ANDY BOKANEV - PHOTOGRAPHER
Born in Moscow ANDY moved to the USA with his parents twice before settling for life. One of cycling's most unique photographers, Andy gave us some great stories about staying on the same floor as Steven Tyler, being KISS's biggest fan for a year, picking up music from the now legendary John Herety and knowing most of the lyrics to the Frozen soundtrack.
When were you born and where did you grow up?
ANDY: I was born in 1981 in Moscow, Russia. My parents were diplomats, so we moved to Washington, DC when I was 8. Then the Soviet Union fell apart and we went back to Moscow. In 1996 we moved to NYC, which is where I did most of my growing up. And for the last ten years I have lived in Seattle.
That would have been wild. What was it like going from school in Russia, to school in Washington, as a diplomats kid?
ANDY: Well, it wasn't TOO different. The Soviet embassy is this huge compound in the middle of DC. With a apartment buildings, a theatre, a pool and a K-12 school. All of the instruction was in Russian. I didn't speak a word on English until we moved there and just started picking it up from TV, friends and the rudimentary English courses. I remember in like second grade there was a visiting English teacher who was an American and I remember he was teaching us baseball. I didn't get it. I actually still don't get it.
What brought your family back to the US in 96?
ANDY: After the wall came down it was no longer Soviet Union, but Russia. I remember being back in Moscow around 92-93 and nobody had any money, everything was really expensive, etc. My dad was still in the foreign service and he eventually got assigned to work from the Consulate in NYC. I didn't know we were leaving until a month before. And this was like a month before 8th grade.
What is your Current City?
You spend a large part of your life on the road travelling, it’s no doubt influenced you, how does that extend to music? Do you pick up music from different cities and cultures you visit?
ANDY: Yea, definitely. Sometimes it’s the random music I hear on the radio in a cab or at a bar or something. More often than not, I find something when I least expect it. I had a 24 hour layover in Dubai and stumbled upon a UAE-based label called Bedouin that I’ve been listening to on Soundcloud since. But I think I get more influenced by the people I spend time with. I can think back and associate various trips and photo shoots with the music that was playing on repeat. 2014, Pro Challenge I was with Rapha Condor JLT and Southam had Gaslight Anthem on repeat. Last year we did a shoot in Colorado and that was a few weeks after the Chance The Rapper album came out and it was on for 4 straight days.
Any Bedouin artists stand out for you?
ANDY: No, not really. When I'm in the mood, I just put their Soundcloud on shuffle. I usually forget to check the artist until the song switches over.
What was the last job you had to travel for? What music were listening to?
ANDY: I am currently on an airplane on my way to Boise to film a documentary and have my “saved” Spotify playlist playing. Which is essentially an ADD collection of songs I can listen to over and over. At this exact moment the song that’s playing is Ttktv “Injury Reserve”. But I’ve been listening the new National record and Anderson Paak a bunch lately. And Kendrick. And for some reason I’ve been listening to T. rex a bunch lately. Oh, and Tom Waits. And Clash is an all-time favorite, so an album always finds its way into rotation.
Have you seen Coffee and Cigarettes, specifically the vignette of Waits and Iggy pop? It’s a classic. I also just realised where MIA got the sample for her track ‘Paper Planes’ from, The Clash’s track ‘Straight To Hell’.
ANDY: I'm pretty sure I heard the MIA song first though. It's like something is missing from "Straight to Hell". Gunshots. I've never seen that Iggy Pop and Waits things before. That's basically what I imagined it would be like talking to Tom Waits. Although the whole time I felt like I was watching a play with Steve Buscemi and Ron Perlman.
What music do you remember growing up around? Who was the first person to get you into music?
ANDY: My dad was definitely the biggest influence in my music tastes. I didn’t really care about music and just listened to whatever my parents had on the radio. My dad used to listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin growing up and would play that a bunch. We moved to Washington DC from Moscow when I was about 8 or 9 and I remember my parents get stack of CDs from Columbia House or one of those places. I didn’t really care about the music, but I really liked looking at all the cover art. I distinctly remember waking up one night to the sound system playing Sinead O’Connor on full blast right about then. I think the power reset overnight and made the stereo reset. That was the last Sinead O’Connor song I ever listened to.
Hahaha, a waking nightmare. Sounds as though you parents were quite into music, even when you guys were in Russia, before you came to the US were your parents listening to a lot of American music? Were you even able to in the USSR? Are you into any Russian music now or can you remember being into any when you were a kid?
ANDY: By the time I got around to listening, you could listen to basically anything. There was this open air market in the middle of Moscow where you could go and buy cassette tapes that were bootlegs of various albums. People didn't bother with copying the cover art like they do these days with pirated DVDs, it was usually just some crude pen writing and a track list if you were lucky. Sometimes when you got home you discovered the tape was blank.
Any particular cover art stick in your mind from your parents collection?
ANDY: Yea! They had this album by Blood, Sweat and Tears called Nuclear Blues or something like that. I loved that cover when I was a kid. I gave the music a try and decided that I only liked the art.
What is the first song you remember liking?
