Engel Mayr about Russkaja’s new record Turbo Polka Party

Stand up, couch potatoes! It’s time to get moving! High voltage party polka virtuosos Russkaja provide the most danceable heavy album of early 2023 with Turbo Polka Party, out February 3 via Napalm Records. For this occasion we talked with Engel Mayr, the guitarist of the band, about the inspiration behind the new record and the upcoming tour.

Thank you very much for taking some time to do the interview.

You’re welcome. Thanks for the invitation.

In February, you’re releasing your eight studio album, called Turbo Polka Party. What should we expect from it?

Well, I can already say that it will be one of my favorite albums. Because I really feel all those songs. And I had a strong vision of them when I started writing the songs back in 2019. I knew that I wanted it to be heavier with the riffs in it and I think it turned out great. I did all the mixing and the recording myself. So I think it’s a very authentic Russkaja record.

Photo: Markus Haas

You say you already started in 2019. Is the process usually that long for making an album for Russkaja?

This time it was all slowed down because of the COVID thing. So in 2020, there was a time when I couldn’t even go into my own studio because of the COVID restrictions. So I think we would have been way faster if the COVID thing hadn’t been around. But usually I start writing songs and like the first idea, whether it’s some words or some melody or some guitar riff or both at the same time, I just recorded on my phone and then when I have the time, I do a proper demo where I do all the drum programming, I play the bass guitar and I programmed the melodies, and then I sang the lyrics. And with that demo I will go to our singer Georgij and show it to him and say, Look, this is a song I want to do. And from there we will work on it and maybe change stuff and maybe sometimes it’s perfect the way it is, and we just take it from there.

Is it also because of the pandemic that you did the mixing yourself?

No, no, it was just because I had such a strong vision, like I said. I always wrote songs and I always did the producing, but this time I knew it would be closest to the vision I have if I do the mixing and recording myself. And also, like ten years ago, I didn’t have my own recording studio. It’s just something that happened during the last few years. Right now also other bands are starting to come to me as, Hey, can you, can you produce or can you record some songs with us? Which is really cool.

Do you do all the writing yourself, or are other bandmates involved in that process as well?

I write the songs, and then I bring it to our singer. There will be songs that are like finished in my demo and there will be others where he would say, okay, I’m not really happy with the lyrics. Let me try something myself. And he will write something down and sing over my demo or something like that. So it changes a little, or sometimes it doesn’t change at all. But that’s the process.


Where do you get your inspiration from writing music?

Well, to me the constant inspiration is music. I’m like a total music freak. Always have been. I like all different kinds of music, like from Gypsy Kings to Biohazard and everything in between. I used to play in a hardcore punk grind core band ten years ago where I was the frontman with the guitar and screaming stuff like that. It was called Bastard Peels. You can still check it out on YouTube. There are still a few videos up there.

What’s your personal favorite song of the album?

Yeah, my favorite Song… Well, you know, it’s like with your own children. You cannot choose. But I think No Borders is a big song because of the strong message. I really wanted to say what I wrote down in the lyrics. It was just what I was thinking when the war started. I just couldn’t believe that it’s still possible in Europe in the year 2022 to start a war like that. And it’s a song that I wrote around the lyrics. So it has a really strong meaning. So to me that one is good. I think Shapka is just a fun tune because it is not that typical Russkaja song. And also Paschli I think, it’s really up-tempo like polka metal. It’s really nice.

You just love all of them, haha. What you just said. I also noticed that the lyrics of Russkaja focus a lot on unity and peace. Why is it so important for you to spread that message via your music?

To us, our music, our art, is about bringing lots of people into one place and having a good time. So unity is a big part of it. You cannot have a good party if you just punch each other’s faces. It’s important to stay together. To stay strong. To be united and to have a good time. That’s why the current situation in the world is so difficult. You could feel it during the last years. I think globally that instead of people getting more together, it drifted apart with politicians like Donald Trump and stuff like that. Also with the COVID thing, you could see people drifting apart, even if they were discussing small things. Everybody on the Internet was insulting each other. So it’s not exactly the greatest of times now. That’s why I think it’s even more important to spread the message of like get together. That’s what art and music is about: getting together and having a good time.

You recently released the song Shapka. How was it received by the audience?

As I said earlier, because of that Limp Bizkit flavor, the people really like it, and other people love the groove of it. I think it’s another not a typical Russkaja polka song. It’s got a little more movement in it. When I wrote that opening riff with the snare drum, I think it was in summer 2020, I was listening a lot to a big Brazilian like pop/ hip hop/ funk superstar called Chico Science. Like everybody in Brazil knows him. I really loved the albums he did. I listened to a lot of that kind of stuff when I wrote that riff. So I think if you would go and check out Chico Science’s stuff and then listen to the intro of Shapka, you would recognize the similarities in the groove because it’s like a little Brazilian groove. And then they also have some kinds of riffs in there that can be rock riffs and stuff like that. So that was where the initial inspiration came from.

Shapka was a song that was released earlier than the rest of the album. How do you decide which song will you release separately as a single?

Well, usually we just choose songs that we think are really strong and catchy. But this time it was a little different because sometimes some nonmusical stuff is fucking up our plans. I think we wanted to release the song Vozdukh in two weeks. But then we realized we can’t do a video without Benji Webbe from Skindred who did vocals on the track. When I called him, he said there would be no way that he could do it in time. So we had to change the plan, and then we chose to release Paschli instead. I think we will keep Vozdukh for a later release, but you never know.

How did that collaboration with Benji Webbe from Skindred establish?

