Inspiring Stories

Valery Moskovaya-Russo.

"To me, love smells like my daughter."

January 7, 2020 / Yana Papaya / 2 comments

Words and interview by Yana Papaya

Edited by Rina Patel

Photos by Vladimir Barabanov
Valery Russo and Yana Papaya in the park Papaya Stories

Music is a special kind of magic. What’s your favourite song at the moment? And what song comes to your mind when you think of autumn or an endless summer?

One song and so much power. One song that triggers a memory of a special person, first kiss or, scenes from a summer’s day that are now forever gone. Music brings things back to life. It can inspire and lift you up while other tunes can leave you feeling sad and melancholic.

Music accompanies our journeys. It simply follows us like a shadow. It never leaves us alone. Music helps us to see the unseen and reconnect with moments or people we love. It turns us on, and has the power to boost our emotions. It leaves us speechless and makes us rock n’ roll. It has the ability to reveal meaningful epiphanies that could never be described in words but only sound.

Today’s story is imbued with this sort of magic, thanks to our hero of the story – Valery Moskovaya-Russo – a Russian songwriter and lead singer of indie-band “Cactus.” Valery is a poet and multi-talented creative person who breathes in inspiration everywhere she goes. Her early musical works and songs were composed along with the band making everyone’s day and became the best soundtrack you could ever have on a romantic date under the night sky!

Her latest works and creations live by a different mood. Recent changes in Valery’s personal life now reflect a sense of super-loving tenderness and sensitivity. More than a year ago she fell in love deeply with Nikita Moskovoy, a young talented actor from Moscow, Russia. With no hesitation they decided to get married followed by a fun rock n’ roll wedding party. Months later this creative duo discovered another reason to smile and be more productive with their creative rhythms. A charming baby girl, Aya was born and it changed their lives. Priorities, challenges and motivations shifted for Valery a lot, which she talks about in the interview. Her creativity now grows beyond her prior self-centred attitude, now her main focus is her family and she is inspired by the idea of being the best wife and best mum on Earth. But that doesn’t mean that she is leaving her music passion behind. Music has always been and will remain a big part of Valery’s life.


Although only 24, Valery’s life experiences are impressive. At 16 she started her career as a singer, she joined the indie-band “Cactus”, composed songs and started working on their first group album. Cactus’ popularity kicked off when Valery turned 18 and together with the band they went on a tour around the vast and beautiful Russia, they also participated in a few international festivals. Besides, Valery never stopped pushing her personal limits. She has become a prolific writer and poet, collaborating with various musicians. One of her personal highlights involved being featured in a main role for the music video “Breathe”  by Animal Jazz. Nevertheless that charming, ambitious, talent represents only one side of her soul. Valery always dreamt about simple things and a happy family life. Her main talent was to find and not lose the love of her life that she decided to create a family union with. I believe that you should be pretty wise and mature to make this decision when you are young and carefree and when you hear of how various opportunities knock at your door. In our interview Valery shares how having her own family and spending 24 hours with her baby girl changed her life views, what challenges she faced and what dreams she beholds.

I remember when I was dancing with my grandfather to “The Moonlight Serenade” by Glenn Miller Orchestra. To this day this song and melody means a lot to me. I was listening to the Beatles and Zhanna Aguzarova when I was 9 years old and living in Chita. My dad was singing his songs and playing the guitar doing his own covers on Eric Clapton songs. Later I was totally in love and infatuated with bands that all teenagers liked. Linkin Park empowered me with a feeling of strength and independence, being able to argue vigorously or just keep walking tall. I remember a tape with Christina Aguilera songs and how many times I listened to it, all while singing along with her trying to copycat her vocally in every single detail. There was also Madonna and my attempts to set up an egyptian dance to the song Frozen.  Then I discovered the Duduk instrument and was truly mesmerised by it, by the way that it touched me deeply from inside-out. And finally, the cello was like the love of my life.

I would listen to the energetic rhythm of The Kooks in the morning, which all depends on the morning and your general state of mind. I could listen to jazz, classical music or just a cool radio programme that just feels right.

Before going to bed I would love the sound of a cat’s purr or the way the flame  crackles in the fireplace; I would love to hear waves crashing down on the shore nearby your house or the way the wind would play atop the trees.

To be a musician means to live by music from day to day. In your blood. It means creating never stops, rehearsing, listening, composing, singing, thinking about it and wanting to think about it. Music will save the world. That’s what I am truly sure about. But you have to work hard, very hard until you’re worn out.  

Valery Russo / Papaya Stories
Valery Russo / Papaya Stories
Valery Russo / Papaya Stories

Our music band, “Cactus” is a whole story in itself as everything started when I was 16 and now I am 24 years old and the story is still continues…  So much connects me to the life of the band – all the tours, performances, festival madness and opportunities to meet new people, musicians and all sorts of people. Heaps of sweet memories, as well as overwhelming personal and musical experiences. My life with “Cactus” was about the time when I was searching for self-identity, for my place in the band,  getting older by becoming more mature and confident, it was an era of worries, achievements, facing fears and overcoming the fear to go on stage and stop being shy. Billions of new neurological pathways in my brain and endless love to and for what I am doing now.

