What happens when music grabs hold of you and wrestles you to the ground? Do you submit?
After years of forced classical conservatory piano training, something clicked with our Assistant Editor Anastasia Voitinskaia. She has since moved on to guitar, bass, Ableton Live, and Montreal’s bubbling music scene.
“Everyone’s coming from the same place of loving music and wanting to help folks love learning music.”
Anastasia does wonderful work on the editorial team – researching, writing, formatting text and images – transforming raw content into finished posts for the Musical U blog. Let’s learn more about what’s “behind the scenes” with the multifaceted Anastasia:
Q: Greetings Anastasia! We’ve been working together for a while now, and now is our chance to get to know more about you and and your musical life. Tell us about your musical background.
I play piano, guitar, bass, keys, and am also a very occasional and very shy vocalist.
It started, as it often does, with a child being forcibly dragged to piano lessons at a young age. I took classical piano under the Royal Conservatory for a total of 15 years, hating it for at least the first seven. To be fair, what nine-year-old wants to spend their days playing Bach while their friends are outside skateboarding?
It wasn’t until I was doing my 6th level that something changed.
In a sea of the curriculum’s usual classical music, they’d thrown in a tune called Jazz Exercise #2, by Oscar Peterson. Shame that they wait so long into the program to throw jazz piano in there – because for me, that changed everything. That was the moment I realized that playing music did not have to be an obligatory chore.
I had so much fun playing that piece, and received a near-perfect score on it in my practical piano examination.
After I completed the ten levels of the conservatory, I essentially never touched classical piano again, but was still listening to and playing jazz a lot of the time.
I pretty much entirely shifted gears to guitar after finishing the piano program. I had taken guitar lessons around the time I was finishing my 6th level of piano, but quit after about a year.
I picked up guitar once again while in university, playing covers of songs in my bedroom and at open mics for all four years. Towards the end of those years, I finally started jamming with others, and joined my first “real” band a short while later, playing rhythm guitar.
The thing with being in bands is that it’s addictive. Not long after that, I joined a punk band called Nice (good name, eh?) as a bassist, an instrument that I pretty much lied about knowing how to play.
A short while ago, that punk band fell apart, right around the time that I quit that first band I’d joined.
Then something weird happened: right around the time those two projects were reaching the end of the line, two new ones asked me to come on board. As a result, I currently play as part of a post-punk-meets-pop-punk band named Secret Portals, and a psychedelic rock project that is yet unnamed.
On top of that, I finally started something new that I’d been loafing on for years (out of a combination of fear and indecision): a solo project! A friend asked me if I wanted to play his birthday show. It was super-short notice, but in the span of a couple of weeks, I downloaded Ableton Live, figured out how to use it, and threw together a set of five songs. Because of its rushed nature, it certainly ended up being rather half-baked, but I’m still reasonably proud of it.
I’m currently in the process of writing more, and planning more shows and a split release with a friend in mid-September.
I suppose music initially drew me to it, seeing as I was pulled into the claws of the Conservatory.
Initially, what really got me excited about music in my later life was the discovery of classic rock. That made me pick up the guitar and start playing again, after having quit lessons years previously. For practically the entirety of high school, I was that person skulking around in a Led Zeppelin shirt and ranting to everyone who would listen about how the radio was crap and only played vapid top 40 pop.
My taste and approach to music changed a lot after leaving high school. When I was 17, I moved to Montreal, which is essentially the Canadian capital of music.
Here in Montreal, everyone and their mother is in a band, and on any given weeknight there are about 20 shows happening in the city. The sheer creative output of musicians in the city is staggering and so, so diverse. Everything from indie rock (which Montreal is known for, thanks to bands like Arcade Fire), pop, and jazz to experimental electronic music, drone, and techno. This diversity is impossible to ignore; living here, you end up listening to all sorts of bizarre and amazing stuff.
“It’s just a larger, weirder guitar”
Honestly, if I hadn’t moved here and befriended so many musicians, I doubt I would have continued making music this prolifically. People here have so much fun playing, and are very supportive and encouraging towards each other’s projects. It’s really another example of “The Scene That Celebrates Itself”. We all go to each other’s shows and there’s a lot of collaboration and cross-pollination.
Q: What a wonderful environment to learn and grow musically!I understand that you play several instruments. Which is your favorite one and why?
At the moment, it’d have to be bass! I started playing less than a year ago, with the question of “Why not? It’s just a larger, weirder guitar,” in my head. When I first started playing, I treated it accordingly, literally not thinking about it as a rhythm instrument at all. Pretty sure I was trying to play chords on it for the first while.
