From Moscow to the Midwest, everyone seems to be talking about Tesla Boy. Stateside, the gossip is more whispers than shouts, but an increasingly buzzing chorus of them nonetheless.
Since the May 2010 release of the band’s debut LP Modern Thrills and the mass circulation of club-demolishing singles “Electric Lady” and “Liberating Soul,” the Russian trio has amassed a dedicated following in both European and American electronic music circles.
Boasting enough vintage synthesizers to score a Beverly Hills Cop sequel, and with an ear for melodic, pop songwriting that is rare in today’s computer-heavy genre, Tesla Boy pushes the concept of borrowed nostalgia to a new extreme. The reverberating drums, the analog arpeggios and front man Anton Sevidov’s mournful vocals don’t just mimic an era. They belong in it.
“It’s like a journey through your childhood,” Sevidov said, speaking from Thailand and recalling the seed of his fondness for the 1980s. “Like taking a look at things which you were inspired by in your childhood through the eyes of a 21st century man.”
With a degree in jazz piano, Sevidov, along with bassist Dima Midborn and newly recruited guitarist Poko Cox, sprung into adulthood amid Moscow’s pulsing club circuit, a scene that would have a notable hand in shaping Tesla Boy’s danceable grooves.
“My ex told me about Dima,” Sevidov said. “He was more into indie rock those days. We started clubbing, mixing with each other. Then we decided to write a few tracks.”
According to Sevidov, the band took its name from a WWII-era transformer vault in the ground floor of Sevidov’s old Stalinist apartment building. The intense waves of electricity that regularly rippled through the transformer pillars are jokingly alluded to as an influence on Sevidov’s musicianship.
Midborn, who cut his teeth playing guitar in a punk band before switching to bass for the more sultry Tesla Boy, would become the band’s principal songwriter during the recording of Modern Thrills, a homegrown yet unnerving process.
“Our first EP was quite successful, and we didn’t expect that,” Sevidov said. “Here in Russia, a lot of people waited for the album and they spoke about it too much. And we felt like sportsmen who had to jump higher than before.”
Modern Thrills was recorded and mixed at Sevidov’s home studio with an impressive lineup of Roland and Yamaha keyboards, as well as live beats from the band’s former drummer Boris Lifshitz. Both Sevidov and Midborn cite David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” as having a profound influence on the sound of the record.
“The record is soaked with ’80s glitter and verve and at the same time, the lyrics, approach to the music and Bowie’s experiences from the ’70s make it more than pop candy for teens,” Midborn said.
Already a hot name in both the art rock and club scene of their native Russia, Tesla Boy’s exposure to the wider world rests largely on the blogosphere. The band’s work has already been remixed by the likes of ODahl and Cassia, and the band has recently offered its own reworkings of France’s Anoraak and Sweden’s Sally Shapiro.
“It couldn’t happen ten years ago,” Sevidov said. “People all over the world can listen to our music. It’s an absolutely amazing thing.”
A smash in their homeland, the band’s international tour schedule was decidedly modest during their early days, only taking off in the recent months amid the success of their LP.
“Mostly we went to some city or town for the weekend and played there,” Midborn said. “Every show was great and people were going mad whether it was a small venue or a festival.”
Ironically, the notable lack of chart-topping acts from Russia might have played a key part in Tesla Boy’s international explosion.
“The 4/4 beat is still alive like it was thirty years ago, but I think Tesla Boy is something mysterious and new for Europe,” Sevidov said. “The band from the East with Western music and attitude.”
As for America, Tesla Boy currently has its sights set on a string of visits for late spring, following a Scandinavian tour and some recording sessions. Los Angeles is high on its list of desired destinations.
“On the road I’m either asleep or drunk,” said Midborn. “But we’ll keep it up for 2011, so beware!”