Interview Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin: ‘This Was The Final Level’

SSLYBY recount playing to an auditorium of students and Boris Yeltsin Foundation members in Russia.

For Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, a career in music is like playing through Super Mario.

The Springfield, Missouri three-piece have spent the past decade releasing full-length records of unabashedly twee indie pop - mission complete. Now they’re entering a period of their career that guitarist Will Knauer compares to “the bonus levels of a video game.” But what kind of experience could a band go through that would lead them to compare it to saving princesses in a magical alter-universe? In this case, it involved flying to Russia and becoming Cultural Ambassadors to America for the day.

“It was like a dream, or some kind of weird fantasy,” Knauer says on his reaction to finding out about the trip. “We’d seen this trip as a possible finale for the band, because it would’ve been the perfect capstone for the past 11 or 12 years. It’s one of those things like…’ where do you go from there?’ We started thinking of it like a video game - this was the final level. Now, we can either turn the game off or go into bonus levels.

‘When we picked our band name, it wasn’t because we were scholars of Boris Yeltsin… it was just a funny name at that point. But somehow actually getting to the man Boris Yeltsin in some way… it seemed we’d reached the pinnacle of some achievement. It’s hard to explain, but it all felt really important. It was pretty special.”

It all started when The Boris Yeltsin Foundation – a group that aim to educate Russia and the world on the man himself – stumbled upon the group by accident online, and invited them to play at Ekaterinburg’s Old New Rock Festival, of which the Foundation is a sponsor.

“That was one of the reasons I think they had a lot of interest in us, as through our band name a lot of people were learning about Boris Yeltsin in America,” Knauer explains. “They actually took us to the Boris Yeltsin Centre where we were given a tour by the person who owns it - who knew Boris Yeltsin - and they took us on a tour of all this memorabilia. It was cool to get to the core of where they keep Boris Yeltsin alive, and it was great that they considered us to be a part of that.”

Just like any good video game though, there’s a remarkable twist to the story. The State Department actually found out about the band’s trip, and asked them to become the country’s Cultural Ambassadors to Russia for a day. “A day after the main show in Russia, we went to a school, met all of the students and had a really fancy lunch with some Boris Yeltsin Foundation members,” Knauer reminisces. “I remember thinking ‘I’m so glad I happened to wear a nice shirt today!’ We didn’t really know what to expect, we were being ferried around so quickly that we didn’t know where we were going or what to expect every day – the itinerary was so busy.”

So busy, in fact, that the band didn’t realise they’d be playing to a whole auditorium of students and Boris Yeltsin Foundation members at the school – on toy acoustic guitars, nonetheless. “We could just hear it was a lot of people,” Knauer explains, as the band was rushed into the room without much explanation. “We’re waiting on the side and all we can see is the principal on stage, and she’s speaking in Russian to everybody and behind her is a slide projector and there’s this photo album – like a slideshow – of pictures of us throughout the years, and there’s our music playing, and it was such a strange moment because we were talking about this being our one last hurrah as a band and there’s this slideshow of us throughout the years… it was like high school graduation or something. It was mostly 14-17 year old girls… the boys kept trying to sneak out the back and they were getting into trouble!”

An as-yet-untitled documentary on the band’s trip – directed by frequent music video collaborator and friend Brook Linder – will be available to watch for free by the end of the year.

‘Fly By Wire’ is out now on Polyvinyl.

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