I’m a big fan of Benji. Soul Fly‘s first record came out in ‘98 and Benji Webbe was on that record. He did a feature on two songs and I totally fell in love with his voice because it was so characteristic, and he could do everything. He could scream, he could rap and he could sing really cool. I just fell in love with that. And then I checked the guy and I found his band. It was called Dub War, like a rock reggae band from the UK. I think they disbanded in the year 2000. Then Benji formed the band Skindred. We met at a few festivals, and then I just asked him if he would like to do a feature on our track. This was a dream coming true for me to have him on our track. So I really love it.

With this new album also comes a new tour. Are you looking forward to it?

Yeah, we’re really looking forward to it because after the COVID thing slowly, some shows and festivals came back and stuff like that. For us, the beginnings of getting back to stage was more in the like in the US and in the UK. We haven’t done a real club tour with a new record since spring 2019. So it’s been a long time.

Do you think it will be different now than back then?

Actually, I don’t know. I can, I can tell you in two months.

You were also the first band I saw “after” the pandemic in August 2021 at Alcatraz in Belgium.

Yeah, well, that was a great show. It’s a great festival. I loved that show. It was so early, but all the people were there. It was just like a big morning party. It was just great.

Yeah. Like I said, you were the first band and first concert I saw again after the pandemic. It really felt like coming home. Like, after one and a half years with no concerts at all. That was really great.

Yeah, I still remember that show because these were the first shows coming back at that time. The night before, back in Austria, I did a really small show with my blues/rock trio, because when I’m not on tour with Russkaja or someone else, I’m doing like ZZ Top blues rock kind of stuff. So I did that show, and then I didn’t really sleep because we had to go to the airport really early. I think we left for the airport at 05:00 in the morning or something. I slept for like one or 2 hours. Then directly flew to Belgium to play that festival. That was just awesome.

Russkaja uses a lot of instruments that aren’t often seen in metal music. Is it hard to combine those classical instruments with metal?

You know, this is some influence that is coming more from the ska punk scene and the influence from there because it’s more usual there. In metal music, you have it more in the folk metal scene. Because like friends from us In Extremo, Subway to Sally, those German folk metal bands, or bands like those, they use lots of weird stuff in their metal music like bagpipes and medieval things. They hammer around and are really impressive. But to really answer your question to combine or even to write for those instruments, it requires a certain note. I think if you have only written or played with rock or metal bands, it’s just something you would have to learn because you cannot play certain melodies on those instruments. You have to be a little careful about what you want them to play because they will say, Well, that’s just not possible on my instrument.

You’re originally from Austria? How did you come up with the idea to do a Russian style band?

The Russian style is just coming from one member of the band, and that’s our singer Georgij. He’s been an Austrian citizen for like 20 years or something. He was born in Moscow, and he came to Austria in, I think 1990 or something when he was 15 years old. And as he’s the singer, we have some Russian style. We also played a lot with Soviet imagery because it’s his background. That’s actually where the idea came from. But other than that, we are just a mixed culture band. We have a saxophone player from Italy now. We have three Austrian guys like me and we have a German violin player. We really mixed and right now, like as you know, as the war is raging in Europe, it’s really hard for us because everything that is Russian is just bad. Even the music. I can understand it, because it’s just a shit war that is going on. It should never have happened. I can not blame people for hating everything that is somehow affiliated with Russia. But on the other hand, it’s our music that we’ve been doing for like 20 years now. So kind of hard with the Russian thing.

Did the war between Russia and Ukraine influence the band a lot?

Actually, it does affect us. And it’s really sad. We can’t change the situation either. I mean, what can you do other than just telling everyone that you think the war is bullshit? To be really honest here right now, the real problem is our band name. Because it has those first four letters in it. And people, especially people who don’t know the band, will read the band name, and they will think we’re a Russian band. But we aren’t, actually. And even now if we write a song like Shapka, which as I said, is a cool song I think. People will complain. “Why are you singing about a Russian head? Russia is bullshit.” We have comments like that on YouTube all the time. In that exact moment when Putin started the war, I was on the phone with our singer Georgij, and we were talking about changing the name of the band. We are still talking about this every now and then. It really affects us.

How did you guys meet?

We all met in Vienna, Austria. Because as I said, Georgij, he was like moving there with his mother. And our bass player is from Ukraine, was a student there. I think he was like 18 or 20 years old. Everybody had his or her reason to come to Austria. And that’s where the band started. So we all met there, and now it’s like the base of the band in Vienna.

Some of the songs you did are actually covers of well-known pop songs. And how did you come up with your idea to do covers of those songs?

Well, actually, I don’t even remember why we started to do covers. I don’t know. But once we started it, we had the feeling, even before we released the first one, that this is really fun because our music has a kind of unique touch to it. So taking totally different songs and putting it into our kind of style of sound is a lot of fun. So we just kept on doing this. I would have loved to do some more covers on Turbo Polka Party. I hope in the future we can do some more.

The cover of Wake Me Up I think is perfect. I love it. I have one last question to finish the interview. It is not Russkaja or music related at all. Do you think Pineapple goes on pizza?

Yeah. I am known for ordering a margarita with pineapple and garlic. Margherita, like the regular cheese pizza. And then I will add pineapple and garlic. Try it!

Thank you very much for taking some time to do the interview.

You’re welcome. Thanks for the invitation.

Yeah, no problem. I wish you the best of luck in releasing the new album.

Thanks man. Hope to see you at our show in Haarlem.

And Graspop!

Yeah, Graspop. I am really looking forward to that one.

I’m really looking forward to that one as well. Thank you very much. Bye!