrote."
With lyrics like "Got a condom in my pocket / Gonna find a girl," it's clear Igor and the Red Elvises are always ready for a zany good time.
"What I'm doing is great thing to do," Yuzov concludes. "I have fun every night I get on stage."
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