There have been lots of contenders for the title of first lady of prog in recent years. From Heather Findlay to Anneke van Giersbergen and Anne-Marie Helder, progressive music is simply packed with extraordinarily talented women. But despite being barely out of her teens, iamthemorning’s Marjana Semkina has the chops to take on them all.
Meet iamthemorning: young, Russian and in love with baroque'n'roll
Russian duo iamthemorning had a little help from their prog heroes on second album Belighted, and the result is a bewitching, baroque’n’roll masterpiece.
With a voice capable of super-lung histrionics as well as the left-field quirks of Kate Bush, Semkina also possesses prog knowledge that belies her years. And that’s before you come on to her striking looks – a flame-haired beauty with dreadlocks that dazzle on this sunny day in St Petersburg.
Having recently released second album Belighted through Kscope, Semkina and iamthemorning’s piano virtuoso Gleb Kolyadin are on an upward trajectory. However, it’s been quite a story so far. “Gleb and I started as a chamber quintet with three string players,” says Semkina. “We played like that for a year. After recording the first album we changed musicians completely and started playing something heavier.”
One of the strengths of Belighted is the way it fuses the postmodern complexity of Porcupine Tree, the symphonic elements of 70s prog and the atmospheric cool of Anathema. And while the classically trained Kolyadin is a big factor in the clever arrangements, Semkina’s love for prog brings depth to the music, something reflected in the very name of the band.
“Of course, the band’s name was originally a song by Oceansize,” says Semkina. “It was a tragedy for me when they broke up. I love Oceansize because they’re more proggish than post-rock. They have odd time signatures and beautiful melodies.” One of Semkina’s charms is that she’s unafraid to be a fangirl. Getting her on to the subjects of Steven Wilson, his Porcupine Tree compatriot Gavin Harrison and Anathema lynchpin Danny Cavanagh is a delight. She becomes almost coy as she admits to wearing one of Wilson’s guitar picks on a necklace.
“I never got to a Porcupine Tree concert. The only time they played Russia, I was small and my parents wouldn’t let me go!” she laughs. “I got that pick from a Blackfield gig.” It was at that gig that she thrust a copy of iamthemorning’s first album into Wilson’s hands, though she doubts he ever got to listen to it. “I was so naïve. He must get a hundred flash drives at a Moscow concert.”
Yet it’s hard not to admire Semkina’s charmingly direct approach – an approach that brought Gavin Harrison into the London recording of Belighted The background to Harrison coming on board is almost Spinal Tap-esque. It’s as if iamthemorning’s drummers were born to be troublesome. “Our previous drummer left us a couple of months before recording the album in London,” Semkina explains. “We searched for another drummer but couldn’t find the right one in St Petersburg. They couldn’t play the material well enough. Even now it’s a problem for us to find a drummer.”