A preschool teacher walks into a bar…
This sounds like it could be the beginning of a bad joke, but this was no joke at all when our friend and Moscow host, Craig, asked us if we wanted to check out his friend Daniel’s band at a local bar. Since live music has not been readily available to us over the last few years, we enthusiastically jumped at the chance.
Upon arrival at Dozhd Major, the bar hidden in an alley and accessed by a narrow walkway, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a great space, with various seating options scattered about the non-smoking stage space, and a separate room for the bar and smoking area. We grabbed drinks, sat down and met Minnesotan turned Moscow preschool teacher Daniel Hirsch-Taylor, and his cute-as-pie fiance, Anastasia.
Daniel’s band, Far Cities, was the headliner for the evening, and their snappy mix of clever lyrics and “punk-lite” music style created an atmosphere that was the type of fun I’ve been missing. It was, without a doubt, one of the best times I’ve had a long time; drinks with friends in a spectacular city, and great music.
Despite his hectic schedule as he prepared for his wedding, Daniel was able to give me this fantastic interview on expat life in Moscow and his band Far Cities!
TLN: Hi Daniel! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up? Where did you go to university? How long have you been playing music?
Daniel: I spent my childhood in Indiana, and moved to Minnesota which is where I became a (more) grown-up person. I went to the University of Minnesota, which was lovely, for English Lit and Russian. I’ve been playing some kind of instrument since junior high school, when I started on flute, and playing in bands since I was 16.
TLN: How did you end up in Moscow? How long have you been there? What kind of traveling had you done in the past?
Daniel: I was doing some light (read: depressing) summer reading one year before I graduated and thought; this Bulgakov guy really knows what’s up, I want to learn Russian. I started taking classes through the U of M and found out that if I could do a summer abroad and take some hard core semesters, I could graduate with two minors in Russian Studies. After all the work I put into learning the language, I just wanted to immerse myself. Something about learning a new phrase or word or struggling to buy bread made me feel like I was winning at self-improvement.
My favorite trip was this family adventure to South Africa and Botswana with a week long safari. We had this absolutely amazing guide, Brooks Kamanakao, who was funny and relaxed and helpful. Of course you hope a trip like that is going to be unique and mind blowing, and it was!
TLN: Can you give us a little bit of information on your bandmates? How did you meet them? How long have you been playing together?
Daniel: I first met Sasha our drummer (barabanshchik in Russian) when I moved here three years ago, jamming with some friends of ours. Eventually the practices became less and less and though we still hung out, we didn’t schedule practice time. Last year, after going to this music fest here called Piknik Afisha, I got the wind in my sails to started writing to record. I called Sasha up to help me with the drum takes, and what was supposed to be a summer hobby turned into a two-piece bar band. We played as a duo for about five months before this friend of ours mentioned that Eugene was interested in playing bass with us. (the word is just “bassist” in Russian; not as impressive).
I should mention that I’m an American, Sasha is Russian but from Krasnodar and Eugene is Moldovan, so this has been a fun experiment into the Moscow music scene for all three of us.
TLN: How would you describe the Moscow music scene as compared with other cities you’ve visited? Is Far Cities’ music style well received?
Daniel: I’m still worming my way into the scene; we’ve started to play different clubs and with different bands. Minneapolis has such a wonderful scene because there are enough dive, midrange, and nice bars for a band to grow and enough bands to swap audiences pretty easily. So, I’m trying to build a little network here with guys and gals we respect. I’ve met some great and passionate kids who’ll dance around and go nuts. Let me tell you, if you give a Russian bar some upbeat rock n’ roll and cheap beer its a rager.
TLN: I think some Americans have a preconceived notion of Russian people as being cold, stoic, and anything but fun. How would you describe them?
Daniel: I’ve heard that too, and so I’ll just say from my perspective i’ve had a really positive experience. It’s true, they don’t say hello at the cash registers in supermarkets, and there are people who pretty obviously hate their job…. but I just smile and say “How are you?” like every American grew up with, and its been pretty disarming and warming.
To be honest, I might be a little bias on this point…. I married a Russian, work with Russians and play music with them! They’re totally buckets of fun!
TLN: What are the things you’ve really enjoyed about living in Moscow? On the other hand, is there any thing or things that you don’t like?
Daniel: Springtime in Moscow is unbelievable. Its like the whole city wakes up singing “I Will Survive”. Rechnoy Vokzal, my home base, is covered with trees, at times you’d hardly believe you’re in a city! Overall, I love the change I’ve seen in Moscow. When I came here, Nike did it’s first “Run Moscow” race, now there’s a bike share program, a few running clubs and bike lanes. They’ve rebuilt Gorky Park and put more English signs up in the center. There’s no alcohol sales after 10pm and they’ve just signed a smoking ban. It’s just growing in a way that I’m proud to be able to experience.
And because every list of dislikes should include the winter: I’m not scared of Winter here, they’re even beautiful and Moscow has lots of lovely places to skate and sled, but there’s a point when it’s like…seriously… just show me some leaves! Rainy November to snowy December and don’t get me started on the February winds!
TLN: Now that you’re married, what are your plans?
Daniel: Well, with Far Cities we’ll record and release something before the end of summer. With my location, I’ll apply for residency here in Moscow. With my life, I’m trying to get into marketing, so I’ll apply for jobs here and in Minnesota. With my wife, I’ll make her breakfast in bed, tell her how lucky I am, and give back and foot massages until the end of eternity like every good husband should!
If you’re ever in Moscow, do yourself a favor and see Far Cities! Daniel is the guy that with that cool kid vibe and a heart of gold, and their music is booty-shaking genius. For more information, visit the links below!
Far Cities’ VK Page ( A Russian social network)
Far Cities’ Facebook page
Photos and videos courtesy of Daniel Taylor