In Eastern Europe, Mumiy Troll are huge. Like ridiculously, massively huge. Formed at the end of the Tran-Siberian railroad in Vladivostok back in 1983, it isn't hyperbole to describe the group's salad days as something akin to Beatlemania. From recording an album during a 394 day round the world trip on board the Sedov, to establishing their hometown V-ROX festival, Mumiy Troll and founder Ilya Lagutenko are living out a reality which, when growing up in the Soviet Union's sequestered Far East, would appear too lurid even for childhood fantasy. Over 10 albums, the band have surpassed the 100 million download mark, while they can also lay claim to the title of "Best Russian Band of the Millennium" after topping a recent poll among rock fans. If the old adage about Russia being impossible to conquer rings true, then Mumiy Troll exist as the exception to the rule.

As a naval base, Vladivostok was closed off to the rest of the Soviet Union, making it a particularly isolated environment to grow up in even for the hermetic Eastern Bloc. The North Korean border town of Tumangang lies 80 miles away and Tokyo can be reached in two hours by flight. This meant that while the landlocked cities were going through a somewhat random prog rock moment in the '80s, Lagutenko's tastes were instead being shaped by nomadic mariners handling contraband in the form of outlier Western and Asian vinyl. "We hardly had any exposure to international charts, but we had sailors who would come into the ports with vinyl and it would resemble something like a black market. People would bring stuff from Japan and Singapore, and they'd be choosing the records not because they were on the official charts, but on the aesthetic and how good looking its cover was. I'd get a lot of underground stuff. It's how I started to listen to '80s bands like Blondie and the UK new romantics." For Lagutenko, a fervent imagination was just as vital as any of the actual sounds. "We never saw half those bands live and we were left to guess. We saw the pictures, but we couldn't even read what they were all about as the music magazines were usually Japanese. Musicians assumed this sort of mythical quality. You listen to the music and you think about the rest of the stuff based on your imagination. We never knew how they played instruments and where they got their sounds. When we tried to record our first albums they were like psychedelic rock concerts because I was impressed with things like Jesus Christ Superstar and I thought about it as some sort of big theatrical show."

While studying in China on a student exchange programme, Lagutenko's musical education was further honed by Western expats propagating the sounds of Seattle grunge and Britpop. On early Mumiy Troll records, there are traces of baggy, lounge and even chamber pop which, when paired with the singers crisp, richly-enunciated voice, coalesce into something satisfyingly odd. In 1997, the band's debut album, Morskaya (meaning 'nautical'), debuted at number one to helm in a new way of considering contemporary Russian rock: before Mumiy Troll and after Mumiy Troll.

Lagutenko's has described his lyrical style as "abstract realism" which draws heavily from literature and themes of romance. Like nearly all mainstream Russian rock bands, Mumiy Troll are apolitical, a stance seemingly necessitated by the Kremlin's spectral influence. When Pussy Riot were incarcerated for performing a protest song in Moscow's main Cathedral back in 2012, primetime acts like Mumiy Troll and Zemfira distanced themselves from any shows of public support, with Lagutenko said to have asked event organisers to keep him apart from London-based anti-Putin protester Andrei Sidlenikov when he turned up at a show bearing 'Free Pussy Riot' shirts.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, it's hard not to feel a degree of empathy for the frontman. Given that they never played instruments, had barely any songs and harboured no future plans to record, Lagutenko would have been aligning himself with less a musical endeavour and more a political art collective. It's one thing for a Hollywood celebrity to chastise as an outsider hundreds of miles away, but another to do so as a native that runs the real risk of having 20 years' worth of hard work compromised. "People would ask why Russian musicians didn't support Pussy Riot but the truth is that we never knew about them because there was no music. Punk bands who had been there for ages... no one heard a thing about them. There was a lot of misunderstanding," before adding with a laugh, "which might have been a trick by the Russian government." Such an addendum might be funny if Vladislav Surkov didn't exist.

In that same year, Mumiy Troll put themselves in the unfamiliar position of treading new ground when they released Vladivostok, their first ever English-language album. When I conduct this interview, it takes place backstage at the 14,000 capacity Riga Arena - a world removed from Manchester's Deaf Institute café/bar where they'll open their UK tour next month. The challenge of bridging the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets might have been difficult, but harder still was the task of trying to garner publicity without any real support. "It's pretty hard to find universal appeal especially without big media exposure. You would never ever bet on what would work and what doesn't. It's like international bands such as Rammstein and Die Antwoord... you could consider it novelty but then they've broken into areas that no one would ever guess. The greatest example for me would be Nazareth who are still huge in Russia... they sell out arenas!"

As someone who has first-hand experience of both the collapse of communism and the mid '00s economic boom, Lagutenko is as well placed as anyone to comment on what's going wrong in the Russian scene. He tells a story which is basically a music equivalent of the rise and fall of football's Anzhi Mahachkala, or in other words, that of rich people sacrificing long term gain for temporary gratification. "The Russian entertainment market was really spoiled with silly money in 2000 when the economy started booming. People had too much money to spend on the entertainment, but they didn't really bother to build the industry, which was my crucial point when speaking to promoters and venues. I told them 'you guys are running those huge festivals and you need to stop trying to do each other when it comes to paying money to booking big acts'. They'd be paying money - stupid money like £1M or £2M - and it's a gamble because in the end you will not raise a scene and grow a culture. The big acts just move on."

Playing out West might lack the glitz and grandeur of homecoming shows, but it's a challenge that Lagutenko doesn't shirk and, even with their status cemented as superstars, the band are still trying to push boundaries and explore new territories. For Malibu Alibi, their sophomore new wave inspired English effort, they're joined on keyboards by Sasha DZA, the young Vladivostok beat maker who recently worked on Mykki Blanco's Gay Dog Food mixtape. Lagutenko explains, "he done a remix for us online but we only met in person years later in Hong Kong by complete accident! We went to a noodle house at the same time as we were on tour and him on holiday. We spoke and then we found out that we apparently went to the same school in Vladivodstock - but he had graduated 10 years later."

Usually, such serendipity would be hard to believe, but then improbability lies at the heart of the Mumiy Troll narrative. When the band takes to the stage in Riga, they play with sense of joie de vivre that you feel could translate to any live environment, whether or not you understand a word of what is being sung. To a backdrop of huge LED anime cartoons, Lagutenko prances around the stage with a looseness that belies his 47 years, landing kung-fu kicks and teasing the crowd by slapping on some heavy Jagger-esque coquetry. As a barrage of balloons are released at the encore, the band bow to the enraptured audience, with a few folk even reduced to tears. If Mumiy Troll manage to corral even half as much love here, then they can consider the West conquered.