Words by:
Photography: Danila Yakushov

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Ivan Solimani-Lezhnev and his friends fled their home city of Moscow for Tbilisi, Georgia, and later Kaş, in Turkey. They were unwilling to stay in a country run by an authoritarian regime who holds such devastatingly opposite beliefs to theirs.

Inevitably, the war has seen Russia ramp up its already draconian censorship laws. It’s now a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 years in prison for Russian citizens to publish information – even in a social media post – that runs counter to the Kremlin’s narrative. Perhaps that’s why Solimani-Lezhnev is reserved when I ask about his escape. “It’s been stressful,” Ruby Goon’s frontman and founder says, shaking his head on Zoom from the Turkish seaside town. “But this is a great city – the music scene here is mostly covers bands, so we thought it could be a good place to come to as musicians.”

Under usual circumstances, Ruby Goon aren’t a covers band, but a free-spirited group making psychedelic rock that’s as vibrant and colourful as it is full of heart. A fixture of Moscow’s underground scene, they evolved out of Solimani-Lezhnev’s previous band, Speaky Spiky, before recalibrating and finding a home for their debut album, Brand New Power, on Erol Alkan’s Phantasy imprint. The label was one of many Solimani-Lezhnev contacted during the pandemic, feeling that there was a glass ceiling on what he could achieve in Russia – particularly singing in English. “All of my friends love Connan Mockasin, and I knew he was on Phantasy,” he explains. “When I told them we’d be on the same label as him, we just got so drunk. We were so happy about it!”

Ruby Goon might have its roots in Russia, but the band’s musical education spans the globe, be it via New Zealand’s Mockasin, the club-leaning experimentalism of the UK, or Solimani-Lezhnev’s experience living in the US. Aged 11, he moved to Washington, D.C. with his family, where his dad worked as a TV cameraman. It’s where he first began writing songs, where his parents gave him an iPod preloaded with the works of Linkin Park, and where he was first exposed to jazz and delta blues. “America gave me a lot,” he nods in gratitude. “I got very lucky. The White Stripes especially blew my mind and that’s what started me digging through Wikipedia and YouTube. That was my foundation.”

You can hear traces of this musical history on Brand New Power. Buried in the layers of Spicy Space Pasta – a song inspired by a character from the action-adventure game Beyond Good & Evil – is a garage rock stomp. Meanwhile, the influence of psychedelic jazz and blues is all over the record, from the frosty swing and nimble guitar solos of Cold Wind to the melancholic minor chords of Leech!

The record’s lyrical themes, though, create a compellingly despondent atmosphere. “This album is about broken hearts. It’s very hard for me to [move away from] this subject, especially back then,” he says, noting that the songs were all written a few years ago. “Music has always been a filter for my emotions.” The record’s title, he adds, portrays the effect he wants his work to have on those who listen to it. “I would like to think that this music will bring people some new emotions or that people will connect to it. I write songs when I can’t find music that reflects how I feel in a particular moment.”

Solimani-Lezhnev is already making headway on album number two, inspired by The Beatles and the Mexican Summer-signed band Drugdealer. “We’re recording it very slowly,” he smiles. “I think it’ll be even more vintage-y sounding.” Meanwhile, he’ll be acclimatising to his new life. “I’m very grateful that this is happening. It’s a miracle, to be honest.”

Sounds like: Forward-thinking psych fused with the free spirit of jazz
Soundtrack for: Lazy summer days spent contemplating life
Our favourite tune: Movie Groovie
File next to: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Connan Mockasin
Find them: @rubygoon

Brand New Power is out now via Phantasy Sound