Crushing Concrete With Jinjer's Tatiana Shmaylyuk

Ukrainian metalcore band frontwoman confronts despair.

Posted Sep 26, 2018

“Step forward and meet a new sunrise

A coward is shivering inside

Today I'll be a friend of mine

Who swallows suffering with smile”

— From “Pisces” by Jinjer

I love interviewing people whose personal stories have a triumphant arc. It is genuinely inspiring to talk to someone who has been through tremendous hardship – illness, abuse, incarceration, discrimination, disability, poverty – and learn how that person overcame these obstacles to ultimately prevail. It makes me, and perhaps others, feel that no matter what barriers we face, there is always hope.

Photo by Veronika Gusieva
Tatiana Shmaylyuk and Jinjer
Source: Photo by Veronika Gusieva

But there is another type of person who can be inspiring – one who is willing to share the fact that he or she is consumed by darkness, and has not found a way out -- but still goes on. Because many of us can feel so hopeless and lost that we don’t feel connected to anyone or anything. And sometimes only the person who can truly empathize with our despair – and therefore help us heal -- is the person who is also not sure whether he or she will ever see the light.

Tatiana Shmaylyuk of the Ukrainian metalcore band Jinjer strikes me as one of those people. I appreciate the fact that during our interview, she was open and honest about the depths of her despair, and quite frank about not seeing a way out. And I suspect that her story will resonate with others who feel lost and hopeless – and those people maybe feel a little less alone in the world as a result.

Tatiana’s story begins in the bleak context of her native country of Ukraine, which she describes as a relatively closed society marked by ongoing internal struggle as well as the recent war with Russia. “We’re children of 90’s and it’s not like in the US – it was much tougher in Ukraine. It’s still under the effects of the Cold War. It’s still closed from other countries. We are still suffering from the after-effects of the Soviet Union,” Tatiana told me. “It’s like a civil war. Even though they call it a war against Russia, it’s not. I know there are a lot of soldiers from the U.S., from Spain, from Germany, from France that are in there. But you cannot know the truth because you are not allowed.”

She ultimately moved from her town of Donetsk to Kiev to avoid the fighting.

“We left our parents there, and we moved to the opposite side of Ukraine. Lived there in complete sh*t again — very tough state for one and a half years. Then we moved to Kiev, and now we are living there,” she said. “We are always walking on the edge because we sacrificed a lot of stuff. We left our home and town when the war started. We are hardcore in our hearts because we were born in such a sh*tty age, sh*tty 90’s.

“And you just had to crush concrete to make a path for living.”

For Tatiana and her band mates, “crushing concrete” not only meant dealing with living in a war ravaged country, but also working hard to pursue their dreams to play heavy metal music in the absence of a thriving metal scene in the Ukraine. “If we are talking about the metal scene in Ukraine, even if we have a lot of good bands, a lot of musicians, and they have huge potential to spread their music, still you have to rip your a** off just to cross the border,” Tatiana said. “That’s why we are sitting in our shell, trying to make our music to be known. But due to all of those difficulties we face it’s really hard. That’s why a lot of musicians they just stop doing music, they don’t see any way out to overcome all of the difficulties.”

When Tatiana saw other metalcore bands such as Soulfly and Otep, she recognized that she wanted to push past the boundaries that she had experienced in the Ukraine. “I was inspired by Otep (Shamaya). When I was 15, my friend showed me a record of House of Secrets. I was like ‘That dude — his voice is so powerful,” Tatiana described. “And he said, ‘Oh come on Tatiana, that’s actually a woman!’ I was like, ‘What?’ And she blew my mind away. And that was the time, the moment when I realized I wanted to shock people just like her. I just had the feeling or the intuition, like extra sense that this is what I’m made to do.”

Tatiana made the correct career choice. Napalm Records just released Jinjer’s third studio album King of Everything (2016). Jinjer has played major festivals such as Heavy Montreal and Resurrection Fest, and toured with heavy metal legends Cradle of Filth and Arch Enemy. Jinjer will be supporting DevilDriver in a United States tour this fall. And Jinjer’s live shows have been reviewed as “thunderous,” with Tatiana leading the charge, being described as someone “who kicks and punches and engages the crowd like a warrior.”

