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Interview with Nadya Tolokonnikova

Punk Feminist. Political Activist. Author. Felon. Pussy Riot Founder. Nadya Tolokonnikova has dedicated her life to exposing political corruption, seen through the 3-hole cut-outs of her neon-colored balaclava. After serving two years in prison under

Vladimir Putin’s Russia (she wrote a book about it) and the global support that followed, Nadya is focusing on a new chapter in her artistic crusade, with music as her weapon, and Donald Trump as the target.

Jonas: Come here. Sit here.

Nadya: Food! I’m so happy that we have food because I missed breakfast today. I’m already like half-finished with my day because I woke up at, I don’t know, I woke up at 7 and then had doctor and vocal coach and I feel like eating right now.

J: You went to doctor?

N: Chiropractor.

J: Are you still hurting from the video shoot?

N: No. But I, actually I have traces. This from gunpowder.

J: Oh, really?

N: I had pieces of gunpowder inside me for 2 weeks and later it disappeared. But I still have traces.

J: It’s tough to be an actor.

N: No, it’s not.

J: You don’t want to be an actor?

N: No, I mean, just for myself. As myself. Movies or music videos. But I have no intention to play somebody else.

J: You could. You’re really good.

N: Thank you. I don’t know. Maybe some bad ass character. But usually female characters in movies are so, I don’t know, predictable. I don’t want to establish one more time this role model that women should be like. Yeah, maybe some crazy character. Yeah.

J: You liked the video?

N: Uh huh. Yeah.

J: I like that we took the, not the comedic route but that we took the over the top route. It’s almost like a cartoon. So is Pussy Riot just you now None of the other girls?

N: Masha’s doing some show in Belarus right now.

J: A show?

N: She’s doing a theater play.

J: Oh. It’s just a nontraditional way to do it.

N: Huh?

J: I mean selling you as a band and it’s just you or a group or whatever.

N: What could be a problem with that?

J: No, it’s not a problem. It’s just an untraditional way to do it. No, I don’t mind it. I kind of like it actually. I like everything that’s not traditional. Can you explain Pussy Riot? What it is?

N: I don’t know. I invent a new answer every time because I couldn’t afford myself to just keep saying the same things all the time. (Laughs) I think Pussy Riot is a cosplay on Riot Grrrl movement. You know they do cosplays.

J: Who?

N: Cosplay.

J: Okay.

N: You know it?

J: No.

N: It’s like when somebody do their own fan art. So they – so anyway, it’s kind of a new version of Riot Grrrl. When I first heard Riot Grrrl, I was so inspired and empowered because I had no idea how to play the guitar or to sing, but I wanted to express my ideas so I was inspired and I decided to do kind of Riot Grrrl too. And the name of the band, we decided to just paraphrase it so we called ourselves Pussy Riot. I think that’s the main thing about Pussy Riot is empowerment. And sadly they don’t have the word in Russian language at all. I was trying to translate it, and I spoke with professional translators and the Russian philosophers and nobody could find an answer to translate “empowerment.” I think it’s a big problem for the Russian culture.

J: Oh I’m trying to think what that would be translated to in Swedish, but there is a word actually.

N: There is?

J: Well kind of, but it sounds like an American word.

N: Yeah. But I love this word and the same problem with “excitement.” You know you couldn’t say, “oh I’m so excited after meeting,” in Russian because it means that you have sexual excitement. But here “excitement” embraces everything.

J: I see.

N: And I come to love it. I love it.

J: No, we wouldn’t say that in Swedish either. Would you like wine?

N: Yes. Thank you.

J: Do you like America?

N: (Laughs) It depends. Like everything in your head, you know, sometimes you could like some days, even in prison. I mean I don’t like to talk about bad things, bad stuff. I don’t know. I think I could change the world starting from my head, and then I would project it to the rest of the world. So that’s why I love every place where I am right now. Because I don’t have other option. If I would weep and complain all the time, it would not help anybody including me. So yes, I love it.

J: But isn’t that how you do it if you’re a political activist, isn’t that what it’s about? To bitch about stuff?

N: No, I don’t like it.

J: No?

