You didn’t initially think of your new double album as being conceptual, but in the end it worked out that way. How did it happen?
I have already tried everything that exists in music. Also collaboration with a symphony orchestra. So I wanted to go back to solitary play, to the roots of songwriting. I wanted to be alone again and record an album without guests.
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But intention thwarted your confinement…
It’s true, that’s why the recording was made in the studio as a duo with guitarist Josef Štěpánek. We recorded the songs in March – let’s say we left the studio on Wednesday and I was looking forward to having a so-called clean table for a while. But I had already made two other new songs on Sunday. It keeps coming at me, it can’t be stopped. In a fortnight, I called Pep to record another record, to which we invited other musicians – drummer Miloš Dvořáček, keyboardist Jan Steinsdörfer and bassist Jan Lstibůrek. Unexpectedly, this created a double album with Kerosin and Nezhasínej records. His concept actually formed somehow.
The songs reflect a lot of things you’ve been through lately – like home schooling in the aforementioned lockdown. How did you get to her?
Yes, when I taught history to children at home, I liked to tell them various historical details. I’ve always tried to start with a bomb. Maybe – do you know what Bloody Mary is and who is after the drink? Or I told them about the dramatic, sloppy execution of Mary Stuart, and then a song about Mary and Betty was written about it, about two English monarchs. I thought: Such a story and there is no ballad about it? That’s how I’m going to write it… Leif Ericsson’s songs, which tell the story of the discovery of America, or Kepler’s laws, were created the same way.
The children must have been very interested.
Horribly. Thanks to this method of teaching, many events are well remembered. They wanted to continue learning like this, but someone would have to feed us. But at least they enjoyed the confinement a little.
The album was named after the song Heaven is Unlocked. Why she?
Because I find it hopeful – heaven is unlocked and anyone can enter. I do not mean only in the religious sense, but in the sense of a certain inner peace, peace and happiness that one can feel within oneself.
Little Red Riding Hood still talks a lot of fear in her head.
It’s a hilarious song about scary things you keep thinking about and being scared of. Perhaps their parents brought them into him with their upbringing, albeit perhaps unwittingly, by society or by himself – because of the experiences he underwent or invented. And then you can’t do anything but go through this hell pretty quickly.
Saint Wenceslas is another hopeful thing.
In the covid desperation, when we lost everything, we weren’t allowed to sing, we were locked up at home and we didn’t really see anyone but my dad’s kids and girlfriend, I thought to myself that I could lend my voice to this request for help. I recorded it with a banjo, which some listeners might eat me for. But what. If the author of the song lived today, he could have put it on a marimba or played it with a big band. The tools have simply changed over the centuries. The urgency of the request, contained in St. Wenceslas, remains however.
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In three songs, you have the words daggers, knives… Does that have a symbolism for you?
The Silver Dagger is an almost literal translation of this traditional. As for the Blues Thrower Knives, I once thought it would be funny if there was a blunt among the Throwing Knives, in the sense that it wasn’t sharp. But mute also means he is stupid. So I wrote a song about it… The word dagger is also in the song I’m afraid to sleep in the dark. But I’m used to carrying knives with me, it’s just a part of my life.
And why did you reach for the traditional?
For one simple reason – because I like it. For example, The Wayfaring Stranger is a song I loved when I was twelve. I wanted to make my own text for this. I haven’t known the Silver Dagger song for that long, but I found out that my favorite Joan Baez sang it. I also wanted to translate that, because I find it very beautiful, both harmoniously and melodically. I also wanted to comment on the song My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean – I created a different story than the original version. He assumes that the perpetrators were often sent abroad for various acts – whether they killed someone or stole a loaf of bread. I then translated two other songs, but one of the two rights holders did not answer them, so I hope they will be needed on the next disc.
You have also set some Erben ballads to music. How much does your favorite author cost?
A lot of. Even though I didn’t set the ballads to music, they just inspired me. The Bouquet was the first book I read when I was five. My grandfather and my grandmother had books that my grandfather received from the National Committee – the collected writings of Mao Zedong were absolutely unreadable, I did not like the Old Man and the Sea very much, so I read Erben, short stories by Božena Němcová and those by Jirásek Old Czech legends. These are the titles that accompanied me when I was a child. But Erben was the first, I really love him, I have several editions of Kytice at home, even comics. And as I get older, I begin to see other hidden meanings in his poems. For example, in the case of the Golden Spinning Top, I wanted to change the fate of this spinning top in the direction of actively rejecting evil so that it does not take place at all. And I designed the wedding shirt in such a way that it is possible to avoid the violence that someone commits on someone, but it takes immense strength, courage and help.
The album ends with the song Good People, which you performed with Robert Křesťan. How did it happen?
In September, the Second Grass gave a concert at our place in Beroun. I went to see him and it occurred to me that I would like to sing with Mr. Christian – we said that anyway. I asked him what he would say if I wrote a duet for us, and he said yes. In two days there was a song in the world, I sent it to him, he liked it, he came to the studio and we recorded it. It is dedicated to all the people who have helped me and others, because without help we could not do it. He deserves thanks. These people are the least visible because they shout the least.
You mentioned the banjo. What made you leave the accordion?
At the start of confinement, I had tendonitis, and I still have a little trouble with that. And because the accordion is a heavy instrument – mine is smaller, but still weighs ten kilos – playing it is difficult. So I first bought a ukulele. And then the banjo and the electric guitar, on which the songs began to appear. I told myself that I would not worry and that I would take what was coming.
Are you also going to perform for the record?
Yes, I’m really looking forward to the concerts. In addition, I spat two more projects, which I half completed.
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What is it about?
On the one hand, I wrote Christmas carols, which I’m very happy with, but this time the concept as the story of the creation of the world at the birth of Jesus, is simply the story of the family. And the second subject is difficult, most of which could be called passion. It is the strongest story of our culture that has a statement for me. Those two things are thematically and in mood apart, but I just like to balance the work.
I feel like your voice has grown in strength.
I also think I sing better than I sang when I was young. And I’m quite surprised, because my voice got busy when I had vocal cord surgery. I figure that Dr. Lukeš from Motol, who operated on me, did something else in my throat that I didn’t know was there. I really do not know. But it sings very well to me.