As time went on, I slowly came to figure out the role bass plays in a song, and that the idea is to follow the drummer, and not the guitarist.
It’s really satisfying to play, being both a rhythm instrument and a melodic one.
Can I say an honorable mention instrument? I’m gonna do it. The Arturia Microbrute synthesizer:
I’m borrowing one from a friend right now, and I gotta say, it’s the most fun little toy ever. It’s a semi-modular synth that can make these amazing, gnarly, robotic sounds. Best of all, you sculpt the sound yourself, and you can see first-hand how tweaking a knob on the synth changes the sound.
Q: That’s a lot of crazy sound for a little box! How would you describe your own music?
This question (and this interview, in fact!) comes at a good time – I only just recently started a solo project, so I can answer this one as an individual, and not just as a member of a band.
This question is a bit scary because I truthfully have no idea, seeing as this project is very new and I’m still figuring out my sound. In a lot of what I write, the music itself is relatively uptempo and “happy”, but the lyrics center around themes of loss, nostalgia, confusion, and mental illness. Especially that last one – for better or worse, my mental illness informs a lot of what I write, and my music ends up being highly confessional and autobiographical. I’m fine with that – it’s easy to write and it’s good to get it out.
With my solo stuff, I use Ableton Live to make beats/synth lines, then play distorted guitar and sing over top of that. The result is noisy and semi-electronic, but with an easily discernable melody. I really like juxtaposing “ugly” sounds with “pretty” melodies.
Q: I understand that you are also a sound technician. What kind of skills does that require?
First and foremost, there’s the basic knowledge of what to plug in where, how a soundboard works, etc. I’m the type of person who really learns best by doing, so this was the easiest part to learn, because it’s so tactile and hands-on.
A good ear is really important. There’s nothing worse than when the mix is muddy, or when an element can’t be heard at all. EQing takes practice, but you can really train your ear to get better at it quickly.
Also, it’s important to strike the balance between what the band wants and what you know sounds good. Doing sound is a collaborative process a lot of the time; the band knows what they’re supposed to sound like, and you know the gear/venue.
Q: What’s your favorite track these days?
I won’t lie; I find a lot of electronic music boring. It seems like everyone uses the same MicroKORG to make their tunes, and it all sounds pleasant, but exactly the same. Synths are capable of such a diverse array of weird and wonderful sounds, and in my opinion, not enough electronic musicians take the time to explore that.
So when I find something that’s more “weird” and challenging to listen to, I get really excited about it.
I haven’t stopped listening to Powell since my friend in the UK sent me his stuff a while back. His track “Jonny” is everything that electronic music should be.
Brilliant beat, great melody – and I’m really into the deadpan delivery of the vocals.
Q: Makes me hungry for watermelon! Could you tell us a bit about your work at Musical U?
I’m the Assistant Editor at Musical U, meaning I am Content Manager Andrew Bishko’s (the editor-in-chief, so to speak) henchperson.
Together, we are responsible for the steady stream of informative content getting published on the Musical U website. We have a great crew of regular and guest contributors who write about everything from musical improvisation and ear training to the history of Latin pop and how to lead a band. It’s my job to edit content, spruce it up with images/infographics, and make sure that it gets formatted and properly published. I often end up doing some of my own writing to fill in the gaps, and I write the occasional guestpost.
A little secret: a lot of the things I end up writing about, I am initially not-that-familiar with. One of the best parts of the job is I’m literally learning as I go; I spend time researching the topic at hand until I understand it, then phrase it in a way our readers can understand! They say that the best way to ensure that you understand something is to explain it, or teach it, to another person. I learn more about music every day that I’m on the job.
Q: What is your favorite part about working with the Musical U team?
Everyone’s zeal for the work they’re doing is massively inspiring. We’re a small team, yet we accomplish so much weekly.
It feels really great to work with other musicians in a context that is not a band, or orchestra, or choir. Everyone’s coming from the same place of loving music and wanting to help folks love learning music.
Everyone’s incredible sense of humour! I have never before had a job where people exchange memes, jokes, and emojis so easily. I absolutely love it, and I get my full daily dose of humour from our discussion threads alone. And that’s not to mention our weekly team meetings.
We enjoy laughing with you too! It’s amazing how fun and productivity go hand in hand when you’re doing what you love with people you enjoy. Thank you so much for giving us this glimpse into your musical life.
In her young life, Anastasia has already transformed so much: from forced piano conservatory learning into alternative guitar and bass creations in various flavors of punk; from loss, nostalgia, and mental illness into moving musical release; from raw content into finished works of written art that inform and inspire.
What will you transform today?
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