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Arts & Culture

Igor and the Red Elvises band leader laments war in his home country

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Igor and the Red Elvises
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So what's a band in the United States to do these days when they've based their identity on being Russian? Igor and the Red Elvises bandleader Igor Yusov's answer? Keep rockin’.

Yusov grew up in Odessa, Ukraine, which was then a part of the Soviet Union.

“It's on the Black Sea…it was the life of a young beach bum. You know, you pick up a guitar and play songs for the girls. It was very poor, but I think kind of romantic,” he said of his hometown.

He first started his musical career playing in his brother's band.

They kind of had a kind of a cover band which played like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and they also played lots of weddings — you know — playing Moldavian music, Ukrainian music, klezmer music, Russian music,” said Yusov. “I was exposed to a lot of international music. I just didn't know it was international. I thought it was local.”

In 1991, Yusov realized his dream of moving to the U.S. He, along with his band, landed in Los Angeles. They started out as street performers in Santa Monica. In those days, U.S. Russian relations were beginning to improve, and Igor said Americans welcomed them with open arms.

I was actually surprised by the hospitality of (the) American people. You know, people were supporting us, you know, throwing bucks in the guitar case and, you know, letting us stay at their houses,” he said.

In 1996, propelled by Yusov's tongue in cheek Russian humor and musical sensibility, they released their first album and found audiences that were ready to groove to the Moscow beat.

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Emily Butler Photography
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Igor Yusov
Igor Yusov performs with The Red Elvises

Fast forward to present day, the Russian invasion of Ukraine took Igor by surprise.

I was shocked and I'm still shocked,” said Yusov. “I still cannot really believe it's happening, it seems to me tomorrow we wake up and nothing happened. You know, I just still cannot believe it's happening.”

 Igor says most people have been supportive of him and the band since the war started.

(Some) people think we're Ukrainians. Some people think we're Russian. I think I'm getting a lot of support from people who think I'm Ukrainian, and we get some kind of cold shoulder from people who think I'm Russian,” said Yusov.

Yusov has friends and family in both Ukraine and Russia, and he tries not to wade into the politics of the Russian invasion, but he hopes it will end soon.

I'm really hoping the whole thing will be over the sooner, the better. Somebody has to stop it. I don't know who can it be?”

For now, the war has dashed his hopes of performing back in his home territory.

You know, good old days we toured in Kiev, we toured in Moscow, we toured in Siberia, and now it's the end…for now. And hopefully one day we'll be able to do it again,” said Yusov.

Igor and the Red Elvises spend about six to eight months out of the year touring in their van from one end of the United States to the other, just like he dreamed of doing as a young man in Ukraine. Now he hopes that war will end and the music will go on.

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