The Red Elvises wear zebra print suits and bouffants, they peddle Red Elvises condoms and play songs that range from rockabilly to disco with a backdrop of traditional instrumentals—usually heavy on the accordion—reflecting their Russian roots. The now California-based band was founded by Oleg Bernov and Igor Yuzov during Russia’s Peace Walk in 1995, and since 1998 has managed a full U.S. tour every year while still maintaining independent label status.
“You can do whatever you please,” says Bernov, asked why the band has thwarted advances from major labels in favor of self-releasing. “[It gives] you freedom and money in your pocket.”
Those are important things, especially for guys who say that as youngsters they secretly swapped rock records beneath the communist gaze of the Soviet Union. With their current freedom, the Red Elvises’ plans include adding to their current discography of 11 albums. They’re also conducting European and Russian tours in conjunction with their established U.S. junkets, and hope one day to tour Africa. Though Bernov says he’s never set foot in Montana before, the current tour not only includes Missoula but also Bozeman, Butte, Helena and Chico Hot Springs in Pray.
With such a heavy touring schedule and a chaotic approach to lifestyle and music composition, there are at least a few things that remain constant for the band: a clear understanding of melting-pot kitsch and a bizarre interpretation of good times rock ’n’ roll themes. How else do you explain songs such as “Closet Disco Dancer,” “Surfing in Siberia,” “I Wanna See You Bellydance” and “Strip Joint is Closed”? According to Bernov (who plays a V-shaped balalaika bass almost his own size) the point is not to explain, the point is to dance.
“You have to listen to it and come to the show,” he says. “You’ll be happy forever after.”
The Red Elvises play The Other Side Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 10 PM. $8.