N: I mean it’s not about complaining. It’s not complaining. You could rationally see some troubles and try to solve them with a positive attitude still, but not weep or cry or complain. I just hate it because so much people wanted me to do that when they do interviews with me –I just recently had this video interview, and they really wanted me to start to cry when I spoke with them about my prison time. If you have problem, you should be excited that you could solve it. I mean, you see millions of possible ways to solve it. And I’m like yeah, that’s the life.

J: Right. I wasn’t going to ask you about prison time, because you told me that you were so sick and tired of talking about the prison time. And I know you wrote a book about it. So I guess — is that why you wrote the book, so you don’t have to talk about it?

N: Yeah.

J: Good.

N: They still don’t have American publisher because they’re not satisfied with the non-narrative structure of the book. It’s kind of

J: So the book is — I obviously have not read the book — so it’s just the experience of that time?

N: Not just that. Basically kind of frequently asked questions. So I’m starting from my childhood. Some funny and weird stories about my childhood, then how we started Pussy Riot, and some actions before Pussy Riot because we’ve done so much since before. Like the storming of the Russian White House, for example. And then I jump into this intense chapter about how they followed us, how we were trying to escape from them for one week, and because they were following us, Russian political police, and we moved from one place to another. It was scary, but great in a way because you feel yourself in a movie. And my goal for life is to structure in my life that every day could be a movie. Because otherwise you will not have reason to live. Like so much people living just general normal lives and I couldn’t answer for — like I couldn’t understand why they’re doing that. Because the only one reason for me to live is experimenting. And yeah, then I speak about prison time, and then I write a little bit about what happened with us after prison.

J: And now you’re here.

N: Yeah.

J: And are you still — they’re still not chasing you. You’re not illegal, are you? They’re not after you are they?

N: When I’m in Russia?

J: When you’re in Russia they are?

N: It depends on where I am and what I do. If I will start to do something like even a music video. They start to listen to my phone, and I could hear that super easy. So if you have an echo in your phone it means that they’re listening to you. Yeah. But you never know because month by month, our government really want to get rid of any rules. They used to have some rules. When we just started our political art in 2007, I felt much more protected. I felt that I could do weird stuff and provoke them, but I would not be in big trouble because of that. As long as I don’t break the law, I will be protected. I will not be in jail. But then the third term of Vladimir Putin changed everything. And now you never know. It’s really, it’s really fucking Franz Kafka.

J: Wow.

N: And I wasn’t always so pessimistic about our political regime. Usually — I told you that my rule never complain — like this – “No! This is fine. Everything great! We have freedoms!” But no, no, we don’t.

J: I’ve been to a lot of places, but I’ve never been to Russia.

N: I wouldn’t invite you right now. Maybe later in the revolution.

J: Why?

N: Because it sucks. You know when political regime is so bad, everything is suffering — aesthetics, culture, art, just I don’t know. Even like so usual things like design and cuisine. Everything suffer. We have this food sanction, so we’ll never have prosciutto or — then our French isn’t Russian because it’s forbidden. And it’s so weird.

J: Right. But do you think it’s going to change anytime soon?

N: I don’t know if it will happen soon. But prison taught me that people really don’t like Putin. Some of them like [him], but most of the people are indifferent. They don’t care about what’s going on in the politics, and they could show publicly that they support Putin. But in their kitchens, they would just speak really bad things about him, but they will never say it publicly because they don’t believe that they could change something. But this situation that at some point if people will have something to believe in, so they could stand up possibly. You never know if it will happen or not, but we have this chance.

J: Right. Could you pass the salt?

N: Mhm.

J: Did you ever meet Putin?

N: I saw him five meters. He came to my university where I’m studying for philosophy. It was 2010, and all our lectures were, how do you call it? Postponed. So we didn’t have lectures that day. But I still decided to come to the university. And they cancelled lectures just because they wanted to protect Putin and what if some student would have had something against him. And so everything was surrounded by riot police and by snipers with rifles. But I was still walking around. They were trying to get rid of me. I ended up being closed in some place so I could see Putin just from the window and I was actually watching closely by a guy who was the primary guard, a personal guard of Putin. So he watched me and he was in 2 meters just in case I would take a gun and want to shot him. Putin.

J: If you had a chance, would you shot him?

N: No, I don’t. I couldn’t kill a human being. And this is my personal reason and political reason is that when you kill somebody you give him power and he becomes like a saint.

