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Becoming a frontman: how a convinced pacifist Oleksandr Remez went to war and redefined his art

Anaid Agadzhanova
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Oleksandr Remez is the leader of the band “RvB” (“Ruki’v bryukі”), a co-author of the show “Jazz Age”, the Kyiv Rhythm Kings project, and a composer. With the beginning of the full-scale invasion on February 24, Oleksandr volunteered for the Kyiv Territorial Defense. Later, in the ranks of the Armed Forces, he took part in combat operations in the Luhansk region, where he was wounded at the beginning of the summer and spent several weeks in the hospital. 

During the rehabilitation, Oleksandr managed to record and shoot a video for several new compositions and a music video. Anaid Agadjanova spoke with Oleksandr on the “Culture: War” podcast.

Translator: Alina Tsvietkova

What was it like to turn from a music band frontman into a frontline soldier?

I got hurt, and I can’t say I like it.  Different things happened. In general, I was never interested in war, the military, or such things. I had friends who, in civilian life, in peacetime, wore “pixels” or military-style jackets, and carried some knickknacks like knives. I was never interested in that. 

When the threat of a full-scale attack became real, I didn’t plan anything even close to what I ended up doing. 

It was a sign that we did care

To be honest, before it all started, I had a plan: I thought that I would go somewhere far away, maybe abroad, with a laptop, and write music. But when it really started, I realized that no, I couldn’t do that. 

I had to do something; I went to donate blood, then I went to one military commissariat, then to another. I understood that it would not work. Through good connections, I learned about the military unit, and on the second try, I joined the territorial defense. For me, it was a sign that we did care. In the same way, as during the Maidan – every little drop helped make the sea. 

When the world saw the queues at the military commissariat, it became clear to everyone that we would not sit and wait for them to come.

Anthem of the company

It so happened that our military unit was named after the famous commander Ivan Sirko. He was very cool. He was re-elected several times as the chief of the Cossacks – it was very honorable among the Cossacks. My commander allowed me to play music but said: “You are the company’s anthem.”

I met very different people there, most of whom I would hardly have met in a peaceful life. Most likely, they were just passers-by for me. And here we ended up together, on duty, where you have to stand for four hours at night. And we need to talk about something.

Before, as it seemed to me, I had a slight problem with the perception of people. I assessed rather superficially whether the person was “mine”, from my “circle” or not. And I must have annoyed some people. Now there is no such thing; now, all people belong to my circle.

For example, Sasha Boole. I started reading his book before the war and learned from it that he had a knack for military things. And I continued reading it when I got there, got to the point where the main character goes to war. Then I even wrote to Boole: “Dude, how did you know all this?! Did you understand all this army stuff?!”.

I also really liked the moment when the main character learns that the war is over – not from the command, but by chance from some passerby. 

What was it like to change your way of life for a military one so radically? You are a freelancer! In less than half a year, even while on duty, you managed to write an entire program. How did you get it all done?

Sometimes I think that during the war, especially while I was in the hospital, I definitely had more time to be creative than even in peacetime. Because I had a lot of programs and some projects, I lived with a timer. I exhausted myself. At some point, no matter how funny it sounds, the army seemed like a vacation to me for a moment.

At first, I, like many others, could not do anything. At first, I really couldn’t even listen to anything, and I didn’t listen to music for a long time. And then, just on a smoke break, I sang the chorus with Jolene as “Javelin” and I thought, what, how try to make something of this? 

When I had time, I would put together some lines. For this, I had to listen to Jolene more carefully. Then the ideas started to come. Apparently, when an emotional boom with constant physical exertion recedes, it is replaced by some kind of creative insights. Many different emotions played out, and they had to go somewhere. All this just started to come out somehow. I got to the poems. 

When I was in the hospital, I really wanted to pay attention to the language. I have this weakness – when they speak to me in Russian, I switch to Russian. I was fed up with it. I don’t want to do this anymore. My mother and sister already speak Ukrainian with me, sometimes even my brother, although we are all from Kharkiv. 

For some reason, we now think that Kharkiv is like a Russian-speaking city. Although if you look at history, how many artists were there? Kharkiv was indeed pro-Ukrainian. 

What would you like to do after?

We are used to planning, and I don’t have a clear plan. But I think that I should go somewhere to rest. 

You once said that you would like to go on a tour of America and Cuba.

I still want to. I imagine something wild and free… But priorities have really changed. For example, I used to think it would be fun to try living in another country for a while. I don’t want to live in another country anymore. Or I thought it would be cool to mess around with a Latin American woman — now I only want a Ukrainian woman! I don’t need anyone else anymore!

How would you rearrange your music library if you imagined that each song you write is a separate tape?

I really can’t and don’t want to play music from before now; I don’t want to mix what’s happening now with what happened back then. I decided that now reality is so distorted that I will not conform to anything that happened in the past. 

I even got a beard and saw that I was pretty good with it. Let’s see what happens next. I was offered to play a concert when I had a vacation. I replied that if I do, then only with the program I have now. 

Cover photo: Maryna Yermolaeva
Other photos: Oleksiy Charei, Maryna Yermolaeva

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