Marta Kovářová: A Good Song should stand up as a Song

29 August 2018, 5:00

Marta Kovářová: A Good Song should stand up as a Song

It is a pity to only read an interview with Marta Kovářová, leader of the groups Budoár staré dámy. Marta is such a personality as a speaker that it is better to hear her. Or also to watch her. But on the other hand, as you will learn from the interview, which took place on the occasion of the 20th birthday of the group, a good song should be able to stand up without a pictorial accompaniment. And perhaps a good narrative will still interest us in written form.

Marta, when I realise that the group Budoár staré dámy (which could be translated as ‘Old Lady’s Boudoir’)  has been around for twenty years, then it means that you had to found it while you were still in basic school. How did it happen?

I was fifteen and still going to the early years of the grammar school in Jundrov and I had just been chucked of the group Lety se Zelim for not understanding the humour in the name (a play on words potentially being either ‘Cabbage Years’ or ‘Flights with Cabbage’) and playing awful accompanying guitar. Their drummer, son of the founder of Moravanka, needed to sell an old drum kit. And because by that time my brother Štěpán how already drummed to bits all the containers in the boiler room, dad bought it for him. And so I set up a group with my brother.

For a long time Budoár was mostly a girl band. Was that the aim from the start?

No, it was just how it began. Pure chance. Jajco, my brother’s schoolmate who we brought into our sibling band on guitar because he looked like Kurt Cobain, had a sister called Dáša, who was a good guitarist. But because we needed a bass, she was only allowed to play on the four thickest strings, until we bought a real bass in a second hand shop. And because I wanted to follow the example of Čvachtavý lachtan and have violin in the group, I looked for a violinist. The only one for miles around was Evička, who I knew as a friend from the mountains. And so it happened that suddenly there were three girls in the group, without us quite knowing how.

Everything has now changed and you are the only one left from the original line-up. How did you end up with the current set up with you surrounded by three guys?

When in 2008 I was shaken by the departure of the girls, I did not look for replacements for them; I was open to new instruments and genders. Wind player Tomáš Doležal, who was our guest on all the old discs and began to play with us on a midi-controller, had a friend Tomáš Ergens who he went cycling with. Tomáš was a great bass player and himself at some point played in another group with the wonderful guitarist Mark Laudát. And so we got together with the guys in the rehearsal room and after a maintenance jam we said yeah! Everyone could play well and it sounded completely different to earlier, but I took it as a challenge – to try a different way of working, with real musicians. With this line-up we recorded the disc Láva and in 2013, after the departure of Tomáš Doležal, re remained as a classical big-beat quartet. We did not look for a fifth member. In 2015 my brother left and it was really tough finding a new drummer! We were strongly bound together as players and he knew each of my little moves and expressions; simply seventeen years together in the group and thirty years in the family! We tried out a few people on the drums, but it didn’t work. But then I remembered the drummer from the group Animé, who we played some concerts with at the beginning and I got a number for him. Laďa something. Together with this I also called Pavel Fajt for help: “Pavel, my brother’s gone, who would suit us?” He answered: “I know someone, he’s small, but really clever – he's called Šiška.” So I called both and at the rehearsal there was one Laďa Šiška. And it worked!

Your latest album is called Sůl (Salt). What does this name symbolise for you? And is it something that links all the songs on this disc?

When I moved to the village I finally got my first gold disc. It was a wedding present. We cut a hole in it and placed there a new sink. We can’t carve on it or scuff it with things, but I have my gold. And what is worth more than gold? Salt! (a reference to a Czech folk tale) – Yes, I always look for a name which somehow hugs and embraces the songs. Na hraní (To Play) (2002) was simply our playing in the early days and we were for the first time officially recorded and released. In the title My o vlku (a Czech phrase equivalent to ‘Speak of the Devil’)  (2005) sounds like an omen, the mystery of how the devil will look, where the work will go after the exhaustion of the initial supplies. Dobrou noc, světlo (Goodnight, Light) (2008) was a special effort to say goodbye to long-term relations in which all around saw promise. Láva (Lava) (2012), was the first album released in the new line-up, songs slipped out but long-prepared, arranged. For a long time nothing was heard from Budoár, silence … and then an eruption. Simply a volcanic act by the group. Sůl (Salt) (2017) is something found in much around us, in each of the pieces. But each time in a different form. Cooking salt, salt as a stimulator of taste, an important detail, salt in a wound, salt lick for a doe in winter, mountains of salt, sweat, crystal, salt in saliva, tears, salt on slippery surfaces to melt the ice. Clear?                                                         