J: I agree. I just heard Donald Trump say if he would grade Putin as a leader, he would give him an A.

N: I don’t know. It’s so strange that American people could eat this bullshit. But it has happened because they are right now in L.A., and when you just realize the simple fact, the banal fact that America is not L.A., and you’re — it’s really scary. I want to explore it. I know about provincial Russia but I know nothing about provincial America.

J: Right.

N: I want to meet all of these people who are ready to vote for Trump.

J: Yeah. Well you could drive across the country and you’ll —

N: I couldn’t drive.

J: Well you could hitchhike across country and you could meet a lot of them.

N: Yeah. (pause) I love your nails.

J: They are so fucked up now.

N: That’s cool.

J: It’s been like a month.

N: I like the green color.

J: I like it too.

N: Can I smoke?

J: Yeah, of course. Do you have cigarettes?

N: Yeah.

J: Do you want anything else?

N: I would like cheesecake later.

J: I don’t eat sugar.

N: Why?

J: Cause I’ll get fat.

N: Really? You don’t look like a person who will get fat.

J: Well, I don’t get fat. I get big.

N: For me, life is too short for diets.

J: Life is too short to be fat and out of shape.

N: I know I could do that. With my gym addiction it’s not a problem. I couldeat cheesecake. Just recently I had a snack attack—

J: Snack attack (laughs).

J: So, are you religious?

N: No.

J: What are you? Atheist?

N: I don’t know. Atheism is a super active religion and I don’t have this wish to reject God or faith or something. I’m just, I’m not from this culture. I’m not attached to one. I’m from a secular culture. I’m a secular person. But I’m impressed and you could say, looking at what I’ve done, and I mention God in almost every one of my songs, but that’s just because it’s a powerful culture code. People are, I don’t know, they’re attracted by it. So it makes sense for me to mention that and work with it. What about you?

J: I always said I was an atheist, for lack of a better word. But I realize that I’m probably not even an atheist. If there was a word for less religious than atheist, that would be me.

N: Yeah. An atheist is still a very religious person.

J: Right, that’s what I’m saying. But I said that for years because I thought that it meant something else.

N: That’s why I’m not saying that.

J: Yeah, I don’t say that anymore either, but, I don’t know. Sweden is the least religious country in the world and I feel like that’s such a refreshing thing. I hope that’s where the world is going. It doesn’t look like it, but I don’t know. I’m definitely not religious. I’m intrigued by it and I—

N: I’m intrigued too.

J: –I’m interested. I wish I knew more about it. I’ve tried to learn more about it. I’ve tried to see everything from different perspectives. Even with Trump talking about America, which is still a pretty mild country compared to other countries, except that it’s the most powerful country in the world. But it’s easy for me to understand that people, and I’m not trying to make people stupid, but a lot of people in America don’t know anything else except just what is in front of them, and it’s very easy if somebody said, This is going to be great,” and you go, “Okay, this is going to be great.And that’s all you really know.

N: This shows a difference from in other countries?

J: Yeah, I think so.

N: People are more critical?

J: I think people ask the question “Why?” and “How?” But I don’t think anyone who has sympathy with Trump asks “Why?” or “How?” I think they just believe it and drink the Kool-Aid.

N: What do you think about Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orbán? There is an uprising of ultra right-wing mood in Europe and I really don’t know what to think about that.

J: I know, we have that in Sweden too. The third biggest party right now is ultra-right wing, border-lining Neo-Nazi.

N: It happened in Finland.

J: It’s happening all over Europe and it’s fucking scary. To me, it’s more scary than Trump except that America is the most powerful country in the world. That’s scary because now if Trump is in control of the Situation Room and the missiles, and in control of pissing people off and stuff, that’s of course very scary. But what’s going on in Europe affects me more on a daily basis.

N: Yes because you believe in Europe and you just said it. They are saying questions “Why?” and “How?” but they still believe in all these things. It looks like they just forgot about their culture and enlightenment and everything and just decided to go back to xenophobic age of Europe.

J: Right.

N: Could I have more wine?

J: Yes, of course.

