The Red Elvises’ Igor Yuzov and Oleg Bernov met when their homelands of the Ukraine and Russia were joined under the Soviet flag. Yuzov was a musician and Bernov an actor with musical leanings. The two jammed together a few times, but never formed a band. They kept in touch, though, and when Yuzov found himself in the U.S. after a tour resulted in the disbanding of his own band, he reconnected with Bernov, who had since relocated to Southern California.
This time around, Yuzov and Bernov took their jam sessions to the streets, playing for change on the Third Street Promenade and at Venice Beach.
“Both of us were trying to survive,” Yuzov explains, “So we went and played on the streets and were like ‘Alright, we don’t need to have jobs anymore.’ We did pretty good our first night without practicing and it just took over from there.”
Seventeen years later, Yuzov and Bernov have moved from impromptu gigs on street corners to European tours and mega-concerts like Live 8. Still, the Venice-based musicians haven’t forgotten their Westside roots, and while you probably won’t spot the Red Elvises playing in front of Barney’s Beanery anytime soon, they still play regularly at Rusty’s Surf Shack on the Santa Monica Pier.
“Being on the Pier, that’s such a symbol of Santa Monica,” says Yuzov. “It’s a great place. It’s sort of almost our headquarters.”
Having begun life as a Russian folk group, the Red Elvises have grown to incorporate elements of rockabilly and surf music into the mix.
“After living here for 17 years and playing on the Promenade and Venice Beach, it influenced the mentality – ocean waves, sand, beautiful girls running around,” says Yuzov. “That’s reflected in the music.”
But the band continues to stay true to its roots and Bernov still plays the oversized bass balalaika, a traditional Russian instrument, that he had custom made in Venice and has become as much a part of the Red Elvises as the members themselves.
“We keep it more natural,” says Yuzov. “If we feel closer to American music, we write more music like that. We’re not trying to squeeze something artificial out of ourselves.”
Currently, the Red Elvises are finishing up work on their twelfth album, the follow-up to the 2004 release Lunatics & Poets, and are busy auditioning people for a few new spots in the band. Although a release date has not been set for the as-yet-untitled album, the Red Elvises have booked a small handful of U.S. live dates for the spring and are set to tour Europe this summer. The Red Elvises will be playing Rusty’s Surf Shack on March 28.