The red menace
Igor and the Red Elvises
Igor Yuzov still remembers cruising the streets for bootlegs of Beatles and Rolling Stones albums, illegal in the Soviet Union at the time. Rock ‘n’ roll music was considered by the KGB to be decadent and morally bankrupt, and therefore strictly banned. Despite this, Yuzov remembers Elvis Presley records in every home.
Today, Yuzov is the front man of the internationally popular Red Elvises. When he first started out, however, he just felt confident enough to cover the Western rock classics he'd heard on his bootlegs. It wasn't until he saw a Russian band called Time Machine perform in his hometown that he became inspired to write his own songs, culture police be damned.
“After I saw Time Machine, I was like, wow, I want to do that,” said Yuzov. “I went home and wrote three songs.”
Today, Yuzov has traded the winds of Russia for the warm beaches of Southern California, living a life he never could've foreseen. The Red Elvises have toured the world, released a series of independent albums, and carried the flame of rock music for two decades now.
“I never thought I'd play in an American rock 'n' roll band,” said Yuzov. “Never thought I'd live in Los Angeles, where I could go swimming in the ocean.”
His easygoing, fun-loving attitude is central to the mood of the Red Elvises. A Slavic twist on the American pop music styles of the '50s and '60s, the band is a perfect match for any party environment, large or small.
Aesthetically, the Red Elvises shoot for the moon, with bright colors, a blend of Soviet and Cold War-era American imagery, and playful misspellings and mispronunciations all aiming to undermine any sense of sternness or posturing projected on them by their audience.
“Our shows are a really informal good time,” said Yuzov. “Both Russians and Americans in my experience like to get together, get drunk, and dance.”
In addition to the flair of rockabilly and surf bands of the '60s, Yuzov says he's inspired by theater and circus shows, even military parades, in their approach to live performance. All these influences conspire to create a wild, unpredictable cabaret likely to convince a few people to belly dance.
“I think it's a fun thing to do,” said Yuzov. “It's a fun job.”
It's a job Yuzov has made for himself, a pursuit of an American Dream that resists turning into a mere commodity. The success enjoyed by The Red Elvises is entirely independent, as the band has rejected all offers to be bought out by record labels.
“If we want to sell an album or a movie, no one can stop us, otherwise that would be up to the record company,” said Yuzov. “I'm really glad that we kept the rights to ourselves.”
It's no doubt that remaining independent has allowed the Red Elvises to pursue their craft uninhibited. With close to 20 studio albums, two live performance films, and a long list of television appearances including Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular, Live 8, and Melrose Place, the band is going strong with no intention of stopping.
“It was crazy to perform right after Paul McCartney,” said Yuzov, of the performance at Live 8.
If receiving the honor and recognition of his Western musical heroes wasn't enough, Yuzov found his hometown heroes Time Machine and Aquarium took notice and admired his work.
“These were my teenage idols,” said Yuzov. “And they came to me and said, 'I liked your movie!'”