Kalush Orchestra, the Ukrainian act that captured the world’s attention last year when it won the Eurovision Song Contest as its country was being torn apart by war, wraps up a second North American tour on March 16 with a performance at SXSW in Austin.
The seven-member group’s song “Stefania” won Eurovision in Turin, Italy, with a record-setting 438 points from the public, reflecting the widespread pro-Ukraine sentiment at least year’s event three months after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion.
After the competition, Kalush Orchestra did an 18-show promotional tour, with performances in Poland, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and at Glastonbury Festival in the U.K., before embarking on a 13-city North American tour. The shows helped raise funds for the Ukrainian armed forces. The group also sold its Eurovision trophy for $900,000, with the proceeds earmarked for the purchase of combat drones for Ukraine’s military. (The band raised $1.6 million overall.)
The current five-city U.S. jog cements the group as one of the few Eurovision winners to turn a victory at the pan-European competition into global success, following in the footsteps of ABBA, which won with “Waterloo” in 1974, and Måneskin, which triumphed with “Zitti e Buoni” in 2021. (Kalush Orchestra was formed in 2021 as a side project from rap group Kalush, founded in 2019; it features rap blended with folk motifs, and the same founding members as Kalush plus four additional members.)
Billboard talked to the Kalush Orchestra’s founder and leader, rapper Oleh Psiuk, via Zoom about returning to the U.S., the impact of Eurovision on the band’s career and the ongoing war with Russia, which is now in its second year.
BB: Who came up with the idea for this new tour?
First, we were invited to the big showcase festival SXSW in Austin. We considered it to be a very cool opportunity, so we decided we should show our creativity, our works and of course we decided that then we could visit several cities which we’ve never been to in the U.S. before. That’s how our new tour was born, even though the previous one was just five months ago.
What was that first tour like and what would you like to see this time?
We had 18 concerts during the previous tour, and they were daily, so unfortunately, we saw only airports and the venues where we had those concerts. But still, we had a little bit of time to see sunny Los Angeles. L.A. is my favorite because I’ve always been listening to the music and to the performers from that area. And this time I do hope we’ll have more time to see and enjoy your country.
What performers from the West Coast are your favorites?
I love the performers from the so-called Golden Era. Like N.W.A, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. I listen to lots of music from the West Coast.
Last time you met Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he appeared in your video for ‘Generous Evening’ and spoke in Ukrainian. Are there any plans this time to meet any celebrities or government figures?
We don’t have any plans now, but honestly speaking we didn’t have any plans then as well. We wrote to Arnold that very day when we met and that was a lucky coincidence. So we do hope that this time we’ll also have such a day when we write to someone famous and we’ll have an opportunity to meet.
In the U.S., Eurovision is not that well known, though the Will Ferrell film (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga) has helped increase awareness. How did American audiences find you on your first tour?
The bigger part of our audience was still Ukrainians who are living in the U.S. But there were other people who were coming to our concerts. The people who knew Eurovision, what it is, or people who just saw some announcement or billboard in the city and they decided to see us. They were just curious to get to know who we are, but after the concert, all kinds of people came up to us because they really loved it.
What are the main goals you want to accomplish for both the band and Ukraine?
First, we would like to show our music, for it to be known both in the U.S. and in Europe. Whatever city we visit, we’d like to perform and disseminate Ukrainian culture, for it to be well known anywhere. And, of course, we are raising money using the QR codes and the auctions. Last year, we raised 60 million hryvnia ($1.6 million) and we do hope to raise even more this time.
What does the money you raise support?
We send this money to some of the well-known foundations like United24 and the Sergey Prytula Foundation. And we buy armored vests and helmets and other important things for our war servicemen and military.
How do you feel when you’re out of your country? Does the trauma of the war continue?
Honestly speaking, it does not affect me. It does not influence me whether I’m in Ukraine or not, because there are lots of relatives and my parents and close friends, my good acquaintances who are now in Ukraine and I would say that I worry for them more than for myself. Because I don’t worry about myself that much. Obviously, I carry this burden with me everywhere and this kind of anxiety for them.
Let’s talk about what American audiences can expect on this current tour. Will you play new songs?
Yes. We have prepared a program which includes some of the new songs and some of the ones which have just been issued. For instance, we just issued a very new song which has the title “Changes.” It’s a very cool song with a cool video, which reflects all the changes which we are waiting for. We have a program which unites something authentic with some new styles.
Will an album be coming out soon?
So far, we plan to release singles. If we speak about the album coming out, it is planned closer to the end of the current year or maybe in the beginning of the next year. So far, we are issuing singles with cool videos in English.
It’s been not quite a year since you won Eurovision. How has your life changed, and the career trajectory of the band changed since?
We can now play a bigger role. We can have more impact on the bigger and vaster audience. We can disseminate our concert abroad and we can cover a broader audience with that. We can tell more about Ukrainian culture abroad.
That must have been an important reason for participating in Eurovision in the first place.
Yes, there were many reasons. Not only this one, but it was so important for us to win at this Eurovision, because victory is so important for Ukraine in every aspect. We made lots of people happy with this victory and we do hope it will go on like this.
Ukraine first won Eurovision in 2004 when Ruslana triumphed with “Wild Dances.” Where were you that year when she won? What did her victory mean to you and Ukraine?
I was only 10 years old then, so I don’t remember that much. But I do remember that it was a big noise, a big event in Ukraine. It had a huge resonance as an event. It was because Eurovision for Ukraine was always a very important competition.
What is next for the band after the American tour? Will there be any more touring in other countries?
Sure. We would like to get to as many of various festivals as possible to show our music and culture to the maximum. We would like to have as productive a year as the previous one was, to raise as much money and to disseminate information about us, about Ukraine.
The Kalush Orchestra’s 2023 U.S. tour dates:
March 9 — Cleveland, OH @ Cleveland Masonic
March 10 — Orlando, FL @ The Beacham
March 11 — Detroit, MI @ The Magic Stick
March 12 — Atlanta, GA @ District Atlanta
March 16 — Austin, TX @ SXSW