Lydia Salnikova's life is hers to write

Lydia Salnikova has had to define her own sound after leaving the band Bering Strait.

Photo by JeanPhilippe Studios

Lydia Salnikova has had to define her own sound after leaving the band Bering Strait.

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Lydia Salnikova has just returned from a month visiting her family in Russia. She loved visiting family, but she was also chomping at the bit to go back to work.

"My mom's piano is perpetually out of tune," says Salnikova with a smile.

Salnikova is on the eve of the release of her second solo album, "Valentine Circle." She is busy preparing for her CD release show and mailing out special packages to fans who funded the album.

"They'll be the first people to hear it," says Salnikova over lunch at Taste of Thai in West Knoxville. "They made it very special for me in the making of this ... giving you the tools to let your music see the light of day? It's the difference between an inspired artist and a dejected one. I want them to feel as special."

Salnikova was raised in Obninsk, near Moscow. She moved to the United States at the beginning of the millennium as part of the band Bering Strait, which became best known through the documentary "The Ballad of Bering Strait." Although the group recorded two albums for Universal Records and earned a Grammy nomination, the band did not become a big commercial success. The members went their own ways in 2006 and she moved to Knoxville, where her longtime boyfriend was transferred here, in 2011.

Salnikova's first album, "Hallway," was self-recorded and was picked up and funded by fans who first fell for Salnikova while she was in Bering Strait.

Still, she's an artist who has had to redefine who she is without a band. A few songs on the new album are older numbers that Salnikova was never quite satisfied with.

"I had to step away from them, take off all the production and strip it down the melody and lyrics and recreate it from scratch."

The song "Safe In My Lover's Arms" dates back to a Bering Strait album.

"I always felt it could've had a better life than it did with Bering Strait. I wanted another version that was less cinematic, less frozen in time, something with a little groove."

She says writing new songs is always daunting.

"Songwriting is the hardest part, but when it's flowing through you it's like nothing else. But, usually, it's work ... I can't remember if it was Steinbeck or Hemingway who would write everything they wanted to say when they finished at night because they didn't want to start the day with a blank page. Staring at a blank page is terrifying. I'm always afraid I'll never write another song."

While her songs typically have a strong sense of melancholy, she says a couple on "Valentine Circle" are actually upbeat. Then she begins to analyze the lyrics and decides maybe everything she writes has a dark side.

"You write when you're trying to express something. You search for something. Why would you search for something if there isn't a void? That's kind of what relationships are all about ..."

At the moment, Salnikova is supplementing whatever she makes from her own recordings and appearances by working as a studio musician. She is able to do most of her work in her home studio.

"People send me the tracks and I add my magic or whatever is and I send it back ... The better I get as a singer and a solo artist, the better I get as a studio musician."

She says all music has value, even if it's meant to be background music.

"It's embedded in our life even when we're not really tuned in to it. It's like salt in food. You may not notice it, but try to take it away and it's going to be bland and you're not going to eat it."

As for the future of her songs and solo recordings, Salnikova is practical.

"All I want is to be able to have the privilege to continue making music. It's not an easy path. I hope it means as much to the listeners as it does for me to make it. It means so much that somebody is actually waiting for it, who wants to hear it. You can't measure that in words.

"I hope the music is relevant to someone, but not everybody. I know I'm not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but, hopefully, I'll be exactly someone's cup of tea!"


Lydia Salnikova

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8

Where: Preservation Pub, Speakeasy, 28 Market Square

Admission: free

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