One Minute to Seven – Konstantin Nikolaev (reviewed and interviewed by Dave Franklin)

I often refer to a thing called the post-genre world in my writing, the idea that we have left the tribalism and neat demarcations of the past behind us and artists are today more ready to draw their inspirations from across the musical spectrum, to hop, merge and meld genres, to ignore them altogether or even invent new ones. The world we find ourselves in today is freer, a less stylistically judgemental place and the music that is its soundtrack, a less tethered and regulated affair. One Minute to Seven is the epitome of this brave new musical world.

6.59, which kicks the album off, is the exact opposite of a usual opening attack, the short, sharp shock by which artists get the listeners attention. Instead, it breezes in on a wave of understatement and soulfulness, a sparse and seductive intertwining of reserved vocals, delicate scatterings of jazz piano and some strings washing and wafting about in the background. And like all great understatements, it packs a punch in its own pure and perfect way.

And, as if to underline the dramatic sonic shifts that Konstantin has planned for the listener, God Only Knows, follows, leaping out at you, a spikey, staccato slice of dance grooving electro-pop, that glances back at the 90’s R&B, 80’s New Pop, and even 70’s disco, whilst still having both eyes fixed on the road ahead. Knowing where you come from musically is all very well and good, knowing where you are going, however, is much more important, not to mention fun.

Insects Plea takes us somewhere else altogether, something that you will get used to when listening to this album. In this case, an exotic world of dark vibes and slinky grooves, rhythmic and rolling, melodic and meandering, genre-less and gorgeously strange, before Hello Sun returns us to the more jazz-infused sound that we surfed in on. This time though, the vibe moves from mellow music hall through contemporary pop to end with no holds barred, blazing electro-rock.

I Will Make Your Dew Mists Melt switches things up again, this time heading off into a rolling funk-scape driven on by pulsating basslines and, level-headed grooves which are beguiling in their relentless yet hypnotic delivery. Throw in some blistering synth breaks and you have funk for a new age. You’re Just Not Good Enough, stays in the same vein, spinning out Niles Rogers-esque guitar salvos over cool, white and indeed white-hot, soul sonics.

Things mellow out for a while as We Are Your Souls drifts in, a gentle, almost late-era Beatles construction of deft piano and poignant and powerful lyrics before bursting open into more anthemic sounds before Just A Little Bit Shy returns us to a realm of alternative pop, a modern take on a Warren Zevon or Randy Newman vibe and to be honest everything that the charts could do with right now to offer something different to the mainstream pop-picker.

Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend (Pofig to Me) offers yet another vision of what pop could be if people were prepared to take a chance and a sideways glance. A bubbling and buoyant collection of electronic tones and textures running in all directions and between them all manner of digital atmospheres lingering and sonic motifs called into existence. Like much of the music found on this album, it has one foot in the past whilst managing to stride forward into a bright new musical future.

As a reminder that beneath all the digital construction and sonic layering is a hugely talented piano player, You Are My Only Sunshine, is a lovely and loving ballad, voice and piano working in minimalist unison to paint gorgeous sentiments, a slow-burning build into more ornate sounds helping to push the message home and Thanks You To My Papa is an even more direct tribute to Konstantin’s jazz-drumming father, the man to whom he owes the music in his DNA. A wonderful and wandering piece of jazz, driven on by slices of strings and beatific beats.

Mama Told Me takes on a few island vibes, not quite reggae but a sort of reggaeton blend of sassy, swaying beats and electro-grooving pop, a tale of family wisdom being passed on, words of wisdom to keep a young man safe out in the wide world. My Cup of Coffee takes us back to the jazz-aware outside loop of quirky pop, lilting piano lines underscored and empowered by some sweet and intricate weaves of electronica building a sort of early-morning care-free vibe, the perfect way to start the day and a reminder that life is just a series of coffee breaks interspersed with other, equally important stuff.

I’ve Got Rhythm is a bundle of bluesy vibes, spacious and still full of groove, part forward-facing pop and roll, part a nod to new wave music, part classic singer-songwriter sass and the album rounds off with the electro-swing, rock-tronica of My Girl Can’t Stand My Guitar, again an infectious, adventurous and humorous way to put this extraordinary album to bed.

