Bára Zmeková: I wander around the city until the song is done

13 March 2019, 1:00
Bára Zmeková: I wander around the city until the song is done

Bára Zmeková is releasing her new album called LUNAVES these days. She will officially present it in Brno as well. The launch of the album will take place in the Kabinet múz on Tuesday 19 March.

Bára, your album Lunaves arose – just like your previous one Ještě kousek [One More Bit] – from your cooperation with the producer and sound engineer Ondřej Ježek. Why did you decide to address this particular guy for the second time already?

There are many sound engineers and great producers here, but there is only one Ondřej Ježek. I think it was necessary to explore once again the possibilities of our mutual cooperation. I have a lot of respect for him and I appreciate the fact that we perceive music similarly during the recording sessions. But it is not always clear from the first moment, you may break your neck while searching for some of the places. Ondřej leaves my hand free, but when recording, he has strictly set boundaries, and he is not afraid to say to me about some ideas that they simply do not make much sense. At the beginning I was afraid that the songs would not appear compact on the album, because each one is so different from the others. But Ondřej helped me a lot with that. These are the details that you can't think of because you have been living with your songs for too long. During my work on the second album, I gained a lot of confidence with Ondřej.

Immediately after the release of your new album, I noticed some really enthusiastic reactions. Where do you see your biggest move from the first album?

I see the biggest move in the fact that I have left nothing on the record that I would internally disapprove of. When something didn't work, we kept searching after it until it started working. That is probably why it took more than a year to work on the album. It was a demanding job, involving dozens of people, so it is a pleasure for me to listen to the record. With all humility. I enjoy how many great musicians I can hear  on it. The more I listen to it, the more I am grateful for it to have happened without any significant compromises.

You say, "The word LUNAVES came to my head all of a sudden just before falling asleep, and since then it has been wrapping up stories on itself." Does it mean that those songs-stories we find on the album were already being created with the vision of making them appear on an album of that name ?

That word really came to my head by itself in February last year during the recording of the album. The songs had been created over a longer period of time and it was not clear what name would they be hiding under. The name LUNAVES wrapped up stories around itself, all by itself. At first, the word didn't mean anything, I just liked it. Immediately afterwards I discovered an organisation of the same name dealing with lunar migration of birds, which in itself was a sufficient common feature for many songs from the album. Satellite images of birds flowing on the background of a full moon made me laugh when I considered how many similar images the album has and how much my life was gravitating around the full moon in that period. Later, I started to look for more stories in the name, already purely my own personal ones, and the word LUNAVES started to have clearer outlines and a meaning.

Do you generally perceive a music album as a whole, as a concept? Something one really has to listen to from beginning to end as one story?

Our time is not very keen on the album format. We do not have enough time. And maybe all the more so I wanted to face this and record an album. I would not call Lunaves a concept, because the songs don't form a particular story line here, but it's true that I see some personal story behind them. I had been looking for a relatively long time for the correct order of the songs, the way they followed each other, the way they influenced one another. You don't want them to interfere with each other, but at the same time it is necessary for the album to have a  rhythm and a momentum, in order not to make people fall asleep. Also, to make its message at least a little clear. I know exactly why the songs are in their specific places. Hence, even though it is not a conceptual album, I believe it is necessary to listen to it all as one story. It brought me back to the fact that I started listening to music by albums and not by songs, as I had become used to in recent years. Maybe that's why I'm thinking of making a vinyl LP.

How do you compose your songs? Do they come to your mind at first as fragments of lyrics, images, melodies…?

Almost always there are the lyrics at first, which will eventually also bring a melody with themselves. Sometimes an idea occurs to me in the middle of a street, and then I have to wander around the city for as long as until the song is done. For example, I roamed around Karlín through and through. Sometimes again, the lyrics lie in a drawer or in my head before they the right melody comes to match them, other times it is just a tiny tune that doesn't make sense until some experience comes through which it all clicks in its place. Once I understand it, I develop the idea further. The trigger for this is usually a feeling, an emotion, an experience, something that is boiling inside me and bursts out in the form of lyrics, a melody, or both at the same time.

