I have had the absolute pleasure of making Vladymir Rogov’s acquaintance through the magic of the Internet. He graciously agreed to provide an interview. Much to my delight, he put a whole lot of effort and energy into his answers, making this a fabulous learning experience for us all. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy absorbing all there is to know about this personable and highly gifted artist.
Where do you originally come from?
I usually start with “when.” I was born in West Germany of Russian parents. My first languages were Russian at home, Polish on the street and German at school. At age 11 I went to England and attended an English school. I was put in a class full of English kids until I started to understand what the teacher and the other kids were saying. That’s how I learned English, by deep immersion. I lived there for 16 years, during the 60’s and the early 70’s British music and cultural revolution. England was quite a contrast to Germany, which was ominously divided. Everything was in ruins, everyone was in transition and we were the “refugees.” After 16 years of English culture, I immigrated to Canada in ’75. This was a new world which sounded exciting. I lived in Toronto for 8 years. In ’83 I moved to San Diego, California.
What made you decide to go into music?
I think that I got swept up by music at a very early age and never brought down. Some of the first music I heard were Polish and Russian folk songs. The songs were deep, many were dark and many were funny. The Poles & Russians have a particular way of poking fun at their conditions. As a kid I would see people playing guitars and singing. It was uplifting and I wanted to do that too. I could not afford to buy a guitar, so I decided to make my own. By age fourteen, I had designed and built my own electric guitar. I plugged it in and it worked. This was in England, and the song I played was, “In Dreams,” by Roy Orbison. Who would have thought this was going to be my ultimate calling in life — music and design, sound and vision.
At first, I was directed into studying engineering, but I switched to art and design, and graduated from Guilford School of Art. I also played in a band called Red Earth all through Art School. We played all around the south of England. Later in London, I was designing slick furniture for Conran and the Habitat shops, while writing songs for Mickie Most (producer of the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” Herman’s Hermits, Donavon, etc.). In Canada, I was designing things from car interiors to gas stations and recording songs that were played on the radio.
Who were your strongest musical influences?
As I mentioned, in Germany during the 50’s, the Polish and Russian folk songs. And Freddy Quinn, a baritone from Hamburg who sang about sailors, mothers, lost love, and the open sea. In England it was Elvis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkel, and Hot Chocolate. During my Canadian years I liked the sound of Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Seger, Talking Heads, the Cars, and Pink Floyd.
Where did the name for your first band – “ARKITEX” – come from?
I was preparing to play the HEATWAVE music festival in September of 1980 — as the opening act in a lineup that included the B52’s, Pretenders, Rockpile, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, the Kings and more. I was rehearsing a backup band. We had to call the band something. Someone suggested “Vladymir and the Architects,” and it evolved into “Vladymir Rogov and his band Arkitex.” Eventually ARKITEX became my design project for the 80‘s, which resulted in the album in 1981.
What was your most exciting moment as a musician?
There have been many: hearing my first record on the radio; working with Mickie Most; playing a big outdoor concert like “Heatwave.” As a song writer, having a song covered by another artist – when Long John Baldry, (a legend) covered “Love is a Killer.” But these are the external moments. The internal moments happen when no one else is listening, while I’m playing alone. Getting that perfect combination of space between what my voice and what the guitar is doing. It’s unexplainable. When you fall into the perfect groove, it feels as if you can’t sing or play a bad line. Music is so much about the timing and swing. And when everything is in its place, it seems to defy gravity — gives me goose bumps!
What have you been doing since you disbanded ARKITEX?
After a particularly long and cold Canadian winter in 1983, and inspired by my song “First World Calling” from the ARKITEX album, I married my girlfriend and we drove off to California in my red VW bug — on a mission to elevate function to fine art, we opened a design studio in San Diego, and brought high-touch to the world of high-technology.
Do you currently have a band, or are you solo?
Technology has come up to a level where one person can be all the members of a band. Mozart was an individual who created music, but it took an army of players to reproduce what he heard. Today, it can take one or as many players or collaborators as you want, to capture a performance. On the new ARKITEX album, Glass Man, I am the band, with very special guest musicians, that came into my life.
Tell us about the latest tracks that David Marsden has been playing in recent months.
“First World Calling” – is from ARKITEX 1981, a “tongue-in-cheek” prediction about computer connection possibilities. Now we can do what l sang about. In fact billions of people are connected, globally. So, what began as a computer technology muse has become our reality. During the past 30 years, computers have created social media, internet radio, video and global connections on an unprecedented scale.
“Lincoln Walk” – ARKITEX 1981 was composed during the end of a stormy, winter when Torontonians are anticipating spring. A long walk along Queen Street East, developed the groove and it took off… a celebration of going outdoors without boots, coats, scarves, gloves…
“Where is the Love” – is a tortured love-lost rock ballad, from recording sessions I did back in Toronto (December 1994) with legendary producer, John Punter. This song includes Sam Reid from Glass Tiger, playing most of the keyboards. On guitar is the legendary Chris Spedding, and Liz… on background vocals.