One Minute to Seven is a glorious affair, it embraces the modern spirit of sonic adventure and of musical eclecticism, it wanders eras, sounds and styles, it ignores fad and fashion, though that isn’t to say that there is anything unfashionable about the album, far from it, it is just that this is an album that leads rather than follows what has gone before. The songs are built out of very recognisable building blocks but the way they are put together means that the overall sonic architecture is, in many cases, totally new.

Job done! And then some!

An interview with Konstantin Nikolaev

Q: Can we start with a bit of background? Can you tell me a bit about how you first came to be a musician and what the journey has been like getting from your first steps to where you are today?

Konstantin: Firstly, many thanks for taking time to listen to my album and featuring it on your music blog for the second time this year – it’s a great honour. I wouldn’t call myself a true musician as it’s not something I do for living. I am, perhaps, best described as an enthusiast driven by my love of the performing arts which appeals to my creative side. My father is a trained jazz musician, and I grew up with a variety of music and thus developed eclectic tastes. Music, for me, is a source of inspiration, a way of self-expression, relaxation, and replenishment.

Q: Your music incorporates a whole host of sounds, from chilled jazz to electronica, alternative pop to soul to blues, funk and beyond. What are your influences and reference points both musically and otherwise?

A: Konstantin: It’s a long list but they would be Frank Zappa, Jamie Cullum, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Queen and many others.

Q: Do you set out with a certain genre in mind when you write a song or does the song reveal what it is during the process? 

Konstantin: I never think of any genres when I write my music – I just go with the flow. And I think I am very lucky to have absolute freedom of artistic expression with no need to satisfy a record label or manager, etc.

Q: This was your first experience of recording music. How did you find the process and how much of a problem was it doing so during lockdowns and periods of isolation?

Konstantin: Yes, indeed. This was the first time I ever recorded my songs with all the arrangements, mixing and mastering work. I had to climb a very steep learning curve as I never had an experience with music production or DAW software. It was a challenge during the first wave of the pandemic to cheer up my family and friends and push my own boundaries. Many people managed to become involved in amazing projects during the pandemic, and this was my version of that.

Q: Talking of Covid, Hello Sun, in particular, is a song about the many changes that have taken place over the last 18 months. Do you feel that you are the same person and if not how have you changed?

Konstantin: Well-spotted, Dave. ‘Hello, Sun’ was written in May 2020 when first lockdown reliefs were introduced – I think we could go outside for one exercise a day and were allowed to buy takeaway food. That was exactly reflected in the chorus:

Saturday, in the mid of May,

We’ve been locked away

Now we’re out and allowed

Going extra mile with a veiled smile

And perhaps with some brains

Every day’s gonna be the same

Only takeaways you would take anyway,

But, apart from it – health and safety kit

You should never disdain

I believe COVID had a major impact on me, especially in terms of my perception of my friends and family and their roles in my life. Now I treasure even more every single moment I spend with my family and feel blessed that they all remain well and healthy – something I used to take for granted.

Q: And have you learned anything during that time and whilst recording that might perhaps change the way you make music or live your life in the future?

Konstantin: I’ve definitely learnt a lot about music production. One of the key lessons is to let professional sound engineers handle the mixing and mastering given that it’s an unbelievably long and tedious process. I enjoy the more creative aspects such as composing, arranging and playing music.

Q: All proceeds from the album are going to help the NHS, why did you choose that organisation to be beneficiary?

Konstantin: When the pandemic began in March 2020 I started to panic and was fearful of dying and leaving not much of a legacy for my family and friends. I started to think of what I could produce within a limited amount of time and resources, so that, should anything happen to me, it would stay with them forever. I couldn’t think of anything better than recording my music and releasing the album. Thus, the album is a tribute to my life and to the staff of the NHS who worked tirelessly to keep us safe.

Q: The album is full of tributes and references to your family, how important have they been to your musical and creative journey?

Konstantin: That’s true – the album is mainly for my family and friends and I’m super grateful that my music is being appreciated more widely. My family means the world to me and I value their love and support as they continue to help me stay grounded. I feel particularly fortunate that my wonderful wife fully supports me …. and when I am happy, I always sing! 😊

Q: And finally, with some sort of normality returning, what do you have planned next musically speaking and what do you hope that the future holds for you personally?

Konstantin: I am planning to be spending as much time as possible with my family and as for the rest, we’ll see…  😉

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