And yet the success has not made Tatiana’s heart feel full. To start, the life of a touring band – even a successful one – is not glamorous to say the least.

“We are pretty lonely. We still go through a lot of sh*t like everyday,” she said. “As our sound engineer says, the percentage chance that any show can happen is much less than the percentage chance that the show will be cancelled for us.”

But Tatiana’s sense of loneliness goes beyond simply being on the road; She feels that she simply cannot find anyone who can empathize with her experience. “Bob Marley once said that every man thinks his burden is the heaviest. So I think it’s only me who had to deal with a lot of crap in this world,” Tatiana explained. “And I cannot find any person who can say, ‘Oh come on I’ve been through this sh*t as well.’”

“I cannot find understanding.”

In particular, Tatiana feels that it is hard for others to understand what she describes as her negative thinking and despair. “I’m just a ball of chaotic thoughts and moods. And I feel like I’m completely out of balance. It’s all about thoughts. Thoughts make your reality although I really cannot find proof of those thoughts. There is one constantly rotating in my head, plus a bunch of others – at least five constant thoughts,” she said. “The first thought when I wake up is that ‘Oh my god there’s another day.’ And it doesn’t differ from yesterday. And I don’t want it."

“I don’t want to wake up – that’s it.”

As a result, Tatiana feels that others do not want to engage in the heavy conversations that she would find satisfying and connecting, which makes her feel even more alone. “The only thing that I like is deep conversations. I cannot go that deep with people. Because when I open my heart, when I talk sincerely, people usually use it against me. We can talk about life, but it’s very shallow,” she described. “I have no friends. I closed myself many years ago…I just made myself alone. Because I feel like I’m an old soul and I’ve been on this earth many, many times, and nobody can catch my feelings…light my spark. Because I feel like I’m so different from a lot of things. If there is a group consisting of 10 people, maybe there will be none like zero in this group who I can actually catch his vibrations.”

Tatiana sought help, but found therapy did more harm than good. “I tried to go to a psychologist as well just to fix my head because obviously not every person can do this by themselves,” Tatiana said. “Did it help? No. I only attended three sessions. And all she said at the end of my crying – she said “OK think about it."

“I’ve been thinking about it for 31 years already.”

Not even the cathartic nature of her music and live shows help because she feels she has not found an optimal way to express herself. “There are still no words to describe what I feel. I’m just afraid to appear as a weenie, as a cry baby in front of people. Because I’m a tough girl screaming,” she explained.

Tatiana alludes to her feeling that early experiences doomed her to feel alone. “If you weren’t loved like how you shouldn’t have been loved in your childhood for example, then nobody can assure you that you are cool,” she said. “Somehow we are all broken children inside. We have to fix that problem in your past. But how can we do this? It’s really complicated. That’s why I think a lot of people suffer from depression on this earth.”

She has become so disillusioned with mankind in general, that she feels more affinity towards animals. “I just like to observe and I don’t like what I see. So that’s why I like animals, but I cannot get one because I’m constantly on tour. And that makes me even more f*cking alone,” Tatiana lamented. “Mankind is just a huge mistake of the Big Bang. It would be a beautiful world if animals ruled it. That’s why I switched to veganism. If I could, I would probably eat human flesh.”

For those of us who can fall into despair in which we feel like we are disconnected and isolated from everyone around us, Tatiana’s story may serve as a reminder that we are in fact not the only ones – that there are others out there swimming in despair with no shore in sight. And we may feel a glimmer of hope as a result. Unfortumately, while Tatiana herself is aware that there are other people out there who share her disillusionment, that does not appear to give her comfort, but only makes her feel more hopeless.

“We were here in New York in spring. I saw a piece of paper glued as advertising, ‘Hi my name is blah blah blah, and I have no friends. I’m in deep depression. Please just hook me up and let me know that you care. It was on my Facebook page,” Tatiana recalled. “There’s this desperate thing. That’s why I just hate this world. Everybody says that life is beautiful. But f*ck no. And I don’t know who can change it.

“I have no idea.”

Maybe someday someone will.

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