At Hellfest 2019, I had the opportunity to meet Mihail, composer, keyboardist and guitarist of the Romanian band Dirty Shirt. I invite you on a journey across geographical boundaries to learn a little more about this band that perfectly combines the energy of metal and the sun of Balkan culture.

First of all who are you and what is your job in Dirty Shirt?

I’m Mihai, I play synthesizer and guitar in the band. I am also a composer. Otherwise Dirty Shirt is a Romanian band and I am the only one who lives in France.

How would you define Dirty Shirt? What is the concept behind this name?

It is a music in which we manage to mix the power of modern metal with the warmth of Eastern European traditional music with acoustic instruments, madness, heat, all that …

If I tell you that Dirty Shirt makes me think of Russkaja you take it for a compliment or not at all?

Yes, because we have the same idea of mixing modern rock music with the traditional music of Eastern Europe. The style is really different because we have a very metal sound, very heavy with nu metal passages and so on … And in addition we have more music from the Balkans, Romania, Transylvania. They are more focused on Russian music. Otherwise it is a comparison that we find nice.

Does Dirty Shirt aim to make discover Eastern European music or was it not in your objectives?

So no, it was not planned to do that. In the band we have always wanted not to have any artistic constraints. If we want to make music in a certain way, even if it’s a completely different style, we test, we try and by doing this kind of tests we tried to find our own sound and we managed to integrate Romanian folklore.

As and when we had fun, we kept it because it gave a heat that did not exist in the metal. So, it became naturally more and more present. We even made the penultimate album inspired almost entirely from the folklore of Eastern Europe. After on the last one, we left again in another thing, because we have really very varied influences. We are a sort of musical sponge, we take everything we love, listen to and mix it.

And after that, it is true that the band has more or less become a symbol for the culture of Eastern Europe. It’s good for us of course, it was not the idea but we understood that, yes, especially when playing abroad, it represents in one way or another Romania

How do you manage being so numerous in the group on a daily basis ?

It’s complicated especially because I live in France and the others are in Romania. So often, I have my first ideas that I record in my home studio a first instrumental base often not finished and after I send it to my colleagues who give me feedbacks, many returns. And since I produce the albums, I am very open to the ideas of others, it enriches our music enormously. For example, for the last album, we were 25 people to participate in the recordings and everyone brought his touch. We recorded tons and tons of stuff and after that there are wonderful things we kept.

And at the live level, how do you organize yourselves?

We started touring with an additional orchestra in 2017. We had been dreaming of it for a while but to realize such a project we must have some notoriety because it is a big production and in 2017 we decided to try it because the band was starting to rise well in the country. We did a tour of 6 dates in Romania with a high level orchestra. We also recorded a live DVD at the Roman arena in Bucharest.

After the tour, we collaborated with them for major events or festivals but we could not continue the project with them in the very long term because they have a full booked agenda with their orchestra and so we have created a project called “Transylvanian FolkCore Orchestra” we brought musicians from our region to continue playing live with orchestra. And this year we made a tour of 4 dates in France with the orchestra in Paris, Lyon, a festival in the Alps and Grenob.

So to summarize, we do with it but logistically it’s a madness. The budget is suddenly multiplied because there are 30 people to house, transport and feed and pay. At the technical level, we are very lucky because we have had the same sound engineer for already six years. So we grew up together. At first he came for free to help us. We also bought a lot of stuff because if you want to do big productions like that, you have to invest.

Are there recurring themes in your music? Do you have favorite themes?

Yes, there are recurring themes and very often, they are very related to social problems and political problems, especially in Romania. There are political worries. We consider that the choices are not made properly, there is a group to power who is corrupt, who are incompetent thieves. We have many such messages because, whether we like it or not, we are a kind of spokesperson. For example, in Romania, there were big marches, there were even people with placards with our lyrics written on it. It was even broadcast on TV. So it’s important I think to convey that kind of message.

Afterwards there are also social themes that are not necessarily related to Romania. Problems related to nature or how policies do not really take into account the needs of people and the problems of ecology, junk food problems, super profits and that kind of thing. We talk a lot about problems of this kind but with our somewhat ironic, a little Balkan, a little funny way; but the message behind it is serious, really very serious. These themes, it represents 50 to 70% of our songs, the rest concerns the party and all delusions.

What can you tell me about the album “Letchology”?

First of all, it’s my favorite. I know that all artists say the last album is the best. But I think that after years of music experience I can still have some objectivity, a certain distance from the music I do. And I think it’s more successful because he took the best of the last two albums. On the one hand we kept all the traditional instruments, the madness with the Balkan orchestrations of “Dirtylicious” but on the other hand, we went in all directions as on “Freak Show”. The fact that we have more experience in the orchestration of this genre, we have already worked with these musicians so there is a kind of alchemy that has been realized and it is felt in the music.

We also collaborated with new people such as Mathieu who wrote us the lyrics on 4 or 5 songs. When he wrote us lyrics, he had enough freedom I said there is a melodic line of this kind but then you can go according to your inspiration. He suggested changes that created a certain groove. For example, a more American or younger sound. Same with the traditional musicians, they came, they did things I said “it’s good, it’s kept even if it was not planned”.

Is there a metal scene in Romania and what can you tell me about it if there is one ?

Now there is a metal scene in Romania, there is a real scene but it took time because before the revolution 89, Romania was a communist country where everything was closed. There was 0% freedom. Do you see North Korea today? Well, that was my childhood. And suddenly, after the first few years after revolution, to be a rocker it was super cool because after a closed system, the rocker was the rebellious image but on the other hand, there was no scene, there was nothing.

Et donc du coup, il y avait une demande énorme mais il n’y avait pas d’offre. Il y avait des metalothèques dans la petite ville où j’étais au lycée à l’époque, ce sont des discothèques où on mettait du metal les mardis et jeudis. Il y avait 1000 personnes tous les mardis et jeudis dans une petite ville sans concerts donc c’était la folie mais après très rapidement ça s’est perdu avec la crise économique et tout ça. Et du coup, la première génération de groupes metal dont on fait partie en Roumanie, on est parti de rien, pas de scène, pas de club, pas de production, pas d’argent, pas de matos, pas d’informations, pas d’Internet, rien, donc c’était très très roots à l’époque.

We played something like two or three concerts a year in the area. There were two clubs and three festivals that formed the Roman scene. But afterwards with the European integration, the Internet, the change etc … The scene has grown enormously, especially since the last ten years.

We, too, had a big break when I came to France and when we took over we took advantage of all this novelty. We learned and now I think it’s a scene really at the top. Well, it is still small compared to France, the country is smaller but there are real clubs. We now manage to bring back hundreds of people, to have festivals composed only of Romanian groups with 1000, 2000, 3000 people and this is something that ten years ago we did not imagine.

I leave you the last word of the interview.

What we usually say is that we encourage people to support artists, because today I obviously think there will not be a new Metallica or AC / DC because that will be difficult to become so big but there is a multitude of artists of extraordinary quality. The production is democratized, the information has become more democratic, the stage level is much higher than a few years ago so you have to support the bands, you have to go to the concerts, buy their albums because if we do not support this alternative movement we will be overwhelmed by easy culture. It’s a shame because rock is a real culture.

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