N: Thank you. (pause) That’s really scary because when I think that, like it means for me that Putin really, that’s why Putin really has power. That’s why he’s powerful, because he’s not just supported by some people in Russia but he’s supported by all these right-wing politicians, and they’re becoming more and more popular. I’m scared of this world where Putin is praised by politicians all over the world. Because for me, it’s just so obvious he’s just a psychopath, who had power just by chance because he was appointed by oligarchs, who saw that he would be a kind of puppet. They could have their money and their businesses and he would be a puppet. But he refused to be a puppet and now they are puppets.

J: Right.

N: But it happened by chance. He didn’t have any specific experience or knowledge to rule the country. He got his education in KGB college so he’s not really into political science. He doesn’t know how the world could be a peaceful place. He knows just about war and How could I fool him?” and “How could he fool me?” It’s something that KGB school, they have a special perception of the world. They’re always suspicious. They always think that they have enemies all around. And now he’s trying to project that on the whole world.

J: It’s scary and it’s scary to be scared too. Because operating by fear is probably the worst thing you can do but I guess that’s what a lot of people are doing. Obviously we’re all born with the gift of making a difference but most people don’t use that.

N: It is a big question, like How” and “Why”. When I was 14, I read a lot of existentialism. And it’s not that they make me feel that, I mean, I read them because I already have this feeling inside of me that life is, that life will come to an end at some point. I could commit suicide right now or I could live my life and try to make some difference. So why should I be scared? Because I know I can commit suicide at 14 years old. I already knew at that point “I will die” maybe now or maybe when I’m 80 years old. So I decided not to commit suicide and just lead experimental life. But I think it’s so natural for a teenager to feel things like that. But not all people really believe in this. Not a lot of people could bring it through all their life.

J: Should we talk about your music?

N: (laughs) Yeah.

J: I mean, you are doing all kinds of art. You’re using art to get your message heard.

N: I’m using it.

J: You’re using art—

N: Art is using me (laughs).

J: –and art is using you.

N: It uses me more than I use art.

J: You’ve always done music, right? But it’s a little different now?

N: Music started in my life because of my parents. They wanted me to have a classical education in music. So I spent eight years in music school playing piano and going to all these competitions. You should write a melody of what they played to you and write it down. And they found out that I did it very well so they used me for all the competitions. So if I really wanted to be a musician I had this option. But it was boring to just be a normal musician. I finished music school and I decided to be a journalist because I wanted to make a change. But I found out super-fast that we have big censorship and I couldn’t write what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about pollution in my hometown, which is huge. It’s the most polluted city on earth. So when I found out about censorship I asked myself the question of why it could happen, this censorship, because I couldn’t understand. People are suffering from that and why the fuck couldn’t they just take over the power? Why couldn’t they just write their own newspapers and what they really think of? Why should these factories rule the newspapers and rule your mind? It was so crazy for me. So I went to study philosophy to understand how it could happen. I spent five years there. I moved to Moscow and got involved in contemporary art and contemporary political art. It was always my goal to be involved in contemporary art because when I was 13 or 14, I learned about contemporary art and I was fascinated how free these people are. One person who I really adore, Dmitriy Prigov, a Russian poet conceptualist, he came to my small Russian town to give a lecture and I was just in love in the best possible way how you could be in love with a person you just adore. So I decided to move to Moscow and just try to take part and be one of these free people. I thought philosophy could help me do that but actually the problem is that our universities are censored too so you really couldn’t write about the things you want to write. I wanted to write about gay and lesbian identities and about all unusual untraditional identities and how they could happen, how you grow up as a person who is in a position in government or culture, how they could be. And it was a fucking pain in the ass.

J: Yeah?

N: Yeah. I fight a lot about being able to write about that. It’s not that it’s great works. I’m not trying to pretend that I’m a great philosopher, I’m not. But I think it was important for my university to, for officials in my university to know that some students could have read and written on all these topics. Then we started Pussy Riot because Putin announced that he will be President for a third time. I was so pissed. I couldn’t sleep for three days. I was in a panic. I took it so personally. It was kind of like I could predict my future, like what will happen with me with a third term of Putin. I was so unstable in that moment when I learned about this fact. I felt, I don’t know how, I’m not a political scientist, and I was just 22 so I didn’t have a lot of experience, but I felt that it would be so fucking horrible for our country. And I was so sad that people around me didn’t understand it. So that is why I started Pussy Riot, because it doesn’t require a lot of people. Obviously, it’s better to oppose Putin if you have one million on the street. But I didn’t have. I had just several of my friends around me and we were trying to understand how we could be as loud as possible. Just being 3 or 5 around.