“Everybody’s Crazy” – is from the new ARKITEX album, Glass Man. Based on the first song I ever wrote, back in 1969 in England. I sing and play all the instruments through the entire song.
“If a Tree Falls in the Forest” is also from the new ARKITEX album, Glass Man. It is a muse about true friends.
What inspired you to go back into the recording studio?
It’s been 30 years since the release of the first ARKITEX album. The process of recording is different from playing live concerts. I have been recording, starting with tape recorders, since the age of thirteen. Although my first two albums were recorded in Toronto studios, after moving to San Diego, I started creating my own studio and began recording again. Thirty years has to be some kind of a record, no pun intended, but recording studios have evolved for the better. There’s more time to experiment and learn new things. We have come up to a level where one person can be all the elements in a composition or band. Today I can go direct to play and record — sing the melody, set up a drumbeat, play a bass line, fill spaces with strings, play guitar, in any order that feels good, until I’m happy with the results.
Which comes first – lyrics or melody?
One, and the other. Sometimes simultaneously. On “If a Tree Falls in the Forest” from the ARKITEX album, Glass Man, the music came first. It started with an interesting piano chord progression — which I played over and over again. One day I thought I’d give it a try on my recording work station and it just took off from there. The music inspired the lyrics and it evolved very quickly. Those are the moments that I live for — experiencing a song/design that evolves from nothing to something. It’s magical. Some songs take years, even decades.
Each song tends to evolve out of itself. I’m often as surprised as anyone else with the final result. One can say things in songs which can not be said in any other medium. Michael Jackson once said that writing songs is like channeling an energy that is actually doing the writing. I feel the same way. One is not really in charge of what is happening. The skill/thrill is in going along with it, and capturing what shows up.
With “First World Calling”, the lyrics came first. I was reading an article in Canada’s Macleans Magazine (1979) about computers. The author was introducing these technology words that sounded cool. The article inspired the song. This has turned out to become a prophecy, a future vision about computers, in my amused way. The lyrics still make me laugh. I have since worked for many computer factories and today, computers are a window into other people’s lives. The song goes, “I got a job at the computer factory, exactly what I do has never bothered me. I feel at home with my computerized toys, don’t need to get around, nor do the rest of the boys…” Some prediction, eh? Here we are 30 years later and billions of people are connected via computers. Before that, we were individuals in countries, socially and spiritually isolated islands. Now, we can have friends on Facebook world wide. “We got communication at the speed of light, information of a laser’s byte. You can compute it, you can dilute it or turn it all into a ga, ga, game.” We can instantly share and explore ideas, dreams and convictions, on a global scale. It’s a magical time to be living.
Besides music, your other passion is design. What do you create, and how does it relate to music?
Although we are used to separating the disciplines, I wouldn’t be surprised if a formal study showed that more “modern musicians” have come out of art schools than music conservatories. Here are a few: The Beatles (John Lennon), The Rolling Stones (Charlie, Keith and Ronnie), The Who (Pete), The Kinks (Ray), Roxy Music (Eno, Bryan Ferry), David Bowie, The Clash (Mick, Paul, Joe), REM (Michael Stipe), Echo and the Bunnymen (Ian McCulloch), Pink Floyd (art & architecture), New Order / Joy Division, The Stone Roses, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, Underworld, Radiohead, Kraftwerk, Linkin Park, and so on. On a recent trip to London I was in Harrods, an upscale department store, and was surprised to see watercolor paintings by Bob Dylan, for sale. I know him as a musician, but there were his paintings… Cool!
We live in a designed world. Making music is designing with sound. In the past, the amount of tools and equipment required to be able to create sound and vision side by side made it difficult. When I lived in London for example, I was designing slick furniture at Conran’s studio in one part of London, then I would take the tube over to Mickie Most’s offices across the city and write songs. In those days, those two activities could not occur in the same space. Today, neither activities need to take up a lot of space. This means that I can be designing a product, while creating the music to go with it, and produce a video about it at another computer station, all at the same time. That’s my evolution in design. I also follow the theory that “a change is as good as a rest.” So, when I need a rest from one project, I switch to the other, as a way to relax and re-energize. It also sets a pace of moving to my own rhythm — that’s my way of resting.
Over the years, I have designed everything — from musical instruments to luxury vehicles. Medical instruments to exotic lifestyle products. Military equipment to trade-shows for mega-brands like Chrysler, Fiat, Ford. Sleek home products from glassware to lighting. Coolers for Coleman; luxurious bathroom systems for Boeing; exotic seating for Aston Martin; self-serve gas station for Exxon; printers for Hewlett-Packard; motion capture cameras for Kodak; point-of-purchase displays for Yamaha; TVs for Samsung; clocks and musical instruments for CASIO.