ANDY: We moved back to Moscow in ’92 and shortly afterwards I discovered my parents’ record collection. My favorite one was “Thriller”. I’m pretty sure I burned holes into that record.
Did you play a music instrument as a kid?
ANDY: I started a band with a friend when I was in 7th grade. I pretended to play drums on the kit that we found in our school and the friend eventually went to a music conservatory. We sucked. This was around ’94 and we were obsessed with Nirvana. Plus this Russian band called Kino. The singer Viktor Tsoi died in 1990 and I grew up around walls tagged with “Tsoi Not Dead”. I still listen to a bit of Kino. The lyrics are very appropriate for Soviet life around that time. One song’s refrain goes something like “As long as you have a pack of cigarettes in your pocket, things are really not so bad. And maybe you have a ticket for an airplane with a silver wing to take you away and leave behind only a shadow” Cheery stuff.
Hahaha, pretended to play the drums? Like did you just bang the drums with no rhythm or just play a backing track and pretend to go with that? What were you called? I can imagine a lot of music was sounding like Kino in Russia, particularly once the wall fell. I like them, they remind me of Bauhaus or Magazine, kinda new wave goth. Do you have any family and friends still in Russia?
ANDY: It was definitely what would you call self-taught. I was terrible. I think the first band name we had was "Freak". Can't even tell you why, but my 14 year old self thought it was the most genius thing. My folks moved back to Moscow in 2002. They are still there. They come and visit every so often, but I haven't been back since 1998. That's high on the list.
If you could go back and learn a musical instrument, which would it be and why?
ANDY: Piano. Because if you know that, you know basically everything else. And guitar. Because how cool would it be to just whip out a song for your friends around a campfire or something? But I’m fairly sure I’m tone-deaf. I can keep a mean rhythm though.
Well if you ask Charlie Watts, it’s the rhythm that leads the band.
ANDY: Just had to look up and see if Charlie Watts was older than Ringo. He isn't.
How have your musical tastes changed and developed over the years since you were a kid? Did you ever get into any “scenes” or follow a band on tour?
ANDY: I think I am a lot more open to all kinds of music now. I listen to a lot more funk, jazz, hip-hop than I ever have growing up, but I still like rock. As far as scenes, the only thing that qualifies is I was the world’s biggest KISS fan right around 1996-97.
What does it take to be the world’s biggest kiss fan? There’s gotta be an unfathomable amount of make-up involved in that.
ANDY: Yea, I dressed up as Peter Criss once. Once.
What was the first album you bought with your own money?
ANDY: Aerosmith “Get a Grip”. Those videos that had Alicia Silverstone were all over TV right around then and I wanted to find out what that was all about.
I’d never seen those before, they’re amazing. I also noticed that Liv Tyler, Stevens daughter is also in the video clip for ‘Crazy’.
ANDY: I remember that! Wasn't Liv Tyler his long lost daughter or something? Oh, here's an Aerosmith story. I was obsessed with them when we moved to NYC in 1996 and we were put up in a hotel for a couple of weeks on the Upper East Side while we were waiting for a place that the Consulate has for us. And two days in I realized that Aerosmith were staying in the same hotel. They were recording Nine Lives at that point. Steve Tyler was on the same floor as us. My parents' cocker spaniel barked at him. And Joe Perry told me I had a nice backpack. I thought shit like that happened in New York all the time.
Haha thats sick. I’m not sure if Liv was his long lost daughter, was kinda weird though What was the first gig / concert you remember going to?
ANDY: My folks took me on vacation when I was 3 to Baku and we went to a show by this Russian band called Mashina Vremeny (Time Machine). That might actually be one of my first memories ever.
What's the best gig / concert you've been to?
ANDY: The one I think about the most was a random show that this dude named Reignwolf played in Seattle around 2012. It was just one guy with a guitar with a huge pedal board and a kick drum. He just blasted through this set all by himself and I was like “WHAT WAS THAT?” I reached out to his manager afterward and we ended up doing some videos together and that led me to get involved with KEXP here in town. Not sure what happened to Reignwolf since then.
He’s good. Kinda like Jack White. Seems to still be kicking around, releasing a track a year or so. I think he has a band now though. Unless I’ve got the wrong guy.
ANDY: That's him. He's from Saskatoon or something like that... Doesn't quite have the same impact as say Detroit.
No it doesn’t, definitely something to that. Who’s musical taste do you really admire?
ANDY: Some people are really great at putting together a solid playlist. I travelled a bit with my friend Jake from Rapha and the music he always played was spot on and flawless. As far as people I don’t know, Danger Mouse has an incredible Spotify playlist that he updates regularly.
What sort of music did Jake introduce you to? The Danger Mouse playlist is an excellent recommendation, some awesome tracks on his most recent playlist.
ANDY: Oh man... Lots of things. But I mostly associate him with my new found appreciation for acts like Tycho, ODESZA and Washed Out.
Is there anyone you’ve been on the road with who has had just brutal taste in music and you’ve been forced to suffer through it? This goes for subjects you’re shooting as well.
