Jinjer: The Rage, Sadness and Hustle of Tatiana Shmayluk | Revolver

Jinjer: The Rage, Sadness and Hustle of Tatiana Shmayluk

Her band may be on the brink of legit metal stardom, but if life in Ukraine has taught the singer anything, it's that nothing comes without a fight
jinjer_featured_credit_josephcultice.jpg, Joseph Cultice
photograph by Joseph Cultice

Tatiana Shmayluk was out on a date, and we ruined it. We're on Jinjer's tour bus, which is parked on Sunset Boulevard in front of the Whisky a Go-Go in West Hollywood. Tonight, the fast-rising Ukrainian metal stars will headline this storied rock club and bust out songs from their forthcoming album, Macro. We were supposed to meet up with Shmayluk at 6 p.m., but when we arrive the vocalist is nowhere to be found. Confusing matters further, Jinjer's dreadlocked ex-singer, Maks Fatullayev — who left the band in 2009 — is drinking beer in the front lounge. (Turns out he lives in Los Angeles now.) Jinjer bassist Eugene Abdukhanov asks us to sit tight as he walks off the bus. When he returns, he says Shmayluk will be here in 20 minutes.

As it turns out, the singer forgot about our interview. When she arrives, she's wearing a nearly all-white ensemble — skirt, tank, fresh Nikes — with a neon orange crop top. Her hair is pulled back, and her hyper-color makeup is in full glam mode. She's extremely apologetic. When we apologize for putting the kibosh on her romantic interlude, she waves us off. "It's OK," she says with a laugh. "I will probably die single, and it is all your fault."

She's kidding, of course, but her point is taken: Shmayluk and her bandmates — Abdukhanov, guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov and drummer Vlad Ulasevich — don't have much time for extracurricular activities. Since forming a decade ago, Jinjer has toured endlessly, crisscrossing Europe, the States, Japan and even South Africa. In that time, they've released four albums and a smattering of EPs. When Revolver spoke with Shmayluk earlier this year, they'd just released the five-song Micro EP and recently completed their first-ever North American tour, supporting Cradle of Filth. Six months later, the band are about to drop their full-length follow-up, Macro, and their star has risen: Tonight's Whisky gig is the fourth show of their first-ever North American headlining tour.

Jinjer's trajectory is all the more impressive given the members' upbringing in a former Soviet territory that is currently embroiled in armed conflict between Ukrainian military, anti-government protestors and pro-Russian rebels. Fleeing the warzone in 2014, Shmayluk and her bandmates moved 800 miles from their hometown in the Donetsk province of Ukraine to the city of Lviv, near the Polish border. But poor living conditions there — problems with water, heating and electricity — sent the singer to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, where she lives today. These hardships have informed Jinjer's unyielding mentality.

"We work hard," Shmayluk tells us. "Eventually it has to pay off. I think we have to come step by step. It's not like you wake up being famous. We have to grab it — by the balls."

THE LAST TIME WE SPOKE, WE TALKED A LOT ABOUT YOUR LIFE BACK IN UKRAINE. IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT JINJER THAT IS UNIQUELY UKRAINIAN?
TATIANA SHMAYLUK
What makes Jinjer grind is that we came from the land where kindness equals weakness. We came from tough country, plus tough times. It was early Nineties. It was horrible times — not for us, not for children — but for our parents. My mother and father had to work very hard for minimum salary. There were two of us — me and my older brother — and we had a lot of life lessons. Our schools were very tough. And our neighborhoods were tough. We had a lot of crime there, too.

Being Ukrainian is all about the spirit. We don't go to a doctor if something hurts, for example. We will endure it until the end. We try not to cancel shows, for example. I remember Eugene played with a very high temperature somewhere in Italy. And I sang in Geneva with very high temperature and my throat was [swollen]. It hurt so much, but I still sang the whole set. So we are tough. We have steel balls.

DOES TOURING HERE IN THE STATES FEEL DIFFERENT FOR YOU THAN TOURING OTHER PLACES?
I feel nervous here. I'm a bit afraid of people here. I have this constant feeling that someone is going to shoot me. I'm afraid to go somewhere alone. But frankly speaking, I'm afraid to be by myself in any country. I had some ... unpleasant staring and stuff like that.

jinjer_featured_credit_josephcultice.jpg, Joseph Cultice
photograph by Joseph Cultice

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THAT?
I started to dress like a guy when I was younger. I started wearing men's clothing when I was nine, when I started listening to punk rock. And then I continued to do this because I didn't want to attract men with my sexuality, but rather with my attitude and my mind. I don't know if this is good tactics. Probably not. But at least I felt comfortable.