J: Then you started to do your arts in the street?

N: Yeah.

J: That was the first thing you did together?

N: No, I started Pussy Riot with Kat, who was quite silent right now.

J: What?

N: She didn’t communicate with me after I was released from prison. She decided to take another way. Maybe more quiet art. I don’t know. She will tell about herself. I don’t want to tell. But the fact that she never communicated to me after I was released from prison. And with her we started Pussy Riot, but we worked with her for 2 years on and out of political action. And we were the closest friends. I think she was my closest friend ever in my life. And so it is quite painful to lose her.

J: Yeah, of course.

N: And basically it was 2 of us plus people around us. So I never was really attached to somebody else in our group, just with Kat. So when I lost her, I know I am by myself.

J: When you started Pussy Riot, what were the main goals? Besides getting as loud as you could. What was the political agenda and what were you doing to reach those goals?

N: It was about rage. It wasn’t a rational plan. Obviously you couldn’t believe that 2 or 3 girls could change the political system now. It was more about we had so much pain inside of us, so it was more psycho-therapeutical gesture to just help ourselves. I wanted to know that I did everything that I could. We just had to disturb the thread. One reason was Putin and the other reason was feminism. And we didn’t have any feminist political band in Russia at that point. Even if we didn’t know how to play the instruments, I mean, I could play piano but piano has nothing to do with punk. Or nowadays punk, I use piano, but back in the days, I felt that I couldn’t use piano if I’m punk. Right now I think the opposite. I think punk should break all rules. If they think that you should play the guitar on the stage, you should come and play some classical music, I believe. But yes, back in the days I believed that I couldn’t do it. I cannot play the guitar, so basically I’m nothing in punk music. But we still really want to do express our ideas, so we just stole some samples from old Oi! punk bands like Angelic Upstarts, and Sham 69. Cockney Rejects. The first moment when music really started to be important for me was the summer of last year. I decided to – I was just curious of what will happen if I will really take care of music. And I started to find people. It was so hard to find people with who I could work with. Because I started to do it in Russia and everybody was so scared. My husband had his friend for a few years in jail and nobody wanted to repeat this experience. So that’s why people weren’t excited about this opportunity.

J: I understand. I understand. Were you surprised back then, the attention and support you got from the rest of the world?

N: Yes, of course. Because it never happened before and it never happened after. Somebody who is a political prisoner in Russia. It was great but it was painful in a way too because I know there are some political prisoners right now who maybe deserve even more attention but they don’t get it. I think it wasn’t just by chance. It was partly because I was always very super western person inside of Russia. So I decided that it would be a political band with super clear goals, which is understandable for the rest of the world, to be against Putin and to be for women’s rights. It’s just clear and understandable for the Western mind. And even the fact that we’d been inspired by American Riot Grrrl movement. It made the – it was easy to read us. It was easy to recognize us.

J: Why did you cover your face?

N: Because we had another political band before – not a band – but a political art collective. And we were being so frustrated that nobody does these actions but just we are doing these actions. So we decided to create another collective. Just to create this feeling there are at least two collectives that are doing this action. And if we will be with our faces, they will know that we are from this other collective. And another reason was that our previous collective, we were split so we had two main pairs in our collective, and this split was on two parts. So another part of our collective, they started a huge war against us, just to destroy us in the press. I was so pissed when I’m doing some action nobody speak for political ideas that was behind these actions, but “if they are part of this band or not?” And I was like, it’s not important. That was the reason I decided just to forget the previous name and invent Pussy Riot, which should be, which had to be the whole new art page in my life. And, you know, I was always fascinated by the power of Black Block on administration.

J: The power of what?

N: Black Block. You know this? In all big political demonstrations they have Black Block in Europe, not here. Who just crush everything – police cars and banks. They always wear black and they cover their faces. I’m not sure that I could be part of Black Block.

J: They’re violent, yeah?

N: Yeah. When I was — I don’t know, because it was interesting to me how people could, there is, very risk their freedom for things in what they believe. And I’m against violence, but I’m attracted by people who are ready to risk. So it’s why I wanted to do a replica of their outfit, but with more bright, clown-y, irony attitude, which is why we never wear black mask or dark masks. It should be understandable for everybody when they see us that we’re not scary, we’re funny. We won’t harm you.

