Singer-songwriter Martina Trchová, winner of the Anděl award for her album Holobyt, recently disbanded her band and now performs mainly as a soloist. She is slowly working on a new album and is also focusing on visual arts. Her new book, Babi, will soon be published, and she’ll also be holding another festival in the Obřany district of Brno.
Martina, last autumn you announced that you were disbanding your band Martina Trchová & Trio and that you would continue to perform on your own. What were your reasons for this?
It’s been going on for a while, since my band is in Prague and I moved to Brno. It became more and more difficult to meet and rehearse, and it got stuck in a form where I didn’t want to be anymore. I wanted to play new songs, and this was the most natural way for me. There were other circumstances that contributed to this at the same time.
You now perform as a solo singer-songwriter with a guitar and also a looper, which you control with pedals while you play, allowing you to layer the sounds of your voice and guitar. What do you find most challenging about this activity? Staying focused? Watching where you step?
Yeah, literally watching where I step. And focusing. I don’t think about it so much now, but sometimes I forget to check whether my foot is over the right pedal at the right moment, and then there’s no time to look because of the amount of lyrics, because I’m still singing. So this is tricky, but otherwise I’m quite used to it.
When you write songs, do you already calculate the looper in advance?
I don’t know if I’m calculating, but the new arrangements are already made with the looper, so it was difficult to find another version of these songs with the band. I couldn’t undo the original version and we couldn’t fully replace it.
The looper forces you to be rhythmically disciplined and you probably have less room for improvisation. Do you feel any other limitations?
I’m a bit limited by the fact that I don’t know all the features it’s capable of yet. I’m an intuitive player, so I’ve learned some things and I’m using that, but there’s still room for expansion. But most of all I’m not saying that I want to use it as a replacement and that I’m going to play without a band forever. But at the moment I’m enjoying it this way.
Are you writing different songs now in terms of content?
Yes, but it’s not so much that I’m playing alone and with a looper, but rather that I’m influenced by new experiences, like motherhood. So other topics come up.
When you became a mom, did songs about kids start popping up on their own?
I experienced motherhood in a kind of “mental silence” and was unable to write. It wasn’t until my daughter went to kindergarten and I got some space that I started writing songs again. Two of the songs are inspired by her, but it’s not like I’m only writing songs about children now...
You’re not only a musician, but also an artist. And lately you’ve been writing children’s books. For example, Markéta Pilátová’s book Bába Bedla a dívka na hřebeni, which you illustrated, was recently published.
Yes, this is the second volume, the first one came out a year ago. It was Markéta who introduced me to the world of children’s literature and illustrations. Her Bába Bedla was my first illustrated children’s book.
Does illustrating children’s books have any specifics for you?
I’m sure I did, although I illustrated Bába Bedla with acrylic sprays, which doesn’t sound like a child-friendly technique. I was wearing a mask and rubber gloves and the kids might have been scared. But in general, I have to say that I got into illustrating children’s books because of my daughter. I’m close to children’s books now, we read a lot, so I had a lot of illustrations in front of me and that inspired me.
Do you use different colours than in freehand?
Each book takes me in its own direction. This second volume is airy, blue-yellow-ochre because it’s straight out of the mountains. The first Bába Bedla was set in the underbrush and in the woods, so it was more dark and green. I have another book coming up that’s set in a warm yellow-red-ochre.
What will it be about?
It’s called Babi. It'll be published at the end of April by Host publishing house and it’s a kind of my memory of my grandmother. The book has been three years in the making, and the first impetus for its creation was the first lockdown, when suddenly my daughter and I couldn’t go to my grandmother. She was living in Prague and at that time it was recommended not to visit old people at all, so we completely lost personal contact. I was sorry, because my daughter was two years old and she couldn’t see this wonderful woman, ninety years older. So I began to draw my daughter in that world of ours, and through my imagination I connected her to her grandmother. For example, Alice finds a snail shell, crawls into it as a miniature and gets to her grandmother’s room in the apartment building. Or a little wolf jumps out of a plucked poppy flower and runs across half the country to Prague to turn back into a poppy flower on the rug. Grandma, on the other hand, has a glass swan figurine in her hands that turns into a real one and flies to Brno. The two of them started to meet like this in the pictures, until it culminated in a real happy ending when we were able to go to Grandma again. Babi is a book without text, it's only a cartoon. It offers a lot of room for imagination and is about any kind of separation.