IT SEEMS LIKE JINJER HAS ONLY GOTTEN BIGGER SINCE WE LAST SPOKE. DO YOU FEEL CLOSE TO STARDOM?
Not personally, no. I still think I am somewhere ... not in the underground, but the massive fame we are talking about is something not unreachable, but I think I will be 50 when I reach it. [Laughs] I don't know why I feel like this. It's not that I am pessimistic. It's just a feeling. There is too much to be done yet.

HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED MUCH SINCE MICRO CAME OUT EARLIER THIS YEAR?
Not really, because I have the same apartment. I still use public transport, for example. I don't have a car. [Laughs] We are still working 24/7, and in Europe we are still driving our own van when we are touring there. Compared to this [tour bus], it is tiny. But I'm not complaining — no, no, no. It's just what it is. Maybe when I'm 50 I'll get my apartment and my car. [Laughs]

YOU LIVE IN KIEV. IS A CAR EVEN CONVENIENT TO HAVE THERE, OR IS PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION EASIER?
It's not easier. I usually take the trolley bus, with all the old grandmas.

THE BABUSHKAS.
Yes. [Laughs] They are quite annoying.

I IMAGINE THEY STARE AT YOU.
Yes! You know, people are aggressive in Ukraine. Let's be frank. [Laughs] They are aggressive, and that's why I become ... not aggressive, but it is easy to piss me off. But I don't let myself be pissed off. I will bury this feeling or emotion inside.

AND LET IT EXPLODE LATER?
Yes, in my home. [Laughs] Yelling and beating a pillow.

WHAT DO THE BABUSHKAS SAY TO YOU?
I don't know, because I always wear my headphones and listen to music. Their looks are enough. It's not about only babushkas — it's about other people in there, too. They are not very polite. They are not very respectful to your personal space. They push. It's ... ah, fuck. I'm so glad to be here right now.

WHEN YOU WALK DOWN THE STREET HERE IN WEST HOLLYWOOD, NOBODY STARES AT YOU IF YOU HAVE TATTOOS OR DRESS A CERTAIN WAY. THEY'VE SEEN IT ALL.
[Laughs] Yes. There are many people tattooed in Ukraine, but I think it depends on the area you live in. I live in a shitty area. Not the shittiest, but there are a lot of homeless.

IS THE PROBLEM THAT YOU'RE A WOMAN WITH TATTOOS? MAYBE THEY THINK IT'S ACCEPTABLE ON A MAN, BUT NOT ON A WOMAN?
I think it's not even acceptable for a man in Ukraine. It's just post-U.S.S.R. thinking and mindset. They don't like people who are different, and they haven't seen this on the TV, for example. Because they are all watching TV, but everything they watch is, like, soap operas and news, so they have no idea it is possible. "Tattoos? What are you going to do when you're 60?"

YOU DID SOME OF YOUR TATTOOS YOURSELF, DIDN'T YOU?
[Laughs] Yes, I have very shitty ones — [she points to her wrist and ankle] — here and there and there. I don't do this anymore because I don't have time, and I need to buy supplies. But I still have my two tattoo guns. I still need some touch-ups, but I don't want to go back because it hurts. [Laughs] The older I get, the more painful it feels.

THAT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE MADE OUT OF RUBBER WHEN YOU'RE YOUNGER.
This is why you should start doing extreme sports, for example, at a very young age. You don't have this instinct ... how is this called?

SELF-PRESERVATION.
Yes. It's very small. You don't care. But the older you get, the more fragile you get. For example, I get more sensitive ... even up here, emotionally. I think maybe it's because I'm in early thirties and my biological clock says that I should have a baby. I don't know.

BUT YOU DON'T WANT A BABY.
[Laughs] No! It would be horrible to have my baby here, around those people [points to band members at back of the bus]. If it's meant to be like this, that's OK. I chose my path and I don't regret it.

THE LEAD SINGLE OFF MACRO IS "JUDGMENT (& PUNISHMENT)," WHICH MIXES EXTREME METAL WITH REGGAE. YOU HAVE A BACKGROUND IN REGGAE, DON'T YOU?
Right before I joined Jinjer, I was part of a band that played reggae, ska, ska-punk and funk. We did a lot of covers. We sang in Ukrainian and Russian and English. I was a huge fan of reggae. I wore dreadlocks and I was all about Rastafari.

DID YOU SMOKE WEED?
No. Well, I tried. It has very strange effect on me — or no effect at all. I don't like it. So then in Jinjer we did some reggae in "Who Is Gonna Be the One" and we thought it would be cool to repeat this trick and insert more reggae into our music.

