15.02.2011Ryan Wilson ESCDAILY.COM
Credited with writing the lyrics to some of the contest’s most famous songs such as Shady Lady and Never Let You Go, Russian lyricist Karen Kavaleryan has taken his place as one of Eurovision’s most successful in his craft. Adding to decades of success in Russia and beyond, Kavaleryan has an enviable record of contributing to seven Eurovision entries, of which six have placed within the top 10. ESCdaily had the opportunity to speak to Karen about life, lyrics and his relationship with a contest that he looks upon with a certain cynicism, despite his successes.
Q: While your name would be familiar to most Eurovision fans, many would not know much about the man behind some of the Eurovision Song Contest’s most successful songs. Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got into songwriting.....
A: I was born in Moscow 50 years ago. I am a professional lyricist. I can\'t do anything else. And that means I have no other business than writing song lyrics. This kind of luxury is affordable for only 5-6 other colleagues of mine throughout the whole Russia. I wrote my first hit in 1986. Within the period of 25 years after that I wrote over 800 songs in all possible styles – from heavy metal to acid-jazz. But all these songs were written for Russian singers and groups. Their names are not known in Europe, except for probably “Gorky Park”. They had their CD (“Bang!”) released in the USA on Polygram Records in 1989 and were relatively popular in Europe (in Denmark their record became Golden).
In 2002 I first took part in the Eurovision with the song “Northern Girl” performed by a boy band Premier Minister. We were number 10. In 2006 I took a better chance with “Never Let You Go” performed by Dima Bilan. During 2007-2010 I wrote 5 songs for Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Armenia ( twice )
Q: Throughout your career, you have worked with a number of famous Russian artists and composers, which has won you many awards. Who are some of your favourites to work with?
A: I can name Vladimir Presnyakov ( singer), Premier Minister and Bravo (groups) and Kim Breitburg and Yury Chernavsky (composers). But I’m sure you’ve never heard about them.
Q: When songwriting, can you tell us a bit about the creative process and how you come upon your lyrics? Do you get together with the composer and think up ideas, or do you generally do this alone?
A: I like loneliness. So, I don’t need anybody to create my lyrics. I just take a walk in the forest or lay down on the floor and then I start to write. It happens of its own accord.
Q: Even though you have written many songs for the contest, would you consider yourself a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest? If so, can you tell us about some of your favourite songs?
A: I like ‘’Peace will come’’. But frankly speaking I was never really thrilled with either this or any other contest. I never created anything on purpose. It’s just that I am one of the few Russian lyricists who write in English. And to be more frank I really don’t know anybody else.
Q: Out of all of your own Eurovision entries, do you have a favourite, and if so, why that song? Which Eurovision achievement are you most proud of?
A: I am basically indifferent towards the Eurovision style of music. I\'m really sorry… but ESC is out of my view. I don\'t remember. Maybe \'\'Volare\'\'. Why? Because it sounds like real music.
Q: One thing I’m sure many of our readers are curious about is whether you are set to have any songs in the Eurovision Song Contest 2011, or at least, in any national finals?
A: No more songs for ESC! I don\'t want to go through the “ground-hog day\'\'\' one more time. I hope that I made a full stop in 2010.
Q: Many of the countries you have written for in the ex-Soviet states have recently been quite successful in the Eurovision Song Contest. Do you have any thoughts as to why countries from the East have started to play a dominant force in the contest?
A: It\'s clear. They hang together. All countries play that game. May be it\'s unfair but there is no getting away from the fact.
Q: One of your songs with the most interesting and talked-about lyrics is last year’s Armenian entry, Apricot Stone, which has been said to tell something about the history of Armenia. Can you tell us a bit more about the meaning behind the song, and how you came about to write the lyrics for it?
A: I\'m Armenian but I\'ve never been in Armenia. I’ve always wanted to do something for my people. But all I can do is write. Apricot is a symbol of Armenia and I wrote this song about it though I knew that it looked very strange. But I felt that I had to do it, I felt that it was my mission. And I did it - not only with the mind but also with the heart.
Q: It has also been reported that you have written the song for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Can you tell us a bit about how that came about, and also something about the song?
A: What can I say? It\'s an anthem. And as any anthem it\'s not a very good song. Somebody asked me, – can I help Russia to get the Games?
I answered, – Why not? Now we got that. But I\'m not a sportsman. It doesn’t move me. That\'s why I don\'t give a hoot.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to in your own time? Where would you say you draw your musical inspirations from?
A: I like funk and soul with the capital S – all the stuff that you can find diggin\' on James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Bobby Womack, Marvin Gaye, Tower of Power, Average White Band... It\'s a very long list…
I also like jazz, the very roots of it and the music called acid jazz – like Incognito, Brand New Heavies, Maysa, etc.
And of course I can\'t omit the great Hollywood music that made me a lyricist. I was a student, about 20 years old, when I first heard Cole Porter’s songbook performed by Ella Fitzgerald. I can confess that in my own opinion a daily playlist of any popular radio station is not worth even four bars of Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer or Irving Berlin. And that applies to both music and words.
Q: It is interesting that you quote your influences and favourite music as funk, soul and jazz, and yet you write a lot of lyrics for pop songs, and even songs in Eurovision, which you have said that you don\'t particularly care for. Do you consider writing lyrics to be a method of self-expression, or just a process?
A: I think of myself as just a lyrics-machine. I do this job day by day without pride and joy but just because it’s my craft. I can’t find any more reasons to create these stupid songs again and again the way we all (I mean songwriters) did recently. It seems while we hunted for money we lost the beauty. My creative ambitions have had nothing to do with pop music for a long time. Besides pop songs I write plays and librettos for theatres. And I enjoy it much more than writing song lyrics ‘cause rock’n’roll is dead. Sorry if I disappoint somebody.