Following her EP release, Cities of Skin, we chat to Pshonka about all things Soviet pop and the stories behind her musical creations.
Pshonka is a Soviet pop artist whose music is brimming with brooding ’80s synth textures and delicious sounds that are reminiscent of the likes of Kate Bush. Born in Ukraine, she embraces her roots by weaving in Russian and English fantasies that will leave you in awe of her knack for storytelling.
As an artist who stays true to herself unwaveringly, Pshonka has garnered the hearts of many, with her music often being described as a dark indie pop masterpiece, compelling and enigmatic, and gracefully balancing heartbreak and hope.
With her latest EP, Cities of Skin now out for the world to enjoy, we have a chat with Pshonka about all things Soviet pop, and the stories behind her story behind her folkloric dark pop release, Cities of Skin.
HAPPY: Where did the EP title Cities of Skin come from, and what made you decide to use it?
PSHONKA: It comes from a line in the eponymous song. Cities of Skin imagines a desolate, desperate, dystopic world. It’s an absurd world. But it isn’t impossibly dissimilar to our own; concrete edifices house consumers whose lives are concerned mostly with eating plastic and baring skin. I also like how it sounds – like a humanoid reptile, hissing. It has a percussive quality. I thought this captured the mood of the EP in general.
HAPPY: This EP weaves in amazing, broody ’80s synth textures. Who are some artists that influenced this sound?
PSHONKA: I love Kate Bush! Her melodies are stunt planes and her voice is theatre. I also grew up on Soviet pop, which is moist with synth and drama, like electronic tiramisu. That sweet cake must have seeped into my brain. Soviet pop queen, Alla Pugacheva is definitely lurking. So is Boney M!
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HAPPY: Your Ukrainian roots are such an important piece of your identity, and I love how you’ve incorporated that into your music. Have you found that this has allowed you to feel freer with how you approach songwriting, since you don’t limit yourself to the English language?
PSHONKA: When I was 7 living in Ukraine, I listened to Boney M like a fanatic. I didn’t understand the words, but I infused them with my own meaning. So did millions of Soviets listening to ABBA, Queen and the Beatles. Before I remembered that (quite recently) I had been worried the Russian language in this EP would alienate English-speaking listeners, and vice versa. But I think music can convey meaning even if you don’t understand the words. Does that just sound like a justification for bad lyrics?
HAPPY: Your music delves through a lot of Russian folklore. What is one folklore that has stuck with you throughout your life?
PSHONKA: Kolobok is a spherical dough pastry who runs away from the old woman who bakes him. He evades being eaten at first, by being surprisingly clever, but is eventually eaten by a fox. This is the timeless story I try to tell in each of my songs.
HAPPY: What’s something someone has said about your music that you hold close to you?
PSHONKA: “Can I have this on vinyl?” But I only had lino, so we agreed to depart amicably.
HAPPY: What was it like writing Cities of Skin during the pandemic with Marlon Gruden? And has this changed how you approach your songwriting process?
PSHONKA: With Marlon I could be silly and ridiculous – and completely myself. Working with him I felt that no idea was too lame or preposterous to explore. We started recording before the pandemic and hung out a lot, which meant that when things turned digital (don’t be gross), we were already on a sweet, sweet wavelength and worked splendidly together. We have started working on some more songs together – this time completely remotely.
HAPPY: What can we expect next from you? Anything new or exciting happening on the horizon?
PSHONKA: I’ve moved to Turkey with my partner and daughter for the next few years. Crazy! I hope to devote a lot more time to songwriting, recording and performing.
Stream Cities of Skin via Spotify below.
Interviewed by Laura Hughes.