WHAT CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE LYRICS TO THAT SONG?
This song is about itself. When I wrote those lyrics, I was trying to imagine how people would react to this song, because it's got reggae — not everyone's cup of tea, yes? So I imagine that and I was pissed off by all the comments that we get on social media. I was trying to figure it out — why don't I post any shit on someone's profile? When I don't like something, I just let it go. I don't go to supermarket, for example, and see a bad banana and start shouting at it. [Laughs] "You fucking banana! I hate you! Go back to your palm tree!" I don't do this. I have a lot of stuff to do [besides] texting and giving shitty energy. When you do this, it returns back.

I THINK IT WAS THE COMEDIAN RICKY GERVAIS WHO SAID LEAVING A NEGATIVE COMMENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA IS LIKE SEEING AN AD FOR GUITAR LESSONS ON A COMMUNITY BULLETIN BOARD AND THEN CALLING THE GUITAR TEACHER TO YELL, "BUT I DON'T WANT GUITAR LESSONS!"
Yes! [Laughs] And they get offended when you answer in their own way — being a bitch: "Oh, why are you so harsh to me?" It's like, "You came to my house and shit on my table and expect me to be fine with that? No. You go away and take your shit with you, in your pockets."

WHY RESPOND AT ALL?
Because I'm pissed off. As I am saying before, I am easy to piss off. Sometimes it's just overwhelming. I feel like if I let it go, I will let them continue to do this shit again and again. It's like I give them unspoken permission.

jinjer_tatianashmayluk_credit_josephcultice.jpg, Joseph Cultice
Jinjer's Tatiana Shmayluk
photograph by Joseph Cultice

ARE MOST OF YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA INTERACTIONS POSITIVE?
Yes, but I am that person that needs to find the shit just to cry over it. I don't know why I'm like this. There's a lot of good stuff, but I feel it's not OK for me to be happy. I have this trait of character that loves to be sad — to complain. [Laughs] But at least I realize it. Maybe I don't do anything to change it, but at least I realize it.

WHY DO YOU THINK YOU'RE LIKE THAT?
I don't know. I think I was born like this. If I showed you some pictures from my childhood, you would see expression on my face — like puppy eyes. I was sad girl. But I think there's something beautiful in this feeling of being sad. Not many people understand it. But I think sad people are more kind and more compassionate. For example, Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth — I think he loves to be melancholic. He's my idol in singing and composing. I really admire him, but I will never go and bug him.

THERE'S ANOTHER SONG ON YOUR NEW ALBUM CALLED "PAUSING DEATH." WHAT CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THAT ONE?
That was based on a book by José Saramago, a Portuguese writer. I think the English title is Death With Interruptions, but if I am wrong, Google knows everything. [Laughs] I was recommended to read this book by my friend, and I was so in love with this book. I used only one part of the book in the song, which was quite interesting for me to read. It's about death, but personalized — like [death as] a creature that actually walked on the earth.

YOUR TOUR MANAGER WAS TELLING ME THAT FANS SOMETIMES BRING YOU T-SHIRTS BEFORE A SHOW AND THAT YOU CUSTOMIZE THEM AND WEAR THEM ONSTAGE THE SAME NIGHT. DOES THAT HAPPEN A LOT?
Yes, yes. Tonight I'm gonna cut another one like this [she indicates the crop top she's wearing] and wear it. Most of the time, these shirts are very personal. For example, yesterday I was given a shirt — it has a huge ape giving a middle finger and it says something like, "Humans destroy everything." It's so related to our song "Ape." They will see me wear it on the stage and it is a huge pleaser. They get double joy. I love all the things they bring to me at meet and greet. They are so sweet.

WHAT DO THEY SAY TO YOU?
Some are not so talkative because they are shy. We try to talk more, but sometimes they just want the sign [autograph] and photo. But I would probably be the same if I saw ... Gojira, for example. I'm a big fan of them but I probably would not ask them for a photo because I am too shy.

THERE MUST BE MANY YOUNG WOMEN WHO CONSIDER YOU INSPIRING. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?
They don't know that I am a shy person. They think I am an iron woman who is not afraid of anything or anyone. But I am. I am afraid of everything in this life. Wouldn't you realize that your idol is a person like you — also sensitive and fragile and easy to be offended, for example? But you see her just performing. I'm almost sure they think that I have no problems. They say I am an inspiration for them, but I don't see myself like this. I'm not better than anyone. I'm an actor up there. Of course there is some true shit, but I don't move my head 24/7 and I don't scream all the time. Well, I scream every night. [Laughs] But not every morning.