SBK Records Media Kit for The Divine Comedy
What ignites the vital interior life of a poet? A painter? A composer? There are probably as many answers as there are artists. Still, it is a delightfully bizarre revelation that Milla Jovovich’s birth as a soul-searching songwriter is linked, at least in part, to Ronald Reagan’s Red-bashing rhetoric of the early Eighties. Milla was in grade school at the time, and a new emigrant to Sacramento, California from the USSR. “I took a lot of shit in school,” she remembers. “The kids made fun of me for two obvious reason: my name and my background. They got freaked out that I wasn’t American. Reagan was in power and going on about the ‘evil empire’. I was called a Commie and Russian spy, and more painfully personal things. I was never, ever, ever accepted into the crowd. So I learned to be by myself, and to cherish the time spent in my own world.” A decade later, the eighteen-year-old has harvested the fruit of that introspection on The Divine Comedy, an intoxicating debut LP. The maturity of the music reveals an extraordinary sensibility — and a singular life.
Born in Kiev on December 17, 1975, to a Ukranian actress and Yugoslavian doctor, Milla, an only child, spent the first five years of her life shuttling between the grim environs of what was then the Soviet Union and London, where her father was in medical school. Not surprisingly, her earliest memories of America are of “green trees and mountains and lakes. Big dogs.” To ease the feelings of alienation brought on by her peers, Milla developed a fertile imagination and fantasy life, heightened, no doubt, by the majesty of the Sacramento forest and a fascination with things mythical and magical. “I was obsessed with fairies,” she recalls. “I loved them. And I felt like I belonged to the forest. Life, I thought, would be so much cooler as a wood nymph!”
On her mother’s encouragement, Milla found emotional grounding and a more earthbound retreat in literature — Balzac, Dostoevsky, some heady stuff. “I owe everything to my mother,” she insists. “She forced me to look beneath the surface. As a kid I had these emotions and thoughts and views that were scrambled. I couldn’t catch hold of them so I read books to help me articulate. I made a conscious decision to educate and culture myself, and to open myself to things that people my age didn’t know about.”
After she and her family relocated to Los Angeles, Milla began pursuing work as a child actor. This led to modeling, where, at age eleven, she became an overnight international sensation for a look that combined childlike innocence and burning sensuality. Wisely, she used her modest celebrity as a model to springboard into the worlds of music and film. If her acting aspirations remain largely unfulfilled (she has made tantalizing but frustratingly brief appearances in Chaplin and last year’s tokin’ classic, Dazed and Confused), they’ve merely been set aside to give away to her bracing musical talent.
SBK first approached Milla in 1990 with a Fifties hit they hoped she’d cover. Given her global exposure and obvious videogenic appeal, it seemed like a marketable concept. Milla felt otherwise. “I really liked the idea of making music,” — she’d taken up guitar and had been writing poetry from very early on — “but I didn’t want to be packaged. I wanted the chance to express my thoughts and my feelings.”
She began setting her heartbroken poems to music. “The artists who inspired me to write, who really became a part of me, were Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, Simon & Garfunkel and the Cocteau Twins. The stuff u was into was very spacey, mysterious.” And smart. Blue, Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece of romantic yearning and disillusionment, made a particularly strong impact.
A few years worth of false starts ultimately led Milla to two highly sympathetic producers, Rupert Hine (in London) and Richard Feldman (in Los Angeles). With great sensitivity and enterprise they translated the untrained songwriter’s melodies and musical imaginings into strikingly atmospheric arrangements. The result is a beguiling blend of European folk and pop music that captures Milla’s love for the magical and otherworldly — and serves to frame an equally arresting set of lyrics. A poetic exploration of heartbreak and alienation, The Divine Comedy, true to its influences, is literate and deeply felt — and all the more exceptional coming from such a youthful heart and mind.
“Gentlemen Who Fell”, the dynamic first single, typifies the album’s emotionalism and musical richness. A delicate harmonium (reed organ) and mandolin — two of the many antique and traditional instruments that give The Divine Comedy its aura of European-folk authenticity — set the song’s spritely pulse as increasingly dense layers of keys, guitars and vocals are sent swirling around its core. It’s a dramatic evocation of the lyric, in which the promise of young love becomes bound by manipulation, distrust and a deepening state of emotional confusion.
The legendary Paul Buckmaster lends a haunted string arrangement to “It’s Your Life”, whose lovely, mournful synth line floats over Milla’s plaint of vulnerability: “It’s your life, it’s your soul/ It’s everything you give to him/ It’s my heart in your hands, keep it or just let it fall/ Another stone placed in my wall.”
Milla concedes the album is full of “tension, doubt and unsolved problems. Life in general,” she says. The irreverence and beauty of the music, however, give The Divine Comedy attitude, strength and lift. There’s a Gen-Xer’s knowing impatience for the waste-case lover in “Charlie”. On “In a Glade”, a lovely traditional Russian folk song, Milla poignantly evokes her Eastern-European roots. And the sheer exuberance of the melodies and Milla’s vocals on “Don’t Fade Away” and “You Did It All Before” demonstrate her enduring spirit in the face of love’s disappointments.
On The Divine Comedy, Milla has found a voice for her longings and private ruminations. Hers may be a far cry from the sweet adolescent voices of teen idols past, but it is clearly of its time. Indeed, Milla Jovovich may just be the embodiment of a college-aged generation whose vanquished innocence has hurtled them headlong into premature, uncertain adulthood. The extraordinary vision exhibited on The Divine Comedy suggests that Milla will find her way.