ANDY: Thankfully not often, but I do end up working with Euro teams a bunch and I don’t know if the guys on the team just have terrible taste or it’s just a Euro thing. One memory that comes to mind was this time I spent a stage of ToC in the Tinkoff car and the DS had the XM1 preview channel on for the entirety of the 3 hour stage at a pretty loud volume. It was literally the same song (Xs and Os) playing over and over again interrupted only by a reminder to sign up for XM. I still wonder whether he or the mechanic even noticed it.
Hahaha what the fuck? That would have been incredibly brutal, a song on repeat is bad enough, but with that shitty XM1 sign up message in between. How did you take any photos that day?
ANDY: haha. Yea... I mean, he would turn the volume down every time Sagan would come back to the car to take a look at the map one more time (which felt like often), but then full volume again.
I know a lot of athletes will use music to put them in the right headspace for competition. Do you do anything to put yourself in the right place for a shoot? Is music part of that?
ANDY: Not so much with the actual shoot, but definitely during editing. And it is often inspired by the music from the trip.
Has music ever inspired you to shoot something, or shoot in a certain way?
ANDY: I don’t think so. My approach and photo style is what it is and I don’t really adjust it between projects. Having said that, it does change over time. I looked back at some photos from like a three month period a few years back and was “what the fuck was I thinking?” But it worked for me at THAT period and I guess that’s the point.
I guess it’s like anything really, you grow and change. Can you describe what it’s like being embedded with a team or an athlete? How much interaction do you like to have?
ANDY: It is definitely my favorite way to work. I love to embed myself with a team for a solid week. Sometimes is takes a while for the riders and the staff to warm up and relax around me, but most of the time I become almost invisible for by the second day. I just become part of the team, eat with the team, transfer with the team, run errands when needed and help out. I become one of the staff. I just happen to have a camera. If there are press officers present, they are there to put out fires and wrangle sponsors and I just like to document what goes on at a bike race: passing landscapes, boredom, long periods of frustration punctuated by brief moments of pure joy, camaraderie and drama. Thinking about that now, I would love to spend some time on the road with a band.
That’s the most interesting part of sport I think. The general public is aware of the performance and knows what competition is like. It’s essentially the same across any sport. But the things that take place around the competition are fascinating and completely unique to an individual and a sport. I can imagine for a band it would be that but on another level. I remember watching the french electronic duo Justices’ documentary ‘A Cross The Universe’ and was fascinated by it. Being on tour is so similar to being on the road racing, except that being in peak physical condition is not an imperative so it opens up this whole dimension of boredom relief that can go in any kind of fucked up direction.
ANDY: Did you ever watch "Mistaken for Strangers". It kind of starts out like an average rock doc, but then turns into this thing about family, friendships and success.
No, I haven’t. Looks interesting, I’ll have to watch. Do you have any music that reminds you of certain images you’ve shot or a shoot you’ve been on? And vice versa, any images that you think would fit with certain music?
ANDY: Like I mentioned before, whenever I look back at photos of Rapha Condor JLT from ’14, I can instantly hear Gaslight Anthem, The National and Springsteen thanks to Southam and Herety.
The images you shot from that race were certainly iconic. It’s amazing how John Herety’s influence spans the entire global cycling community. He’s number one on my ‘to interview’ list.
ANDY: If Herety made a mixtape, I'd listen to it
What song do you play to get things started when you’re throwing a party?
ANDY: The Meters “Cissy Strut”. Go ahead and try not to feel that.
Does musical taste influence how well you’re going to get along with someone?
ANDY: Oh man, I think one of my favorite things in the world is finding a new record that I can listen to on repeat. Especially when it’s been out for years and I’ve never heard of it. So when I find someone who shares a similar taste in music, we often stay in touch texting each other Spotify links.
What’s a song that if someone played would instantly make you friends?
ANDY: Anything by The Clash or Otis Redding.
Cigarettes and Coffee, Coffee and Cigarettes. It’s all connected. And inversely song that would instantly turn you off someone?
ANDY: Anything by Taylor Swift.
Have you ever played a song or pretended to know a song to impress someone?
ANDY: I used to pretend to like Radiohead. Glad I got over that.
Hahahaha. A song you’re embarrassed to admit you like, but listen to often?
ANDY: "Love Will Keep Us Together” It’s the shit. And if you disagree, you’re wrong. And I have a four-year old, so I can recite most of the “Frozen” soundtrack by heart.
Favourite song from Frozen?
ANDY: The song about summer that the snowman sings. He's all obsessed and dreaming about spending time in the summer and doesn't realize that reality isn't as great as he imagines it. It's deep.
What’s the best way to listen to music?
ANDY: Probably a predictable answer, but definitely with a record player. It makes you sit down and just listen to the whole thing instead of skipping around and getting distracted. Plus, I love cover art and record inserts. I love to read through the liner notes.
If you were colonising Mars and could only take one album, what would it be?
ANDY: National’s “Trouble Will Find Me”. I figure there will be plenty of free time for being melancholic.
Thanks mate, a great selection here, appreciate it. Take it easy.