Along with a plethora of criteria, the sounds that objects emit, play a critical role in our perception of quality. Beautiful things have desirable sounds and a certain rhythm about them. Over the course, my designs have helped improve the lives of people around the world. I have received numerous international awards, including two “International Design Excellence Awards” (IDEA) from the Industrial Designers Society of America.
On another level, as our worlds come together, people need a broader understanding of how to use style and design their lives. Towards this, I have also created a lecture called Parallel Universe ( http://www.rogov.com/Parallel_Universe.html) which demystifies the mystery of style. It explores a world where all styles coexist in parallel. I show that nothing really goes away, but carries forward year after year into the present. I give my audience five keys to help track the origins of design influences in architecture, furniture, products and fashion. From Modern through Goth, Medieval, Baroque to Ancient. Parallel Universe illustrates how it all is still evolving. And like music, it is all just a matter of preference. There is no latest or greatest; it’s all the latest if you have never heard or seen it before.
In 2010 I designed the Desk Architecture collection, with a view that elevates everyday objects to fine art and is focused on the social rituals and human interactions between people. Simple things like an ashtray, for example, is designed to last for generations and represent the social transactions occurring when people share a smoke — a ritual that has survived centuries. Instead of being disposable, these things will last for generations and pass on the karma.
In a nutshell, I teach art, culture and business and I speak through my creations — music and design. If I can continue to share that, I will have contributed something of value to mankind.
What is your favorite music decade? Why?
I heard recently that no matter who you are, if you were to pick up a guitar and strum it, you would settle into a groove that was popular in your high school years. The rhythm of “that” period tends to become our defining groove. Since every decade has its defining groove, for me, that would be the late 60‘s and early 70‘s. It shows, because I tend to know more songs from my high school days, than from any other period. However, there are some exotic new grooves that represent today, and good songs can work in any groove just as well. “New-Wave” from the 80‘s has now also become a genre, like heavy metal, country or classic rock. So, we can consider, “First World Calling” as an 80’s New-Wave Rap song. I would love to hear a current Rapper do it.
Any chance of an ARKITEX reunion?
That would be quite a nostalgic show. Particularly if it was the core lineup who performed at Heatwave: Statten Holly on guitar, Peter Goodale (Michael McKenna Band) on keyboards, Penty “Whitey” Glan (Alice Cooper Band) on drums and Ron Garant (Long John Baldry) on Bass.
Can we expect more music from Vladymir Rogov in the near future?
This is my calling. While I’m still breathing, I’ll be designing in sound and vision. I say, “never stop learning, the best is yet to come.” …ARKITEX lives!”
Vladymir Rogov – “Bring on the Dancing Girls” / “All Around the World” – 1978, (Single)
Vladymir Rogov – “There’s a Woman in that Child” / “Time Boy” – 1979 (Single)
Vladymir Rogov – Love is a Killer – 1980 (Album on iTunes)
ARKITEX – “Throwing my Heart to the Wind” / “Call it Love” – 1981 (Single)
ARKITEX – 1981 (Album on iTunes)
ARKITEX – Delight, 1995 released 2011 (EP on iTunes)
ARKITEX – Glass Man 2011 (Album on iTunes, June)
Fast Fun Facts:
Vintage Vladymir Rogov – Love is a Killer and ARKITEX vinyls are selling on Ebay, and other places.
“No Tracks for This Train” from the first album Love is a Killer 1980 is on an extended list of Canadian train songs.
“Throwing my Heart to the Wind” is in the Museum of Canadian Music.
Did U know?! That’s Vladymir sporting his Russian Czar’s hat, on the cover of Rush album Moving Pictures (1981).
Long John Baldry covered “Love is a Killer” from Rogov’s first album.
New World, Australian band, (A Mickie Most production) recorded “Jolson” a Rogov composition.
“Man I sure love the looks of this.” Stevie Wonder, exclaimed as he placed his hands over Rogov’s award winning music synthesizer.
BOOK, The Fifties and Sixties, A Lifestyle Revolution by Miriam Akhtar & Steve Humphries. Features a cover photo of Vladymir, age 12.
Desk Architecture, the collection of desk and personal space objects, designed to last way beyond our lifetime. www.deskarchitecture.com
ROGOV’s Desk Architecture collection “stars” with Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman in Trespass, a new thriller by Joel Schumacher. (releasing 2012)
Design Lecture – Parallel Universe 2011. Trailer is here: http://www.rogov.com/Parallel_Universe.html
Look forward to ROGOV’s design collaborations — pens and other collectibles with ACME Studios, Hawaii.