Absolutely… And generally – is it important for you that an album has some unifying element, that the songs create something like a connected narrative?                                                                       

Actually I could kind of conceive of a consistent line of pieces on an album, I would like that. But in truth I can’t do it. We create slowly and I distractedly pick at it here and there, we try something, we chuck out lots … and in the end in the studio we record a kind of diverse ‘best of’ from perhaps a four-year period. But the name is kind of clever and “all-encompassing”! (sly smile)

How do you listen to music? Do you play a whole album by your favourite group, going along those “consistent lines”, or do you find individual videos on YouTube and individual songs?

In this respect I am a technological fossil as my strict brother Jonáš calls me. I have a CD player at home into which I put CDs. I press play and the album runs from start to finish. Anyone I don’t have on CD doesn’t exist! (strict expression). Not long ago however our guitarist Marek told us that his son plays songs only on YouTube. And he tends to watch them rather than listen. As if the song was just background to the video! And publishers go with this trend, constantly pressuring us to make some kind of video! The main thing is to give them something to look at while listening. Mainly to hold on to the listener. At the same time a good song should stand up by itself as a song. Well, we’ll see. That is we’ll hear.

In Budoár you are still the writer of most of the music. What happens with a song when you offer it to your fellow band-members? How to do you come up with a specific arrangement?

Provided the guys don’t reject it straight out, I keep playing it until everyone suggests something, or until they are sick of it. If I have the feeling the arrangement is going in the wrong direction I get involved and steer the guys with my idea such as: “Laďa, in the refrain you should have more rain. Marek, I want to be more scared, add a bogeyman. Tom, play like a rope!” And then we get a beautiful song out of it.                                                                                            

Do you try to get initial ideas for songs also from your colleagues?

Yeah, I encourage them and I think that creative variety is a good thing. It is refreshing both for the group and listeners to hear a different approach to composition. So far it has only worked creatively for Tom, our bass player. I think he has great ability as an arranger. While I only bring along the skeleton of the song, he gives it skin and muscles. On the last album he has two pieces. Tom, keep composing! Marek and Laďa – no slacking!                                                               

Some time ago you got married and moved from Brno to the countryside. How did that affect the working of the band?                                                                                                                               

Unfortunately it affected the regularity. Rehearsals are no longer three hours every week, but I am trying to ensure that we get together at least once a fortnight or to compensate with more intense sessions. However we have always been slow to create and we give concerts rarely, just for the joy of it, so I don’t see it threatening our existence. I know the group needs its time in the rehearsal room. It is not enough to play concerts and draw on history. If it doesn’t create and get together then the band will die like any other relationship. Regarding village life, it is very inspiring for me. An education in patience, humility and a new way of seeing things. I see it as healing from time to time to again, without the comfort and security I acquired in Brno. In Cerekev there are fewer people than in Brno, and so you are surrounded by people of completely different interests and ages. It requires plenty of strength and diplomacy to make something with them. But its working! And if something works then the joy is all the greater. We founded there the cultural association Roztoč kolektiv, we rehearse amateur theatre, arrange the festival Z kopce and I sign in Latin as second alto in the choir. I also watch how they catch crazy bees, how they cultivate potatoes, and I experience strong feelings.

And how has it influenced your work? Are you now interested in different themes? Do you compose differently?

