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Taking Over Heaven: An Interview with JINJER's Tatiana Shmailyuk

"When you have nothing to lose, all you own is your persistence…”


Across the entire musical spectrum, bands and artists fail on a daily basis. The struggles they face take a physical and psychological toll, even if they happen to emerge from affluent backgrounds and iconic cities, where opportunities for growth and progression are present in abundance. Beginning as it did in the depths of war-torn Ukraine, Jinjer’s rise was not fuelled by the benefits of privilege, luxury, or indulgence.

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“There are two ways of achieving success,” Jinjer vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk states. “Either you have a lot of money, or you're just fucking hard-working pieces of shit! We're the second one. When you have nothing, when you have nothing to lose, then all you own is your persistence.”

Taking Over Heaven: An Interview with JINJER's Tatiana Shmailyuk

That persistence has definitely paid off. Our conversation takes place backstage in Heaven, a labyrinthine London venue situated moments from Whitehall, Downing Street, and the Houses of Parliament – the core of Britain’s government. Shortly after we finish, Jinjer’s support acts will begin a sold-out show culminating in a devastating showing from one of metal’s most deservedly viral bands. 1,000 people will remember this evening for the rest of their lives – and Jinjer have paid a hefty price to make it happen.

“You have to be risky, all the time,” Shmailyuk explains. “Each of us sacrificed something. In general, we sacrificed by living with our parents or families. For me, it's a couple of things that I don't want to think about, because it makes me sad every time, and makes me want to quit when I think about it. I just don't like to look back.”

“Some of us sacrificed watching their children grow up – and I think that's a huge thing to sacrifice. Not everyone in this world can do that. I remember seeing a picture of Dave Mustaine with his son, who was maybe in his early teens, and there was a quote from Dave, saying that he really wished he hadn't spent so much time on tour. So probably I should have children, or maybe I would have – but that's another sacrifice.”

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Long before Jinjer passed through the gates of Heaven, Shmailyuk was first encouraged to explore the world of rock and metal by her older brother. “He’s six years older than me, and brought some rock music into our house. So I started from rock – Russian rock, to be specific. Then I started to listen to punk rock, and grunge, alternative metal, then nu-metal, and that's how it happened. Later on, I also discovered OpethAnathema, and Tool.”

Even with her sibling’s support, the odds of metal stardom remained firmly against Shmailyuk and her future bandmates. “Metal is not popular in Ukraine, so it's just considered music for teenagers,” Shmailyuk continues, “and when you turn 30, you say goodbye to music. When we were in New York, on tour with Devildriver, the guy who did the artwork for our Micro EP told me that he wasn’t into metal anymore, and thought it was just music for youngsters. I was like ‘Dude, I’m 31, and I don’t look or act like a teenager – you don’t have to say that [laughs]!’”

As it happens, Jinjer’s opening act, Space of Variations, also hail from Ukraine, and put in an impressively confident and commanding performance. “They're one of the greatest bands in Ukraine so far,” says Shmailyuk. “They're young, but they still have a lot of things to show the world.”

Space of Variations also have some powerful mentors to hand, even though their journey is just beginning. “I've been doing this for a really long time, since I was 14 or 15, when I had my first band,” Shmailyuk says as the conversation returns to the topic of perseverance. “It's been over 17 years already – and when you've been doing this shit for such a long time, I have no idea what I would do if I were a different person. What kind of profession would I get? So this is the only variant of living for me. I cannot see myself living another life.”

Taking Over Heaven: An Interview with JINJER's Tatiana Shmailyuk

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As their status continues to improve, Jinjer’s new protégés will also have to confront a degree of online opposition – something Shmailyuk is no stranger to. “You know, I didn't notice any kind of sexism before I started to get asked those questions,” Shmailyuk begins, “but then, I realised I had a lot of haters saying that I ‘just sound like tits singing,’ or ‘This bitch is so loud – can you imagine how loud she is in bed,’ and it's so insulting. But then you just have to feel pity for those people. I feel sorry for the whole internet platform, and any platform that gives such people an opportunity to express their point of view. Even if it's just a fart, ha ha!”

“I would like to live in the 90s, or the 80s, being a rock star then, and not being involved in social media or whatever. So you can just take drugs, drink alcohol, party, and not give a shit about what a fan's grandmother thinks about you,” Shmailyuk laughs. “It's crazy. We all should probably just delete ourselves from social media, artists anyway. But it's the age of self-promotion, and that's why we're there and dealing with the haters.”

“I keep away from comments. I don't read comments on Facebook or YouTube, or whatever. I don't read comments on my interviews, and I know I'm not perfect. I know every single bad thing about me, so I don't like reading people's opinions about my bad side [laughs], and about my flaws. I keep on going. I'm really sensitive, so probably if I read every single comment, I would stop doing this.”

It's a small jump from online abuse to mental health issues, but the author of Jinjer’s classic “Words of Wisdom” has developed a well-considered view of such pervasive problems. “I’m usually nervous before I go onstage – and sometimes I’ve had really severe anxiety,” says Shmailyuk. “So I’m always nervous. But I can take a shot of alcohol, just to relax – or just jump straight into this sea of emotions, and see what happens. Usually it's not as horrible as it seemed to be.”

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“The moment you realise that you have mental health issues is the first step towards curing them,” Shmailyuk says before the list of interview questions ends, and we continue discussing Shape of Variations. “I don't know anyone who doesn't have insecurities – and even if it seems like they don't, they probably pretend, or can deal with them. With "Pit of Consciousness” [a track from Jinjer’s new album Macro, reviewed on Metal Injection here], I wanted to express that it's okay to not be okay – but at the same time, you need to work out how to do something to fix yourself.”

“With music and art, it's a different story. You can sing about it, and it still stays with you, but somehow you release it. For me, if I meet a person with insecurities just like mine, the whole package, I realise I'm not the only one, even though I thought I was the only one. When we meet people with the same problems, it makes us a little kinder and more compassionate. We can help. Even if two people are broken, I think they can actually fix themselves, or fix each other.”

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Shout out to our photographer Mihaela Petrescu.