J: Right. Where did you get the mask?

N: Just simple hats in the shop. We stole them, yeah.

J: You stole them?

N: Mhmm.

J: And you cut the holes?

N: Uh huh.

J: They’re good. I like them. I like the colors. (Laughs) I’m happy that you’re happy. It seems to me that you landed in a good place. It’s been so fucking great to work with you.

N: It was great for me. I bet it was greater for me.

J: No, well, no, because it’s very, it’s rare for me to get surprised nowadays. I kind of know what I’m getting into every time I do it. Anyway, I thought you were great. And what I brought with me home afterwards was like, you can do anything you want.

N: (Laughs)

J: You really can. And that’s how I feel.

N: Just because I believe in that.

J: No because you’re – well, that’s a good start but you’re also really talented on many levels.

N: Thank you.

J: On many, many levels, and that’s what I take with me. Of course, I think we share our political agenda quite a lot. I don’t know of everything that you know.

N: I don’t know everything that you know.

J: No, and we come from different worlds.

N: Yeah.

J: But we’re kind of alike, I feel. I feel that we’re alike, we’re the same types, even though we’re different in so many ways. It was great. What this work can do for us, for you, and your revolution or whatever it is that you call it, I have no idea. You know, but if it just makes a little bit of a difference, I’m happy that I could help you.

N: Why do you have no idea?

J: Because you never know. Its timing is something we cannot control.

N: That’s great if you can’t control everything. What’s the reason to be alive then?

J: No, it’s great. But you know that some of the best work I’ve done didn’t get any attention. And sometimes something that you didn’t expect to get any attention brought you a lot of attention. It’s all about timing.

N: But you couldn’t measure everything just by attention. I think I would have some attention but I’m not – I’m happy right now that we’ve done it.

J: Me too.

N: Just let it go.

J: I have to stop there. Because when I’m done with a job, it’s completely out of my control. And I learned early on that I’ve nothing to do with that part. Distribution.

N: I have a lot of things to do with that but it’s just another way.

J: Yeah. You were basically my client, you’re my client. I’m here, I’m at your service.

N: “Client”. (Laughs) I’ve never been somebody’s client.

J: Well, you are now. And so it’s out of my control. It’s actually your responsibility to make sure that this video gets alive. Not mine.

N: I don’t know. Just make sure we don’t believe in luck and artificial efforts to make it alive. I mean, to some extent you could push it, but it just happens or not.

J: Yeah. But like I said, that timing it’s impossible.

J: So are you doing a full album? Is that the goal, to release a full–?

N: That’s not the goal. The goal is actually music videos. Because I’m always thinking in the form of music videos. Because I’m always thinking in the form of communicative. It’s easy to communicate with people through music videos. And I don’t really believe in albums. It could happen at some point, but it’s not the goal. The goal is just to do a bunch of music that I’m really happy about.

J: That’s good.

N: And so to help me with visual ideas. And just the goal to have this vehicle to say what I care about in this moment. That’s the strategy. And I’m happy to have this strategy.

J: Are you still hungry?

N: No, I just thought that I needed meat.

J: You needed some meat.

N: Mm, it’s great.

J: Right.

N: You know another problem with Russia is – I mean, we didn’t have it in the 90s. We had the open culture. It was just suddenly everybody started to celebrate the fall of the Soviet Union, and we’ve been one of the most open cultures. But then Putin came to power and everything changed, and right now we are so intolerant to unusual things. And I’m all about unusual things. It is my fucking goal in life to perform everything unusual. So this is why I couldn’t be so open about who I am and who I want to be. And here, in this culture, probably because of the civil rights movement, it’s not like it’s perfect here, but people were taught here, at least some of the them, to accept something which is different. So this is obviously why I feel more free in developing myself, in constructing my identity.

J: So what’s the solution in Russia then? Just getting rid of Putin? But then some other asshole is going to take over. What’s going to happen?

N: It is possible. I think, that’s why I don’t like to answer on this question. When it will happen, I think that unfortunately it’s a long-term project. To have to educate people and provide them an alternative point of view. And that’s what we’re doing through our medium. It works. It changes some people. You know, you never know what will happen. Look at Egypt. It’s not fun right now there. But at least it is a chance.

