Tatiana Shmailyuk of Jinjer

by Greg Prato

On using the band's songs to confront haters ("Judgement & Punishment"), settle old scores ("Teacher, Teacher") and reunite with a faraway soulmate ("I Speak Astronomy").

Ukraine's leading metal band (actually, make that "progressive groove metal" band) is undoubtedly Jinjer, whose last album, 2021's Wallflowers, peaked at #14 on the Billboard albums chart. Comprised of Tatiana "Tati" Shmailyuk (vocals), Roman Ibramkhalilov (guitars), Eugene Abdukhanov (bass), and Vladislav "Vladi" Ulasevich (drums), in an interesting quirk, none of the group's founding members from 2008 are remaining in the line-up - with Tatiana and Roman being the longest served (since 2010, followed by Eugene joining in 2011 and Vladi in 2016).

With 2020 and parts of 2021 being a washout for touring bands due to Covid, Jinjer was only able to properly tour the United States in support of the aforementioned Wallflowers a full year after its release, along with special guests POD and other acts. Tatiana spoke with Songfacts shortly after the tour's launch, which will run until the end of the year, to discuss touring, singing, and the stories behind some of Jinjer's best-known tunes.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): How has the US tour been going thus far?

Tatiana Shmailyuk: It's going great. The vibe is good, all the bands are super nice, and we feel really lucky to hit the road with the guys. We are touring with nothing new released for the past year - we didn't have anything to present this time. But we jumped on this tour with new production and we also replaced our last year's setlist with other songs. We introduced older ones. Some of them we haven't played for three years or even more - some of the songs are from Cloud Factory and it's from 2014. The feedback has been really good.

Songfacts: How does the songwriting work primarily in the band, particularly on the last album, Wallflowers?

Tatiana: It's almost always the same. Every member, except me, is able to compose entire songs, and that's what they did on this album. Like, Vladi wrote a bunch of songs on Wallflowers. I was the last one to join the process, as always, because they write drafts and they record it and send it to me.

I listen to the songs a couple of dozen times before I start writing lyrics. Sometimes I wrote lyrics the day before I went to the studio, and sometimes I wrote lyrics during the recording. I hate deadlines. I love to procrastinate. [Laughs] It's a bit of a stressful process for me, but I like to write under pressure. It gives more fruitful results.

Songfacts: Who were your vocal influences?

Tatiana: Mainly, it's Otep Shamaya from Otep and Randy Blythe from Lamb Of God.

Songfacts: Favorite modern day singers?

Tatiana: None. Because I tend to listen to dead artists. [Laughs] I don't listen to metal anymore. If I listen to music, it's going to be something really vintage, like Ella Fitzgerald. And I love grunge - I'm definitely going to listen to early Alice In Chains and Nirvana. I don't think I'm into modern singers, at least I cannot distinguish anyone that I like right now.

Songfacts: Is touring or recording harder on your voice?

Tatiana: Touring, definitely. Because when I record songs, I usually do that two days, and then a day off, or a day and then a day off. Usually, it's less stressful because I sleep well, and it's just the same song you sing in the studio. I just record one song a day, usually. I take breaks very often to drink some tea or to talk and discuss.

I can sit there for the whole day or for five or six hours, and just take my time with touring. It's been crazy because my sleeping schedule is fucked up. It's a little bit less rest with meet and greets where you have to talk to people, and then sometimes you have to do interviews and talk, and then talk to this person and that person, and then you scream and yell and sing nonstop for an hour and a half. Late at night. Definitely, the touring is harder for the voice.

Songfacts: Let's discuss the lyrical inspiration behind several Jinjer tracks, starting with "Pisces."

Tatiana: I wanted to call it "Astronomy," but then I gave this title to another song, "I Speak Astronomy." So, I really wanted to dedicate this song to myself and to the whole bunch of people who carry this cross of being Pisces. I truly believe in signs of zodiac and astrology, and I know it doesn't rule your life, but in some ways, it can determine your past.

It's a little anthem to all those Pisces out there, because it's really hard for them to survive in this world, because they combine all the 12 signs of the zodiac in themselves. You can call it split personalities. So, we are 12 personalities inside. It's a lot of inner conflicts all the time.

Songfacts: "Teacher, Teacher!"

Tatiana: The experience that led to writing this song was hurtful. I had a so-called friend, a new one that I made, who's also a musician. She was also a Pisces. We toured together and I found her a really interesting personality. We talked from time to time, and we had fun when we spent time together. But I did something. I was asked to put some photos [on Instagram] of a product that they sent me for free. It was from Ukraine - it was lingerie. So, I did. I'm like, "Sure. It's a small business, the lady does this all handmade."

I put out photos of me wearing this, but there was no nudity, it was just "woman in lingerie." And then I took it down because of the perverted comments. I took it down from Instagram and just left [lingerie] pieces, the top and the bottom, laying on the table, saying, "Thanks."

And my friend, who I won't name, started dwelling on this behind my back on all her social media. She did streams and posted it on Twitter, saying, "You don't have to do that. You're not bad as a singer, so you don't have to show your body to have success." And then she blocked me from her social media!

So that's the song about her. She tried to teach me morality without even knowing the reason why I put those things out - because I wanted to help a person promote her products, not to gain attention or popularity. So, long story short, this is for bitches like her.

Songfacts: "Outlander."

Tatiana: It's a monologue of, you can imagine this story, an alien lands on Earth and it spends a big period of time living here among people and watching how it works over here on this planet. And it's in complete shock and it wants to leave the Earth and go back home to whatever planet it came from because of all the horrors and injustice that happens on Earth.

Songfacts: "Judgement (& Punishment)."

Tatiana: I was inspired by all the hate that Jinjer gets from the internet. Stupid comments here and there about my voice, about my appearance, about anything. Believe me, there are a lot of haters over there just talking shit, and this is the song addressed to them. So, just find your heart, but try to be kind.

If you have something bad to say, just keep it to yourself or kick a pillow at home or discuss it among your friends. But as we know, haters don't have friends, so that's why they just pour it out on the internet. They don't have the balls to tell it to your face, so they put it in comments.

Songfacts: "I Speak Astronomy."

Tatiana: "I Speak Astronomy" almost has the same roots as "Pisces," and I think "I Speak Astronomy" was the first one to be written, and then "Pisces." I strongly believe that we are made of stardust, so the whole universe is inside of us and outside, so we are all one. It starts like this, and then it turns into me calling for my soulmate from the parallel universe to come and take my hand and hug me.

At some point I felt very lonely, and I knew that there was a person who understands me out there, who has the same vibe as I do. It was like a calling to reunite. We probably got torn apart in some previous life. I was 28 years old when I wrote it, so it says, "After 28 light years," and I know that light years is not the time measurement but distance, but still, I liked how it sounded. So, after 28 light years, we had to reunite. It's a love song.

Songfacts: What are Jinjer's future plans?

Tatiana: This year we finish touring in the United States, then we take a month off just to recharge, and at the end of January, we go on a tour with Bullet For My Valentine, which is going to be around Great Britain and Europe. The Bullet For My Valentine tour is going to end in March, and then we're free, then the whole summer is going to be festival season for us in Europe. And we're talking about doing some stuff, maybe joining some US festivals next fall, then probably start writing a new album. So, a lot of things to do as always.

November 22, 2022

For more Jinjer, visit jinjer-metal.com.

Further Reading:
Otep Shamaya interview
Randy Blythe interview
Ella Fitzgerald Songfacts
Interview with Sub Pop founder Bruce Pavitt
Fact or Fiction: Alice in Chains

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