It's been more than seven years since your last album Holobyt, for which you received the Anděl award. Is there anything new in the making?
I’m starting to record songs with Martin Kyšperský. I’ve already finished two of them – Nové otazníky (tr: New Question Marks) and XX – and they both have their music videos. Now we’re trying to bring the other songs to life. But I have other plans for the summer, so maybe in a year?
How important are music videos for you as a singing artist?
I think that how the video looks is becoming more and more important to me. The video for the first song was animated by Tomáš Poprik and the second one by Jakub Čermák, who I admire as a songwriter. For the song XX, I had a special wish that the video would make it clear that I’m playing alone without a band.
What exactly is Martin Kyšperský’s role in the creation of new songs? Producer? Arranger?
I haven’t thought of it that way yet, but I do go to his place to record songs. It’s inspiring to me. He’ll give me a nudge sometimes, sometimes he’ll let me rewrite something or let me write at his house, then we rehearse it, he might shift the harmony here and there. It’s kind of a creative process.
Is it generally helpful for you to have a person to give you advice on your own songs?
Sure, I’ve always needed someone to be with. In the Trio, it was Patrik Henel. I would work with him to finalize the form of the songs, and then we would do the band arrangements. It’s also important for me because I’m maybe stuck in my chords and progressions and the other person brings a new element to it.
Is there anything you won’t let yourself be persuaded to do?
I’m sure there is. I don’t like anyone to mess with the lyrics, but I like to be encouraged to write the next verse in a different way. I rarely sing someone else’s lyrics, although Nové otazníky has lyrics by Martin Kyšperský. But that came about because I just had my motherly “mental silence” goin on and I couldn’t put the lyrics together. So I wrote him what I wanted to sing about, and he tried it on. I then re-edited his lyrics back to fit my mouth.
This song has already been released in 2020 on the compilation Šťastné a osamělé (tr: Happy and Lonely).
Right, it’s the Christmas album of the group Osamělí písnickáři. The song was done online because it was during lockdown. It’s really about a virtual Christmas between two people living remotely. Martin Kyšperský and I e-mailed it to each other. That’s also why it has such a strange title, because I tagged one email with the words “Nové otazníky” because I had some ambiguities in it. And Martin decided to use that as the title for the song.
I know you in other roles where you sing someone else’s songs. For example, for years you have been duetting with Adam Kubát with a tape of Zuzana Navarová’s songs. And in November, you took part in the Blues Alive festival in Šumperk in the concert Tribute to Jan Spálený.
That was big. I like those songs, although it was quite difficult to find a song for a woman in Jan Spaleny’s repertoire. It was a great experience to play with Petr Ostrouchov’s band. That was great. And with Adam we played Zuzana Navarová’s songs for thirteen years. Now we’re taking a break. But I’ve loved those songs since I was a kid.
This spring you're also organizing the second year of your own festival.
Yes, I was thinking that I know a lot of female singer-songwriters and female authors, and I'd love it if they played together at the same festival. So I decided to organize a festival called Ženfest pod třesní (tr. Womenfest under the Cherry Tree), which I invite only women to attend – accompanied by great male musicians, of course. It takes place in Obřany in my garden, which I have named the Trchova Garden. Last year was the first year, and this year it’s coming up on the 13th of May. The Dorota Barová Trio, Nina Rosa, and the young singer-songwriter Nika will be playing there. In between the musical slots will be slam poet Anna Beata Háblová, who will also give a staged reading from her first and successful novel, Směna (tr: The Shift). And we’ll also be launching my book Babi together. I’d also like to sing if I'm not giving birth.
So these are those “other plans” for the summer?
Yes, I’m expecting my second offspring at the end of May. But I'd like to complete my musical visions. I've already recorded a lot of the new album, so it could be finished soon and it can be finished even if I have baby. I just hope I won’t have that maternal “mental silence” again.
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