J: Right.

N: Like in Ukraine, they still have a lot of corruption. And they still fight for the same things. But they changed a lot. They changed the whole police system. And the police system is not so corrupted anymore as it used to be. But they have problems with high level corruption still. And also it is important that people start to care about politics, and they enjoyed the power, their own power so they could get rid of government if they don’t like it. And that’s important.

J: Yeah.

N: And it’s not a paradise right away. I have been in Ukraine and we created this music video, “Organs”. It was so easy to find people to work there, then I had no money at the time, less than $3,000 on this video. But I just came to the Ukraine and in 5 days we’d done this music video. And you know, when you have no money, it’s possible when you have a normal budget. But for me, you know, it was that kind of miracle. Those people just started to gather around this anti-Putin idea. That’s why the revolution was important because they found out how they could self-organize. So the main answer, that is always process. Of course, when you’re young, you believe that something could change like that. [snaps fingers]. But then you become older and older, you see life, how everything is growing like trees. It’s a process, unfortunately.

J: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But you do see a light?

N: Well—

J: I mean, I feel, I don’t know about Russia. But I feel like I go to a lot of European countries and I feel how the countries are kind of like on their way up.

N: Like Hungary?

J: Like Hungary. Or Czech.

N: What do you think about Hungary?

J: Well, I only see if from when I’m there working and compare it to other places that I go to. And I feel like there’s an enthusiasm and energy that makes me think that it’s on its way up. It’s an attitude. But when I’m here in America, I feel like America is on the way down.

N: Maybe.

J: And that’s just based on how I feel. I follow the political climate pretty well here, right now, especially now with the election and everything. But I turn mostly to Swedish news to get the good reports. I can’t really watch American news. BBC or Swedish news. That’s what I’m –

N: Oh, of course, that’s the problem with American media. Usually to read about American news, I need to go to The Guardian.

J: Right.

N: And another disaster – I don’t know why people are not marching down the street every day until the fucking medical system will not be improved. Because it’s about everyone. Everyone could suffer from the bad medical system. And I just went to the pharmacy. I went to a doctor and then I went to pharmacy, and I had to take one medication, which costs $1 in Russia, without any prescription. So you don’t have to spend $100 on doctor to get your prescription and then go to pharmacy. You just go and buy for $1. But here, I spend $100 on doctor to go to pharmacy and realize that it costs $900, and I was like, “no, no. I will ask somebody to bring it from Russia.” It’s just crazy. The same thing.

J: So there’s a few things that are better in Russia than here.

N: Actually, yes. There are a lot of things. Just because we really, like Russian people really believe that the government should protect them in terms of medical care. Their belief that the government should protect them have a lot of bad sides, so they could agree to an authoritarian system because of that. Originally in the Soviet Union, it was like that. But really a lot of people enjoyed to live in the Soviet Union. They couldn’t speak about politics. They couldn’t express themselves about that. But they didn’t want to do that, really, because they were not used to that. They didn’t have the thought in their minds. And just some of them. But they were enjoying the fact that they could have, they will have jobs for sure. They will have jobs. They shouldn’t really think that they will not have anything to feed their kids. It’s not rich life, but they know that they will have something. And medical system.

J: Yeah.

N: And education. It wasn’t so bad. Obviously it was super-ideological. It was great in technical sciences.

J: Yeah. It’s interesting to see how you can get – one thing that’s such a huge issue [in America], they just made it work somewhere else. And it’s like stuff like free education. It’s like open jail system in some countries. The legalizing of drugs in Portugal. It’s not as simple as just to legalize drugs. You got to take the consequences. But if you do, it kind of works really well. And if you would even suggest that here, there would be a – I mean.

N: Oh God, if you were to suggest in Russia, it would be a disaster for your career. Your political career, for example.

J: Do you want more wine, by the way?

N: No! Not yet. (Laughs)

J: Okay. I think we’re done.

N: Yeah.

J: You still hungry? You okay?

N: No, I’m not hungry at all. I ate the whole cheesecake.

J: Almost. Okay.

N: I’m glad. It was great lunch.

J: Yeah, it’s always great to see you. I love seeing you.

N: I love to see you too.

Interviewed by Jonas Åkerlund