You invited an impressive list of guests to appear on your album, and so variety of instruments is no less impressive. How do you make up your song arrangements? For example, how does a song say to you that there should be a trumpet or a bass clarinet in it?

There are instruments that appeal to me with their sound, and they are also people I admire and appeal to me with their playing. And the songs are a kind of intersection in which this all meets together. When you make your dream come true  by recording an album, it would be a shame not to do all the little dreams on top of it. There is no guarantee that this will work, but intuition is relatively reliable in this respect. For me, it worked in the sense that when something didn't fit in well, it led to it fitting in all the better somewhere else. It keeps teaching me not to go into pieces because of minor unsuccess or failure, because there are other paths leading behind them that I like to explore.

You've shot  a very nice clip for the song Svatojánská [Midsummer]. Do you take shooting video clips for a necessary part of the promotion of your album, or do you also enjoy it? And what do you enjoy most about it?

The clip for the song Svatojánská is my first and I don't take it in any manner as a must-do part. I like video clips myself and moreover, I wonder what someone else can see behind the song. In my head, there are images associated with the songs that accompanied their creation, and someone else can enrich them with their insights. When Eugen Liška sent me the first draft of the Svatojánská screenplay, the story moved me to tears. It was something that I would never think of, but what clearly matches it. It was dreadful and beautiful. Of course, the screenplay changed manifold in the meantime, this is part of the whole process. But the clip remained really powerful, and I am happy for it to be open to many interpretations, it is abstract and clean and gently, yet convincingly accompanies the song.

What does the concert version of the songs look like? Who will accompany you specifically at your concert in Brno?

For my concerts related to the launch of the album, I try to keep the songs as close as possible to the album recordings. Of course, there is room for improvisation and slight variations in the instrumental arrangement, but the rhythm section always remains the same as on the album – Viktor Dořičák playing drums and Vlado Micenko playing the double bass, then accordion performed by Michal Mihok, and Nina Marinová‘s violin is there as well. Ondřej Vychodil with his bass clarinet will come along. I am really looking forward to the show, because such a beautiful line-up is something neither listeners nor I can enjoy very frequently.

Martin Kyšperský will take on the role of the godfather in the Kabinet Múz. Why will it be him in particular?

When I was twenty years old and started my studies in  Lyrics and Screenplay Writing at the Ježek Conservatory in Prague, I learned about the music of the band Květy and with Martin's lyrics. Of course I was, and I still am, a huge fan of theirs. I experienced the same thing with the guys from the Prague band Hm… My first “essay” was particularly about their album Plán na zimu [A Plan for the Winter]. At that time I had two more years to go to arrive to my first public performance with my own songs, and they signified a great inspiration for me and basically the top of contemporary songwriting. Time eventually brought us together and we all met at the launch of the album Bulisovi [Tribute to Bulis] right in the Kabinet múz in Brno. I greatly appreciate the fact that they accepted the invitation for album launch and that they will take on the  role of godparents in their hometowns, and at the same time they will enrich the evening with a short set of their own songs.

You won the 1MAN2PLAY competition back in 2013. When you look back, in what sense did this victory help you most?

The 1MAN2PLAY competition, which is now actually called 1BAND2PLAY, made my musical dream of that time come true – to appear at the Colours of Ostrava festival. It was the biggest show for me, which at the same time showed me that it is much easier to play on a big stage than in small cafés where I had performed until then. On a big stage, you get rid of a certain fear. The competition also intermediated the first meeting with the professional public and the media for me. And finally, and that was also very important, thanks to this competition, the Full Moon magazine helped me release my first album Ještě kousek, the recording of which was already half way through at Ondřej Ježek's Jámor Studio, which really meant a lot to me. And last but not least, thanks to the competition I met a lot of people, whom I appreciate very much and who accompany me on my musical path to this day.

Photo by Petr Zmek

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