The creative process is a very strange process and so unique to an individual. Usually it’s easy for me to compose the poem. The idea sparks my mind and then you just slide all the way down from that idea down to the bottom till the moment of final creation. This feeling of creation leaves a deep peace in me as you don’t feel any obstacles while creating this or that piece. As for the songwriting, most of the songs would come from a simple melody that Artyom Filimonov, our bass guitar player, would come up with in advance before a rehearsal. I usually listen to the melody, sing along, sing something weird to the microphone and then we’d audio record it. It’s crucial to record these first bits and pieces as later on they help you to complete the whole song/picture. Then, at home I would compose proper lyrics to that melody. Only once I managed to hear lyrics along with the melody in my head. I recorded the song, played it at the rehearsal. Artyom was able to come up with a guitar music version and that’s how the song “Exhale” was born.

Recently boys from the band came for dinner and Artyom told a story about his father who when he was a child used to eat so much pasta that the only thing he could do was to lie down on the floor and cry out. I cracked up so much when I imagined this to myself.


The greatest impression from our concerts is people who come to our shows, who come over and tell you what they felt. These moments are very special and precious. Our audience – their laughter, tears, excitement, shivering nerves…when they run to hug you, this is what makes it worth wanting to perform again.

It’s very important to tune yourself in, to set up the right mood before the concert. If you haven’t programmed yourself properly, it’s going to be a waste of time. I have a moment of self-perception when I question myself, if singing is really what I would like to do, why is it so important to me? Then I go on-stage and sing with lightness, great joy and satisfaction. I am mostly pleased with myself after the concerts. In my early years I used to be very hard on myself. But later, I understood that it’s better to mark your mistakes, imperfections, work on them so you can then improve on these for future performances rather than beating myself up straight after performances and thinking that you could do better which doesn’t bring any value to the moment of Now. You can’t change the past. You already did what you did and you made that first impression on people. And you won’t be able to make this first impression on people for the second time.

Our music band, “Cactus” has radically changed. Maybe the reason is that I grew up, but generally speaking we are not the same band as we used to be. Now if one of us creates something it’s unlikely that we are going to tag it as our band achievement. It’s sad to think but it’s most likely that we are going to rename the band unless we grow apart by following different directions. Personally I would like to do a few things that have been on mind for a long time.  I can’t wait to let them out so they can be reborn into musical pieces and creations. Although the optimist in me wants to believe; that everyone will stay professionally faithful in our band, that we would listen to each other and be open to new experiments, so later we could go on tour, take part in festivals, gather happy crowds at our concerts and induce passions in hearts of our fans thanks to our music.

Sufjan Stevens is in my opinion the artist of the year. He is so real and touching. His music is an art form and not music for the sake of sales, big bucks and fame. Sufjan Stevens seemed very close to my spirit. And also, a German band, Annen May Kantereit whose vocal singer impressed me greatly with this voice intonation. They are so charming, free and talented. At least that’s how they look.


I am inspired by  literature, art, people and children. I am especially inspired by my daughter and my husband. Other bits of inspiration I breathe in with the air, they come spontaneously from nowhere.

“Donka show – A letter to Chekov is the most wonderful theatre performance that I have ever seen. It was a very deep, dramatic and powerful experience. I laughed as a little girl and cried my heart out, sang along, got surprised and annoyed. There are no words to describe it. There was also ‘Snow Show” by Slava Polunin and the musical concert “Get Your Gun” which inspired my imagination prompting me to a cliff seaside experience. There are many incredible art performances I have been to but, “Donka show” is the one.

To me passion is like a having hangover after drinking champagne, it’s when you have massive headaches, you don’t remember yourself and feel very rough. Passion is an empty vessel in its essence unless there are no other emotions mixed up together. It’s only my opinion though. Being love-sick makes you weightless, bright and inspired. When I am feeling it I feel like I can do anything, I am not afraid of anything because the hope warms my heart. While love is very quiet and contemplating. Love is infinite.

To me, love smells like my daughter. My love smells like cookies with milk, clean and fresh bedding, new pages of books I haven’t read.

My family, my daughter and my husband are the centre of my Universe. Nature gave me more time to get ready to become a mother rather than being a good wife. I don’t think of myself as the best wife, although my husband never told me that. I find time to create however there are certain challenges I am facing too. The most terrifying thing that I have discovered so far is losing your own space. I am always with my baby. At some point it was hard for me to realise and accept that now I can’t do all the things that I used to do before the baby. I can’t go whenever I want, I can’t eat what I want, etc. Now I am learning to do everything together with Aya. Everywhere I go, she goes too. All three of us now are doing theatre plays with the theatre company “Theatre of Taste!”  

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If I was a birthmark I wouldn’t choose a body where I would prefer to settle down, I would just put up with my destiny.  But if I was asked to choose a specific body spot, I would prefer to be a birthmark on Nikita’s lap. This is how I could whisper him my poems, songs. This is how I could watch the world the way he saw it, could breathe the air he was breathing.  

My greatest weakness is arrogance, sensitivity and my prejudice attitude.

My greatest strength is my optimism and patience.

I love life and all its wonderfulness. There is nothing more magical in the world than a gift to breathe, create and contemplate.

P.S. Watch the one of the music videos by “Cactus” band below and enjoy your life and keep on dancing.

Inspiring Stories

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