Yeah, I am not in such a mess with my own relationships. It is all beautifully resolved, set. Having my own cubs is inspirational, even though I admit that I haven’t managed to successfully evaluate motherhood in lyrics for the group. Not that I haven’t written some but then after a pause I chuck them. Nonetheless a great benefit of motherhood is the need to be able to improvise at every any moment and that is also how I learned to compose. In every situation. Already it no longer matters that while composing a child takes my guitar and bashes it into a wall or a sibling out of rhythm. Inconspicuously I move on to another instrument – I have lots of cheap instruments – Or I completely drop using an instrument and sing it a cappella, which I already know from the choir means “without a band” (band is ‘kapela’ in Czech).(smile and proud expression)

I always enjoyed how you work with putting poetry to music, whether it is Karel Šiktanc, or old Chinese verse. How do you find poetry to set to music? And how does it have to interest you to make it worth working on?

Hmm, it’s simple. My husband buys books. I sometimes rummage through the bookshelves at home. I pick something at random from a shelf and read. If a poem begins to sing to me in my head, I pick up my guitar and come up with the chords. I write it down and that is it. I don’t know in advance the parameters of the text I am looking for in advance, but I can admit that when reading a quality text I get a tickling in my belly.

Recently you have also been cooperating with the contemporary author Lubor Kasal. How does that work? Do you write the music to text that is already there?

I met Lubor Kasal on the bookshelf immediately next to Songs of Ancient China: Hmmm… Hladolet (Starveling)? I opened it and read – the texts have ‘superdrive’, as if they had been written by me. Only somehow better. (laughs) So on Sůl I put two parts of his Hladolet to music. When I then asked Lubor for copyright I invited him to our christening (of the album). He came and appeared enthusiastic. When I invited him to visit us in the village in Dolní Cerekev, he came, we ate lots of chocolate and talked about writing. When I asked him to write something for me he did! We are trying both options – Lubor writes lyrics, which I put to music, which is more common, or I send a melody for which he looks for words.

How will you celebrate 20 years of Budoár staré dámy? What specifically can listeners look forward to at the Brno concert?

When I wanted to celebrate the tenth birthday of Budoár, the girls told me they were leaving the group. So on the occasion of the twentieth year as a punishment I have invited them back. But not just them. I have invited everyone who ever played with us. And I am happy that virtually all of them have accepted the invitation. Each member had as a task to choose three songs that they would like to play. From these we produced a rewind playlist made up of pieces from the present back to the furthest past. From May we have been getting together in various archaic line-ups in the rehearsal room and we have been training. We are enjoying it! So a visitor to the concert who comes on September 20 in Brno to Kabinet Múz can enjoy above all this twenty-year cross-section. And of course a view of eleven slightly aging but still enthusiastic kids! At the venue there will be available a rare CD – the long kept secret Babičkám, recorded in 2000 in Lužánky, and in cooperation with Indies Scope the currently in preparation double-vinyl Archivály.

How did the selection of the 2LP of the best of Budoár staré dámy happen? And is it important for you that this compilation in a limited edition is being released on vinyl?

The selection was made by the right ear of our publisher from Indies Scope, Milan Páleš, and my left ear. Amazingly we independently pretty much agreed in the choice from three out of the four albums. Where we did not, which was only in the case of the album My o vlku, I asked six people who helped me with the choice. I counted their votes and the hit parade was clear! (laughs)As far as media are concerned. I don’t have a gramophone, so it is all the same to me, but it is true that more and more people are asking for vinyl. So let them have it! We had good experience with Sůlí, which was also released as an LP. And so it seemed to us a good and amusing idea of the publisher to concentrate on a 2LP the four preceding albums which aren’t on vinyl. Each album is given one side of a disc, 20 minutes, where it must give its best pieces. The cover, which I created in cooperation with the graphic artist František Eliáš, offers surprises, which may scare any kind of archivist! Buy it quickly as there will only be three hundred of them!

Have you already thought of a follow-up to the album Sůl? Are there any new songs?

Sure, it is in the process of being born. And it is in cooperation with the poet Lubor Kasal. I would like to record a whole album only of settings of his texts.

Marta Kovářová/ photo from the artist’s archive

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