The Moscow TimesLike all popular music groups, the Jukebox Trio has its own successful formula. Presenting a rich mix of classic covers and original material in an open, friendly, accessible style – with two singers and a human beatbox – it’s hard not to enjoy the experience of seeing them play.

“I don’t know any other a cappella bands with only three people,” says lead singer Vladimir Ivanov. “Usually they have six, but we cut it down to the main things: bass, rhythm and melody. And actually, that’s all you really need in music.” Clever live sampling techniques are also often used to create layered, harmonised soundscapes that give the impression of more voices.

The group formed in 2004, when brothers Vladimir and Ilya Ivanov met Kirill Sharafutdinov at a vocal studio where they learned jazz and funk fundamentals. “We had mutual interests, we were listening to a lot of the same music – Bobby McFerrin, Take 6, Queen, The Beatles. It’s different music but we like it all,” explains Vladimir.

At live shows, this diversity is evident. Reworked Elvis Presley hits, silky Bossa Nova ballads and sermonising soulful serenades are all on the agenda. The penultimate track on the Trio’s debut album, Acappellipsis, features a list of influential artists: names as varied as Ozzy Ozbourne, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and the Chemical Brothers are recited in comically exaggerated Russian accents.

However, copies of the CD are somewhat hard to come by. “We decided not to sell the album in shops, it’s only available at our concerts,” says Vladimir. Why? “It’s a big problem to make a good production with Russian record labels. They are really down now.” He also cites the mercenary nature of the country’s music industry as something the group wants to avoid. “Radio stations and TV channels play everything just for money, apart from maybe Western musicians – mainstream stuff. If you want to be big in Russia, you have to pay.

“The most important thing with Jukebox Trio is that, at first, it wasn’t for money – simply for pleasure. When we started to earn money with the music, it was a bonus. And that’s still the order of priorities.”

The fickle nature of the scene in their home city, Kazan, was another obstacle the group strove to overcome. “The funny thing about Kazan is that, as it’s the capital of Tatarstan, the Tatar public tend to like mostly Tatar singers. We were like some kind of circus for them. Breaking onto Moscow stages in 2006 was a really big step for us – people started to say we were musicians and not just a circus, we were getting real respect,” says Vladimir.

A subsequent string of gigs around Russia earned Jukebox many fine reviews, as well as a prize from pop heroine Alla Pugacheva and the chance to open Elton John’s show in Rostov-on-Don. They are already writing for a third CD, which will come after an album comprising cover versions of well-known Russian rock songs.

Ilya Ivanov, the Trio’s rhythmic engine, is optimistic about future prospects. “We’re hoping to collaborate with a suitable record label, which can help us produce great albums.” And in the long term, he makes no secret of lofty ambitions: “We want to become famous and be like rock stars all over the world – at least like The Beatles! I want to travel and perform in many different countries. And I think it is really possible, because I believe in the power of music.”

The Jukebox Trio take music down to its basic elements, focusing on the purity and versatility of the human voice – no instruments required. An online video for their song ‘So… Let Me Know’ emphatically illustrates this concept, as the group are shown smashing guitars into splinters at the tune’s climax. Don’t expect that to happen at every show, but, as Vladimir says, “you’ll be put in a good mood”.

Published in The Moscow Times, 9/6/09 – click here for original.